ElectionWatch: Networks Downplay Earmarks, Despite Millions Spent by Clinton and Obama
No one could ever accuse the federal government of efficiently spending taxpayer dollars.
So when a new study was released February 13 showing how much the Congress had earmarked last year â including the millions of dollars spent by top presidential candidates â you would think it would have made headlines.
It did in The Washington Post and even on CNN, but garnered only 1 minute and 10 seconds of network broadcast time. The New York Times ran a lengthy story on earmarks, but only used 51 words to include the candidatesâ cash.
âBringing home the bacon: one of these candidates [photo on screen showed Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, Mike Huckabee and John McCain] spent a lot of your money on pet projects; the other didnât spend a dime. The answers in a new report coming up,â teased CNNâs Kiran Chetry on âAmerican Morningâ February 14.
In fiscal year 2008, Congress inserted $18.3 billion worth of earmarks to pay for pet projects, according to a report from Taxpayers for Common Sense (TCS). TCS found presidential candidates Clinton and Obama earmarked $340 million and $91 million respectively.
TCS vice president Steve Ellis called earmarks âa bipartisan afflictionâ in a December 2007 story in The Washington Post. âIt would take leadership in both parties â and a lot more shame â to ever rein them in.â
The Washington Post covered the study on its February 14 front page saying, âWorking with her New York colleagues in nearly every case, Clinton supported almost four times as much spending on earmarked projects as her rival for the Democratic presidential nomination, Sen. Barack Obama (
The Republican front-runner Sen. John McCain (
A press release from TCS included a comment from its president, Ms. Ryan Alexander, who said, âEarmarks are down, but not out. Promises to cut earmarks in half fell short with too many lawmakers continuing to feather their own nest.â
Pork Stories in Print, Not Much on Networks
In addition to the Postâs coverage of the report, The Los Angeles Times and The New York Times also reported it. But the LA Times focused solely on House earmarks, ignoring the Senate altogether, so there was no mention of the millions spent by presidential candidates Clinton and Obama.
The New York Times included a mere 51 words about Clinton and Obamaâs earmarks in its 1,002-word story on February 14.
But all three newspapers still beat out the networks, which downplayed or ignored the report. The only mention of its findings on ABC and NBC came when McCain used it as ammunition against his opponents. CBS, which had covered earmarks extensively in 2007, did not report the results of the TCS study.
According to OâDonnell, âMcCain has long railed against taxpayer-funded pet projects known as earmarks that lawmakers tack onto unrelated legislation. McCain trumpets that he requested zero earmarks, while Hillary Clinton secured $342 million for her state.â
Similarly, ABC âWorld News with Charles Gibsonâ also quoted McCain mentioning
But since TCS released its study on February 13, not one of the three networks has done a story that was focused solely on the presidential candidatesâ earmark spending or included responses from Clinton and Obama.
CNN, however, did announce the findings on the February 14 âAmerican Morning.â
âIf you want to know how some potential presidents are spending your money, there is a new report out. Itâs about pork, or you know, the so-called earmarks,â said âAmerican Morningâ co-anchor Kiran Chetry.
According to the Post, â
The Post quoted Clintonâs spokesman Philippe Reines who said, âSenator Clinton is very proud to heave helped New York-based projects that train nurses, improve our hospitals, help those suffering from 9/11-related health ailments, bolster our national and homeland security, and provide our brave men and women in uniform with the resources they need to achieve their mission, while keeping them safe.â
Earmarks: A Largely Ignored Story
The issue of earmarks hasnât gotten much attention from ABC and NBC since
In his 2008 speech Bush declared, âThe peopleâs trust in their government is undermined by congressional earmarks, special interest projects that are often snuck in at the last minute without discussion or debate.â The president also threatened to veto appropriations bills that do not cut the cost of earmarks in half.
ABCâs Martha Raddatz called that challenge a âdramatic crackdownâ on
Other than stories related to Bushâs speech, mentions of earmarks on ABC and NBC were mere conversation pieces in candidate interviews â many with McCain.
McCain brought up the issue of earmarks and âpork-barrelâ spending by Congress several times including in a
Co-anchor Matt Lauer was asking McCain about his reputation as having a hot temper. McCain defended himself in part saying, âShould I get angry when I see this pork-barrel spending that goes on? Should I get angry on behalf of my constituents when I see [a] $6 billion rip-off on an airplane? Of course.â
CBS was the network exception. While NBC and ABC mostly ignored the topic, in a series called âFollow the Money,â CBSâs Sharyl Attkisson looked at about $2.5 billion in earmark spending, exposing various legislatorsâ pet projects in 2007 and 2008.
But in a
Though she has done many stories on wasteful earmarks, Attkisson had not examined earmarks by candidates Clinton or Obama on CBS between
Hard Questions about Earmarks, But Only for One Candidate
The networks havenât beaten up on Clinton or Obama for their millions of dollars in earmarks. Since
That candidate was Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas), whom Russert interviewed on
Citing articles from the Houston Chronicle and The Wall Street Journal, Russert said, â65 earmark-targeted projects, $400 million that you have put into congressional bills for your district, which leads us to the Congressional Quarterly. âThe Earmark Dossier or âDr. No.ââ
Russert: âWhy, why would you load up âŚâ
Paul: âYou got it completely wrong. Iâve never voted for an earmark in my life.â
Russert: âNo, but you put them in the bill.â
Paul: âI put it in because I represent people who are asking for some of their money back. But it doesnât cut any spending to vote against an earmark. And the Congress has the responsibility to spend the money. Why leave the money in the executive branch and let them spend the money?â
Russert: âWell, thatâs like saying you voted for it before you voted against it.â
Russert continued the line of attack saying, âIf you were true to your philosophy, you would say âNo pork spending in my district.ââ A few moments later he echoed the remark, âWell, when you stop taking earmarks or putting earmarks in the, in the spending bills, then I think youâll be consistent.â
Neither Clinton or Obama were asked hard questions about earmarks or pork-barrel spending on the networks â though they both stand a better chance of being the next president than congressman Paul does.
Grape Research, âFakeâ Prisons and Campaign Donations
There was one reporter who seemed to make it her mission to expose wasteful earmarks and uncover potential spending corruption throughout 2007 and into 2008.
Sharyl Attkisson of CBS tackled the wasteful spending of Congress in roughly 20 stories since
Unlike many reporters, Attkisson made it clear that the government was spending âyourâ money.
âEarmarks are grants of your tax dollars without the normal public review, often given to pet projects by members of Congress in near secrecy. They add up to billions of dollars, and critics say are ripe for fraud and abuse by some,â said Attkisson on Feb. 1, 2008.
Attkissonâs âFollow the Moneyâ reports unearthed some crazy examples: an Alaskan congressmanâs earmark for a
âYouâd basically have to go to jail to see the prison museum in
$11 million went to construct the Center for Grape Research, mostly thanks to Rep. Maurice Hinchey (D-N.Y.) according to an
Attkisson also found connections between earmarks and campaign donations, including Sen. Mary Landrieuâs (D-La.) âmutually beneficial relationshipâ with Randy Best a businessman and founder of a reading program called âVoyager.â Attkisson reported that in 2001 Landrieu secured a $2 million earmark to use the program in D.C. schools. Best later held fundraisers for Landrieu, according to the CBS report.
Even more tax dollars were later earmarked by Landrieu to put the Voyager reading program in
âDo you have any idea how much in total contributions youâve gotten from people connected to Voyager?â Attkisson asked Landrieu. âDoes $80,000 sound right?â