On Tuesday's World News and Wednesday's Good Morning Ameica, ABC's George Stephanopoulos and Jim Avila ballyhooed far-left magazine Mother Jones's secretly-recorded audio recording of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell's strategy meeting with political advisers about potential opponent Ashley Judd. Stephanopoulos touted the "startling secret tape revealing how the Senate's top Republican was planning to go after...Judd if she ran against him."
Avila played up McConnell's apparent "cutthroat attack on a Hollywood opponent" and the Republican's "private and politically-embarrassing strategy session", all the while omitting left-of-center ideology of the publication that released the audio clip and minimizing the possible illegality of its recording.
The former Clinton administration official teased Avila's Tuesday evening report by trumpeting the "secret tapes – a Senate leader and his team caught on tape scheming about potential rival Ashley Judd, targeting her mental state." Stephanopoulos continued by playing a clip of an unidentified McConnell staffer emphasizing that Judd "clearly – this sounds extreme – but she is emotionally unbalanced."
Avila gave a sensationalistic introduction to his report: "If Ashley Judd thought the Hollywood movie business was cutthroat, welcome to politics, where the most powerful Republican in the Senate, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell can be heard plotting to crush the actress' now abandoned potential campaign against him during a secret strategy meeting."
The ABC correspondent then outlined that the Mother Jones recording exposed "possible campaign plans to attack Judd's admissions of a personal struggle with depression...and her religious beliefs. In Judd's autobiography, which McConnell's aides apparently read carefully, the movie star said, like Saint Francis, she believes in a God who is close to nature, and she talks to animals."
Towards the end of the segment, Avila played an excerpt of his questions to the Kentucky senator about the audio and gave a bizarre conclusion:
AVILA (on-camera, from press conference): Is it fair game for you – to question someone's mental health or their religious sensibilities in a strategy session like that?
SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL, MINORITY LEADER: Apparently, they were bugging our headquarters – quite a Nixonian move. This is what you get from the political left in America these days.
AVILA (voice-over): ...Asked about the content of the meeting, McConnell refused.
AVILA (on-camera, from press conference): That's not what I asked you, though. Is it in fact-
MCCONNELL As I indicated-
AVILA (voice-over): Only to repeat the same line, claiming to have been bugged, three times. The FBI says, at the senator's request, it is investigating the wiretapping allegations. Mother Jones says it didn't make the tape, and won't say who gave it to them, but denies the magazine broke any laws.
CLARA JEFFERY, CO-EDITOR, MOTHER JONES: To characterize it as a Watergate-style bugging is inaccurate.
AVILA (voice-over): To characterize it as how sausage is made may be more accurate.
The following morning, on Good Morning America, Stephanopoulos introduced the second report from the correspondent by hyping "that startling secret tape revealing how the Senate's top Republican was planning to go after Hollywood star Ashley Judd if she ran against him. Senator Mitch McConnell is calling it the tape a dirty trick, asking the FBI to investigate where it came from."
Avila again used his "cutthroat" term to describe the meeting and noted that "the feds responding to a request from Senator McConnell to investigate how his private and politically-embarrassing strategy session became so public." He soon added that "the February recording [from Mother Jones] revealing potential plans for a very personal political attack against the movie star by using her own beliefs and words against her." Stephanopoulos also later pointed out that "Mother Jones, you know, had that one about Mitt Romney back during the campaign, that 47 percent tape."
It should be pointed out that back in May 2006, ABC touted the supposed "firestorm of controversy" over the National Security Agency's collection of phone numbers and how the operation was "pitting privacy against the war on terror." Nearly seven years later, the Big Three network didn't make much of an effort to underline the violation of Senator McConnell and his aides' privacy and the laws that might have been violated in the process.
NBC's Chuck Todd also reported on the McConnell/Judd story on Tuesday's NBC Nightly News and Wednesday's Today. Todd highlighted on the morning newscast that the Kentucky political operation "scoured Judd's personal history and came to some harsh conclusions." However, anchor Matt Lauer pointed out in his introduction that "the FBI is looking into a troubling allegation from Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. Was his campaign headquarters bugged during a recent strategy session?"
CBS Evening News didn't cover the story on Tuesday. Wednesday's CBS This Morning aired a report from Chip Reid where the correspondent outlined that "McConnell says the only explanation for this recording going public is that someone on the political left must have bugged his office." He later pointed out how "the liberal magazine was also behind the release of the now-infamous '47 percent' video that helped derail Mitt Romney's presidential campaign."