On the CBS Evening News, Katie Couric stated that the omnibus spending bill was “filled with earmarks,” and Chip Reid reported that the bill was “loaded with about eighty-five hundred pet projects known as earmarks, inserted by members of Congress without legislative review.” But at no point did they note that according to most estimates, earmarks constitute less than 2 percent of the bill's total spending.
During the March 11 broadcast of the CBS Evening News, anchor Katie Couric stated that the omnibus spending bill was “filled with earmarks.” Likewise, chief White House correspondent Chip Reid reported that the bill was “loaded with about eighty-five hundred pet projects known as earmarks, inserted by members of Congress without legislative review.” But at no point during their report did Couric or Reid note that according to most estimates, earmarks constitute less than 2 percent of the bill's total spending. As Media Matters for America has noted, Taxpayers for Common Sense estimates earmarks in the bill total $7.7 billion -- or 1.9 percent of the total bill -- while Democrats estimate the number is $3.8 billion -- or 0.9 percent -- and the Republican staff of the House Appropriations Committee estimate the number is $5.5 billion -- or 1.3 percent.
As Media Matters has noted, numerous media outlets have devoted significant coverage to the earmarks in the bill despite their small percentage of the bill's total spending. In many instances, the media have allowed attacks by Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) and other opponents of the omnibus bill to dominate their coverage of the legislation -- at times themselves characterizing the bill as laden with “pork.”
Indeed, as Media Matters Executive Vice President Jamison Foser noted, washingtonpost.com political blogger Ben Pershing wrote during a March 10 “Post Politics Hour” online chat: “Earmarks definitely do get a disproportionately large amount of press coverage, given the relatively small sliver of federal spending they represent. I bet if you asked the average voter how much of federal spending is earmarked, they would guess a number a lot higher than it actually is. Which I suppose is the fault of us in the political press for doing a poor job explaining.”
From the March 11 broadcast of the CBS Evening News with Katie Couric:
COURIC: Also tonight: He campaigned against earmarks, but today, President Obama signed a bill loaded with them behind closed doors.
COURIC: Meanwhile, here at home, President Obama signed a spending bill today to keep the government operating. It's a bill he himself calls imperfect because it's filled with earmarks, the kind of pork-barrel spending he campaigned against. Chip Reid is at the White House tonight. And Chip, no photo op for this signing.
REID: That's absolutely right, Katie. The last thing the president wanted was a high-profile ceremony, as he signed a bill stuffed with pork-barrel spending.
[begin video clip]
REID: Under the glare of television lights, the president today spoke of restoring accountability to government.
OBAMA: I ran for president pledging to change the way business is done in Washington.
REID: But behind closed doors, it was, critics say, business as usual, as the president quietly signed a $410 billion domestic spending bill -- eleven hundred pages loaded with about eighty-five hundred pet projects known as earmarks, inserted by members of Congress without legislative review. For example, $950,000 for the Myrtle Beach Convention Center, 238,000 for the Polynesian Voyaging Society in Hawaii. Some are the handiwork of former lawmakers who now work for the president. Chief of staff Rahm Emanuel has $6.5 million in projects for Illinois.
And it's not just Democrats. About 40 percent of the earmarks were inserted by Republicans, even retired lawmakers. Remember Republican Senator Larry Craig, arrested in a bathroom sting? He retired, but his legacy lives on through a million dollars in earmarks for Idaho.
During the campaign, Mr. Obama promised to reform the process.
OBAMA: Our earmark system, what's called pork-barrel spending in Washington, is fraught with abuse.
REID: And today, he did propose new standards of openness that all earmarks be posted on congressional websites and scrutinized in public hearings. So why, then, did he sign this bill, which violates those standards?
OBAMA: I am signing an imperfect omnibus bill because it's necessary for the ongoing functions of government.
REID: In short, the White House says it's time to move on. This bill was last year's business.
HOUSE MINORITY LEADER JOHN BOEHNER (R-OH): It's easy to say, “Well, it was last year's business.” This is a new Congress, and he's our new president. We had to send the bill to him, and he's the president and can sign it or veto it. So he missed a great opportunity.
[end video clip]
REID: The president describes this bill as a departure point, the last bill of its kind that will get through on his watch. His critics will be watching to see if he lives up to that promise, Katie.