Still Thrilled by Obama

How the Network Morning Shows Are Trashing Republicans and Trumpeting Barack Obama in Campaign 2012

    One telling indication of how journalists approach the two camps is their use of ideological labels. At this point in his presidency, few would disagree that Barack Obama is a bona fide liberal, and most political observers would also agree that most of the Republican candidates are principled conservatives.

    Yet when MRC analysts reviewed the morning show coverage, they found a wide disparity: 49 instances in which network reporters employed the “conservative” label to describe the Republicans, vs. just one case in which a reporter (ABC’s Jake Tapper) referred to the President as a “liberal.”


    Tapper, on the January 24 Good Morning America, was describing Obama’s goal in his State of the Union message, saying the President hoped to “pivot back towards the center and win over all those independent voters who thought he was a centrist unifier in 2008, but many of them now see him as a big government liberal.”

    Obama is well-known now, but four years ago the networks also refused to identify the virtually unknown Illinois Senator as a “liberal.” Once again, the only morning show label from four years ago came from ABC’s Tapper, who offered this flattering review in January 2007: “Obama has drawn raves for presenting fairly traditional liberal views as fresh and inspiring....

    As in 2007, neither CBS nor NBC has employed a liberal label when discussing Obama’s philosophy.

    And, four years ago, neither Hillary Clinton, John Edwards, Joe Biden or any of the other Democratic candidates were ever labeled as “liberal.” In fact, network analysts refuted the notion that Hillary, who was advocating a mandatory health care plan much like the eventual ObamaCare law, was in any way liberal. “People think she’s a liberal, even though she’s hawkish,” MSNBC’s Chris Matthews huffed on the January 15, 2007 Today.

    With this year’s crop of Republicans, however, the networks aren’t being nearly as stingy with the ideological labels. On the March 22 edition of NBC’s Today, for example, Natalie Morales told viewers about former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty’s candidacy: “The 50-year-old conservative announced on Facebook Monday that he was forming an exploratory committee....”

    Two days later, ABC’s Jon Karl talked about Sarah Palin and Michele Bachmann: “They are the queens of the Tea Party. Tough, uncompromising, as conservative as they come....”

    On the June 13 Early Show, correspondent Jan Crawford called former Senator Rick Santorum the “strongest social conservative in the bunch.” On the June 27 Good Morning America, reporter Jonathan Karl described Congresswoman Michele Bachmann as a “take-no-prisoners conservative.” The next morning on Today, co-host Matt Lauer asked Bachmann: “Are you at all concerned that your socially conservative views, that make you very popular in Iowa, might not play as well down the road?”

    Interviewing Bachmann on August 12, Today fill-in co-host Lester Holt dropped several labels in one question: “As you know, Rick Perry, the conservative governor of Texas, is about to join the already crowded field of GOP contenders. He comes from the same conservative cut out that you come from, but he also has the added advantage of being the chief executive of a huge state like Texas. How will you compete against him and how will you distinguish yourself from him to conservative members of the party?

    And, NBC’s Savannah Guthrie presumed conservative views were a hindrance when she interviewed Jon Huntsman on September 1: “Do you think that Governor Perry or Michele Bachmann are too far right to win and beat President Obama?”

    It’s certainly not inaccurate to describe Perry, Bachmann and most of this year’s GOP candidates as “conservative” — they wear the label proudly. But if the networks are going to treat both sides fairly, they should be just as ardent in pointing out the ideology of liberal Democrats as they are with conservative Republicans.