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Nets Disparage Protests: Getting 'Ugly' and 'Unruly,' Scold Limbaugh But Skip Pelosi

The ABC, CBS and NBC evening newscasts in near-unison on Friday night disparaged the anti-ObamaCare protests at town meetings held by Members of Congress as "unruly," "nasty" and "getting ugly," while CBS and NBC targeted Rush Limbaugh - NBC's Kelly O'Donnell charged "some anger...gets stoked by the provocative megaphone of Rush Limbaugh, who went so far as accusing Democrats of wanting the socialized medicine of Nazi Germany" - without bothering to acknowledge Limbaugh was reacting to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi who first put Nazi comparisons into play by accusing the opponents of "carrying swastikas and symbols like that to a town meeting on health care."

Following O'Donnell, NBC's Chuck Todd checked in from a parallel universe at the White House where, except for the pesky health care opponents, Obama's staff achieved great things during the week:

They look back at this week, and they see that they've rescued two Americans from North Korea, that they broke a barrier at the Supreme Court with the confirmation of soon-to-be Justice Sonia Sotomayor, that a major terrorist was killed in, of the Taliban, a figure that is believed, that is somebody that might be able to break up the Taliban in such a way, that the cash for clunkers turned out to be a success, those good unemployment news. So they sit here and say, hey, it's pretty good, but then this health care debate and this town halls that Kelly was reporting on....

ABC anchor Charles Gibson saw "a pattern of disruption - opponents of change shouting at members of Congress so loud that at times police are called in." He then pointed to the Obama administration as an authority on civility, highlighting how "White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said today: 'We can discuss these issues without being uncivilized. It's the same thing I tell my six-year-old.'"

Jonathan Karl's piece began with "Getting Ugly" as the on-screen heading as he recounted: "After people were told they could only submit written questions, a town hall meeting with Michigan Congressman John Dingell got ugly." Viewers saw a man a man, with a wheelchair-bound person in front of him, trying to ask Dingell a question as Dingell demanded: "Go sit down." Karl continued: "The man refused to sit down, so he and his wheelchair-bound son were ejected by police."

Unlike the reporters for CBS and NBC, Karl, however, traveled to an actual meeting held by another Democratic Congressman and relayed how the protesters didn't match the media's caricature of "orchestrated" people coming from outside the congressional district. From Chatham, Virginia, Karl related how "what outrages them most is being called a mob" and he determined "everyone we spoke to here lives here."

George Stephanopoulos then joined Gibson and saw "problems for both sides," with the GOP marred by "intemperate voices," as he explained: "Republicans have to worry that they're going to be defined by their most intemperate voices, but Democrats can't ignore the fact that there are real questions out there about the various health care plans."

(See this earlier BiasAlert item, "ABC: Town Hall Wrath at ObamaCare 'Appears to Be Orchestrated,'" for a look at ABC's Tuesday night, August 4, take.)

Filling in as the anchor on CBS, Jeff Glor framed the story around how "opponents are raising the volume," but now "supporters of reform are trying to fight back." During the opening tease, CBS's on-screen text offered this characterization: "Unruly Protests."

Chip Reid portrayed incivility everywhere: "It's happening across the nation. From Tampa, Florida, where police got involved after a protest in the crowd turned violent. To Green Bay, Wisconsin....Critics of health care reform say it's genuine grass roots anger, but Democrats say activists are orchestrating the protests. The evidence - Web sites of conservative groups that list Democratic town halls and urge critics to go and be heard. And conservatives, like Rush Limbaugh, who, Democrats say, are whipping activists into a frenzy, comparing President Obama's health care plan to Nazi policies."

In contrast to the supposedly outrageous Limbaugh, "the White House hopes that by remaining calm in the face of ferocious anger, the tactics of health care critics will backfire." Reid concluded by smearing the many opposed to ObamaCare with the actions of one person:

To give an idea of just how nasty this battle over health care reform has become, Capitol Hill police say they are now investigating a possible death threat by a constituent against a Democratic Congressman from North Carolina.

