Nets Gratuitously Smear Gale Norton By Raising Abramoff in Noting Her Resignation

Though they pointed out how there is no evidence of any wrongdoing by Secretary of the Interior Gale Norton, the ABC and NBC anchors on Friday night, in noting her decision to resign from the cabinet, nonetheless raised links between her and disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff. ABC's Elizabeth Vargas cited only one accomplishment of her tenure, but hardly in praise if it: “She made it easier for companies to drill for oil and gas on federal land in the West, drawing criticism from environmentalists.” Vargas then added how “her agency has been entangled in the scandal involving disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff, but she has not been implicated."

Over on the NBC Nightly News, Brian Williams announced how President Bush “accepted today the resignation of the Secretary of the Interior, who insists tonight she is not leaving because of her department's associations with lobbyist Jack Abramoff.” Williams soon asked reporter David Gregory: “How is it that her resignation late today raised the specter or the name of Jack Abramoff?" With the photo on screen, Gregory reported how “there was a picture that surfaced recently” which showed “Jack Abramoff and Secretary Norton after a meeting with some Indian tribes.” Gregory, however, related that “a Senate committee did establish ties between the lobbyist Abramoff and top deputies to Gale Norton,” but “that same panel has found no connection, or no proof, that she knew of those connections.” So why bring up the subject? (Transcripts follow.)

Over a picture of Norton followed by video of her walking with and sitting next to President Bush, ABC anchor Elizabeth Vargas read this short item on the March 10 World News Tonight:
"The first woman to serve as Interior Secretary announced her resignation today. Gale Norton spent five years in President Bush's Cabinet. She made it easier for companies to drill for oil and gas on federal land in the West, drawing criticism from environmentalists. Her agency has been entangled in the scandal involving disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff, but she has not been implicated."
NBC Nightly News anchor cited Norton and Abramoff in his opening (also quoted in an earlier NewsBusters item about how NBC led with an AP poll on Bush's low approval level):
"Good evening. It can now be said, with very little debate, this is a very tough time politically for President Bush. And in very blunt terms, backed up by some surprising numbers, the American people have lately been telling him just that. The latest Associated Press poll has the President's job approval at 37 percent. For some context here, that matches President Clinton at the lowest point in his presidency. Sixty-seven percent of respondents, two-thirds of the people, said the nation is currently headed in the wrong direction. The President today acknowledged the reversal in that deal for a Dubai company to run U.S. ports, and he accepted today the resignation of the Secretary of the Interior, who insists tonight she is not leaving because of her department's associations with lobbyist Jack Abramoff. To start us off and look at all of it here tonight, NBC News chief White House correspondent David Gregory."
Toward the end of his piece on the fallout from the aborted ports deal, Gregory relayed:
"And on this Friday night, another note about that kind of separation. The resignation tonight, as mentioned, of Interior Secretary Gale Norton. She's been at the job for five years and been at the center of this administration's controversial environmental policies. Brian, aides say tonight this is a departure that's been in the works for several weeks."

Williams: "And, David, however, how is it that her resignation late today raised the specter or the name of Jack Abramoff?"

Gregory, at the White House: "Well, it's certainly been a lot of intrigue around town on, Abramoff's ties to administration figures, and there was a picture that surfaced recently actually released by the Interior Department. There you see Jack Abramoff and Secretary Norton after a meeting with some Indian tribes [picture on screen]. A Senate committee did establish ties between the lobbyist Abramoff and top deputies to Gale Norton, the Interior Secretary, but that same panel has found no connection, or no proof, that she knew of those connections. And tonight the White House says she was certainly no liability, Brian."
Brent Baker
Brent Baker
Brent Baker is the Steven P.J. Wood Senior Fellow and VP for Research and Publications at the Media Research Center