On the February 8 edition of the CBS Evening News, during a report about the uproar surrounding the issue of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) having access to a military airplane that can fly nonstop to her home district in California, correspondent Sharyl Attkisson stated: "The fuss is over whether Pelosi should fly on the same small jet used by her predecessor Dennis Hastert ... or the much bigger military 757." However, at no time did Attkisson report that the White House and the House sergeant at arms have both defended Pelosi's need for a plane that can fly nonstop to and from her district on security grounds.
As reported by the weblog Talking Points Memo, in a statement released on February 8,Wilson Livingood, the House sergeant at arms, stated:
The fact that Speaker Pelosi lives in California compelled me to request an aircraft that is capable of making non-stop flights for security purposes, unless such an aircraft is unavailable. This will ensure communications capabilities and also enhance security. I made the recommendation to use military aircraft based upon the need to provide necessary levels of security for ranking national leaders, such as the Speaker.
Livingood also noted that Pelosi, as speaker, "requires additional precautions due to her responsibilities as the leader of the House and her Constitutional position as second in the line of succession to the presidency." But Attkisson's report made no mention of Livingood's statement.
Additionally, in a press briefing on February 8, White House press secretary Tony Snow said that "[i]t is important for the Speaker to have this kind of protection and travel." Attkisson's report did include a quote from later in the same press briefing, when Snow said, "I don't believe she's asking to be sent on ... the space shuttle." However, while that quote does suggest that the White House was not attacking Pelosi over her need to be transported by military aircraft, Attkisson did not note that Snow specifically asserted that Pelosi needed access to such a plane for security reasons.
Further, Attkisson reported that "Pelosi insists she never asked for the Air Force 757" but suggested that Pelosi's claim was dubious because "her good friend Congressman Jack Murtha [D-PA], who oversees the military budget, did 'fess up to calling the Defense Department about a plane on Pelosi's behalf."
Media Matters for America noted that, on the February 7 edition of the CBS Evening News, Attkisson uncritically reported the claim by House Minority Whip Roy Blunt (R-MO) that Pelosi may use the plane as an "incredible fundraising tool." Unlike Attkisson's February 8 report, however, her report the previous day noted Pelosi's contention that the issue was over whether Pelosi should have access to a plane that could fly nonstop to her district, airing Pelosi's statement that "[i]t's not a question of size, it's a question of distance. We want an aircraft that can reach California" without refueling.
From the February 8 edition of the CBS Evening News with Katie Couric:
ATTKISSON: During floor debate today, Republicans could barely contain their glee --
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: -- to a major airliner--
ATTKISSON: -- over the idea of Speaker Pelosi flying around on the military version of a jet big enough to carry every Democrat in the House.
REP. PATRICK McHENRY (R-NC): Speaker Pelosi asked for carte blanche assess to one of the most extravagant and luxurious airliners in the military arsenal.
ATTKISSON: Pelosi insists she never asked for the Air Force 757 that's been reported, but her good friend, Congressman Jack Murtha, who oversees the military budget, did 'fess up to calling the Defense Department about a plane on Pelosi's behalf. Today, Pelosi suggested the Pentagon may have leaked the plane story as payback.
PELOSI: This is really something that is very strange that the Department of Defense, the Pentagon, which I have been a constant critic of in the war in Iraq, has decided that they would go public about a conversation on an issue that applied to the previous speaker.
ATTKISSON: The fuss is over whether Pelosi should fly on the same small jet used by her predecessor Dennis Hastert -- it reportedly cost the government $5,500 an hour to operate and carries about a dozen passengers -- or the much bigger military 757. That one apparently costs four times as much to operate and is outfitted for about 50 passengers. In civilian use, it can carry well over 200.
The White House, already bracing for major confrontation with the House over Iraq next week, isn't anxious to jump on Pelosi's case about the plane.
SNOW: I don't believe she's asking to be sent on an -- you know, on the space shuttle.
ATTKISSON: Pelosi today suggested sexism may play a role in all of this that -- as the first woman speaker, she wants no less opportunity than the men have had. The Pentagon says that's exactly what she'll get, the same small jet. Katie.