On January 2, despite numerous references on NBC's Nightly News to Mike Huckabee's appearance later that night on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, no one noted that Huckabee would be crossing a picket line in making the appearance.
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On the January 2 edition of NBC's Nightly News, anchor Brian Williams, NBC News chief White House correspondent David Gregory, chief foreign affairs correspondent Andrea Mitchell, and correspondent Mike Taibbi all noted that Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee would appear later that night on NBC's The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, without reporting that Huckabee would be crossing a picket line in making the appearance. Taibbi was the only NBC reporter to refer to "a picket line," but only later mentioned Huckabee's appearance and did not report that he would be crossing the picket line. The Writers Guild of America (WGA) began striking on November 5, 2007, over residual payments for, as the Los Angeles Times reported, "TV series and movies shown on computers and new-media devices, such as cell phones and video iPods." On January 2, The Tonight Show, among other late-night talk shows, returned to the airwaves despite the strike. Huckabee, who has garnered at least two union endorsements in the Republican primaries, had earlier expressed support for the writers, but nevertheless crossed the picket line to appear on The Tonight Show. By contrast, on January 2, the CBS Evening News noted that Huckabee would be crossing a picket line to make his appearance on the late-night program and discussed the potential fallout from his decision.
The Associated Press reported that, prior to his appearance on The Tonight Show, "Huckabee said he supports the writers and did not think he would be crossing a picket line, because he believed the writers had made an agreement to allow late night shows back on the air." The AP then challenged that claim, reporting that it was "true only of David Letterman, who has a separate agreement with writers for his 'Late Show' " on CBS. From the AP:
Earlier Wednesday, Huckabee said he supports the writers and did not think he would be crossing a picket line, because he believed the writers had made an agreement to allow late night shows back on the air.
"My understanding is that there was a special arrangement made for the late-night shows, and the writers have made this agreement to let the late night shows to come back on, so I don't anticipate that it's crossing a picket line," Huckabee told reporters traveling with him Wednesday from Fort Dodge to Mason City.
In fact, that is true only of David Letterman, who has a separate agreement with writers for his "Late Show."
The former Arkansas governor faced an unfriendly reception.
A picketer outside the Burbank, Calif., studio where Leno tapes his show held a sign saying, "Huckabee is a scab." Another picketer carried a sign saying, "Huckabee, what would Jesus do?"
"I think it's just another reason not to vote for him," said Allan Katz, a veteran TV writer who was picketing.
Huckabee said he stood with the writers.
"I support the writers, by the way. Unequivocally, absolutely," he said. "They're dead right on this one. And they ought to get royalties off the residuals and the long-term contracts."
"I don't think anybody supports the producers on this one," he added. "Maybe the producers support the producers, but I think everybody in the business and even the general public supports the writers."
Huckabee has been endorsed by the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers and the New Hampshire affiliate of the National Education Association, a teacher's union.
In response to Huckabee's appearance, the Writers Guild of America, West issued the following statement:
The Writers Guild is disappointed that Mike Huckabee crossed the WGA picket line today at NBC. We welcome the statements of support he has made for striking writers, but we ask him to respect our picket lines in the future and urge the media conglomerates to return to the bargaining table to make a fair deal that will put writers and the entertainment industry back to work.
On the CBS Evening News, correspondent Nancy Cordes reported: "Mike Huckabee enjoys far more union support than any of his Republican rivals, and yet, this afternoon, he snuck past a picket line at The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, its first night back on the air, so he could appear on the show. It's a controversy he doesn't need one day before the caucuses."
Yet, on NBC's Nightly News, the controversy surrounding Huckabee's crossing the picket line to appear on The Tonight Show was never mentioned, despite the numerous references to his appearance. For instance, leading the January 2 broadcast, referring to Huckabee, Williams noted that "[o]ne leading candidate left here [Iowa] today to tape The Tonight Show with Jay Leno." While reporting on the candidates' "final pitch" in Iowa, Gregory noted that "Huckabee left the trail today for Hollywood, an appearance on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno." Mitchell reported that Huckabee was "taking time out to go on the Jay Leno show, The Tonight Show." Also, in his report on the late-night talk shows' return to the airwaves without their writers, Taibbi noted that "most A-list stars won't cross a picket line," but it was only after interviewing a comedy writer that Taibbi mentioned Huckabee's appearance. He never explicitly noted that Huckabee would be crossing a picket line, much less that Huckabee's actions sparked controversy.
From the January 2 edition of NBC's Nightly News with Brian Williams:
WILLIAMS: Tomorrow night, it will get under way; Iowans from all 99 counties in this state will begin to gather over coffee. They will caucus, and their choices may change this nation's political path. In plain English, the political situation here in Iowa is all over the place -- and so are the candidates, for that matter. The polls show different leaders both here and nationally.
One leading candidate left here today to tape The Tonight Show with Jay Leno; yet another is on Letterman tonight. This is the all-out sprint to the finish now. The time to close the deal, fire up the rallies, get out the caucus-goers and hope for a boost leading into New Hampshire in just a few day's time.
