Elizabeth Vargas Steps Down Friday: A Look Back at Ten Years of Her Bias

Tonight (Friday) will be the last day as anchor of ABC's World News Tonight for Elizabeth Vargas, who after a maternity leave will reportedly return to the weekly 20/20. Before joining ABC in 1996, Vargas toiled at NBC. During her years at ABC, she was a regular fill-in co-host and news reader on Good Morning America and a frequent fill-in on World News Tonight, taking the lead role on that broadcast when Peter Jennings fell ill in early 2005. On the occasion of her stepping down from World News Tonight, from the MRC's archive, a look back at her most biased moments.

For the MRC's collection of 50 biased quotes from Charlie Gibson, who takes over Monday for Vargas, go to this page for the compilation which also features ten videos.

Ten items from the MRC’s Notable Quotables:

Lamar Alexander an Extremist?
"You've been known in the past as a moderate Republican, but some of your views could be considered by some to be extreme. For example, you would shut down the U.S. Education Department. You would shut down welfare and Medicaid for the poor, eventually. Aren't you just advocating shifting some enormous problems to states that may not be well-equipped to deal with them?
-- NBC's Today substitute host Elizabeth Vargas to Lamar Alexander, February 28, 1995.

Uncle Sam Must Save Us From Killer Roller Coasters
"More trouble at the nation's amusement parks, two dozen people injured. Why won't Congress let the government regulate those parks?"
-- ABC's Elizabeth Vargas, previewing an upcoming story on the July 31, 2001 World News Tonight.

Tax Cut Threatens Seniors
"Gambling with the federal budget surplus. Billions of dollars evaporate into thin air. Is your Social Security money at risk?"
-- Substitute anchor Elizabeth Vargas's tease at the top of the August 22, 2001 World News Tonight.

Senate Inaction Could Kill Seniors
"Prescription drugs: The Senate kills a plan to help senior citizens afford them. Americans are putting their lives at risk to save money on medicine."
-- ABC substitute anchor Elizabeth Vargas, promoting an upcoming story on the July 31, 2002 World News Tonight.

Where Is Tax Cut for Non-Payers?
"Today millions of middle-class Americans will begin receiving the $400 per child payments, but many poor Americans will get nothing. Missing out on the tax credit in the mail this weekend: military families and their loved, one million children."
-- ABC's Elizabeth Vargas introducing a July 26, 2003 World News Tonight/Saturday story. Lower-income families who won't receive the tax credit do not owe any federal income taxes.

Insisting Bush Condemn Anti-Kerry Swift Boat Ad
"Even Republican Senator John McCain has called on the President to condemn this ad. Why hasn't he done so, this swift boat ad?"
-- ABC's Elizabeth Vargas to reporter Terry Moran on World News Tonight, August 19, the first night the broadcast mentioned the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth.

Democratic Law = Alito's Idea
"On World News Tonight, President Bush's latest nominee to the Supreme Court. Conservatives are thrilled, liberals incensed. He once said a woman should tell her husband before she gets an abortion."
-- ABC's Elizabeth Vargas introducing the October 31, 2005 World News Tonight.

Can't We Stop Retrograde Alito?
Co-anchor Elizabeth Vargas: "You are one of a handful of pro-choice Republicans. But if you get the sense in these hearings that Judge Alito would overturn or weaken Roe v. Wade, would that make him unqualified, in your opinion?"
Liberal Republican Senator Arlen Specter: "I would not decide my vote on a single issue...." Vargas: "Democrats know that if they really do decide they want to oppose the appointment of Judge Alito to the Supreme Court bench, their best bet to do this is to filibuster."
Specter: "There are no extraordinary circumstances to warrant filibustering Judge Alito."
Vargas (astonished): "None?"
-- From a taped interview shown on ABC's World News Tonight, January 9, 2006.

Upset by McCain's "Right Turn"
"During his 2000 campaign, [John] McCain gathered support as a straight-talking maverick by attacking some members of his party's base. Now it appears he's on a very different course...."
-- Anchor Elizabeth Vargas, with "Right Turn?" beneath a picture of McCain, on the April 14, 2006 World News Tonight.

False Claims of "Record High" Oil Price
"I'm Elizabeth Vargas. Tonight, a week of skyrocketing oil prices ends with another record today, and now gasoline shortages....Good evening. It's been a remarkable week for oil and gasoline prices in the U.S. Records were set on four out of five days, and today the price for a barrel of crude topped $75 for the first time ever."
-- Vargas opening ABC's World News Tonight, April 21, 2006.

From the MRC’s CyberAlert archive:

# Vargas Pushes to Avoid Senate Trial for Clinton.
Avoiding a Senate trial of President Clinton is what's good for the country, interim co-host Elizabeth Vargas contended on the January 7, 1999 Good Morning America. MRC news analyst Jessica Anderson caught these two exchanges with Republican Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison:

Elizabeth Vargas: "Senator, the Senate prides itself on being a very dignified body. Does the specter of swearing in Monica Lewinsky on the floor of the Senate and talking about sexual matters disturb you?"
Hutchison (R-Texas): "Yes, very much."
Vargas: "Then why do you think so many of your colleagues are reluctant to work out some kind of a deal to avoid just that?"

Vargas: "You have said, Senator, that you are honor-bound to do your constitutional duty. Aren't you also honor-bound to do what's good for the country?"
Hutchison: "Yes, absolutely."
Vargas: "Do you think a protracted trial in the Senate and the impeachment of President Clinton is, in fact, good for the country?"

