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ABC and NBC Jump to Herald Obama's Presidential Medal of Freedom Picks

When Obama does it, it's news. ABC and NBC on Thursday night made time to highlight who President Barack Obama will bestow with a Presidential Medal of Freedom in two weeks - on Wednesday, August 12. Both started with Senator Ted Kennedy. On ABC's World News, which never touted President George W. Bush's picks in advance, fill-in anchor Elizabeth Vargas trumpeted:

The White House announced that Senator Ted Kennedy, who is battling brain cancer, will be among sixteen people given the nation's highest civilian honor, the Presidential Medal of Freedom next month. President Obama said he's honoring Kennedy and the other recipients for their contributions as agents of change. Among the other medal winners are tennis great Billie Jean King, former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor and physicist Stephen Hawking.

Brian Williams announced on the July 30 NBC Nightly News, sans "presidential" in the title of the award:

Today we learned the names of the sixteen people who will this year be awarded America's highest civilian honor, the Medal of Freedom. They include Senator Ted Kennedy, tennis champion and women's advocate, Billie Jean King, retired Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, actor Sidney Poitier and Archbishop Desmond Tutu. You can see the full list of Medal of Freedom recipients our Web site, Nightly.MSNBC.com.

A posthumous honoree unmentioned by either Vargas or Williams: Jack Kemp.

Going back to the Clinton years, per a search on Nexis, NBC Nightly News has only once before announced recipients in advance, this item from Williams on Thursday, November 3, 2005 when Williams also mis-stated the name of the award: "And speaking of Alan Greenspan, he will be among several recipients of this year's Medal of Freedom, this nation's highest civil award. Some of those joining the outgoing Fed Chairman in the honor: Muhammad Ali, Carol Burnett, Aretha Franklin, Andy Griffith and Jack Nicklaus. President Bush will present the awards next week."

Going by a search in Nexis of ABC News transcripts, back to the beginning of the Clinton administration, neither World News, or the previously titled World News Tonight, have ever before plugged in advance a President's selections for the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Also of note: This is the third time in less than two weeks that ABC's World News has championed Ted Kennedy.

On Sunday, July 19, anchor Dan Harris hailed how "Senator Ted Kennedy is using his own battle against brain cancer to make an emotional pitch for health care reform. Writing in Newsweek, Kennedy called it 'the cause of my life.'"

A week later, on July 26, World News devoted a full story to Kennedy's cause as Harris' tease framed Kennedy's big government agenda in the most-benign light: "In the game. An ailing Ted Kennedy, now working from his sick bed to achieve his life-long goal of health care for everyone." Reporter John Hendren fretted: "Senator Edward Kennedy is the missing man in the battle for health care reform. On Capitol Hill, nearly everyone agrees things would be different if the liberal lion were here."

- Brent Baker is Vice President for Research and Publications at the Media Research Center