The journalists of Good Morning America on Friday adopted White House talking points, foreseeing a "fiscal emergency" that will "cripple" flights in the United States. Jon Karl warned, "When it comes to air travel, the first thing we'll all see are longer lines at airport security. Expect ten percent fewer TSA agents on the job." An ABC graphic blared, "Seven Days to Fiscal Emergency: Air Travel Could Be Crippled." [See video below. MP3 audio here.]
Karl highlighted Erskine Bowles, a Democrat and former chief of staff to Bill Clinton. It's true that Bowles is now on a bipartisan debt reduction panel, but he's certainly a partisan. Instead of informing viewers of this fact, Karl labeled him simply as a "prominent budget expert."
Bowles highlighted long lines at airports and imagined this forcing a deal: "There will be enough pressure put on these guys that, hopefully, the American people will say, 'We've had enough of this.'"
Towards the end of the segment, Karl conceded the tiny nature of the sequester cuts, pointing out that "despite all the dire warnings and inability to reach an agreement, the spending cuts represent only a fraction of total federal spending."
He added, "In fact, even with the cuts, the federal government will spend about $15 billion more this year than it spent last year."
Talk about burying the lead. Yes, it's true that sequester cuts are real and will have an impact. But it's incumbent on Karl and other journalists to explain how small they are, especially in comparison to the rest of the budget. Burying this point in a story about a "fiscal emergency" that will "cripple" much of America hardly seems fair.
A transcript of the February 22 segment, which aired at 7:14am EST, follows:
ABC: Seven Day to Fiscal Emergency: Air Travel Could Be Crippled
GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: We're going to turn to the latest budget crisis in Washington that could start affecting your family in just seven days. That's when the across-the-board cuts in government programs kick in and the costs could start piling up pretty quickly. ABC's Jon Karl is at the White House with the details. Good morning, Jon.
JON KARL: Good morning, George. Yeah, that's right. Just one week away and there are lots of dire warnings about what these cuts will mean. But one of the most visible ways that most Americans will see their impact will come sometime during the spring travel season. When it comes to air travel, the first thing we'll all see are longer lines at airport security. Expect ten percent fewer TSA agents on the job. To cut its budget, the security agency will ask each of its agents to take unpaid days off. One prominent budget expert told us, it could get really bad.
ERSKINE BOWLES (Former White House chief of staff): You wait to guys are going out to Reagan airport and they got to wait three hours before they get through security. There will be enough pressure put on these guys that, hopefully, you know, the American people will say, "We've had enough of this."
KARL: It's not just security lines. The cuts will also mean fewer air traffic controllers, which will mean less traffic in the skies. And, you guessed it, more time on the runway waiting to take off. You might also want to rethink trips overseas. Without a budget deal, there could be fewer border control and customs agents. And the Department of Homeland Security says, lines as long as three or four or five hours at immigration and customs. Yet, despite all the dire warnings and inability to reach an agreement, the spending cuts represent only a fraction of total federal spending. In fact, even with the cuts, the federal government will spend about $15 billion more this year than it spent last year. The spending cuts go into effect one week from today. But their impact won't be felt right away. First, the government must give employees notice. Thirty days notice, George, before they can force them to take that unpaid day off a week. That means you're really going to see the impact some time in April.
KARL: But they could be, those cuts could be in for some time, because, I guess, the President made phone calls to congressional leaders last night. But no real progress on negotiations.
KARL: Yeah, we've been asking almost every day, why isn't the President talking to Republican leaders? So, he finally did it. He placed calls to Mitch McConnell and John Boehner yesterday. My understanding, though, was these calls were, really, a reiteration of positions. And there's no common ground right now. Absolutely no sign of agreement on the horizon.