As if that has never happened before.

The MRC's Brad Wilmouth corrected the closed-captioning against the video to provide these transcripts of the stories on the Friday, August 7 newscasts (I'm a bit late with this from Friday night because of some traveling a little, ongoing, time off):

ABC's World News:

CHARLES GIBSON, IN OPENING TEASER: Fighting mad: Shouts, shoves, and many questions at packed town hall meetings on health care reform. What's behind the outrage? ...

GIBSON: Turning next to health care reform. Members of Congress are back home holding town hall meetings on the issue, and in meeting after meeting, there's been a pattern of disruption - opponents of change shouting at members of Congress so loud that at times police are called in. White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said today, "We can discuss these issues without being uncivilized. It's the same thing I tell my six-year-old." Here's Jonathan Karl.

JONATHAN KARL, "GETTING UGLY" ON SCREEN: Snapshots from the health care debate. In Michigan:

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1, STANDING NEXT TO REP. JOHN DINGELL, SURROUNDED BY A CROWD OF PEOPLE: I want to know if it's coming out of my paycheck! Yes or no? I want an answer to the question! Is the money coming out of my paycheck?

KARL: In Georgia:

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #2, IN AUDIENCE: They've decided that we're just stupid.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1, IN AUDIENCE: You in Congress have a Cadillac health care plan.

KARL: In Florida:

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #3, STANDING IN A CROWD: -and I don't want the government to do it for me.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #4, HOLDING A BABY: I am not a right-wing wacko.

KARL: After people were told they could only submit written questions, a town hall meeting with Michigan Congressman John Dingell got ugly.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2, IN AUDIENCE, STANDING BEHIND A YOUNG MAN IN A WHEEL CHAIR: I have a question for this young man!

REP. JOHN DINGELL (D-MI): Go sit down and-

MAN #2: I have a question for this young man!

KARL: The man refused to sit down, so he and his wheelchair-bound son were ejected by police. We came down to Congressman Tom Perriello's district in rural Virginia to try to get a sense of just what is going on at these town hall meetings and who is showing up.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #3, IN AUDIENCE: There's nothing in the bill about health care. It's health insurance and who pays for it.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #5, IN AUDIENCE: Will they be able to choose their own doctors?

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #3, IN AUDIENCE: I don't like it.

KARL: Most of these people don't like the Democratic health care plan, but they're not happy with Republicans, either.

REP. TOM PERRIELLO (D-VA), ON STAGE: Let me ask this question: How many people here think Democrats spend too much money?

(MOST AUDIENCE MEMBERS RAISE THEIR HANDS)

How many people here think Republicans spend too much money?

(ABOUT THE SAME NUMBER RAISE THEIR HANDS)

KARL: What outrages them most is being called a mob.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #4, IN AUDIENCE: And now, if we have a little dissent, your party seems to take an issue with that, and I am very upset by that.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #5, BEING INTERVIEWED: They're telling us we're a bunch of nuts out here. I'm a 20-year veteran in the air force. I've coached wrestling in the high school for five years.

KARL: Everyone we spoke to here lives here.

REP. TOM PERRIELLO (D-VA): Most of this is legitimate local dissent, some of it expressed very eloquently, some very vocally.

KARL: Some simply want answers.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN, SITTING IN AN AUDIENCE SEAT, INTERVIEWED BY KARL: I have more questions. I don't have that much confidence in it. I don't see where it's going to make that much of a difference. It's going to be more of the same.

KARL: Even those inclined to support health reform have their doubts.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: 500 pages, I've read it.

KARL: You've read all 500 pages?

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: I read all 500 pages. And even after reading it, I'm not clear on what they're trying to say.

KARL: Apparently, reform advocates have a lot more explaining to do. Jonathan Karl, ABC News, Chatham, Virginia.

GIBSON: And we are joined by our chief Washington correspondent, George Stephanopoulos. And, George, I don't think I've ever seen this widespread pattern of angry discourse on any issue before.

