CBS Spotlights Anti-Jeff Sessions Protest at His Alabama Office

Wednesday evening appeared to be CBS’s turn to hype the sit-in protest, orchestrated by the NAACP, at Senator Jeff Sessions’ office in Mobile, Alabama, after ABC was the sole network reporting it that morning. “Six arrests were made last night when protesters from the NAACP staged a sit-in at Jeff Sessions' senate office in Alabama,” announced fill-in anchor Josh Elliott during the lead-in, “They've blasted his record on civil rights and voting rights enforcement.”

Correspondent David Begnaud kicked off his report with the cliché tagline, “The protesters said they were taking a stand by sitting down.” And what they want was for Sessions not to become the next attorney general of the United States.

“Critics like [NAACP protester Bernard] Simelton say Sessions' record as Alabama state attorney general and then federal prosecutor make him unqualified,” noted Begnaud. In a sit-down interview with CBS, Simelton argued, “Ensuring that people like you and I, our civil rights are protected, we do not believe that he will do that.”

The only negative point about Sessions that Begnaug brought up was how, “Simelton points to Sessions admission to the U.S. Senate in 1986 that he had previously called the NAACP un-American for its advocacy tactics.” Other than that, there were no additional examples given in the report for how Sessions was a threat to civil rights and voting rights.

Begnaud did interview William Smith, a friend and colleague of Sessions for the last 20 years. Smith exclaimed, “You won't find anyone who has spent a substantial amount of time with Senator Sessions who would make these allegations, no one!”

But what went unreported was specific positive points about Sessions and race. For instance, ABC News reported in mid-November that Sessions believed there was racial bias in policing. The network quoted him as saying, “I think it is likely that within every department there are some officers who subtly, if not otherwise, are biased in the way they go about enforcing the law. I think that is just life. We know that to be true,”

When Sessions was first nominated by President-elect Donald Trump, The Weekly Standard noted that, as a prosecutor, Sessions feverishly pursued the death penalty for a member of the Ku Klux Klan who kidnapped and murdered an African-American teenager. And after becoming Alabama’s Attorney General he ensured that the perpetrator received the death penalty. 

Transcript below: 

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CBS Evening News
January 4, 2017
6:38:58 PM Eastern

JOSH ELLIOTT: And there is pushback against Mr. Trump's choice for attorney general. Six arrests were made last night when protestors from the NAACP staged a sit-in at Jeff Sessions' senate office in Alabama. They've blasted his record on civil rights and voting rights enforcement. More now from David Begnaud.

[Cuts to video]

DAVID BEGNAUD: The protesters said they were taking a stand by sitting down.

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTER: We’re either arrested or our demands are met.

BEGNAUD: They refused to leave Senator Jeff Sessions’ Mobile, Alabama office. This is what they got. Six protesters were arrested last night. One of them was Bernard Simelton, president of the Alabama NAACP state conference. You were handcuffed, taken to jail, mugshot.

BERNARD SIMELTON: Yep.

BEGNAUD: Was it worth it?

SIMELTON: Oh, absolutely, absolutely.

BEGNAUD: Sessions was the first senator to endorse Donald Trump and became the first president-elect's first cabinet selection, nominated to be attorney general. Critics like Simelton say Sessions' record as Alabama state attorney general and then federal prosecutor make him unqualified.

SIMELTON: Ensuring that people like you and I, our civil rights are protected, we do not believe that he will do that.

BEGNAUD: Simelton points to Sessions admission to the U.S. Senate in 1986 that he had previously called the NAACP un-American for its advocacy tactics. Senators rejected Sessions' appointment to a federal judgeship.

SIMELTON: Senator Sessions may be a good person, but he's not the right person for this job.

BEGNAUD: William Smith disagrees. He's from Alabama and he's worked with Senator Sessions for ten years. He's known him for 20.

WILLIAM SMITH: The people making these allegations haven't spent any time with Senator Sessions. You won't find anyone who has spent a substantial amount of time with Senator Sessions who would make these allegations, no one.

[Cuts back to live]

BEGNAUD: On Tuesday Senator Sessions goes before the same Senate Judiciary Committee that rejected him in 1986, although there are new members now. Josh, the NAACP has taken their protest from here in Alabama to D.C. They wouldn't tell us what they're planning.

ELLIOTT: David Begnaud there in Birmingham. David, thank you.

Nicholas Fondacaro
Nicholas Fondacaro
Nicholas C. Fondacaro