At the top of Wednesday's NBC Nightly News, anchor Brian Williams seized on the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office revoking the trademark of the Washington Redskins as part of the liberal crusade to force the team to change it's name: "Taking a hit. The feds go after the Redskins where it hurts the most, money from team merchandise, as the controversy over the team's name takes a surprise turn." [Listen to the audio or watch the video after the jump]
Introducing the later report, Williams proclaimed: "The pressure just increased on the Washington Redskins to change their team name. Starting with the fact that they may no longer have the exclusive use of their own name in the lucrative business of NFL merchandise." Correspondent Kristen Welker touted the government abuse of power as "A victory for Native Americans who say the name should go, calling it just as racist as the 'N' word."
Welker then explained that the supposed "surprise move" was actually a second attempt by the government department: "Today the team said it would appeal and issued a statement, 'We are confident we will prevail once again,' noting the trademark board reached a similar decision in 1999, which was ultimately overturned."
Welker noted that the decision would have little immediate impact on the Redskins financially, but declared: "Political pressure has been mounting. Fifty U.S. senators recently called on the team to change its name." She failed to mention every single one of them were Democrats and the coverage never raised the question of whether the entire effort was politically motivated.
A sound bite ran of Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid ranting: "It's racist. Daniel Snyder says it's about tradition. I ask what tradition? The tradition of racism?"
Welker concluded: "The debate rages daily in sports bars....As fans and the courts consider whether this name is a racial slur or a tradition worth protecting."
Over on CBS Evening News, fill-in anchor Sharyn Alfonsi announced: "Today, a government agency turned up the heat on the NFL's Washington Redskins to change their name."
In the report that followed, Correspondent Chip Reid framed the debate as a civil rights issue: "Team owner Daniel Snyder has consistently said he will never change the name, but dozens of Native American tribes and civil rights groups have called for just that. So have fifty U.S. senators, including Democratic leader Harry Reid."
Like on NBC, a clip ran of Harry Reid's bomb-throwing: "Daniel Snyder may be the last person in the world to realize this, but it's just a matter of time until he's forced to do the right thing and change the name."
ABC's World News did not cover the U.S. Patent Office decision Wednesday night and Thursday's Good Morning America only offered a 17-second news brief on the topic.
Thursday's NBC Today provided a 28-second news brief.
CBS This Morning was the only morning show to offered a full report on the controversy, with correspondent Jan Crawford hyping how the trademark ruling had "rocked the sports world."
However, she at least cast some skepticism on the government overreach:
It's rare for the government to cancel a trademark because a group finds it derogatory and the Redskins have fought this battle before. The trademark office made a similar ruling against the team fifteen years ago. The organization appealed and won. The team attorney predicted the same outcome this time, saying, "We are confident we will prevail once again."
That legal battle could take years, and even if the team eventually lost, trademark experts say it has other legal avenues to keep people from selling unlicensed merchandise....
Now, the government canceling trademarks because some people find them offensive does raise some free speech concerns. You know, the government saying what is and is not permissible to name your team. That is a First Amendment fight that many legal experts are saying today the Supreme Court eventually is going to have to resolve.
Here is a full transcript of the June 18 Nightly News segment:
7:00 PM ET TEASE:
BRIAN WILLIAMS: Taking a hit. The feds go after the Redskins where it hurts the most, money from team merchandise, as the controversy over the team's name takes a surprise turn.
7:08 PM ET SEGMENT:
WILLIAMS: The pressure just increased on the Washington Redskins to change their team name. Starting with the fact that they may no longer have the exclusive use of their own name in the lucrative business of NFL merchandise. The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office today canceled its protection of the team's name. Tonight from Washington, NBC's Kristen Welker has more on what this all means.
KRISTEN WELKER: What's in a name? That's the question at the center of the ongoing controversy surrounding the 81-year-old Washington Redskins.
Today the U.S. Patent Office revoked the team's trademark, calling the name a "racial slur," in blatant violation of the prohibition against disparaging trademarks. The ruling doesn't prohibit the team from using the name "Redskins," but if it stands, it would allow others to use the name to sell merchandise.
A victory for Native Americans who say the name should go, calling it just as racist as the "N" word.
RAY HALBRITTER [ONEIDA INDIAN NATION REPRESENTATIVE]: Basic civility, respect, and moral decency would tell us and tell us that we should do the right thing. We should change this name.
WELKER: Today the team said it would appeal and issued a statement, "We are confident we will prevail once again," noting the trademark board reached a similar decision in 1999, which was ultimately overturned.
The question now, would losing trademark protection impact the team's bottom line? Merchandise sales are split among all NFL teams, so the Redskins may not see a significant drop in that revenue.
DANIEL KAPLAN [SPORTS BUSINESS DAILY]: The only way it really begins to affect the bottom line of the Redskins is if major sponsors stood up, or if potential stadium backers stood up and said, "We won't be involved with this."
WELKER: Meanwhile, political pressure has been mounting. Fifty U.S. senators recently called on the team to change its name.
SEN. HARRY REID [D-MAJORITY LEADER]: It's racist. Daniel Snyder says it's about tradition. I ask what tradition? The tradition of racism?
WELKER: The debate rages daily in sports bars.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: This is a change that I think that really needs to be made.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: There's no malice intended by the use of the Redskin name. Do I agree with the decision? No.
WELKER: As fans and the courts consider whether this name is a racial slur or a tradition worth protecting. Kristen Welker, NBC News, Washington.