Networks Turn Up the Heat on Arizona: When Will Governor 'Finally Kill' 'Anti-Gay' Bill?

On Tuesday, all three network morning shows touted "pressure mounting from all sides" for Arizona Governor Jan Brewer to veto an "anti-gay" bill designed to protect religious freedom. On NBC's Today, correspondent Mike Taibbi declared: "Governor Brewer actually has until the end of the week to make her decision. But the pressure has been mounting to finally kill the bill that at the very least has reignited the culture wars." [Listen to the audio]

On ABC's Good Morning America, co-host Robin Roberts announced: "Governor Jan Brewer, under a lot of pressure to veto the measure that would give businesses the right to refuse service, citing religious beliefs. Protests overnight right outside the Governor's office..." In the report that followed, correspondent Cecilia Vega stood amongst those protestors and proclaimed: "...they promise to be out here every night until this bill is vetoed."

CBS This Morning co-host Norah O'Donnell hyped: "Governor Jan Brewer is back in Arizona this morning and she's facing a firestorm. She must decide on a bill that's ignited days of protest." Following sound bites of protestors chanting "Veto! Veto! Veto!" and "Shame on you! 1062!"  correspondent Jan Crawford described "a tidal wave of opposition to the proposed state law which would make it easier for businesses, because of their religious beliefs, to deny service against gays and lesbians."

While all three broadcasts leaned heavily against the legislation, the morning shows did include sound bites from supporters of the proposed law.

On Today, Taibbi talked to a group of "devout Christians" at a Phoenix church who believed the bill "has nothing to do with gender-based discrimination and only to do with freedom of religious expression."

Taibbi quickly countered such arguments by asserting: "But a lot of business owners have been doing the math....Estimates are it's not thousands, but untold millions at stake if the bill becomes law and triggers corporate and tourist dollar flight, especially from LGBT tourists."

Near the end of his report, Taibbi noted: "If Governor Brewer does veto the bill, ultra-conservative talkers like Rush Limbaugh say they know who's to blame." A sound bite followed of Limbaugh observing: "She's being bullied by the homosexual lobby in Arizona and elsewhere." Taibbi concluded: "Many of those in this church agree."

Following Taibbi's report, co-host Matt Lauer talked to Republican strategist Nicolle Wallace about the issue. While Wallace thought the bill should be vetoed for being too broadly interpreted, she defended the motivation behind it: "The original intent was a noble one, to protect religious freedoms, but that is not how it's been understood by the people of Arizona....sending a message to people who want to fight for religious liberties – which, again, is a noble cause – that those measures need to be more targeted..."

Lauer pushed back: "Yeah, you say it's a noble cause. But the bill itself does force the question, do the religious freedoms of one group trump the right not to be discriminated against for another group? How do you answer that question?"

Wallace replied: "No doubt, in this case, they did not strike the right balance. But I think that we have to be careful not to paint this with too broad a brush. Because I think the specific effort of trying to protect religious freedoms has in mind protecting anybody's personal belief system and not forcing them to do something that violates that."

On Good Morning America, Vega remarked: "But as some stores and restaurants hang signs declaring business open to everyone, the bill's backers are hoping the Governor listens to their side too." A sound bite followed of Christian Business Network founder Maia Arneson: "I want for us to be able to have our businesses and also have our businesses respected."

Vega mentioned that Arneson "says she's received death threats over her public support of the bill."

On CBS This Morning, Crawford talked to Cathi Herrod of the Center for Arizona Policy that "helped craft the bill known as SB 1062."

Herrod explained: "What's at risk here is religious liberties. Whether our First Amendment right to freely exercise our religious belief will continue to mean something in this country or whether we are now in a country that frankly is hostile to individual religious beliefs."

On Monday, the morning shows fretted that the "very controversial" bill would "legalize discrimination."

That evening, NBC Nightly News anchor Brian Williams claimed the measure was akin to "the epic battles this nation has fought over lunch counters, separate drinking fountains and restrooms" under segregation.

— Kyle Drennen is Senior News Analyst at the Media Research Center. Follow Kyle Drennen on Twitter.