There is a trend emerging that seems to indicate a strategic shift at CNN from self-professed neutral, objective journalism to a desire to actively court conservative viewers. First, there was CNN’s hiring of Redstate chief Erick Erickson (and accompanying apologism), embedded (and wide-eyed) coverage of the Tea Party Express bus tour, email shot at “the left” to Brent Bozell, and now, their attack on liberal radio host Bill Press for his question to Robert Gibbs about their employee’s threat to census workers.
CNN is very concerned about fact-checking Press. Fair enough. I will fact-check Press and CNN, and give you the latest reaction from CNN on Erickson’s comments.
Fact Check – Bill Press:
Bill offers his own fact check at HuffPo, but there are a few differences. Here is what Bill asked Robert Gibbs, annotated for offers of fact:
Robert, on the Census, Erick Erickson, a commentator for CNN(1), a couple of days ago(2), he said he was not going to fill out his Census form(3), and if a Census worker(4) came to the door, he said he would “pull out my wife’s shotgun and see how that little twerp likes being scared at the door.”(5) So my question is, do those remarks concern the White House?…Any thoughts about protection for Census workers?
1. TRUE – Erick Erickson is a commentator for CNN. According to Press, CNN has echoed criticisms made by Newsbusters, including that he was trying to turn the whole thing into an attack on CNN.
2. Push – Press asked his question on April 6, while Erickson’s comments were made on April 2. Although not literally “a couple” of days, the term is commonly used interchangeably with “a few.”
3. FALSE – As I pointed out here and here, Erickson actually encouraged listeners to fill out the actual census form. His objection was to the supplemental ACS survey, also administered by the Census Bureau.
4. TRUE – Although Press concedes this point, he needn’t. The people who administer the ACS are employees of the Census Bureau, so the term “census worker” is accurate. Had he said “census taker,” CNN might have a point.
5. TRUE MOSTLY TRUE – This is an exact quote. (audio here) Update: Newsbusters points out that Press omits “ACS” from Erickson’s “ACS twerp” quote.
In any case, the distinction between the ACS and the census form is ancillary to Press’ question, which was about whether Erickson’s threat to pull a shotgun had caused any security concerns. The fact that Gibbs chose to answer the question more broadly, saying “there are a lot of people that get on cable TV and say stuff,” is hardly Press’ fault. It is reasonable to conclude that had Press said “ACS” instead of “census,” Gibbs’ answer would have been the same.
Fact Check – CNN:
Your Commentator Threatened to Pull a Shotgun on a Federal Employee – That’s pretty much it, although it is curious that CNN would consider mentioning their affiliation to Erick an “attack.”
A source at CNN tells Mediaite,”We think its important that Erick explain those comments, and he has done just that.”
I asked Bill Press to comment on CNN’s response, and he responded, “In other words, according to CNN, it’s ok to pull a shotgun on a federal employee, as long as you explain it.”
That’s what it sounds like, so let’s see how Erickson explains:
ACS Surveyors are getting belligerent and have showed up on people’s doorsteps to harass them and threaten jail. I said if some ACS person showed up on my doorstep to try to arrest me for not wanting to tell the government how often I flush my toilet I’d get out my wife’s shotgun and get them off my property.
The key distinction he appears to be making is the qualifier “try to arrest me,” but if you listen to the complete audio, Erickson never alleges that any ACS census worker tried to arrest anyone, or threatened anyone with jail time. You know why? Because they can’t. There is no jail penalty for failure to answer the ACS. There are for aggravated assault.
In CNN’s defense, they aren’t required to agree with everything their commentators say. MSNBC doesn’t have to answer for everything that comes out of Pat Buchanan’s mouth, for example.
On the other hand, their decision to attack Bill Press for asking about it kind of opens the door to the question. Apparently, they are satisfied with Erickson’s answer.