Leading off Wednesday's NBC Nightly News, anchor Brian Williams eagerly touted gun control supporters going after Republican New Hampshire Senator Kelly Ayotte at a recent town hall meeting: "Pushing back. A tense moment as a U.S. senator gets an earful about her no vote on gun control." Williams hopefully added: "And with lawmakers home from Washington on a break, is this about to start happening more often?" [Listen to the audio or watch the video after the jump]
While Williams promoted the incident as a genuine public uprising, emphasizing "9 of 10 Americans support expanded background checks," he failed to mention that President Obama's campaign machine, Organizing for Action, was motivating many of the anti-Ayotte protests. On FNC's Special Report on Wednesday, anchor Bret Baier reported: "OFA took to the streets of New Hampshire at the end of April for an impassioned protest against [Ayotte]...One sign spattered in what appears to be fake blood reads, quote, 'More shot in one day than marathoned.'"
In the Nightly News report, correspondent Kelly O'Donnell set up a clip of an unidentified man shouting at Ayotte during a public Q and A: "Senator Kelly Ayotte has done 22 town hall meetings, but this was different." O'Donnell further declared: "Critics call her position [opposing background checks] a political disconnect." The same man seen yelling moments earlier argued: "She wasn't voting for what the people had decided they wanted. She voted for the Republican NRA party line."
O'Donnell referenced members of the Tea Party using town hall meetings as a "potent tool" to voice opposition to ObamaCare in 2009. However, on the August 7, 2009 broadcast of Nightly News, both Williams and O'Donnell questioned the sincerity of the Tea Party's passion:
BRIAN WILLIAMS: As members of Congress return to their districts for their month-long summer break to hear from their constituents, the shouting at so-called town meetings has sometimes reached a fever pitch. It's raising the question: Is it genuine raw anger or focused, organized anger, or perhaps a mixture of both?...
KELLY O'DONNELL: To encourage attendance, conservative organizers acknowledge they sent e-mail alerts to members, but argue the anger is real.
MAX PAPPAS [FREEDOMWORKS]: I think that the politicians should be careful about so easily dismissing this many people showing up and participating in the process.
Near the end of her Wednesday report, O'Donnell highlighted another critic of Ayotte: "The daughter of the slain principal at Sandy Hook Elementary drove four hours from Connecticut to confront Ayotte." A sound bite followed of Dawn Hochsprung's daughter, Erica Lafferty: "I'm just wondering why the burden of my mother being gunned down in the halls of her elementary school isn't as important as that."
Here is a full transcript of the May 1 Nightly News segment:
7:00PM ET TEASE:
BRIAN WILLIAMS: Pushing back. A tense moment as a U.S. senator gets an earful about her no vote on gun control. And with lawmakers home from Washington on a break, is this about to start happening more often?
7:06PM ET SEGMENT:
WILLIAMS: Now to the lingering effects from the recent no vote on expanded background checks for gun purchasers. After the vote went down to defeat in the Senate we kept hearing this is a 90% approval issue in this country. Polls show 9 of 10 Americans support expanded background checks. And with lawmakers now home on break, there is evidence they're starting to hear about it. We already saw that happen to one member of the Senate. We get our report tonight from our Capitol Hill correspondent Kelly O'Donnell.
KELLY O'DONNELL: Senator Kelly Ayotte has done 22 town hall meetings, but this was different.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN A: It may work for you, but you're denying somebody the right to speak.
O'DONNELL: Home in New Hampshire Tuesday, after her no vote on expanded background checks for commercial gun sales.
KELLY AYOTTE: Mental health, I hope, is the one thing that we can agree on going forward.
O'DONNELL: Critics call her position a political disconnect.
MAN: She wasn't voting for what the people had decided they wanted. She voted for the Republican NRA party line.
O'DONNELL: In another politically-charged moment, summer 2009, town hall meetings became a potent tool. Then it was health care reform. And the late Arlen Specter came under attack.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN B: And your cronies in the government do this kind of stuff all the time.
O'DONNELL: But are lawmakers facing that kind of heat over gun reform? Like Ayotte, also a no vote, Arizona Republican Jeff Flake took to Facebook to acknowledge his sudden drop in voter approval. "Given the public's dim view of Congress in general, that probably puts me somewhere just below pond scum." And the ad war is on, even though Ayotte is not up for re-election until 2016.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN A [TV AD]: Why didn't she listen to us in New Hampshire?
O'DONNELL: The NRA is offering support on radio.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN B [NRA RADIO AD]: Kelly had the courage to oppose misguided gun control laws that would not have prevented Sandy Hook.
O'DONNELL: The daughter of the slain principal at Sandy Hook Elementary drove four hours from Connecticut to confront Ayotte.
ERICA LAFFERTY [DAWN HOCHSPRUNG'S DAUGHTER]: I'm just wondering why the burden of my mother being gunned down in the halls of her elementary school isn't as important as that.
KELLY AYOTTE: I'm obviously so sorry, and as everyone here, no matter what our views are, for what you have been through.
O'DONNELL: Tonight Ayotte's advisers tell me that they think the meetings were actually more cordial than you might expect. And they say the Senator's open to constructive steps that both parties could still work on. But they don't think there's enough political momentum to bring this issue up again soon, especially with other hot topics coming up, like immigration reform. Brian.
WILLIAMS: Kelly O'Donnell in Washington tonight. Kelly, thanks.