Our NBC News political team is here with us on the ground tonight. We begin just behind us here in the convention center with NBC's David Gregory. He is covering the Republican race.
[begin video clip]
GREGORY: Barnstorming the state, the candidates are making a final pitch. The message: show up.
HUCKABEE: And if you've got friends or neighbors that won't vote for me, put all your snow in their driveway and don't let them out tomorrow night.
GREGORY: You're not running as the average Republican. You've got a slightly different appeal.
HUCKABEE: I want to help change our party. I want us to be the -- the party of small business. I want us to be party that really understands middle-class Americans and the struggle that they're going through. That's who I came from.
GREGORY: Huckabee left the trail today for Hollywood, an appearance on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno.
MITT ROMNEY: Frankly my focus is on the caucuses here in Iowa. I think Mike is more concerned about the caucus in Los Angeles.
GREGORY: As Mitt Romney crisscrossed the state today, NBC's Ron Allen was with him.
[end video clip]
MITCHELL: And with Huckabee taking time out to go on the Jay Leno show, The Tonight Show, Hillary Clinton took time today to tape a cameo on David Letterman's show, reaching out to voters beyond Iowa -- Brian.
WILLIAMS: All right. Andrea Mitchell, on the Democratic side of this race -- Andrea, thanks. All of this brings us right back to our Washington bureau chief, moderator of Meet the Press, Tim Russert, with us here on our set here in the convention center in Des Moines.
Tim, you've been going to several events; you've been on the ground for a few days. You've met with just about every camp in this race, today. You told me earlier two qualities stand out.
RUSSERT: Intensity and uncertainty. Intensity: Brian, the amount of money that's been spent. And you see in those pieces from David and Andrea -- the husbands are here, the wives are here, the children are here, the parents here. People are poring so much into this.
Uncertainty: I've asked every campaign, "All right, totally off the record, gut check, deep down: What's going to happen?" They put their heads down, look up, and say, "I don't have a clue."
WILLIAMS: How many ask you the same thing?
RUSSERT: They don't know. And that's what makes this so exciting.
[begin video clip]
TAIBBI: But he [Leno] now returns to the air minus his writers, as will stable mate Conan O'Brien and ABC's Jimmy Kimmel.
JOHN BOWMAN (WGA negotiating committee chairman): They were forced to go back on the air. They have to or their staffs were going to be fired.
TAIBBI: Without writers, they won't have their monologues or written skits, and most A-list stars won't cross a picket line. So what's left?
JACKIE CLARKE: If you're a writer on one of these shows --
TAIBBI: Comedy writer Jackie Clarke, who's done a lot of extemporaneous humor, says it'll be interviews and ad-libbed bits that can take even gifted comics only so far.
O'BRIEN: What the hell was that?
CLARKE: They're doing an hour a night, that's what, six hours a week? Five hours a week? I'm a woman. I do woman math.
TAIBBI: Any writing, even comedy writing, is hard labor. As one humorist put it to me some years ago, you just sit in front of a keyboard while beads of blood form on your forehead.
Now, there'll be a test of just how important writing is to late-night TV. Will Letterman generate more laughs and viewers than the rival who had this joke when the strike began.
LENO: The writers are on strike. Good night, everybody! Thank you!
TAIBBI: Or can Leno be competitive with non-show biz feature guests, like Governor Mike Huckabee?
Will Conan still be Conan? This was his return tonight with a new beard.
O'BRIEN: We have no writers and we have an hour show, a one-hour show to do every night.
From the January 2 edition of the CBS Evening News with Katie Couric:
KATIE COURIC (anchor): Good evening, everyone, from the heart of America, where voters will soon have the first say in choosing the next president.
On the eve of the Iowa caucuses, the Democratic contest is shaping up to be a real heart-stopper. Polls indicate any of the top three candidates could win.
There's a big surprise tonight in a new national poll: John McCain of Arizona has risen like a phoenix to the top, now edging ahead of Rudy Giuliani.
And the recent Republican front-runner here in Iowa -- Mike Huckabee -- has apparently stumbled again, tripping over his tongue as some polls now show him trailing Mitt Romney.
We have a team of correspondents deployed tonight to cover the final hours of the race here in Iowa. First, Nancy Cordes with the Huckabee campaign -- Nancy, many are saying this is another gaffe for the candidate.
CORDES: They are, Katie. Mike Huckabee enjoys far more union support than any of his Republican rivals, and yet, this afternoon, he snuck past a picket line at The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, its first night back on the air, so he could appear on the show. It's a controversy he doesn't need one day before the caucuses.
[begin video clip]
CORDES: It's publicity with a price.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think he's kind of stabbing some people in the back.
CORDES: Earlier today, Huckabee said he supported the striking writers, and mistakenly asserted that they had settled.
HUCKABEE: My understanding is that there was a special arrangement made for the late-night shows.
CORDES: But there is no arrangement with The Tonight Show, and the flap may feed perceptions that the former Arkansas governor isn't ready for prime time, despite his strong support here in Iowa.