NPR’s Totenberg Scolds ABC on Hastert: 'That Seems to Have Been a Bogus Story'

Not even their liberal media colleagues are buying ABC’s May 24 hit piece on House Speaker Denny Hastert in which Brian Ross insisted that “federal officials tell us the congressional bribery investigation now includes the Speaker of the House, Dennis Hastert,” and "Justice Department officials describe the 64-year-old Illinois Republican as very much in the mix of the corruption investigation.” On Inside Washington aired Friday night on Washington, DC’s PBS affiliate WETA-TV channel 26, NPR reporter Nina Totenberg declared: "That seems to have been a bogus story. It really does seem to have been a bogus story." Evan Thomas, Assistant Managing Editor of Newsweek, proposed that the ABC News “investigative unit sometimes goes a beat too," presumably “far,” but another panelist talked over him.

My May 25 NewsBusters item, “ABC Acknowledges Denials Yet Ross Stands By Hastert Bribery Probe Claim, But..,” provides video/audio of the original hyperbolic May 24 World News Tonight lead as well as full transcripts of the first Ross story and the follow-up the next night in which Ross acknowledged DOJ denials, but refused to withdraw his charges. ABC has not mentioned the story on air since the May 25 World News Tonight.

And a Sunday night NewsBusters posting details how on Sunday shows two ABC veterans -- Brit Hume on Fox News Sunday and Linda Douglass on CNN’s Reliable Sources -- scolded the news judgment of Ross and ABC News. Hume contended: “This looks like a bad story. They led their newscast with it....They ought to back off this story, and the sooner the better."

A transcript of the relevant portion of the June 2 Inside Washington, a half-hour weekly panel show produced by Washington, DC’s ABC affiliate which carries it on Sunday morning after This Week. Before that, it airs on the affiliate’s all-news cable channel, NewsChannel 8, and Friday night at 8:30pm on DC’s PBS station. Given how panelists talked over each other, and that Thomas was very soft when he spoke, it was a difficult to make out portions of what was said, but I’ve done the best I could:

Host Gordon Peterson: “ABC News said that the FBI was looking at Denny Hastert. Is there anything to that? Hastert said that was just-”

NPR’s Nina Totenberg: “That seems to have been a bogus story. It really does seem to have been a bogus story.”

Charles Krauthammer, syndicated columnist: “And a nasty one too. It looks like it a form of retaliation by the-”

Peterson: “Well, that’s what he said.”

Totenberg: “That’s what he said.”

Evan Thomas, Assistant Managing Editor of Newsweek: “I think this was also the investigative unit at NBC which sometimes goes a beat-”

Totenberg and Peterson: “ABC.”

Thomas: “ABC. Which sometimes goes a beat too-”

It sounded like “beat” both times, but “bit” also makes sense.

Brent Baker
Brent Baker
Brent Baker is the Steven P.J. Wood Senior Fellow and VP for Research and Publications at the Media Research Center