CBS & NBC Lead with Rove, Then Express Bafflement Over How Bush Can't Get a Break

Leading with Karl Rove's grand jury session, on Wednesday's CBS Evening News anchor Bob Schieffer painted CBS's coverage through a set of facts forwarded by Bush enemies as he justified his news judgment, “It is the story that is keeping Washington on edge: Who outed one of the CIA's secret agents whose husband happened to be a critic of the President and his war policy?” Jim Axelrod framed his story around how Rove being “called back in front of the grand jury yet again makes it crystal clear” that he's “still very much under a cloud of suspicion.” Axelrod seemed almost sorry for the Bush team as he concluded: "The President's poll numbers are at an all-time low, gas prices are through the roof, he's got an unpopular war and a divisive immigration debate to handle, and his chief political advisor is under this cloud. It just couldn't come at a worse time for the President.” Then, as if the media's news judgment has nothing to do with it, Schieffer observed: "I would agree that this White House just can't seem to talk about what it wants to talk about. I think today probably what they wanted to talk about was the naming of a new Press Secretary."

On the NBC Nightly News, which also led with Rove, anchor Brian Williams similarly marveled at how “the White House today was hoping for favorable coverage of one story in particular: The naming of the President's new Press Secretary, Tony Snow. And it was the story of the day from the White House right up until Karl Rove became the story.” Williams also highlighted “a new record the President may not be so proud of," an "all-time low" approval number for Bush in “our polling.” But the 36 percent approval in NBC's new poll is three points higher than a Fox News poll last week and four points above what CNN found this week. (Transcripts follow.)

The MRC's Brad Wilmouth provided transcripts of April 26 CBS and NBC coverage.

CBS Evening News. Bob Schieffer opened:
"Good evening. It is the story that is keeping Washington on edge: Who outed one of the CIA's secret agents whose husband happened to be a critic of the President and his war policy? The Vice President's top aide has already been indicted for perjury in connection with the case, and today presidential counselor Karl Rove was called before the grand jury for the fifth time. Does that mean more indictments are coming? Here's our White House correspondent, Jim Axelrod, with what we know. Jim?"

Jim Axelrod: "Well, Bob, that the President's closest political advisor was called back in front of the grand jury yet again, makes it crystal clear that the special prosecutor's investigation is still very much alive, and that Karl Rove is still very much under a cloud of suspicion. Rove spent much of his day away from his work at the White House, and with his lawyer, Robert Luskin, who said prosecutors had assured them that in connection with this appearance, Rove was not a target of the investigation. Special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald apparently wanted to question Rove more about his conversations with reporters right before CIA operative Valerie Plame's identity was revealed in the press. Rove originally told Fitzgerald that he hadn't spoken to a Time magazine reporter about Plame, then checked his records and amended his story, saying he had simply forgotten about the conversation."

Andrew Cohen, CBS News legal analyst: "It's always a discouraging sign when you're called before a grand jury one time, never mind five times. And if you're Karl Rove, you have to be worried that you keep getting called back."

Axelrod: "This hasn't been the best month for Mr. Rove. Last week it was announced his job was being downsized and new staff would handle part of the work he had been doing."

Karl Rove, getting into a car: "Great to see you all."

Axelrod: "But after five grand jury appearances, legal experts say Rove should know something soon."

Cohen: "I don't think it will take much longer for a decision to be made on whether or not to indict Karl Rove."

Axelrod concluded from the White House: "This can't be over fast enough for the White House. The President's poll numbers are at an all-time low, gas prices are through the roof, he's got an unpopular war and a divisive immigration debate to handle, and his chief political advisor is under this cloud. It just couldn't come at a worse time for the President, Bob."

Schieffer: “Well, I would agree that this White House just can't seem to talk about what it wants to talk about. I think today probably what they wanted to talk about was the naming of a new Press Secretary.”


NBC Nightly News. Brian Williams, in opening teaser:
"Leak investigation: Tonight, the President's top political advisor Karl Rove in court again on the leak of a CIA agent's name. And in our latest poll, a new record the President may not be so proud of."
Williams then led:
"Good evening. As often happens in this media age, the White House today was hoping for favorable coverage of one story in particular: The naming of the President's new press secretary, Tony Snow. And it was the story of the day from the White House right up until Karl Rove became the story when we learned he has testified again before that Washington grand jury looking into the outing by leak of a CIA agent. There is another story tonight as well. The new numbers were about to debut on the President's popularity and the direction of this nation. We'll begin at the White House tonight. Our chief White House correspondent David Gregory with us from there. David, another eventful day."
Gregory ran through the particulars of the Rove case and then, as detailed in this earlier NewsBusters item, the selection of Tony Snow as White House Press Secretary. Following Gregory, Williams talked with Tim Russert about a new poll:
Williams: "And now to those poll numbers we mentioned at the top of the broadcast tonight. Tonight's NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll just out, I spoke earlier to Tim Russert, our Washington bureau chief and the moderator of Meet the Press. Tim, we'll start with the benchmark number in this poll, and for this president during our polling this is an all-time low. The approval/disapproval number, 36 percent approval rating for the President, 57 percent disapprove. Tim, let's go inside that benchmark number and look at issues and direction."

Tim Russert: "Brian, this is an unsettled country. Look at this: Wrong track, right track, 67 percent of the American people, two-thirds now believe we are on the wrong track. Why? The economy is a huge reason. Only 19 percent are confident about the direction of the economy. 77 percent, three out of four, uneasy about the economy. And what are the top concerns that create this unease? Gas prices at $3, 45 percent of our responders. Iran nuclear weapon 33 percent, illegal immigration, 26. Gas prices have people hopping mad, Brian."

Williams: "And more of them concerned about that than they are about nuclear weapons in Iran. So obviously the President is paying a heavy price for several of these issues, is he alone here?"

Russert: "He is not alone. Look at these numbers for Congress. We now have found that 65 percent of the American people disapprove the job Congress is doing. Only 22 percent approve. That disapproval rate is up 12 points. And what are they saying that aggravates them about Congress, Brian? 44 percent say the parties are fighting. 36 percent say nothing gets done. 34 percent say members are corrupt. The trifecta haunting Congress."

Williams: "But on the other side of the coin, Tim, do the Democrats really have anything to celebrate in any of these numbers?"

Russert: "Well, this is quite striking. Let's look at it. We have now found when asked who do you want to control Congress, 39 percent say Republicans, 45 percent say Democrats. A six-point plus for the Dems. But a month ago, look at this, Brian, it was 13 points. So the people seem to be saying we're mad at both parties, we prefer the Democrats a little bit, but we prefer to hear some viable alternatives coming from them."
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