Couric failed to question Snow about "tar baby" remark, allowed his misleading claims to go unchallenged

››› ››› JOE BROWN

In an interview with White House press secretary Tony Snow, NBC's Today co-host Katie Couric allowed Snow's misleading claims -- as well as his use of the racially charged term "tar baby" in his first live televised press briefing -- to go unchallenged.

In interviewing new White House press secretary Tony Snow on the May 17 broadcast of NBC's Today, co-host Katie Couric allowed Snow's misleading claims -- as well as his use of a racially charged term in his first live televised White House press briefing -- to go unchallenged.

Although the May 17 New York Times and Washington Post both had reported Snow's use of the term "tar baby" during the press briefing, Couric did not question Snow about this remark. As the Post's Dana Milbank noted, "[o]f the National Security Agency's telephone espionage program, he [Snow] risked some loaded language: 'I don't want to hug the tar baby.' " The Times reported: "The tar-covered doll that Br'er Fox used to ensnare Br'er Rabbit in an 1881 Uncle Remus story is used as a metaphor for a sticky situation, but for some it also carries vague racist connotations -- it has been used as a derogatory term for a black."

Further, Couric allowed misleading claims by Snow to go unchallenged. For instance, when Couric asked Snow to comment on how "beleaguered" the White House felt, given President Bush's current job approval ratings -- which fell to a new low of 33 percent in the most recent ABC News/Washington Post poll -- Snow asserted that such a trend in polls "often happens about this time in a second term." But as USA Today reported on May 8, when Bush's approval ranking sank to a new low of 31 percent in a USA Today/Gallup poll, "[o]nly four presidents have scored lower approval ratings since the Gallup Poll began regularly measuring it in the mid-1940s: Harry Truman, Richard Nixon, Jimmy Carter and the first George Bush." The article further noted that "[w]hen Nixon, Carter and the elder Bush sank below 35%, they never again registered above 40%," and although "Truman twice sank into the low 30s and then rose into the 60s," "the third time his rating fell, it stayed below 40% as well." Bush's approval ratings have remained below 40 percent in Gallup polls (subscription required) since the company's February 9-12 survey. Moreover, of the seven two-term presidents since Gallup began measuring presidential approval, only Richard Nixon had a lower approval rating (26 percent) during the second May of his second term, as the Watergate scandal unfolded. The Gallup approval ratings of the other presidents were in the forties or higher.

Additionally, when Couric asked Snow to describe the White House's "strategy to turn things around" before the November 2006 elections, Snow claimed that "people are going to start seeing a lot of important benchmarks being achieved by the government in Iraq," specifically citing "the formation of a new government" as one such "benchmark." But as Media Matters for America previously noted, the Bush administration has previously touted numerous "turning points" in Iraq, dating back as far as April 2004, suggesting each time that the situation there was about to improve. Moreover, on the May 10 broadcast of Today, when co-host Matt Lauer asked Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to comment on the Bush administration's past statements touting "big step[s]" in Iraq, Rice backed away the administration's claims "at each of those stages before," but promised that now, with the formation of the new Iraqi government, things would get better.

From the May 10 broadcast of NBC's Today:

LAUER: What is the next major hurdle? For the last several years, the administration has been saying, "OK, look. When we hand over autonomy, that's a big step. We draft a constitution, that's a big step. Democratic elections, a big step." What is that next step that will tell the American people, "Hey, maybe this is going in the right direction?"

RICE: I think what you're going to see is that we now have an Iraqi government that can speak for all Iraqis. At each of those stages before, we frankly didn't have, for instance, Sunni participation in a way that gave a chance for those who want to stop fighting, those who have resorted to violence, to really be a part of the political process. We now have that. We didn't have Iraqi security forces who could hold territory and take more responsibility for security. That is coming along. We didn't have an Iraqi government that really was devoted to national unity and that was permanent. Every other Iraqi government has been set up to do something else -- either to have an election or to write a constitution, but not to govern Iraq permanently. These people now have that charge, and I think they're going to execute it.

From the May 17 broadcast of Today:

COURIC: Clearly, there is a great deal of anxiety among many of the president's traditional supporters, and this new Washington Post poll has more bad news for him. It puts the president's job approval rating at 33 percent, with a 65-percent disapproval rating. On Iraq, 66 percent disapprove of his handling, 60 percent disapprove of the way he's handling the economy. His poll numbers have consistently been trending downward. How beleaguered is this White House feeling?

SNOW: Not particularly, Katie. As a matter of fact, you mentioned bad poll numbers. It often happens about this time in a second term. The real question is: Is the president going to lead on issues that people care about? Well, he's already taken a pretty bold stand on immigration. And I think what you're seeing is somebody who's engaged in the war on terror and engaged on all the issues people care about. Forgive the truck there.

COURIC: That's OK.

SNOW: And as a result, the spirits are pretty high. When you have got a White House that is being activist, people tend to rally not only around the president but around the causes he espouses.

COURIC: At the same time, though, there is a school of thought that if the president is not able to pull up these poll numbers, the midterm elections could be absolutely devastating for the Republican Party. I know in the White House reshuffle, Karl Rove shifted his focus from policy to political strategy. So, what is the strategy to turn things around by November?

SNOW: Well, you don't look at a "turn it around" strategy. Again, good policy is always good politics. The president, I think, by grappling with immigration in a way that reaches out to all Americans and seeks the rational middle ground -- as you said -- the other night, that's a good thing to do. And I think what you're going to find is that people who have been looking for somebody to lead on a contentious issue like this are going to say, "OK. We like this. We like the fact that the president is being bold and passionate about an issue that many Americans have divided opinions about." I think you're also going to find, for instance, when it comes to the war in Iraq, we are on the verge of having the formation of a new government. As you know, the deadline is next Monday. I think people are going to start seeing a lot of very important benchmarks being achieved by the government in Iraq. And, look, this is a chance for people to study all the most important things the president has been trying to do.

Posted In
National Security & Foreign Policy, War in Iraq
Katie Couric
Today Show
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