Media Matters - Emerging Themes in Coverage of Fred Thompson’s Campaign

In light of former Tennessee Sen. Fred Thompson’s announcement that he will indeed be a candidate for the 2008 Republican presidential nomination, Media Matters for America thought it mightbe helpful to provide you with more information concerning several themes evident in coverage of his campaign over the past several weeks. Since speculation on his possible candidacy began in May, major themes that have emerged include:

Reporting on Fred Thompson's Republican presidential campaign, National Public Radio's Audie Cornish cited the "renown[]"Thompson acquired for his role as Republican counsel on the Senate Watergate committee during Watergate, but her report did not mention Thompson's own admission that he provided crucial information to President Nixon's lawyer without authorization. 

A New York Times article, which reported on Fred Thompson's leadership of a 1997 Governmental Affairs Committee investigation into campaign finance irregularities, uncritically quoted Thompson saying of the hearings, "[T]here was no way that I was going to shield any obvious problems that our side had." However, according to a New York Times article published at the time, Republicans shut down the hearings before Democrats were able to introduce evidence linking Republican lawmakers to Triad Management, a fundraising group that Democrats claimed had skirted campaign finance laws.

Thompson the “Anti-Washington Populist,” and the Leased Red Pickup Truck

An article in the Style section of the May 31 edition of The Washington Post described possible Republican presidential candidate Fred Thompson as "the pickup-driving former senator and 'Law & Order' star," referring to the long-running television series in which Thompson stars and the red pickup truck he drove during his 1994 and 1996 Senate races. On the May 30 edition of CNN's American Morning , anchor John Roberts said of Thompson, "He'll be taking his red pickup truck,which has become synonymous with Fred Thompson, around on the campaign trail." But neither the Post nor Roberts noted that the pickup truck Thompson took on the road during his Senate campaigns was a prop leased by his campaign staff for the purpose of winning over Tennessee voters.

On the June 3 edition of Fox Broadcasting Co.'s Fox News Sunday , Fortune magazine Washington bureau chief Nina Easton said of former Sen. Fred Thompson's (R-TN) possible 2008 presidential bid: "He's going to be posing himself very much as an anti-Washington populist, very much like when he drove his red pickup around the state in 1994 in his Senate race. He's good at that sensibility.There's going to be a lot of talk about his Reaganesque appeal." Easton's suggestion that Thompson will display an "anti-Washington" sensibility and "Reaganesque appeal" echoes characterizations of him advanced byRepublicans and conservatives and adopted by several other news outlets and media figures. But contrary to those who portray Thompson as an outsider, he spent 18 years as a lobbyist, and reports indicate that he was not above partisan politics during his eight years as a U.S. senator. Moreover, several observers characterized Thompson's first speech in the run-up to an expected presidential bid as disappointing.

Thompson and Abortion Rights

During the August 17 edition of CNN's The Situation Room , former Sen. Fred Thompson (R-TN), a potential Republican presidential candidate, asserted, "I think Roe vs. Wade was a bad decision," and added, "You don't just get up one day and overturn the entire history of the country with regard to major social policy without any action by Congress, without any action by the American people or a constitutional amendment. And that's what happened. It shouldn't have happened. It ought to be reversed." National correspondent John King did not note that Thompson's statement contradicted comments Thompson reportedly made in1993 to the Memphis Commercial Appeal. As Media Matters has documented, a July 29,1993, article in the Commercial Appeal reported that Thompson said in an interview that he "supports the Supreme Court's Roe vs. Wade decision that established a constitutional right to abortion."

On the May 31 edition of Fox News' Special Report , Fox News chief political correspondent Carl Cameron falsely asserted that former Sen. Fred Thompson(R-TN) "is ... consistently pro-life." In fact, on July 29, 1993, the Memphis Commercial Appeal reported that Thompson,then running for a Tennessee U.S. Senate seat, said during an interview that he "supports the Supreme Court's Roe vs. Wade decision that established a constitutional right to abortion." In an October 21, 1994, article, The Washington Post similarly reported that "both" Thompson and his Democratic opponent in the 1994 Senate race, then-Rep. Jim Cooper, "believe in legal abortion."

On the July 25 edition of CNN's The Situation Room , national correspondent John King reported that leaders of socially conservative advocacy groups say that they "can't be with" Republican presidential candidate Rudy Giuliani because he "supports abortion rights" and that they "don't necessarily trust" fellow Republican candidate Mitt Romney because he"has changed his position on abortion." King then said that leaders of such groups are "gravitating toward" former Sen. Fred Thompson(R-TN). King suggested a contrast between Romney, who has changed his position on abortion, and Thompson, who, by implication, has not.

For more information on media coverage of Fred Thompson and his campaign, visit Media Matters ’ website:

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