Brian Williams: Late Sen. Baker Was 'A Republican So Moderate It Might Make Him A Democrat Today'

Following the death of former Senator Howard Baker on Tuesday, all three major broadcast networks praised the influential former White House Chief of Staff during their June 26 evening newscasts for his ability to compromise with Democrats. Brian Williams of NBC Nightly News even went so far as to describe him as “a Republican so moderate it might make him a Democrat today.” [See video below. Click here for MP3 audio]

On the June 27 edition of CBS This Morning, co-host Norah O’Donnell lamented "there’s a lot of people who miss the Howard Bakers of the world. We could use more of them in the Senate for sure."

Co-hosts Anthony Mason and Gayle King agreed with O’Donnell as she described Baker as an “eloquent listener” who was “respected on both sides of the aisle,” insinuating of course, that he was very unlike the uncompromising Republicans of today.

All three networks emphasized his participation in the Watergate hearings. David Muir, filling in for Diane Sawyer on World News, stated Baker gave “voice to what so many Americans at home were asking” by demanding, “What did the president know and when did he know it?” NBC’s Williams claimed that his question “has remained in the American lexicon ever since,” while CBS’s Mason described it as a “national catchphrase.”

Howard Baker was a respected statesman and his death deserves recognition from the media. Perhaps ABC, NBC, and CBS could take a break from portraying Republicans as obstinate and radical to celebrate what this conservative politician did for America.  

See transcripts below:

NBC Nightly News
June 26, 2014
7:11 p.m. Eastern
2 minutes and 12 seconds

BRIAN WILLIAMS: We learned today Howard Baker has died. He was an American politician, a veteran Senator and what we used to call a statesman. It's hard to compare him with anyone in politics today because they really don't make them like Howard Baker anymore. He was American political royalty and yet there was nothing regal about him. Howard H. Baker Jr. of Tennessee remained the same while times changed around him. He played a role in changing American politics, beginning with a question he asked during the Watergate hearings that has remained in the American lexicon ever since --

HOWARD BAKER: What did the president know and when did he know it?

WILLIAMS: A Republican senator investigating a Republican president who later became the first president to resign in disgrace. Howard Baker was the son of a legendary congressman, the son-in-law of Everett Dirksen, a lion of the Senate --

BAKER: The battle's not over --

WILLIAMS: Baker spent 18 years in the senate, the first Republican Tennessee ever sent to the U.S. Senate, and he married a senator, Nancy Landon Kassebaum of Kansas who survives him. The Senator loved photography. And with his camera he chronicled what he saw in his life of public service. When the camera was on him, we saw a rumpled, comfortable, affable man.

BAKER: I think I can get elected and I want your help.

WILLIAMS: He made a run for the presidency but sacrificed any future hopes for high office to help a sitting president. He became Ronald Reagan's white house chief of staff and in guiding him through the Iran-contra scandal might have saved his second term. Those who didn't love him respected him. He was both minority leader and majority leader in the Senate. A Republican so moderate it might make him a Democrat today. When all the senators lined up to pay tribute to Howard Baker, along with Bob Dole just a year ago, it felt like a good-bye. And it turns out it was. Like so many American men of his generation, Howard Baker was a veteran. He served in the Pacific and World War II. He switched from engineering to law school and engineered many a compromise in public life. Howard Baker was 88 years old.

World News With Diane Sawyer
June 26, 2014
6:43 p.m. Eastern
25 seconds

DAVID MUIR: We have a passing to note tonight. Former Senator Howard Baker has died, former Ronald Reagan Chief of Staff, a towering figure in the Senate, nicknamed “The Great Conciliator” for his ability to bring Democrats and Republicans together. Perhaps best remembered for this moment, during the Watergate hearings, giving the voice to what so many Americans at home were asking.

HOWARD BAKER: What did the president know and when did he know it.

MUIR: We will forever remember that question. Howard Baker, was 88.

CBS Evening News With Scott Pelley
June 26, 2014
6:52 p.m. Eastern
45 seconds

SCOTT PELLEY: One of the Republican party’s elder statesman has died. Former Tennessee Senator Howard Baker always seemed to be in the middle of something important. Howard Baker served three terms in the senate, ran once for president, and served as Ronald Reagan's White House Chief of Staff. Known as the great conciliator, his step-mother once said of him, "He's like the Tennessee River-- he flows right down the middle." But Baker was perhaps best known for a famous question he asked while serving as vice chairman of the senate committee that investigated Watergate.

HOWARD BAKER: What did the president know and when did he know it?

PELLEY: Howard Baker died at his home in Tennessee today of complications from a stroke. He was 88.

CBS This Morning
June 26, 2014
8:07 a.m. Eastern
1 minute

ANTHONY MASON: Howard Baker is drawing tributes across the political spectrum this morning. The former Senate Majority Leader and one time Republican presidential candidate died at home in Tennessee Thursday, he suffered complications of a stroke. Baker rose to his greatest fame in 1973 during the Watergate hearings. He repeatedly asked the question on the minds of many Americans.

HOWARD BAKER: What did the president know and when did he know it?

MASON: That became a national catchphrase. Baker served 18 years in the Senate and later went on to become White House Chief of Staff for President Reagan. Howard Baker was 88.

GAYLE KING: Amazing. Were you going to say something?

NORAH O’DONNELL: Yeah, no I was just going to say, you know there’s a lot of people who miss the Howard Bakers of the world.

MASON: We could use more of them in the Senate for sure.

O’DONNELL: We could use more of them in Washington. He always attributed his success to being, what he called, an eloquent listener. He had strong views on politics but he was respected on both sides of the aisle.

KING: You’re right, eloquent listening could really help these days.

MASON: And everybody remembers those moments at the Watergate hearings.

Laura Flint
Laura Flint is a 2014 summer intern for the MRC's News Analysis Division.