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: And, boy, you have to go back at least 25 years, Charlie. Remember back in the late 1980s, when Congress passed catastrophic health care reform. Seniors found out how much it was going to cost them. They got very angry. It had to be repealed. But this widespread anger you're talking about is really something. The town meetings seem to have taken on a life of their own, and it's causing problems for both sides. Republicans have to worry that they're going to be defined by their most intemperate voices, but Democrats can't ignore the fact that there are real questions out there about the various health care plans.

GIBSON: Is the White House concerned, George, that this congressional recess, with members going home and getting this kind of reaction, are they worried that this is going to hurt the chances for health care reform when Congress comes back?

STEPHANOPOULOS: Yes, they're worried, but they also see it as a possible opportunity. First of all, they know that basically the whole effort needs a bit of a breathing space because there is concern on both sides about how quickly this has all been done. They also know that they have to address these real questions about what this reform will mean to individual Americans and their families, especially those who have health insurance. And that's why the White House is going to emphasize things like the reforms that an insurance company can't drop you if you get sick, but they can impose arbitrary caps on how much they will pay over your lifetime. And they know they haven't done a good enough job at hammering that home.

GIBSON: All right, George Stephanopoulos, thanks very much.

CBS Evening News:

JEFF GLOR, IN OPENING TEASER, "UNRULY PROTESTS" ON SCREEN HEADING: Also tonight, they are getting louder. UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1, IN AUDIENCE BEHIND YOUNG MAN IN WHEEL CHAIR: I'm his father, and I want to talk to you face to face!

GLOR: Town meeting protests against health care reform. Now, supporters of reform prepare to fight back.

...

GLOR: To health care reform now. As Congress begins its summer recess, the debate is moving outside Washington to town meetings all over the country. And opponents are raising the volume. Now chief White House correspondent Chip Reid tells us supporters of reform are trying to fight back.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1, IN AUDIENCE STANDING BEHIND YOUNG MAN IN WHEEL CHAIR: This man would be given no care whatsoever-!

CHIP REID: In suburban Detroit, Congressman John Dingell was the target of so much anger at a town meeting on health care reform-

MAN #1: No, no, no!

REID: -they called the police.

MAN #1: Fine, then arrest me and my son right now!

REID: It's happening across the nation. From Tampa, Florida, where police got involved after a protest in the crowd turned violent. To Green Bay, Wisconsin.

AUDIENCE MEMBERS CHANT: Read the bill! Read the bill!

REID: Critics of health care reform say it's genuine grass roots anger, but Democrats say activists are orchestrating the protests. The evidence - Web sites of conservative groups that list Democratic town halls and urge critics to go and be heard. And conservatives, like Rush Limbaugh, who, Democrats say, are whipping activists into a frenzy, comparing President Obama's health care plan to Nazi policies.

RUSH LIMBAUGH: Adolf Hitler, like Barack Obama, also ruled by dictate.

REID: Unions and liberal supporters of the President say they're now mobilizing, hoping they'll soon outnumber the critics at town halls. The White House hopes that by remaining calm in the face of ferocious anger, the tactics of health care critics will backfire.

ROBERT GIBBS, WHITE HOUSE SPOKESMAN: We can discuss these issues without being uncivilized. It's the same thing I tell my six-year-old.

REID: To give an idea of just how nasty this battle over health care reform has become, Capitol Hill police say they are now investigating a possible death threat by a constituent against a Democratic Congressman from North Carolina.

NBC Nightly News:

BRIAN WILLIAMS: And now to the other big issue on the national radar these days. That's health care. As members of Congress return to their districts for their month long summer break to hear from their constituents, the shouting at so-called town meetings has sometimes reached a fever pitch. It's raising the question - is it genuine raw anger or focused, organized anger, or perhaps a mixture of both? Our own Kelly O'Donnell live in Washington tonight with more on this. Kelly, good evening.

