CBS's Two Versions of Brian Bilbray's Chances

The New York Times isn’t the only media outlet to try to find signs of GOP defeat in the midst of Brian Bilbray’s Republican victory in a San Diego special election for Congress. CBS reporter Jerry Bowen carried a sense of Democrat Francine Busby’s moral victory throughout his story on The Early Show this morning. Bowen began:

"In the end, California’s closely watched 50th District stayed Republican...When disgraced Republican Congressman Duke Cunningham went off to prison for taking millions of dollars of bribes, no one predicted what just might happen as voters in this 25-year-long Republican stronghold picked his replacement...That a Democrat, local school board member Francine Busby, even had a chance."

Unidentified man: "It never should have gotten this close."

It's just plain inaccurate to say "no one predicted" a Busby victory (ask a liberal blogger). Bowen added "Recent polls showed Busby even or slightly ahead of former Republican congressman-turned-lobbyist Brian Bilbray." This language was a bit recycled from Tuesday night’s Evening News, but this is where Jerry Bowen looks lame for not taking more time on the morning story: so no one thought Busby "even had a chance." And then seconds later, recent polls showed her "slightly ahead." Huh?

Bowen’s A.M. story looks funnier when he suggested just 12 hours or so before that Busby actually had a decent chance of winning, and that this impending victory could bode very badly for scandal-plagued Karl Rove:

Bowen: No one predicted what just may happen today as voters in this 25-year-long Republican stronghold pick his replacement....That a Democrat, local school board member Francine Busby, could emerge the winner.

Carl Luna (Mesa College): It's a sign that the party has some trouble right now. If Francine Busby wins this, it means Karl Rove better start paying more attention to party politics and less to looming indictments.

Bowen: It's a race that's seen as a referendum on both the Republican Congress and the Republican president, whose popularity is sinking. Recent polls show Busby even or slightly ahead of former Republican congressman-turned-lobbyist Brian Bilbray.

Bilbray: This is a marathon, not a sprint.

Luna: It doesn't help in this day and age if you're running as a former incumbent and a lobbyist. That's like running as a used car salesman.

Don't tell me this sounds like CBS is throwing in the towel on the Democrats last night.

Who is this Luna guy? On his "Political Lunacy" blog for the San Diego Union-Tribune, Luna cracked wise about all the ways Republicans had fumbled away this race:

Run a Democrat as candidate who has the charisma of a Kennedy and character of an Eisenhower. Meanwhile, end up with a Republican candidate who kind of resembles Richard Nixon in a speedo.

He later retracted the idea that Busby had charisma (mysteriously, he did this by claiming "she’s no Hillary"), but his hostility to Team Bush also came through:

Have a Republican President with an approval rating lower than the average used-car salesman (Say what you will about used car salesman; they seldom run up trillions of dollars in national debt or start, without any sign of finishing, two simultaneous and increasing unpopular foreign wars.)

Both Bowen stories highlighted Bilbray's differences with social conservatives using these words:

Democrat Busby campaigned on the corruption issue. Bilbray took a stand for tougher immigration laws...Which may convince conservatives to turn out despite their differences with him on things like stem cell research and abortion rights, which he favors.

Earth to CBS: conservatives don't oppose "stem cell research." They oppose "embryo-killing stem cell research." Bowen didn't find Busby appealing to "liberals," and he certainly didn't note the late-breaking Busby gaffe in the race, when she told a largely Latino audience "you don't need papers for voting." As the San Diego Union-Tribune reported, the Republicans were energized:

Bilbray said at worst, Busby was encouraging someone to vote illegally. At best, she was encouraging someone who is illegally in the country to work on her campaign.

“She's soliciting illegal aliens to campaign for her and it's on tape – this isn't exactly what you call the pinnacle of ethical campaign strategy,” Bilbray said. “I don't know how she shows her face.”

Tim Graham
Tim Graham
Tim Graham is Executive Editor of NewsBusters and is the Media Research Center’s Director of Media Analysis