Which way is it? Highlighting three murders this year, ABC's Pierre Thomas on Thursday night delivered an ominous and speculative story on how “radicals of the ultra-fringe, filled with rage about illegal immigration, fear of losing their guns, abortion and race making law enforcement increasingly nervous about a potential wave of domestic terror.” In contrast, on the NBC Nightly News, Pete Williams noted that “Barack Obama's election has stirred the passions of some white separatists,” but he stuck with the facts of what has occurred: “A former FBI official, who tracked hate groups, said overall there's been no spike in activity.”
Thomas began his World News story: “A cold-blooded murder at the Holocaust Museum by a white supremacist. An abortion doctor gunned down in a church two weeks ago. January 21st, Brockton Massachusetts, a day after inauguration, a man who police say had a plan to kill as many blacks, Hispanics and Jews as he could, rapes a minority woman and kills two.” He proceeded to cite the April Homeland Security bulletin, which “warned, quote: 'The economic downturn and the election of the first African-American President present unique drivers for right wing radicalization and recruitment.'”
NBC and ABC on Thursday night framed stories around concerns of “abortion rights” advocates who want proof Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor is on their side, but both cloaked their pieces around the proposition “both sides” of the debate are equally worried.
With “Where Does She Stand?” as the on-screen heading, as if there is genuine belief Obama would have selected the judge without knowing she'd uphold Roe v Wade, NBC anchor Lester Holt set up a story through the prism of pro-abortion activists as he announced that White House “spokesman Robert Gibbs says the President did not specifically ask her about the right to privacy, a key issue in the abortion debate.” Reporter Pete Williams proceeded to declare that Sotomayor's stand on abortion is “a mystery” as “both sides on the abortion issue agree...they're eager to know exactly what Sonia Sotomayor thinks about abortion and the constitution.” Viewers then heard only from one side, an “abortion rights advocate.”
A baffled CBS. The CBS Evening News, which in 2005 had no doubt about how John Roberts and Samuel Alito were dangerous conservatives, expressed bewilderment Wednesday evening over where Obama's Supreme Court nominee stands. “Pundits usually label judges as either liberal or conservative, but that won't be easy with Judge Sotomayor,” Katie Couric propounded in setting up a piece from Wyatt Andrews, who concluded:
President Obama, then, has found a judge with 17 years experience but no clear ideology on discrimination, gay rights, or abortion and who can't be easily defined by political labels.
At least not by the CBS newscast, which back in 2005 asserted Roberts would move “the court further to the right” and fretted over the Alito pick “tilting the Supreme Court in a solidly conservative direction for years to come.”
Amazingly, after showing no reluctance in 2005 to describe John Roberts and Sam Alito as “conservative” or worse, the Tuesday network evening newscasts, particularly ABC and NBC, applied more “conservative” tags to Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor's critics than “liberal” labels to her, as the coverage suggested calling her a liberal was a hasty judgment from accusatory partisans. In total, ABC's World News and the NBC Nightly News combined for a piddling two uses of the “liberal” term while issuing a “conservative” tag eight times. (CBS viewers heard “liberal” four times and “conservative” just once.)
Setting up a look at Sotomayer's record, ABC anchor Charles Gibson fretted about how conservatives had “already” assessed her: “Even before the President announced his decision, conservatives were reviewing Judge Sotomayor's judicial record and were already saying she would be an activist on the court.” Jan Crawford Greenburg then framed any notion of Sotomayer as liberal as based on accusations from conservatives: “...which conservatives have called code for,” “...conservatives today seized on this comment” and “already, conservatives have jumped on the decision.”
Over on NBC, Pete Williams presumed a conflict between her rise from poverty and being liberal: “Despite her remarkable personal odyssey, Judge Sotomayor is already being called a liberal activist by some conservative groups.” (That sentence included NBC's only liberal label utterance during four segments.)
