In an election year gift to Democrats, Sunday’s "60 Minutes" pointed out GOP failings in Congress on the eve of a crucial midterm election, hitting the Republican Congress over failure to control spending and in particular, earmarks. "60 Minutes" has a history of running stories like these on the show preceding an important election. In 2002, correspondent Morley Safer provided a forum for liberal columnist Molly Ivins to hype the candidacies of two Texas Democrats running for state wide office, while providing no counterpoint from a conservative or Republican in the piece.
On Sunday, Safer profiled Arizona Congressman Jeff Flake about earmarks and government spending, unfortunately Safer portrayed earmarks as the only wasteful spending in Washington. In an attempt to discourage conservatives and demoralize the GOP base, "60 Minutes" attacked the Republican Congress over its failure to limit spending. Safer invoked the name of disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff and equated earmarks with corruption while lamenting Congress’ wasteful spending.
Safer, leading into his story, described earmarks:
"Many say they’re one of Congress’ dirty little secrets, that a good part of that $70 billion is pork, government waste at it’s worse."
He then proceeded to portray Congressman Flake as a hero:
"Our story is about one Congressman’s mission to end earmarks that’s pitted him against the House, in particular, against members of his own party."
Would CBS have even bothered to profile Jeff Flake if he wasn't taking on the Republican Party? It is true, Congress has been spending too much money, yet when the House attempted to reign in spending, Republicans were vilified by the media, including CBS, for gutting essential government programs for the poor. But on election eve, that angle is ignored by Safer as he concentrates solely on earmarks.
Safer continued, tying earmarks to lobbyists and corruption and invoked the name and images of disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff. Particularly, Safer charged that there is a quid pro quo between earmarks and campaign contributions:
Safer: And so it goes. Thirty thousand earmarks this year alone compared to only 4,000 a dozen years ago. And it's no accident that the explosive growth in earmarks parallels the explosive growth of lobbyists in Washington.
Rep. FLAKE: Many of the earmark request forms are actually filled out by lobbyists and then just turned in by the member's staff to the Appropriations Committee.
SAFER: And a good part of the time, as you say, it's just rubber-stamped by the congressmen.
Rep. FLAKE: Yes.
SAFER: Put it through.
Rep. FLAKE: Yes. Unfortunately, yes.
SAFER: And he's got his hand out for some campaign contributions, correct?
Is Safer accusing all Congressman of being corrupt? Safer never stops to consider that many members of Congress view earmarks for improvements in their district as essential and are eager for the federal money to improve the lives of the people they represent, not because of a quid pro quo with a lobbyist. But even such, Safer seems more concerned in addressing the process of earmarks rather than addressing the overarching question, is this an appropriate role for government? Should Congress be allocating money to these types of projects at all? Until Congress determines that the Federal government has no business in funding these special projects, there will always be Congressmen lined up to bring home what they view as "their fare share." But just as important as what Safer ignored, is the timing of the piece. CBS chose to air this two days before an election, a clear effort to dishearten fiscally conservative voters and perhaps dissuade them from voting.