Brian Williams Frames Arizona Religious Freedom Bill as Akin to Segregation

On Tuesday's Nightly News, NBC's Brian Williams outright framed the Arizona bill protecting the religious freedom of business owners as akin to segregation and Jim Crow laws. CBS and ABC at least gave the supporters' view, reporting the fight as between religious freedom and gay rights.

"Good evening," Williams began the news cast. "It's just one state out of our 50, but tonight what's happening in Arizona is being compared by some to the epic battles this nation has fought over lunch counters, separate drinking fountains and restrooms."

In contrast, CBS Evening News anchor Scott Pelley began the story by giving both sides their desired titles: "The governor of Arizona is feeling heat tonight over a controversial bill that pits religious rights against the rights of gay Americans."

And ABC's Diane Sawyer stated, "And next tonight, we turn to the big surprises today in that culture war underway in Arizona. The one that pits religious liberty against equal rights for gay Americans."

However, the networks continued their overall bias against supporters of the law. On Tuesday morning, NewsBusters noted that no supporter was quoted in any of the morning news casts. In the evening that changed, but opponents' soundbites still outnumbered supporters' seven to three. NBC was the most biased, featuring four quotes from opponents and just one from a supporter.

ABC couldn't even find a business owner supporting the bill, as Cecilia Vega explained, "We tried to find business owners who would go on the record in support of it. So far, we have not found one."

She did question a supporter from a Christian business network, but pitched her this loaded question: "How is this any different than refusing service to someone because of the color of their skin?"

Below is a transcript of the NBC segment:

NBC
NIGHTLY NEWS
2/25/14
[7:01 p.m. EST]

BRIAN WILLIAMS: Good evening. It's just one state out of our 50, but tonight what's happening in Arizona is being compared by some to the epic battles this nation has fought over lunch counters, separate drinking fountains and restrooms. Arizona Republican governor Jan Brewer tonight faces a hugely controversial decision, whether or not to veto a piece of legislation. It would give business owners in Arizona the right to refuse service to gays and lesbians. Or for that matter, to anyone, based on their own religious beliefs. Both U.S. senators from Arizona, both fellow Republicans, are urging the governor to veto the bill along with big businesses there, like Apple and Marriott. And the NFL is weighing in as Arizona is set to host the Super Bowl there next year. It's where we begin tonight. NBC's Mike Taibbi is in Phoenix. Mike, good evening.

MIKE TAIBBI: Good evening, Brian. Governor Brewer has just arrived back in Arizona after a conference in Washington. But while she hasn't tipped her hand yet, the momentum toward a veto is building fast.

(Video Clip)

TAIBBI: There have been daily protests over the Republican-passed bill allowing businesses to refuse to serve anyone based on religious beliefs. But gay rights activists say there's no question about the targets of the bill.

ANGELA HUGHEY, One Community: This is absolutely about legalizing discrimination. And it is so broadly based that it really can allow any business to discriminate against anyone.

TAIBBI: It happened in Washington state, where a florist refused to provide flowers for a same-sex wedding. And in Oregon, where a baker wouldn't make a wedding cake for a similar couple. The other side, Michael Salman of Harvest Christian Church, says the bill protects the rights of any private business to serve whom they please.

MICHAEL SALMAN, Harvest Christian Church: If that person wants to refuse your money, he is in the business to do that.

TAIBBI: But there's been a ground swell of voices this week urging Governor Brewer to veto the bill. Some notable names from her own party, including John McCain and Mitt Romney, and a lot of corporate voices including Apple and American Airlines concerned about a potentially disastrous effect on the state's still fragile economy.

BARRY BROOME, Greater Phoenix Economic Council: We do think this would cause significant harm to the state's reputation and to the business environment.

TAIBBI: It's already threatened Ben Bethel's Clarendon hotel. Despite his sign saying "We serve everyone." He said gay customers inquiring about refunds and cancellations.

BEN BETHEL, owner, Clarendon Hotel: That would result in, I'd say about 12 to $14,000 in lost revenue to the hotel. And that itself results in almost $2,000 in local and state sales tax revenues lost.

TAIBBI: But with the tide turning, even Republicans who supported and voted for the bill, like state senator Steve Pierce –

(On camera) You didn't think it was targeting the LGBT community?

STEVE PIERCE, Arizona state legislature: Not at all. No.

TAIBBI: – are now urging Brewer to veto it.

PIERCE: We made a mistake, and now we have got to fix it.

TAIBBI: If the governor doesn't sign or veto the bill by the end of the week, it becomes law automatically. Still, this morning an aide to the governor said that this bill was never part of her agenda, another hint that a veto is likely. Brian?

WILLIAMS: Mike Taibbi starting us off from Phoenix tonight. Mike, thanks.

Matt Hadro
Matt Hadro
Matt Hadro was a News Analyst for the Media Research Center's News Analysis Division from 2010 through early 2014