Brian Williams: Republicans' “go-to network anchor” ?

Paul Bedard's “Washington Whispers” column in the February 14 edition of U.S. News & World Report noted that Brian Williams -- who replaced Tom Brokaw as anchor and managing editor of NBC's Nightly News on December 2, 2004 -- received accolades from discredited Republican pollster Frank Luntz in a memo to Republican Congressional leadership. In the memo, Bedard reported, Luntz wrote that “Williams has emerged as the 'go-to network anchor' because of his brains and 'lack of detectable ideological bias.'”

Media Matters for America has identified some examples that may explain why Republicans consider Williams to be their “go-to network anchor” :

  • In an interview following President Bush's February 2 State of the Union address, Williams failed to correct Senator John McCain's (R-AZ) false assertion that the Social Security trust fund will have “no money at all left” in 15 years.
  • On January 12, Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR) noted that an NBC Nightly News segment on Social Security ignored privatization critics and presented a conservative activist as an impartial “analyst.” The FAIR report stated that, although Williams prefaced the segment by mentioning that “critics say he's [Bush] exaggerating the problem to sell his plan,” the actual report “included no such critics of the administration's 'crisis' rhetoric.”
  • In a December 2, 2004, interview with C-SPAN founder, president, and CEO Brian Lamb, Williams said that “it's my duty to listen to [nationally syndicated radio host] Rush” Limbaugh and that “Rush has actually yet to get the credit he is due.” Before his promotion, Williams hosted several other NBC news programs, including The News with Brian Williams on MSNBC and CNBC, where Limbaugh was a frequent guest. As Media Matters previously noted, on September 24, 2002, Williams introduced a News segment on a speech by former Vice President Al Gore by observing: "[O]ur friend Rush Limbaugh told his radio listeners he almost stayed home from work, not due to any health reasons, but because he was so livid at the speech given yesterday by former Vice President Al Gore criticizing the Bush administration's apparent march to war in Iraq." Williams asked, “Is it un-American to speak out against the Bush plan to take on Iraq? Is it democratic to ridicule and threaten those who do?” Washington Post columnist and Brookings Institution senior fellow E.J. Dionne Jr. responded on the September 28, 2002, edition of CNN's Reliable Sources: “Since when do we debate that it's un-American to take on a president? ... We are told all the time it is the liberal media, and here Rush Limbaugh not being able to get out of bed supersedes what Al Gore says. If you -- if you want to have Rush Limbaugh on trashing Al Gore afterward, fine. Report the news. Report what he said, and then criticize him.”
  • In a “fact check” segment following the October 8, 2004, presidential debate, Williams implied that Senator John Kerry's assertion that the U.S. economy had lost 1.6 million jobs under President Bush was deceptive -- falsely claiming that Kerry's use of “private sector jobs” numbers applies to “just one category” of jobs, when in fact it includes all non-government jobs and is, according to The New York Times, “a better predictor of the economy's future, analysts say.”

On September 29, 2004, MSNBC dropped Luntz from its planned presidential debate coverage, apparently in response to a letter from Media Matters outlining Luntz's GOP ties and questionable polling methodology. In January, Luntz indicated that he believes that reporters are reporting fairly only if they use President Bush's preferred terminology to describe Bush administration policy.