In a bunch of presidential debates this season the Republicans have come under tougher scrutiny than the Democrats, but the mainstream media didn't care. However, when Barack Obama and some left-wing journalists complained about questions to him during Wednesday's debate on ABC, the network evening newscasts found the kvetching newsworthy. CBS plastered “Debate Backlash” on screen as Katie Couric touted an upcoming Thursday night story.
CBS reporter Dean Reynolds explained: “He was even grilled about his flag pin, or lack thereof. A series of questions that aides say left him dispirited. But the debate, hosted by ABC News, came in for scathing criticism. Its own Web site logged more than 15,000 hits, most of them negative.” Reynolds concluded by feeling Obama's pain: “Obama said today that what you saw during the debate was the rollout for the Republican campaign against him in the fall. So it must have been painful for him to have it come out during a debate with a fellow Democrat.”
ABC hardly stood by Charles Gibson and George Stephanopoulos. David Wright cited “a grueling round of questions focused on issues such as Obama's patriotism, and his more controversial friends” -- though Wright only highlighted Jeremiah Wright and ignored William Ayers. After a clip of Obama complaining about how it was “45 minutes before we heard about health care. 45 minutes before we heard about Iraq. 45 minutes before we heard about jobs,” Wright ran four comments, three of the four critical of ABC: “Today, in Philadelphia's Redding market, we met plenty of others who shared those views.” A man declared: “I felt they wasted a whole hour, a good hour, talking about nothing.” Wright then read this e-mail: “This so-called debate will be shown to my communications students as an example of what shoddy journalism looks like.”
Wright concluded by helpfully promoting a far-left publicity effort: “There's now an organized campaign by the liberal group MoveOn and others to send a message to ABC.” A message ABC News and Wright himself delivered by framing an entire story around their agenda.
Unlike ABC's Wright, CBS's Reynolds did inform viewers about William Ayers, referring to “the radical urban terrorists who used to be his neighbors in Chicago.” Viewers then saw Stephanopoulos asking: “Can you explain that relationship for the voters and explain to Democrats why it won't be a problem?”
On the NBC Nightly News, anchor Brian Williams noted the complaints in his story set up: “Last night the questioning became part of the story. So much so that Obama today said it was a preview of the Republican attack that he expects in the fall campaign.” Reporter Ron Allen cited “Obama's dealings with a radical 60s activist, William Ayers, from a notorious anarchist group,” but Allen limited focus on the debate questions to this:
RON ALLEN: Obama mocked the debate as a preview of the GOP campaign against him.
OBAMA: You've got to expect it, and you've just got kind of got to let it [brushes hand on shoulder] -- you know.
ALLEN: Obama also criticized the debate format itself and the questioners from ABC News. He called it the gotcha debate.
OBAMA: It took us 45 minutes before we even started talking about a single issue that matters to the American people.
♦ Journalists and the broadcast network evening newscasts didn't consider it newsworthy when Republicans were hit with questions from the left, particularly in debates held by MSNBC and CNN. A look through the archive, starting with the May 3, 2007 GOP debate on MSNBC, recounted in my NewsBusters posting, “Question During Debate: 'What Do You Dislike Most About America?,'” which reported (with video):
In a debate packed with silly questions and ones matching left-wing attack points on GOP candidates, in the first "Interactive Round" of questions submitted by the public on Politico.com, a co-sponsor of the debate, Mitt Romney got the most bizarre. The Politico Executive Editor Jim VandeHei, a Washington Post political reporter before jumping to The Politico earlier this year, found this one worth posing: "Daniel Dekovnick [sp phonetic] from Walnut Creek, California wants to know, 'What do you dislike most about America?'" Romney responded: "Gosh, I love America. I'm afraid I'm going to be at a loss for words..."
The "Interactive Rounds" at the Republican presidential debate, from the Ronald Reagan Library in California and carried live on MSNBC, became an opportunity to raise hostile questions from a left-wing agenda or meant to embarrass the candidates (What's the difference between Shia and Sunni?, How many have been killed or injured in Iraq? etc.)
Some of the other questions VandeHei chose to ask during the same round, about 25 minutes into the debate, in which he posed the whopper to Romney: To Rudy Giuliani, "Bradley Winter of New York would like to know if there's anything you learned, or regret, during your time as Mayor in your dealings with the African-American community?"; to Mike Huckabee, "Thousands of reputable scientists have concluded, with almost certainty, that human activity is responsible for the warming of the Earth. Do you believe global warming exists?" Later, to Tom Tancredo: "Will you work to protect women's rights, as in fair wages and reproductive choice?"...
♦ May 7 MRC Media Reality Check by Rich Noyes, “The Two Debates: MSNBC’s Liberal Agenda; MSNBC's Matthews Emphasizes Liberal Questions at GOP Debate: Is Bill Clinton Good for America?”
