Williams' Label for Left-Wing Activists: Those “Who Care Chiefly About Our Planet”

NBC Nightly News anchor Brian Williams on Wednesday night employed a nice euphemism for left-wing environmental groups (those “who care chiefly about our planet”) , thus without conveying any sense of their ideological agenda, he passed along their ridiculing of the Bush administration for not going far enough in hiking the miles per gallon (mpg) standards for SUVs. In leading with the announcement from the Transportation Department, Williams noted that SUVs “have been considered trucks” and thus “been able to duck the mileage rules for American cars.” Williams, who anchored from Washington, DC, presumably so he could attend the Radio-Television News Directors Association dinner, then relayed how “the folks here in Washington and elsewhere who care chiefly about our planet and the insatiable American need for energy, said these new standards will not, in fact, reduce our consumption of oil.”

Reporter Tom Costello soon highlighted how “environmental groups complain the biggest gas-guzzling pickups on the road are still exempt and mileage standards for both cars and light trucks should be much tougher: 40 miles per gallon, not 24." He concluded with the spin of the environmental groups: "The new standards will add about $200 to the average sticker price, but environmentalists wonder what the country is getting for the money.” (Partial transcript follows.)

ABC's World News Tonight also led with the new higher Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards.

Costello featured a soundbite from Dan Becker, identified on-screen only as an “environmentalist.” Becker is a top official with the Sierra Club and their Web site features a press release titled, “Bush Fuel Economy Standards Fail to Cut Oil Addiction.” Environmental Defense also put out a critical press release on Wednesday.

Brian Williams, at the NBC News Washington bureau, opened the March 29 NBC Nightly News:
“Good evening. Today the federal government announced what it called the toughest fuel economy standards in 27 years for a beloved category of vehicles on the American road, SUVs. That includes light trucks, pickups and minivans. We buy 8.5 million of them a year, after all. For many years a lot of SUVs -- the larger ones -- have been considered trucks, and so they've been able to duck the mileage rules for American cars. That changed today. The announcement came from the President's man on this topic, the Secretary of Transportation. And then just as quickly, the folks here in Washington and elsewhere who care chiefly about our planet and the insatiable American need for energy, said these new standards will not, in fact, reduce our consumption of oil. We'll begin the broadcast here tonight with our report from NBC's Tom Costello.”
Costello's story ran a soundbite from Secretary of Transportation Norma Mineta before he explained how, under the new regulations, by 2011 light trucks and pickups must average 24.1 miles per gallon, up 1.8 mpg from 2007, but the greater the distance between the front and rear axles, the lower the mpg requirement. Costello then asserted:
“But environmental groups complain the biggest gas-guzzling pickups on the road are still exempt and mileage standards for both cars and light trucks should be much tougher: 40 miles per gallon, not 24.”

Dan Becker, identified on screen only as “environmentalist,” sitting in an outside setting: “The President's proposal will only save two weeks of oil over four years. That's not very impressive.”

Costello: “American automakers have opposed previous attempts to raise the standards, arguing they weren't fair. This time, they're going along.”

Gloria Bergquist, auto industry advocate: “We're committed to being part of the solution, we're already doing some things and we're going to keep doing more.”

Costello concluded: “The new standards will add about $200 to the average sticker price, but environmentalists wonder what the country is getting for the money. Tom Costello, NBC News, Washington.”

Interestingly, the closed-captioning, of Costello's conclusion, differed markedly from what aired: “The new standards will add about $200 to the average sticker price, but the administration argues safe the country billions of gallons of gasoline. Tom Costello, NBC News, Washington.”

“Argues safe the country billions” probably really was, “argues it will save the country billions.”

Might that have been the originally-recorded version of Costello's story that was changed, to a more pro-environmentalist angle, in a last-minute edit?
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