CNN parroted Republican contention about "onslaught of subpoenas"

››› ››› BRIAN LEVY

CNN correspondent Brian Todd warned that "an onslaught of subpoenas" from congressional Democrats could be seen as "payback" by voters. However, polling indicates that a majority of the public favors oversight of certain aspects of the Bush administration.

On the January 4 editions of CNN's The Situation Room and Anderson Cooper 360, CNN correspondent Brian Todd warned that "[n]ewly empowered Democrats ... are poised to launch an onslaught of subpoenas that might drive an already embattled White House to distraction." Todd suggested that the investigations may be seen negatively by voters as "payback," a prediction similar to one made by National Public Radio political editor Ken Rudin. However, polling indicates that a majority of the public favors oversight of certain aspects of the Bush administration, which would be Congress' job.

In a Washington Post/ABC News poll conducted December 7-11, 53 percent of respondents said they thought Congress should "hold hearings on how the Bush administration handled pre-war intelligence, war planning, and related issues in the war in Iraq," and 52 percent of respondents said they thought Congress should "hold hearings on how the Bush administration has handled surveillance, treatment of prisoners and related issues in the U.S. campaign against terrorism." In a Newsweek poll conducted November 9-10, 2006, 60 percent of respondents said "[i]nvestigating government contracts in Iraq" should be a "top priorit[y]" for the new Congress.

Todd noted that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) "has said subpoenas of White House officials will be a last resort. Political observers say for the Democrats' own sake, they'd better be." Presumably an example of a "[p]olitical observer," Todd showed Rudin asserting that "[i]f the Democrats are involved in some kind of a payback ... voters may say they overreached." Based on Rudin's analysis and Todd's assertion that "Pelosi's committee chairmen and some in the Senate" would lead the investigation, Todd concluded that the "challenge to rein in their committee chairmen may present itself to Pelosi and Reid sooner rather than later."

On Anderson Cooper 360, host Anderson Cooper replayed Todd's segment. Cooper noted that "everyone is talking about bipartisanship" and added that "we're going to look at how long that happy talk will last if ethics reform means subpoenas and investigations." Cooper did not discuss the possibility that Republicans could bear responsibility if bipartisanship breaks down. As Media Matters for America has noted, several media outlets have reported President Bush's recent talk of bipartisanship and conciliation, but failed to note actions taken by Bush that were characterized by Washington Post and New York Times articles as "provocative" and by a Post columnist as "a series of face slaps."

Additionally, as Media Matters has documented, during recent discussions of congressional Democrats' reported plans to conduct extensive oversight on a wide array of the Bush administration's policies, various media figures have cautioned Democrats against "sound[ing] strident," "finger-wagging," "get[ting] into political trouble," or emboldening terrorists, while also warning that these potential investigations are "something that Democrats may find blowing up in their face." As Media Matters documented, prior to the 2006 midterm elections, many media figures adopted or uncritically reported concerns that Democrats, if they won control of the House, would launch endless congressional investigations that would shut down the government. But the view that Democrats will use congressional investigations to obstruct the Bush administration is a Republican talking point, advanced, as Media Matters noted, by former Republican National Committee chairman Ken Mehlman and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-GA).

From the January 4 edition of CNN's The Situation Room:

TODD: [Host] Wolf [Blitzer], a top aide to new House Speaker Nancy Pelosi told me that right now, she's focused on her first 100 hours agenda, on domestic and foreign policy. But it's Pelosi's committee chairmen and some in the Senate who observers say are about to unleash years of pent-up frustration at this White House.

[begin video clip]

TODD (off camera): On Capitol Hill, they smile, shake hands, swear the oath. Down the street, they may just be swearing. It's payback time in Washington. Newly empowered Democrats, after years of frustration over Iraq, prewar intelligence, the wiretapping controversy, are poised to launch an onslaught of subpoenas that might drive an already embattled White House to distraction.

NORMAN ORNSTEIN (American Enterprise Institute senior fellow): There's no question we're going to see a huge number of investigations taking place.

TODD: Experts say Henry Waxman [CA] is likely to lead the charge. As the new Democratic chairman of the House Government Reform Committee, Waxman has the power to look into Halliburton contracts or energy deals by Bush allies. A Waxman aide says he won't conduct witch hunts. Congress watchers agree.

But Waxman has been a relentless Bush critic and will likely be a formidable force.

[...]

TODD: Democratic leaders Nancy Pelosi and [Senate Majority Leader] Harry Reid [NV] will be crucial to this equation. House Speaker Pelosi has said subpoenas of White House officials will be a last resort. Political observers say for the Democrats' own sake, they'd better be.

RUDIN: If the Democrats are involved in some kind of a payback, when the Democratic Congress comes up for renewal before the voters again, voters may say they overreached.

[end video clip]

TODD: The challenge to rein in their committee chairmen may present itself to Pelosi and Reid sooner rather than later. We're told by congressional aides there are at least six hearings on Iraq and the war on terror on the schedule this month alone. Wolf.

From the January 4 edition of CNN's Anderson Cooper 360:

COOPER: Right now, everyone is talking about bipartisanship. Later on, we're going to look at how long that happy talk will last if ethics reform means subpoenas and investigations.

[...]

COOPER: Democrats are promising to keep an eye on a lot of things. Some Republicans are fearing this could turn into a witch hunt.

With that story, here's CNN's Brian Todd.

[begin video clip]

TODD: On Capitol Hill, they smile, shake hands, swear the oath. Down the street, they may just be swearing. It's payback time in Washington.

We've changed our commenting system to Disqus.
Instructions for signing up and claiming your comment history are located here.
Updated rules for commenting are here.