KELLY O'DONNELL: Good evening, Brian. Members of Congress expect to face plenty of tough questions back in their home towns from people who want to know what's going on with health care reform. But the surprise is just how out of hand these town hall meetings are getting and who is behind the spectacle. Temperatures rising across the country - from Florida to Michigan, Texas to Colorado. The town hall meeting is Democracy 101. UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: We're not a member of a mob.

O'DONNELL: Forums for free speech.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2, TALKING IN FRONT OF A GROUP OF PEOPLE: I actually have read this bill!

O'DONNELL: But many have turned into free-for-alls.

CLIP OF PROTESTERS: ObamaCare has got to go!

JEREMY LAURA, TOWN HALL ATTENDEE: At one point, it felt like people were more worried about drowning each other out than listening.

O'DONNELL: With crowds shouting to get in, and where members of Congress, like Michigan Democrat John Dingell, get shouted down. Much of the passion and protest comes from conservative voices opposed to the Democrats' plan for a government-run option for health care.

CLIP OF PROTESTERS: Just say no!

O'DONNELL: The Democratic National Committee in a Web video charged these protests are staged.

CLIP OF AD: Now, desperate Republicans and their well-funded allies are organizing angry mobs.

O'DONNELL, SHOWS NAZI ICONOGRAPHY MORPHING INTO OBAMA HEALTH CARE LOGO: Some anger on display gets stoked by the provocative megaphone of Rush Limbaugh, who went so far as accusing Democrats of wanting the socialized medicine of Nazi Germany.

RUSH LIMBAUGH: The Obama health care logo is damn close to a Nazi swastika logo.

O'DONNELL: To encourage attendance, conservative organizers acknowledge they send e-mail alerts to members but argue the anger is real.

MAX PAPPAS, FREEDOMWORKS: I think that the politicians should be careful about so easily dismissing this many people showing up and participating in the process.

O'DONNELL: Virginia Democrat Jim Moran expects to get an earful.

REP. JIM MORAN (D-VA): It's fine to be opposed. I don't think it's fine to come in with the objective of disrupting the town hall meetings.

O'DONNELL: And, Brian, with 535 members of Congress, there are literally hundreds of these meetings scheduled. And members I've talked to say they don't want to cancel any of these events, but they are concerned that some people might stay away. Brian?

WILLIAMS: Kelly O'Donnell in Washington tonight. Kelly, thanks. Now to the White House and the view from there. We're joined tonight by NBC News Political Director, our chief White House correspondent, Chuck Todd. Chuck, you and I were talking earlier about how the country, even the week, can look differently from inside the White House than it does out in the country.

CHUCK TODD: It does. You know, you go from where the White House is on this. And they look back at this week, and they see that they've rescued two Americans from North Korea, that they broke a barrier at the Supreme Court with the confirmation of soon-to-be Justice Sonia Sotomayor, that a major terrorist was killed in, of the Taliban, a figure that is believed, that is somebody that might be able to break up the Taliban in such a way, that the cash for clunkers turned out to be a success, those good unemployment news. So they sit here and say, hey, it's pretty good, but then this health care debate and this town halls that Kelly was reporting on. It obviously has the White House concerned. They have dispatched folks onto Capitol Hill. Robert Gibbs earlier today pushed back on the Nazi comparison saying that those criticisms put some conservatives like Rush Limbaugh on thin ice. And a lot of times, once an argument gets down to where you start throwing Nazi analogies at each other, it's almost a way of ending the argument, and it could end up backfiring, which is what the White House is hoping for. But these aides that have gone on Capitol Hill, they're trying to infuse some steel into the spines of these Democrats, saying, "Look, put some blinders on, you're going to feel some noise, you're going to feel some heat." But guess what, you have some good news to tout on the economy. Some good news to tout, they believe, on the recovery act. And that should translate into you supporting us and being with us on health care, Brian.

WILLIAMS: All right, we'll stay with the heat and the noise and all of it when we're back at this on Monday. Chuck Todd from the White House on a Friday night. Chuck, thanks.

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