Network Tale of Two Town Halls: Liberals ‘Sounding Off,’ Tea Partiers ‘Out of Hand’

On Wednesday, NBC’s Today and CBS This Morning both hailed liberal protesters “sounding off” at congressional town hall meetings “to put the breaks on President Trump's agenda” and giving Republican lawmakers an “earful.” In 2009, the same networks warned similar public meetings were “getting out of hand” when “unruly” Tea Party demonstrators spoke out against the Obama administration.    

Co-host Matt Lauer opened Today by proclaiming: “Sounding off. Voters give lawmakers an earful at town hall meetings all across the country.” A soundbite followed of one unidentified man attacking the President: “It feels like we’ve got a juvenile running our country.” Moments later, Lauer started off the coverage: “The mood of voters is now on full display at fiery town hall meetings all across the country...”

Correspondent Kristen Welker touted a new NBC News/SurveyMonkey poll showing “43% approve of the President's job performance, while 54% disapprove” and hyped: “Many GOP lawmakers home for recess are getting some of the blowback.” The headline on screen blared: “Angry Voters Unleash on GOP Lawmakers; Trump Tweets Against ‘So-Called Angry Crowds.’”

Welker continued: “In town hall meetings across the country, Republican lawmakers are feeling the heat with fiery reaction from their constituents on issue after issue. From GOP efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act....To President Trump's job performance....And Russian meddling in the election.”

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She then scolded the commander-in-chief for daring to question the source of the protests: “President Trump insisting the deck is stacked against him without providing any evidence, tweeting, ‘The so the-called angry crowds in home districts of some Republicans are actually, in numerous cases, planned out by liberal activists. Sad!’”

Despite being aghast that Trump would accurately label many of the demonstrators as liberal, in 2009, then-NBC Nightly News anchor Brian Williams had no qualms casting aspersions on Tea Party members voicing their concerns at town hall meetings with Democrats: “As members of Congress return to their districts for their month long summer break to hear from their constituents, the shouting at so-called town meetings has sometimes reached a fever pitch. It's raising the question – is it genuine raw anger or focused, organized anger, or perhaps a mixture of both?”

Correspondent Kelly O’Donnell warned:

...the surprise is just how out of hand these town hall meetings are getting and who is behind the spectacle....many have turned into free-for-alls....Much of the passion and protest comes from conservative voices opposed to the Democrats' plan for a government-run option for health care....Some anger on display gets stoked by the provocative megaphone of Rush Limbaugh....To encourage attendance, conservative organizers acknowledge they send e-mail alerts to members but argue the anger is real.

On Wednesday’s CBS This Morning, co-host Gayle King announced: “Voters are crowding town hall meetings, shouting down lawmakers and each other. Organizers call it ‘Resistance Recess.’ Lines run out the door at some of the meetings, full of people challenging the Trump administration's agenda.”

Unlike Welker’s report on NBC, correspondent Nancy Cordes acknowledged credence behind Trump’s claim that some of the protests were being “planned out by liberal activists”: “It is true that liberal groups are using the web to make sure that voters know where and when these town halls are taking place, like the one that Louisiana Senator Bill Cassidy is going to be holding at this public library later today.”

However, she hastened to add: “But the people showing up say they are just frustrated voters and constituents who want to put the breaks on President Trump's agenda.” In between clips of hostile exchanges at the events, Cordes highlighted: “A lot of the angst centered around the Republican push to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act....Other voters railed against President Trump’s proposed travel ban, which remains in legal limbo.”

Rather than talk of “resistance” and “angst,” in 2009, a CBS Evening News headline decried “unruly protests” against ObamaCare at town halls. Correspondent Chip Reid breathlessly reported: “In suburban Detroit, Congressman John Dingell was the target of so much anger at a town meeting on health care reform....they called the police....It's happening across the nation. From Tampa, Florida, where police got involved after a protest in the crowd turned violent.”

The reporter then parroted Democratic dismissals of the Tea Party movement: “Critics of health care reform say it's genuine grass roots anger, but Democrats say activists are orchestrating the protests. The evidence – websites of conservative groups that list Democratic town halls and urge critics to go and be heard.”

