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CBS: Health Care Debate 'Gets Ugly,' GOP Using 'Violent Rhetoric and Imagery'

At the top of Thursday's CBS Early Show, co-host Maggie Rodriguez proclaimed: "The health care debate gets ugly as Democrats who voted for reform report violence and death threats." In a report that followed, correspondent Nancy Cordes promoted left-wing talking points blaming the GOP: "Democrats accuse Republicans of stoking the anger with violent rhetoric and imagery."

As one example of the threats against Democrats, Cordes played phone messages left for Michigan Congressman Bart Stupak: "You and your family are scum....We think you're a devil....I hope you die." However, the Early Show failed to mention any of the threatening phone calls made to Stupak last week, by liberals upset over the pro-life Democrat still being on the fence over the abortion language in ObamaCare. As NewsBusters' Tim Graham pointed out, CBS's own Political Hotsheet blog reported: "Stupak...says his life has become a 'living hell' because of the debate....'All the phones are unplugged at our house - tired of the obscene calls and threats,' Stupak said in an interview with The Hill."

Citing more examples, Cordes noted that Democrats "point to Sarah Palin's Facebook page, which uses cross hairs to denote districts where vulnerable Democrats voted for health care reform. 'Don't retreat, instead, reload,' Palin told fellow conservatives on Twitter." In addition, a picture of the Republican National Committee website appeared on screen, which featured an image of Nancy Pelosi surrounded by flames and the words 'Fire Pelosi'. On Tuesday, Rodriguez asked RNC Chair Michael Steele if such imagery was "a little bit extreme."

Cordes also cited political analyst Reid Wilson from The Hotline blog, who claimed: "I don't think anybody's seen this level of anger for quite a long time. We saw an anger on the left at President Bush and the Republican Congress, especially around the war in Iraq, but nothing to this level." In reality, vile language and threats of violence were common place at anti-war rallies in the Bush years.

Following Cordes's report, Rodriguez conducted an exclusive interview with Democratic House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer and wondered: "How seriously are your colleagues taking these threats?" Hoyer replied: "I think they're taking them very seriously. As you heard, some of the threats that have been made are very, very serious and threaten bodily harm to our members....we need to be very careful in public life that our rhetoric does not turn to incitement of violence or violent acts." CBS spent no time detailing the threats against Republican Senator Jim Bunning in early March, when he held up passage of a spending bill.

Rodriguez went on to claim: "Some Republicans, though, have played this down, saying that this, unfortunately, comes with the territory. When you make a controversial decision, this is par for the course." She did not attribute those comments to any specific Republican and simply asked Hoyer: "Do you agree with that point?" Hoyer responded: "No, I don't think it's par for the course....I haven't seen the level of, frankly, threats or anger or threatening of violent acts that I've seen recently."

No Republicans were featured in the segment. The only GOP response to any of the accusations came in the form of Cordes mentioning: "Republican House Leader John Boehner has put out a paper statement denouncing some of these violent statements." She quickly added: "Democrats want him to do more. They say Republicans need to speak out to try to diffuse some of this anger." Congressional Republicans held a live press conference on Wednesday afternoon denouncing threats against Democrats, the least the Early Show could have done would have been to play a clip of it.

Here is a transcript of Cordes's report:

7:00AM TEASE:

MAGGIE RODRIGUEZ: The health care debate gets ugly as Democrats who voted for reform report violence and death threats.

[ON-SCREEN HEADLINE: Health Care Threats]

CALLER TO REP. BART STUPAK'S OFFICE: You and your family are scum.

CALLER B: We think you're a devil.

CALLER C: I hope you die.

RODRIGUEZ: We'll have reaction from the Democratic leadership and tell you why the Senate has thrown a monkey wrench into the health care bill.

7:01AM SEGMENT:

MAGGIE RODRIGUEZ: But first this morning, new developments overnight in Washington. Two things. Law enforcement this morning are keeping a close eye on a rising wave of threats to Democrats in Congress who voted for health care reform. This, as the debate over the fixes to the health care bill took an unexpected turn in the Senate overnight. CBS News congressional correspondent Nancy Cordes has the latest this morning from Capitol Hill. Nancy, good morning.

NANCY CORDES: Good morning, Maggie. That's right, the Senate was voting all night long and into the wee hours of this morning as Senate Democrats try to wrap up this reconciliation bill, the smaller package of fixes to the larger bill, before they head home for recess. Now, the Senate Democrats managed to strike down every single Republican amendment, keeping the bill largely intact so it will go back to the House for a vote, but it's expected to be fairly routine. For Democrats in the House, however, there has been another problem, threats that they've been getting since they voted yes for health care.

[ON-SCREEN HEADLINES: Health Care Scares; FBI Investigating Death Threats to Dems]

CALLER TO REP. BART STUPAK'S OFFICE: You and your family are scum.

CALLER B: We think you're a devil.

CALLER C: I hope you die.

CORDES: These are just a sampling of the menacing voice mails Michigan's Bart Stupak received after agreeing to vote for the health care bill. Democratic leaders say at least 10 of their members have received violent threats. Windows were smashed at the Tuscan, Arizona offices of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and the Niagra Falls, New York offices of Congressman Louise Slaughter.

LOUISE SLAUGHTER: I really deplore what's happening in my country. This kind of violence has no place in American life.

CORDES: In Virginia, tea party activists urged opponents of health care reform to go to Congressman Tom Perriello's home to express their displeasure with his yes vote. They even posted an address online, but the home belonged to the Congressman's brother. The gas line was cut there and police are now investigating.

REID WILSON [POLITICAL ANALYST, THE HOTLINE]: I don't think anybody's seen this level of anger for quite a long time. We saw an anger on the left at President Bush and the Republican Congress, especially around the war in Iraq, but nothing to this level.

CORDES: Democrats accuse Republicans of stoking the anger with violent rhetoric and imagery.

[ON-SCREEN: Picture of RNC website asking voters to 'Fire Pelosi,' with flames in the background]

They point to Sarah Palin's Facebook page, which uses cross hairs to denote districts where vulnerable Democrats voted for health care reform. 'Don't retreat, instead, reload,' Palin told fellow conservatives on Twitter. Republican House Leader John Boehner has put out a paper statement denouncing some of these violent statements, but Democrats want him to do more. They say Republicans need to speak out to try to diffuse some of this anger. Maggie.

RODRIGUEZ: Nancy Cordes on Capitol Hill. Nancy, thank you.

-Kyle Drennen is a news analyst at the Media Research Center. You can follow him on Twitter here.