CBS Plays Up The Absence of Republican Speakers at King Anniversary

August 29th, 2013 5:17 PM

On Thursday's CBS This Morning, Jeff Pegues spotlighted the lack of GOP speakers at the 50th anniversary commemoration of Martin Luther King's "I have a dream" speech: "Noticeably absent from this event, the GOP...the two most senior Republicans in the House...were invited to speak but declined." However, Pegues failed to mention that the event organizers didn't make much of an effort to get Republican Tim Scott, the only current black U.S. senator, to speak.

The correspondent also zeroed in on former President Bill Clinton's dubious claim during his speech at the commemoration – that "a great democracy does not make it harder to vote than to buy an assault weapon." [MP3 audio available here; video below the jump]

During his report, Pegues featured two soundbites from President Obama's address at the anniversary event on the National Mall, as well as a clip each from Clinton; Rep. John Lewis, the only surviving speaker from the original march in 1963; as well as an attendee from 50 years ago. Just before playing the soundbite from Rep. Lewis, the CBS reporter hinted that there is no longer much of a controversy over the morality and legal recognition of homosexual behavior:

JEFF PEGUES (voice-over): The civil rights message of today has changed. Speakers addressed gay rights and women's rights, while others used the opportunity to weigh in on some of the more controversial issues of the day. Congressman John Lewis, the only speaker on Wednesday who shared the stage with Dr. King 50 years ago, faulted laws that he believes unfairly target minorities.

The correspondent continued with the "assault weapons" clip from former President Clinton. He didn't bother to fact check the Democrat's contention about the ease of getting a semi-automatic rifle. Back in January 2013, the National Review's John Fund, in refuting an oft-cited, but questionable statistic that 40 percent of all gun purchases are conducted without a background check, pointed out that "if you look at guns that were bought, traded, borrowed, rented, issued as a requirement of the job, or won through raffles, 85 percent went through Federal Firearm Licensees and would have been subject to a background check." Not one state in the U.S. requires voters to go through a background check in order to cast a ballot in an election.

Pegues concluded the segment with his line about Republicans being "noticeably absent" from the anniversary event, and cited Roll Call's report about Boehner and Cantor declining the invitation. The same publication documented on Thursday afternoon that Senator Tim Scott "declined an invitation to attend the ceremony as a spectator, according to a source connected to the event."

Writer Emma Dumain later noted that "Scott spoke at a special service in commemoration of the occasion at a church in North Charleston, S.C., where his cousin is a pastor, according to Scott's spokesman, Greg Blair." Dumain added that Blair "didn't say whether Scott would have accepted the invitation to attend the march had that invitation explicitly asked him to play an integral part. 'There was no effort to get the senator to speak,' added an aide with Scott's office."

On Wednesday's CBS This Morning, Pegues boosted President Obama's anniversary speech by playing nothing but race-related clips from the Democrat's past speeches. He also hyped how the President's July 2013 remarks about Trayvon Martin were "surprisingly revealing".

[Update, Thursday, 6:15 pm Eastern: the full transcript of Jeff Pegues' report from Thursday's CBS This Morning can be read at]