# Promoting Million Mom March.
NRA representatives get grilled on the morning shows, but those who wrap their liberal political agenda in motherhood and apple pie get a free ride. Just check out how ABC's Good Morning America treated the organizer of the upcoming anti-gun Million Mom March set for Mother's Day. GMA substitute co-host Elizabeth Vargas provided a long advertisement for the march in the guise of an interview, observed MRC analyst Brad Wilmouth. Vargas introduced the March 23, 2000 segment:
"On the heels of yet another shooting rampage at a Texas church last night, we have a woman with us this morning, a typical mom you might say, who has made it her mission to stop the bloodshed. You remember the Million Man March? Well, this woman is the organizer of the Million Mom March against gun violence, and it is scheduled for Mother's Day May 14th. Joining us now is Donna Dees-Thomases. Donna, good morning. Good to have you here. You actually got the idea for this march, you say, by watching the television coverage of a shooting at a Los Angeles daycare center. Tell me about that." See the March 27, 2000 CyberAlert.

# Vargas Endorses DiCaprio's ABC News Special on Global Warming.

To add "news weight" to its Saturday Earth Day special ABC made Elizabeth Vargas the anchor. Her assessment of Leonardo DiCaprio's role: "This is an important cause for him" and "gosh, if we get another million teenagers...tuning in to see" him "that's great." See the April 21, 2000 CyberAlert.

# Glowing Evaluation of John Edwards.
ABC anchor Elizabeth Vargas highlighted how Edwards "made his name convincing juries to give enormous awards to people who suffered terrible injuries. He won his clients more than $150 million before joining the Senate four years ago. And insurance companies were terrified of him. He now says he wants to fight for working people." See the January 3, 2003 CyberAlert.

# Giving Credence to How Bush Tax Cuts Tilted to the Rich.
ABC, CBS, CNBC and NBC all gave credence to the assumption that Bush's tax cuts unfairly benefit the wealthy, but none noted how the top ten percent of taxpayers pay 67 percent of income taxes collected while the bottom 50 percent pay a piddling four percent. ABC anchor Elizabeth Vargas worried: "President Bush will roll out more tax cuts, but will they benefit everyone?" See the January 3, 2003 CyberAlert.

# ABC Blames "Determined Group of Well-Financed Conservatives."
Sounding eerily like Hillary Clinton's claim of a "vast right-wing conspiracy," ABC anchor Elizabeth Vargas blamed "a determined group of well-financed conservatives ready to exploit" the "weaknesses" of a recall law and unpopular Governor for the circus of California's gubernatorial race featuring "former child actor Gary Coleman" and "Hustler magazine publisher Larry Flynt," though modern conservatives had nothing to do with the century-old law which made it so easy to get on the ballot. See the August 8, 2003 CyberAlert.

# ABC Sees "Harsh" Attack from Bush While Kerry is "Hitting Back."
A "harsh" Bush and Cheney versus the Kerry-Edwards team which is simply "hitting back." ABC anchor Elizabeth Vargas warned on Wednesday night that "the Bush campaign unleashed its harshest attacks yet on Senator Kerry" as "Vice President Cheney accused Kerry of exhibiting, quote, 'a lot of hesitancy and uncertainty'" while President Bush also "went on the attack." ABC's Jonathan Karl argued that "the fervor of the attacks suggests Republicans are worried Kerry is gaining ground." In the very next story, ABC painted Kerry as the set upon victim fighting back on a winning issue. Vargas trumpeted how "Kerry was hitting back today, but on an issue that President Bush once hoped would be an advantage for him -- the drug prescription bill." See the August 12, 2004 CyberAlert.

# ABC Passes Along Worries Saddam Hussein Won't Get Fair Trial.
ABC anchor Elizabeth Vargas set up a Tuesday World News Tonight story, about Saddam Hussein's trial set to start Wednesday, by noting how "many Iraqis are eager to see him in the docks, finally held accountable for atrocities committed by his regime." But then came the inevitable "but," as in: "But already, human rights groups are worried about the fairness of the trial." See the October 19, 2005 CyberAlert.

# Nets Champion Cause of Those Marching for "Immigration Reform."
The three broadcast networks led Monday night with multiple stories which celebrated the protest marches held by illegal immigrants and their supporters, with all three featuring sympathetic anecdotes about the plight of those here illegally. "Tonight," ABC anchor Elizabeth Vargas touted in forwarding the red herring that conservatives are against "immigration" as opposed to illegal entry, "hundreds of thousands of people marching in streets across America, trying to convince the country that it needs immigrants." See the April 11, 2006 CyberAlert.

# CBS and ABC Play to Jealousy Over Exxon Chief's Retirement Pay.
CBS and ABC played to petty jealousies on Thursday night. Both aired silly stories which contrasted the large retirement package, earned by former ExxonMobil Chairman and CEO Lee Raymond, with the average retiree income or the burden rising gas prices supposedly put on a typical family. ABC's World News Tonight featured a "First Person" account from a man who lashed out at how he's being "gouged" by oil companies. Vargas then linked gas prices to Raymond's compensation, as if supply and demand have nothing to do with it: "Those high gas prices, in the meantime, are helping finance one of the richest retirement packages in U.S. corporate history." See the April 14, 2006 CyberAlert.
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