Here are excerpts of the February 22 NBC and CBS morning shows:

Today
7:00 AM ET TEASE:

MATT LAUER: Sounding off. Voters give lawmakers an earful at town hall meetings all across the country.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: It feels like we’ve got a juvenile running our country.

LAUER: President Trump dismissing them in a tweet. As our new poll released just this morning reveals how Americans feel about the job he's doing.

7:02 AM ET SEGMENT:

MATT LAUER: Let's start with our top story. The mood of voters is now on full display at fiery town hall meetings all across the country and at protests against the Trump administration's aggressive new plan to deal with millions of undocumented immigrants. NBC's Kristen Welker is at the White House with more on this. Kristen, good morning to you.

KRISTEN WELKER: Matt, good morning to you. President Donald Trump has been trying to turn the page on a rocky start to his presidency and our new poll numbers out today reflect how he's being viewed so far. According to our latest NBC News/SurveyMonkey online poll, 43% approve of the President's job performance, while 54% disapprove. Many GOP lawmakers home for recess are getting some of the blowback.

[ON-SCREEN HEADLINE: Angry Voters Unleash on GOP Lawmakers; Trump Tweets Against “So-Called Angry Crowds”]

In town hall meetings across the country, Republican lawmakers are feeling the heat with fiery reaction from their constituents on issue after issue. From GOP efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Don’t repeal ObamaCare, improve it for God sakes!

WELKER: To health care for veterans.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: The veterans are sick! The veterans are broken down! They're not getting what they need!

WELKER: To President Trump's job performance.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN B: I am so unsettled. It feels like we’ve got a juvenile running our country.

WELKER: And Russian meddling in the election.

SEN. JONI ERNST [R-IA]: I have said repeatedly the Russia is not our friend.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN C: Say it louder.

WELKER: President Trump insisting the deck is stacked against him without providing any evidence, tweeting, “The so the-called angry crowds in home districts of some Republicans are actually, in numerous cases, planned out by liberal activists. Sad!”

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell facing nearly a thousand protesters outside his event. Praising the President, but also saying Mr. Trump's frequent tweeting is driving Republicans off message.

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL [R-SENATE MAJORITY LEADER]: He's not going to take my advice, but I would not be tweeting so often or I would be tweeting different things.

(...)


CBS This Morning
7:07 AM ET

GAYLE KING: Members of Congress are on recess, but the political debate has shifted from Capitol Hill to their home districts.

[FOOTAGE OF PROTESTERS CHANTING]

Voters are crowding town hall meetings, shouting down lawmakers and each other. Organizers call it “Resistance Recess.” Lines run out the door at some of the meetings, full of people challenging the Trump administration's agenda. The President claimed on Twitter last night, quote, “angry crowds are actually, in numerous cases, planned out by liberal activists. Sad!” Nancy Cordes is in Metairie, Louisiana, that’s outside of New Orleans. Nancy, good morning.

NANCY CORDES: Good morning. It is true that liberal groups are using the web to make sure that voters know where and when these town halls are taking place, like the one that Louisiana Senator Bill Cassidy is going to be holding at this public library later today. But the people showing up say they are just frustrated voters and constituents who want to put the breaks on President Trump's agenda.

[ON-SCREEN HEADLINE: Town Hall Turmoil; Lawmakers Face Angry Constituents in Home Visits]

From a raucous California town hall.

REP. TOM MCCLINTOCK [R-CA]: The American people have made it very clear, they want ObamaCare repealed and replaced.  

CORDES: To a courthouse gathering in Iowa.

JOY NEWCOM [FOREST CITY, IA RESIDENT]: Every single one of us walks around as a pre-existing condition.

CORDES: To Blackstone, Virginia, GOP lawmakers got an earful Tuesday.

REP. DAVE BRAT [R-VA]: I don’t mind boisterous. I’m having fun.

CORDES: A lot of the angst centered around the Republican push to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act.

SEN. BILL CASSIDY [R-LA]: I don't know why people are booing when you say you want to replace. President Trump has said he wants everyone to be covered.

CORDES: Other voters railed against President Trump’s proposed travel ban, which remains in legal limbo.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: I am a person from a Muslim country and I am a Muslim. Who’s going to save me here?  

(...)

Kyle Drennen
Kyle Drennen
Kyle Drennen is the Senior News Analyst for MRC