While NBC's Matt Lauer, Pete Williams and Chuck Todd all appropriately applied the liberal label to Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor, on Tuesday's "Today" show, Lauer did try to sell the concept, advanced by the Washington Post, that Sotomayor wouldn't be "reflexively liberal."
MATT LAUER: Right, however in the Washington Post, back in May Pete, when writing about her judicial philosophy they said this, quote, "Sotomayor would probably be a reliably liberal vote on the Court, split into conservative and liberal blocks, on many issues, but her friends and colleagues and former clerks say, she would not be reflexively liberal or results oriented but would adhere to the law and the Constitution." We talking about a fine line there?
The following is a full transcript of the segment as it occurred on the May 26 edition of the "Today" show:
MATT LAUER: NBC News has learned that President Obama has tapped federal appeals court judge Sonia Sotomayor as his first nominee to the U.S. Supreme Court. We'll get more on this right now from NBC's chief justice correspondent Pete Williams. Pete, good morning, what can you tell me.
Sure, the sitting Democratic governor of Illinois has been arrested and charged with attempting to sell Barack Obama's Senate seat. But enough about that. Jay Leno is starting his show 90 minutes earlier!!
Yes, a bit after 1 PM today, MSNBC actually pre-empted its Blago coverage to go to a news conference at which NBC honchos, with Leno present, announced that the Tonight show host would be moving from 11:30 to 10 PM.
Andrea Mitchell was in the midst of a serious dialogue with Pete Williams, when someone apparently whispered in the NBC justice correspondent's ear . . .
Overwhelming bipartisan majorities in the Senate and House agreed to a new Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) the President will happily sign, with the Senate -- including 21 Democrats -- voting for it Wednesday by 69 to 29, yet NBC and ABC painted it as “controversial” based on how the bill blocks lawsuits against telecommunications companies which cooperated with the President after the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Though the program tracked communication between suspected terrorists overseas and people within the United States, not all of them Americans, NBC's Brian Williams delivered a more nefarious picture of firms that had “helped to spy on Americans” and ABC's Charles Gibson referred to “the ability to listen in on Americans without a warrant.” Williams announced:
The Senate approved controversial new rules allowing the government to listen in on phone calls and read e-mails. And what happened today is controversial in large part because America's telecommunications companies get unprecedented protection from lawsuits if they helped to spy on Americans in effect.
Gibson asserted: “One of the most controversial aspects of the bill will protect telecommunications companies from lawsuits for giving the government the ability to listen in on Americans without a warrant.”
On NBC, reporter Pete Williams fretted: “This dooms more than three dozen lawsuits against telephone companies and e-mail providers over what they did to help the government intercept communications after 9/11. So this means that no court can now be asked to rule on whether the Bush administration's eavesdropping program was ever constitutional.”
Conservative media critics know New York Times Supreme Court reporter Linda Greenhouse as an overtly liberal reporter who has marched in pro-abortion protests and gives speeches about her crying at rock concerts about how conservatives have ruined the country and mangled the promise of the baby-boomer generation. But at the end of the PBS chat show Washington Week on June 27, NBC's Pete Williams praised her as a clarinet virtuoso of a reporter, the best the Supreme Court has ever seen.
GWEN IFILL, host: Before we go tonight, we want you to join us in saying congratulations and farewell to Washington Week's longest serving panelist. Linda Greenhouse has been covering the Supreme Court for the New York Times for 30 years. That's more than 2,800 bylined stories.... She's leaving the Times, among other things, to teach at Yale - what Chief Justice John Roberts, a Harvard man, recently called one of the best law schools in New Haven. I have to ask, though, what is it like to compete against Linda, Pete?
As the broadcast network evening newscasts reported on the Supreme Court ruling against D.C.'s ban on handgun ownership, ABC and CBS both relayed to viewers that D.C. has a high crime rate at the same time handguns are illegal. CBS's Katie Couric to D.C. Mayor Adrian Fenty: "I was surprised to hear from Wyatt Andrews that this ban has been in effect for 32 years. ... If that's the case, why has the District remained one of the most dangerous and crime-ridden cities in the country with this ban in effect?" ABC's Jan Crawford Greenburg: "It's been called the nation's murder capital, Washington, D.C., even though handguns were strictly banned."
