Brian Williams and Mike Taibbi on last evening's “NBC Nightly News” did exactly what they reported Bill Bennett claims started this whole controvery in the first place – took his radio remarks totally out of context.
In his introduction to the segment, Williams stated “[Bennett] says his remarks are being taken out of context.” Then, Taibbi only played back the offensive sentences made by Bennett, along with the text of those sentences printed on the screen adjacent to Bennett’s picture. However, Taibbi did not play, read, or print out for the viewer the question that was asked of Bennett by the caller to his radio program, nor what was said by Bennett before or after these sentences. As a result, Williams and Taibbi did exactly what Williams said Bennett is asserting – took his words out of context.
In addition, Taibbi only solicited or quoted opinions on this issue that were antagonistic towards Bennett. These included Nancy Pelosi (D-Cal), Harry Reid (D-Nev), and the president of a civil rights group. Taibbi also reported the White House’s denouncement of what Bennett said. As a result, not one person was interviewed or quoted who supported Bennett’s contention that when taken in their entirety, his words are not as contentious as what is being reported.
What follows is a full transcript of this report along with a video link.
Williams: The White House is distancing itself from comments by a well-known Republican, William Bennett, whose remarks about abortion and black children made on his radio program on Wednesday have infuriated some people. He says his remarks are being taken out of context. He's calling the criticism "ridiculous, stupid, and without merit." Mike Taibbi tonight with the latest on this war of words.
Taibbi: It's been years since William Bennett was an official, if controversial, link between conservative thinking and government policy, first as Ronald Reagan's education secretary and later as drug czar under the first president Bush. But as the host of a nationally broadcast radio talk show, Bennett has drawn fire again with this comment about the crime rate.
Bennett (radio): I do know that it's true that if you wanted to reduce crime, you could, if that were your sole purpose, you could abort every black baby in this country and your crime rate would go down. That would be an impossible, ridiculous, and morally reprehensible thing to do, but your crime rate would go down.
Taibbi: Bennett said he based his comments on the book "Freakanomics," which among other things theorized a link between abortion generally and the crime rate, but that his comments in their entirety made his position unmistakable.
Bennett: I think morally reprehensible, when that is included in the quote, makes it perfectly clear what my position is.
Taibbi: Still, White House spokesman Scott McClellan said today, "the president believes the comments were not appropriate." Democrats, including house minority leader Nancy Pelosi and Nevada senator Harry Reid, condemned the comments, and one civil rights group is leading a call for Bennett to be silenced.
Wade Henderson: I think if Secretary Bennett does not choose to address the issue with a forthright apology, I think at the minimum, his program should be removed from the air.
Taibbi: Bennett, author of "The Book of Virtues," no stranger to controversy, now with another fire to put out, sparked by his own words. Mike Taibbi, NBC news, New York.