On Friday, some Americans might have missed news that President Donald Trump signed into the law the bipartisan, landmark First Step Act. If you were watching ABC’s World News Tonight, you might have been one such person as the newscast ignored this example of a positive legislative breakthrough, instead choosing to insinuate Rush Limbaugh is to blame for an impending government shutdown.
Of the “big three” network evening newscasts (ABC, CBS, and NBC), ABC was the strongest in continuing to employ hyperbolic language about the shutdown. Weekend anchor Tom Llamas declared in a tease: “Tonight, chaos in the Capitol. The government shutdown hours away. President Trump digging in on his demands to fund the border wall. Can Republicans and Democrats strike a deal to keep the government running?”
Llamas reiterated the word “chaos” after the teases, adding: “Without a deal, parts of the government shut down at midnight and hundreds of thousands of workers head into the holidays, worried about their paychecks.”
Senior congressional correspondent Mary Bruce went to blaming Limbaugh and Ann Coulter for part way through her report while hyping a quote by outgoing Senator Bob Corker (R-TN) that appeared to display smugness on how free speech works (click “expand”):
BRUCE: Just two days ago, the President seemed ready to fund the government without insisting on money for his wall, but then, a revolt from the right.
LIMBAUGH: It look like a lot of people’s worst fears may be realized.
COULTER: It i becoming clearer and clearer that all we're getting is words, words, words.
BRUCE: The President was listening and changed course.
CORKER: Let’s face it, I mean we have two talk radio show hosts who basically, you know, influenced the President and we’re in a shutdown mode. It's just, I mean, that's tyranny, isn't it?
BRUCE: Now with just hours to go and with hundreds of thousands of workers in limbo, a scramble on the Hill to come up with plan B. But the blame game is already on.
Right behind Bruce and Llamas was NBC Nightly News with anchor Lester Holt hyping before Hallie Jackson’s lead-off report (click “expand”):
There is growing anxiety on so many levels tonight. President trump's political gambit to fund a border wall leaving hundreds of thousands of government workers heading into Christmas week unsure when they will see their next paychecks. A midnight shutdown of several government agencies seems a virtual certainty at this hour. This as questions grow about America's global influence in the wake of yesterday's protest resignation of Defense Secretary James Mattis. The uncertainty of it all, no friend of the financial markets, stocks tumbling again today.
Over on the CBS Evening News, anchor Jeff Glor was more measured:
We are going to begin here with the strained efforts to prevent a partial closure of the federal government. It would begin just hours from now at midnight eastern. The President says he will not sign any spending bill that does not contain billions for a border wall. Late tonight, senators have vowed to keep talking, so there is that, but failure to reach a deal would mean no pay, for the time being, for hundreds of thousands of government workers, a bitter pill at Christmastime.
Speaking of CBS, the newscast gave two minutes and 15 seconds to the First Step Act. Glor noted that “President Trump today signed a sweeping criminal justice overhaul which had rare bipartisan support” and “shortened some drug sentences and expands rehabilitation programs for prisoners.”
Senior national correspondent Jim Axelrod followed with separate profiles of the Exodus Transitional Community in New York City that “help[s] launch post-prison lives with job searches and counseling” and former GOP aide Kevin Ring.
Axelrod added that there will be “sweeping change in how we punish” as “[t]housands of well-behaved inmates getting early releases, others seeing their sentences reduced, and drug offenders getting treatment.”
He concluded that while it “covers only federal prisoners, roughly nine percent of the nation's inmates,” “large-scale reform will be a matter of change at the state and local level.” Glor noted that it’s “such an interesting story” because “[i]t makes you think” about “second chances.”
NBC gave it one minute and 29 seconds with the segment beginning with Holt calling it “a historic criminal justice reform bill” that was “a rare bipartisan effort that will affect thousands of non-violent offenders in prisons.”
Correspondent Ron Allen profiled inmate Robert Shipp and efforts by sister Veda Ajamu to get him since he was given a sentence of life without parole “after a drug conviction.”
“The law applies only to federal inmates, just 10 percent of the prison population. One reason they call it the First Step Act. For some families, a hard-fought second chance,” Allen concluded.