On Friday, CBS's Early Show was the only Big Three morning show to cover Energy Secretary Steven Chu's testimony before a congressional hearing on the $528 million loan to the bankrupt solar panel company Solyndra. NBC previewed the hearing on Thursday's Today show, but avoided it the following morning. ABC's GMA completely ignored it both days.
Fill-in news anchor Betty Nguyen gave a 44-second news brief during the 7 am half hour of The Early Show, noting how Secretary Chu "made no apologies for the loan of more than $500 million to Solyndra back in 2009" during the hearing. However, the CBS morning show didn't air a full report on the controversy until the top of the 8 am hour.
Investigative correspondent Sharyl Attkisson led the segment with a sound bite of Republican Congressman Steve Scalise expressing his outrage over the controversy: "This is disgusting! I hope you'll go back in your agency and have some heads roll." She continued by stating that "Republicans accused Energy Secretary Steven Chu, a Nobel Prize-winning physicist, of acting like a venture capitalist, investing in the now-bankrupt maker of solar panels, Solyndra."
During her report, the CBS journalist played two clips from GOP representatives and two from Democrats from the Solyndra hearing, along with a sound bite from Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney. She also noted how "Democrats said Republicans are politicizing the case."
Darren Samuelsohn of Politico took up this liberal talking point about the hearing in a Thursday article, trumpeting in his lede that "House Republicans are fighting to keep Solyndra alive."
On Thursday's Today show, NBC senior investigative correspondent Lisa Myers previewed Secretary Chu's testimony later in the day during a full report. Anchor Matt Lauer stated that Chu was "expected to face some very tough questions over a half billion dollar federal loan given to a solar energy company tied to one of President Obama's donors." Myers added that "the latest embarrassment for the White House is a series of emails revealing that the administration knew the company was in big financial trouble last fall. The e-mail suggests that the administration urged company executives to conceal the bad news until after midterm elections in which Democrats were fighting to hold control of Congress."
Brian Williams later gave a news brief on the Solyndra hearing on Thursday's NBC Nightly News. However, Williams led the evening news program with a rejoinder aimed at Congress over the issue of school meals, as he previewed a full story from correspondent Anne Thompson: "And out to lunch. Does pizza really look like a vegetable to anybody? The better question may be what does Congress have against healthier lunches for kids?" One might conclude that NBC thought childhood nutrition is a hotter news story than a half-billion dollar scandal.
Speaking of meals, ABC was completely out to lunch on Chu's testimony, failing to cover the story on Thursday and Fridays Good Morning America, as well as Thursday's World News.
The full transcript of Sharyl Attkisson's report on Friday's Early Show:
ERICA HILL: First, though, the latest on the government's lost investment in that solar power company, Solyndra- on Thursday, members of Congress spent more than five hours grilling President Obama's energy secretary.
JEFF GLOR: They wanted to know why the solar panel manufacturer was given huge government loans, only to file for bankruptcy.
Investigative correspondent Sharyl Attkisson is in Washington with more on that. Sharyl, good morning.
SHARYL ATTKISSON: Good morning. It was a long, grueling hearing, lasting from morning to afternoon, over the failed business deal that cost taxpayers more than a half billion dollars.
[CBS News Graphic: "Shedding Light On Solyndra: Congress Probes Bankrupt Solar Company Loan"]
REP. STEVE SCALISE, (R), LOUISIANA (from congressional hearing): This is disgusting! I hope you'll go back in your agency and have some heads roll.
ATTKISSON (voice-over): Republicans accused Energy Secretary Steven Chu, a Nobel Prize-winning physicist, of acting like a venture capitalist, investing in the now-bankrupt maker of solar panels, Solyndra.
STEVEN CHU, U.S. ENERGY DEPARTMENT: Fundamentally, this company and several others got caught in a very bad tsunami, if you will.
ATTKISSON: Much of the focus was on how taxpayers were put to the back of the line, behind private investors, in terms of ever getting paid back. Republican Steve Scalise told Chu that move may be illegal.
SCALISE: I think it's wrong, and I think it's going to come out that you did violate the law.
ATTKISSON: Republicans pointed to an internal e-mail from last February. A Treasury Department official advised Energy that only the Justice Department could sign off on a deal to make taxpayers subordinate to private investors. But Chu said he didn't need to consult Justice because his legal experts signed off.
CHU: So we have a number of people saying that this is commensurate with the law.
ATTKISSON: Chu also got grilled over politics. E-mails show a major Obama fundraiser, George Kaiser, who had invested $400 million in Solyndra, sought to influence how the administration handled the company's financial problems. And the Obama administtion wanted to delay layoff announcements until after the 2010 midterm elections. Chu said it's important that the government invest in green tech knowledge, which is sometimes risky, and insisted politics never entered into his decisions.
REP. DIANA DEGETTE, (D), COLORADO: Did any Obama campaign donor ever contact you and ask you to take any action relating to the Solyndra loan guarantee, or to the restructuring of that loan guarantee?
CHU: No, no one did- no Obama campaign-
DEGETTE: You're under oath-
ATTKISSON: GOP presidential hopeful Mitt Romney weighed in from the campaign trail.
MITT ROMNEY, (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE (from interview on Fox News Channel): It doesn't look right, it doesn't smell right. People will get to the bottom of it eventually. These kinds of things have a way of coming out.
ATTKISSON: But Democrats said Republicans are politicizing the case.
REP. HENRY WAXMAN, (D), CALIFORNIA: My message to my colleague is to stop dancing on Solyndra's grave. You're trying to- they're trying to manufacture scandal where there is none.
ATTKISSON (live): In the end, taxpayers are on the hook for $528 million. And as for the prospect of getting any of the money back, Chu told Congress he doesn't expect taxpayers to recover much. Erica and Jeff?
GLOR: Sharyl Attkisson, thanks very much.