News outlets labeled PFAW as "liberal" but failed to identify U.S. Chamber of Commerce as conservative

››› ››› JOSH KALVEN

On August 24, both People for the American Way (PFAW) and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce publicly announced their respective positions on President Bush's nomination of John G. Roberts Jr. to the Supreme Court. In reporting on these announcements, Fox News, the Chicago Tribune, and the San Francisco Chronicle all described PFAW as "liberal" but failed to provide any identifying characterization for the U.S. Chamber despite the organization's strong conservative leanings. In addition, virtually all coverage of the U.S. Chamber's endorsement of Roberts failed to note his previous legal work for the organization.

On the August 24 edition of Fox News' Special Report, host Brit Hume called PFAW "one of the most liberal groups in America" while introducing a report on the announcements. During the segment, Fox News chief Washington correspondent Jim Angle proceeded to describe PFAW as a "key liberal group." Later in the evening, during a newsbreak on Fox News, anchor Laurie Dhue referred to PFAW as a "liberal group." In August 25 articles, the Chicago Tribune described PFAW as a "leading liberal advocacy group," and the San Francisco Chronicle simply labeled PFAW "liberal." In each of these cases, the reporters went on to refer to the U.S. Chamber without any such qualifiers or characterizations of their political leanings.

In fact, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce is a strong supporter of Republican policies and conservative causes. During the 2004 presidential election, for example, the U.S. Chamber publicly opposed the 2004 Democratic presidential ticket of Sens. John Kerry (D-MA) and John Edwards (D-NC), citing Edwards's previous work as a trial lawyer. The U.S. Chamber provided $3 million to seed the November Fund, a 527 group that ran ads in seven states during the 2004 presidential election attacking Edwards and trial lawyers in general for purportedly increasing business costs.

The U.S. Chamber has also headed campaigns in support of Republican health care policies. In 2000, the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA) funneled an estimated $20 million through the U.S. Chamber to pay for ads "defending Republicans on a range of health-care issues," according to an October 6, 2000, Wall Street Journal article. The Journal reported: "Some industry officials feel that because it has a strong local presence through local chapters around the country, the Chamber has more credibility with voters and greater freedom to run hard-hitting ads."

In recent years, the U.S. Chamber has also supported President Bush's tax cuts [Washington Post, 3/4/01] and Republican efforts to ease enforcement of workplace laws [Wall Street Journal, 7/3/01].

With regard to campaign contributions, the U.S. Chamber predominantly backs Republican candidates. In 2004, the organization's political action committee gave $173,150 to federal candidates, with 76 percent of this sum going to Republicans, while only 24 percent went to Democrats.

In contrast with Fox News, the Tribune, and the Chronicle, other news outlets noted the U.S. Chamber's Republican ties in their articles on the endorsement:

  • A Knight Ridder article described the U.S. Chamber and PFAW as "bookends in a tough ideological debate."
  • The Associated Press noted that the U.S. Chamber "has supported many of the president's nominees and policies."
  • The Atlanta Journal-Constitution described the group as a "staunch supporter of Bush's appointees and policies."

Additionally, in reporting on the U.S. Chamber's endorsement, virtually no media outlet noted that Roberts is a former counsel to the U.S. Chamber. Exceptions include the Associated Press, which noted that "Roberts did some work for the chamber during his time as a private attorney. He represented the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in a battle over a Maine law designed to lower drug prices for state residents who lacked insurance coverage." Also, CNN reported that "Roberts represented the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in two cases in which the organization filed friend-of-the-court briefs before the Supreme Court in the 2001-2002 term. Robin Conrad, a counsel to the Chamber of Commerce, said the cases involved questions over interstate commerce laws and whether state laws conflicted with a federal act."

From the August 24 edition of Fox News' Special Report with Brit Hume:

HUME: The question about one of the most liberal groups in America was not whether the group would oppose the Supreme Court nomination of John Roberts, but how long it would wait to break out the heavy artillery. Today, we got the answer. Fox News chief Washington correspondent Jim Angle has the story.

ANGLE: A key liberal group, People for the American Way, decided to open fire on the nomination of John Roberts today, calling on the Senate to reject him because he's too different from Justice O'Connor, whom he'd replace.

[...]

ANGLE: The Chamber of Commerce also embraced the nominee today, saying, "Roberts has attracted broad, bipartisan support for his fairness, keen intellect, open-mindedness, and judicious practice of the law. He is highly regarded and well-respected," the statement said.

From the 8:34 p.m. ET Fox News Live newsbreak on August 24:

DHUE: Two influential Washington lobbying groups are not waiting for John Roberts's confirmation hearings to announce their positions on the Supreme Court nominee. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce is supporting Roberts. The liberal group People for the American Way is opposing him.

From an August 25 Chicago Tribune article:

On Wednesday morning, People for the American Way, a leading liberal advocacy group, announced its opposition and warned senators that they could expect a backlash if they voted for Roberts.

"This is a critically important vote, and it will be something that all progressive organizations will remember forever," said Ralph Neas, the group's president.

At almost the same time, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce said it was supporting Roberts, who is "well respected by the legal and business communities," and has substantial experience representing business interests before the Supreme Court, Chamber President and CEO Thomas Donohue said in a statement.

From an August 25 San Francisco Chronicle article:

Activists on both sides have stepped up their efforts to influence the Senate's view of Roberts as the hearings approach on the 50-year-old appellate court judge who served as a lawyer in the administrations of Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce announced its support for Roberts on Wednesday, while the liberal People for the American Way opposed the conservative judge. A number of abortion-rights groups also have announced their opposition.

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