But on the down side, CBS also ran a report by Bill Whitaker that focused on the complaints of gun control advocates, and seemed oblivious to links between gun control and high crime, even as he admitted Chicago has had a gun ban for 25 years, but still has 325 murders a year as he instead seemed to fret crime would get worse without the city's gun ban. Whitaker: "Chicago, which passed a gun ban similar to D.C.'s 25 years ago, had 325 gun homicides last year -- a 10-year-old shot in the head, a pregnant woman gunned down, a college student shot and killed. Mayor Daley said the Court's decision will make his mean streets even more dangerous." (Transcripts follow)
The broadcast network evening newscasts gave as much emphasis Thursday night to the biting dissent as the majority opinion in the 5-4 Supreme Court ruling on behalf of the Guantanamo detainees, but told the story through the prism of the Bush administration getting rebuked by the decision characterized as “historic” and “landmark” -- with ABC's Martha Raddatz ominously warning “it could be very embarrassing for the administration.”CBS avoided any label for the majority while tagging the dissenters as “conservative” and only NBC noted how some of those already released have committed atrocities.
“The Supreme Court, for the third time, has slammed the Bush administration for its handling of terror suspects at Guantanamo Bay,” CBS anchor Katie Couric announced. Wyatt Andrews asserted “the ruling essentially tells the Bush administration no more halfway justice at Guantanamo” as he segued to a soundbite from a representative of a left-wing group by relaying how “lawyers for the detainees called it a victory for America's reputation around the world.” Andrews, who applied no liberal labels, said the “ruling was bitterly rebuked by the court's conservatives.”
From Kabul, NBC's Brian Williams teased “a big defeat for the Bush administration,” though he later uniquely portrayed the “landmark ruling” as “victory” for the detainees, before Pete Williams tagged both sides, citing “the court's five more liberal members” and “the four conservative dissenters.” ABC anchor Charles Gibson reported that the court “today handed the Bush administration a stinging defeat.” Jan Crawford Greenburg applied the most accurate labeling, referring to how “moderate Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote the decision with the four liberal justices” while “conservative Justice Antonin Scalia read a sharp, almost personal dissent.”
Update at bottom of post: Williams responds (18:24 EDT)
I have to hand it to the AP this time. They actually noted the political party affiliation of another Democrat in legal hot water. So did CNN.com and Reuters.
But for some reason, MSNBC's Pete Williams left out the party affiliation of Louisiana's Rep. William Jefferson (D) in this March 31 item at the First Read blog:
In something of a surprise, the U.S. Supreme Court today declined to hear an appeal involving the FBI's unprecedented search of the Capitol Hill offices of Congressman William Jefferson.
A federal appeals court ruled that the FBI wrongly used its own agents look through the material seized to determine what might be covered by congressional privilege. This is a considerable victory for Jefferson, largely validating his objections to the search and giving him certain bragging rights. But prosecutors claim they have sufficient evidence independent of the search. The cash in his freezer, for example, was found well before Jefferson's offices were searched.
On Sunday's "NBC Nightly News," correspondent Pete Williams previewed details of a new book, The Terrorist Watch: Inside the Desperate Race to Stop the Next Attack, by Ronald Kessler, in which Kessler revealed information obtained by the an FBI agent who extensively interviewed Saddam Hussein and found, among other things, that the former Iraqi leader had deliberately tried to "fool the U.S." into believing he had weapons of mass destruction because "he wanted Iranian leaders to believe that he had nuclear and biological weapons." The FBI agent, named George Piro, also reported that Saddam Hussein "hoped the post-Gulf War sanctions on Iraq would dissolve, allowing him to pursue a nuclear capability." (Transcript follows)