CBS Sees 'Runaway Success' in Failing 'Cash for Clunkers' Program

Reporting on the Obama administration's 'Cash for Clunkers' car buying program running out of money, CBS correspondent Nancy Cordes offered a mixed message: "'Cash for Clunkers' has been such a runaway success....The program is so popular...word spread it would be suspended...because of fears that sales would soon swallow up the $1 billion for rebates the government had set aside."

At the top of Friday's CBS Early Show, co-host Maggie Rodriguez declared: "It's a week old and incredibly popular. But is the government's 'Cash for Clunkers' program coming to a screeching halt? We'll see why it may run out of gas and why so many are angry." She later introduced Cordes' report by explaining: "It appears that 'Cash for Clunkers' could be kaput. There's been a lot of criticism that the week-old federal program is just too confusing. But the White House says it's so popular that it's already running out of money, so they're reevaluating."

In her report, Cordes cited one new car salesman who happily remarked: "People are loving it. It's wonderful. It's a great stimulus package." However, she later concluded that the failing program let: "a lot of car sales and cash hang in the balance." Cordes then observed: "So the two big questions for lawmakers and the administration today. Number one, how could they have so vastly overestimated how long this money would last? And number two, where will they find the cash infusion to keep 'Cash for Clunkers' going?"

On NBC's Today, correspondent Erin Burnett placed a little more focus on the program's problems, rather than its popularity:

Analysts expected it would last maybe until Labor Day. So they didn't think this would last a long period of time to get through the 250,000 cars....And it looks like only about 50,000 cars have actually been sold. The dealers think that they'll very quickly get to the 250, which is why they suspended the program. They were worried maybe the government wouldn't be able to make good on some of those deals to buyers. So there was some confusion that....some real questions on the numbers here, especially given the concern about running out of cars is coming from the dealers, who certainly have a lot to gain by this program getting bigger.


However, co-host Ann Curry later discussed the program with Meet the Press host David Gregory, who stressed the success of the plan: "This was a program that was made to bolster sales for the auto companies which are hurting desperately. So to have a program run out so quickly, a sign of success, but a sign of tremendous need, too."

ABC's Good Morning America provided the most comprehensive and critical report on the program. Unlike CBS and NBC, the ABC morning show highlighted major problems with the government website design to handle rebate requests. Consumer correspondent Elizabeth Leamy reported:

Part of the problem, the government website dealers must use to enter clunker deals is a clunker itself, sputtering and stalling....The computer crashes have caused a backlog. As many as 25,000 transactions that dealers have made, but the government hasn't yet officially approved....Now, dealers are worried they'll be stuck holding the bag....Some dealers are actually now making people sign something, saying they will return their shiny, new car, if the government reneges on the deal.
The only attempt to portray the program as a success was when GMA co-host Robin Roberts declared that it was "wildly popular" while introducing the segment.

-Kyle Drennen is a news analyst at the Media Research Center.