NBC Uses Staff Changes to Resurrect Plame; CBS Sees Metaphor in Grounded Chopper

Of the three broadcast network evening newscasts, the NBC Nightly News delivered the most negative assessment of the situation facing a White House which made some personnel changes, with reporter David Gregory using the moves as a chance to resurrect the Plame case and to maintain, in an amazing coincidence of his personal agenda matching that of “Republicans I've been talking to,” that “the President needs a Press Secretary who will be more open with the media." CBS's Jim Axelrod also got in a snarky shot that certainly put imagery over substance: "The metaphor of the day came from the President's chopper. Technical problems kept it from getting off the ground, just like grounded poll numbers and a stalled agenda are making it harder to fill top jobs.”

NBC anchor Brian Williams led his newscast: “These are tough times these days at the Bush White House. The President's approval rating has hit its lowest point yet. Complaints have been coming in from fellow Republicans. And there is concern the coming midterm elections this year could spell colossal defeat for his own party.” Gregory proceeded to bring up how the portfolio change for Karl Rove “comes at a time when Rove remains under investigation in the CIA leak case.” Moving on to McClellan, Gregory again raised the Plame matter: "But his critics, including Republicans close to the White House, felt McClellan wasn't effective, didn't click with the press corps and lost credibility during the leak investigation when he vouched -- incorrectly it turned out -- for two key figures in the case, Scooter Libby and Rove." (Transcript follows.)

On the CBS Evening News, White House correspondent Jim Axelrod included this lazy comparison:
“The metaphor of the day came from the President's chopper. Technical problems kept it from getting off the ground, just like grounded poll numbers and a stalled agenda are making it harder to fill top jobs. Take Treasury, where Secretary John Snow has signaled he wants to leave. The administration reached out to at least three high-profile business leaders recently: Time-Warner's Dick Parsons, Morgan Stanley's John Mack and Henry Paulson of Goldman Sachs. None were interested.”

Brian Williams led the April 19 NBC Nightly News:
“Good evening. These are tough times these days at the Bush White House. The President's approval rating has hit its lowest point yet. Complaints have been coming in from fellow Republicans. And there is concern the coming midterm elections this year could spell colossal defeat for his own party. The President has replaced his chief of staff, who is now replacing other staff. Today we learned the public face of this White House, the Press Secretary Scott McClellan is departing and the hidden hand behind so much of the Bush presidency, the man the President called 'the architect,' Karl Rove, is getting a tweak. That is where we will begin tonight. Our chief White House correspondent David Gregory standing by. And David, another big day there.”

David Gregory: “It is a big day, Brian, and the feeling around here is that there is still more to come. About today's moves, top advisors say it reflects a pretty grim mood around here, a sense that this team has got to become more assertive, and frankly more effective if it's going to salvage this second term. The biggest change today was one that may be harder to notice. Karl Rove, the President's top political advisor, lost some of his duties as Deputy Chief of Staff. It comes at a time when Rove remains under investigation in the CIA leak case and is among the leading targets of critics who think the Bush team has lost its way.”

Pat Buchanan, conservative commentator: “The criticism of Rove has taken hold in the Oval Office, that the President realizes he is a lightning rod.”

Gregory: “But officials denied the move was a demotion.”

Dan Bartlett, counselor to the President: “It's not that way at all. In fact, I believe I know he feels this will free him up to focus on a lot of things in his broad portfolio.”

Gregory: “The move also frees Rove to focus on what's seen as a make or break midterm election.”

John Podesta, former Clinton Chief of Staff: “They have got to put all their chips on trying to maintain control in the House and the Senate, and right now that looks like it's, you know, it's a high stakes game and one they could lose.”

Gregory: “Today's other news was the resignation of the President's Press Secretary Scott McClellan. His departure followed complaints from Republicans who felt Mr. Bush's most public advisor was letting him down.”

President Bush on White House lawn Wednesday morning: “His is a challenging assignment dealing with you all on a regular basis, and I thought he handled his assignment with class, integrity.”

Gregory: “But his critics, including Republicans close to the White House, felt McClellan wasn't effective, didn't click with the press corps and lost credibility during the leak investigation when he vouched -- incorrectly it turned out -- for two key figures in the case, Scooter Libby and Rove.”

McClellan, October 2003: “Those individuals assured me they were not involved in this, and that's where it stands.”

Gregory concluded from the White House: “Back in 2003 Scott McClellan. He's now out. The President, we're told, close now to choosing a successor for McClellan. And we're told tonight by Republican sources that the leading contender, if he'll accept the job, is conservative commentator Tony Snow; also on a short list, Victoria Clarke and Den Senor, both former spokespersons in this administration. Bottom line tonight, Brian, from Republicans I've been talking to, the sense that the White House, the President needs a Press Secretary who will be more open with the media.”
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