Tuesday evening anchors keep from spinning Washington budget battle

Neil Munro White House Correspondent
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Last night’s TV news shows produced a calm and relatively balanced treatment of the budget battle for their roughly 16 million viewers. That’s important for Republicans, because they’ve got to win support from the roughly one in six viewers who think both parties deserve equal blame for the conflict.

The network reporters mostly distanced themselves from Democrats, treated Republicans — including Rep. Paul Ryan and his budget plan — with respect, and avoided scaremongering.

Still, only NBC’s Chuck Todd deflated the drama by showing how the politicians are arguing only over less than one percent of the federal budget. “A mere 0.83 percent of all government spending,” according to Todd.

ABC’s Diane Sawyer practically buried the dispute. She led with a segment of the Baby Boomers’ lack of savings, then offered her approximately 6.4 million viewers a few minutes of storm damage from around the country, and produced a not-quite-alarming explanation of how toxic tunas are torpedoing from Japan towards Americans’ dinner plates. Once that issue was cleared off, and nine minutes into the show, Sawyer finally offered a fairly even-handed and calm description of the budget stand-off.

She showed President Barack Obama at the press-room podium saying, “We can’t have a ‘my way or the highway’ approach to this problem … [otherwise] we’re not going to get anything done this year,” and then offered House Speaker John Boehner saying that Republicans are proposing “real spending cuts here, no smoke and mirrors.” White House reporter Jake Tapper said the chances of a shutdown are “about 50/50, but both sides say they want to avoid it.”

Jonathan Karl appeared to introduce Rep. Paul Ryan’s long-term budget plan. He introduced Ryan by saying that he “once worked as a waiter to make ends meet, is 41 and has three kids” and gave him enough time to calmly explain that “we’re here to try to fix this country’s problems [and] if that means we’re giving our political adversaries a weapons to use on us … shame on them.”

NBC’s Brian Williams started with the budget showdown, then gave the president, Democratic Senator Harry Reid and Boehner a few moments to make their case, before reassuring about 7.2 million viewers that Social Security checks will be mailed, soldiers will be paid, air traffic controllers will remain at work, while parks and museums will likely close, and non-vital government works will by furloughed.

NBC showed a Pew poll which clearly did not put the blame on the GOP. One in six Americans blame both parties, while 39 percent blame Republicans and 36 percent blame Democrats, said NBC. Ryan’s budget plan was give a few minutes of non-critical coverage, in which he given time to declare that the debt is a national emergency.

Harry Smith anchored CBS’s coverage, and began with the budget dispute. He quickly let White House reporter Chip Reid stick two darts in the White House. “The president said the American people don’t want finger-pointing [and] then promptly pointed his finger directly at Republicans for refusing to compromise,” said Reid’s voice-over as he showed Obama at the press-room podium. Next, Boehner got his moment in front of CBS’s 4.8 million viewers before Reid again undermined the White House’s spin by declaring that “one thing the White House is hoping to do is to have the president appear as an adult, breaking up a childish battle.” And with that, CBS shifted its coverage to Libya’s Mad Max war and Japan’s nuclear semi-meltdown.