♦ The October 9 NewsBusters item by Geoff Dickens, “In GOP Debate Chris Matthews Advances 'No Blood for Oil' Agenda,” began:
Chris Matthews couldn't help himself during the GOP debate in Michigan, as he returned to his "No blood for oil," rant, when he essentially asked Republican candidates if they thought the U.S. would have invaded Iraq if it didn't need the oil. On CNBC's live 4-6pm EDT carriage of Tuesday's Republican debate, the Hardball host asked Ron Paul: "Congressman Paul would you, would we have gone to war in Iraq if we weren't so dependent on Middle East oil?"
Matthews then repeated that same question to Sam Brownback: "Do you believe that, Senator Brownback, that we would've gone to war in Iraq if we weren't so dependent on Middle East oil?"...
♦ My November 30 NewsBusters posting, “Fred Barnes: CNN's Debates: 'Screw Republicans...Boost Democrats,'” relayed:
Describing the agenda of questions CNN chose to pose, during its Wednesday night Republican presidential debate with YouTube, as "completely different" from those forwarded to Democrats in July, Fred Barnes, on Thursday's Special Report on FNC, cited the contrast in questions about the military and Iraq as demonstrating how CNN picked the questioners to "screw Republicans" and "boost Democrats." Mara Liasson of NPR echoed the sentiment, recalling that the questions put to Democrats "were about global warming and health care and education, all kind of Democratic issues" and so they "weren't challenging the basic principles of the Democratic Party," but "there were lots of questions last night that were" meant to undermine GOP principles.
Earlier in the day, on The Weekly Standard's Web site, Barnes, Executive Editor of the magazine, hypothesized: "I don't know if the folks who put the debate together were purposely trying to make the Republican candidates look bad, but they certainly succeeded." He asserted that the YouTube video submission questions CNN decided to air reflected "the issues, in the view of liberals and many in the media, on which Republicans look particularly unattractive."
Referring to how CNN put retired Brigadier General Keith Kerr, a member of Clinton's steering committee on gay and lesbian issues, in the audience for a follow-up after his YouTube video asking why gays can't serve in the military, Barnes observed on FNC: "He ambushed the Republican candidates who they knew were going to be against gays in the military, which he was for, and they handed him the mic so he could embarrass them, make them feel squeamish, or that was the attempt. Remember the CNN debate in Las Vegas where they had a soldier get up with his mother and he talked, but did he challenge the Democrats who were against the war? No. He was against the war, too. He ratified their position. So you can see the completely different ways CNN handled that. One to screw Republicans, one to boost Democrats."...
♦ Speaking of the Democrats, in July, CNN cued them up with friendly liberal questions, as documented in the MRC CyberAlert item, “CNN's You Tube Debate Delivers Questions from the Left,” which ran down:
During Monday night's CNN/You Tube Democratic presidential debate, the candidates were hit with questions from the left over the right by nearly a 3-to-1 margin: 17 liberal questions posed in You Tube clips versus six conservative clips. With CNN's You Tube forum with Republican presidential candidates set for September 17, CNN has eight weeks to ensure an equal approach of of pushing each party from the direction of its base, so Republicans should be pressed from the right by about 3-to-1 over from the left. But if most of the questions to Republicans also come from the left, the CNN/You Tube debates will have served as little more than prime hours dedicated to advancing liberal causes.
Amongst the questions from the left at Monday night's event, one about reparations ("African-Americans ever going to get reparations for slavery?"), Katrina ("Do you believe the response in the wake of Hurricane Katrina would have been different if the storm hit an affluent, predominantly white city?"), getting out of Iraq ("How many more soldiers must die while these political games continue in our government? Is the reason that we are still in Iraq and seemingly will be for some time due to the Democrats' fear that blame for the loss of the war will be placed on them by the Republican spin machine?"), "free" health care ("What would you, as President, do to make low-cost or free preventative medicine available for everybody in this country?") and two advocating same-sex marriage....
And remember the snow man?
The MRC's Brad Wilmouth corrected the closed-captioning against the video to provide transcripts of the Thursday, April 17 CBS and ABC stories:
CBS Evening News:
KATIE COURIC, IN OPENING TEASER: And after the debate, the Obama backlash:
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN IN AUDIENCE: You were really pummeled during that debate, and I thought it was unfair.
COURIC: Turning to politics and the fallout from last night's debate between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. Obama took a bruising, and some supporters say he was not treated fairly. Dean Reynolds is in Greenville, North Carolina, tonight. Dean, how is the candidate doing the day after?
DEAN REYNOLDS: Well, Katie, last night Barack Obama was defensive, but today he is defiant.
BARACK OBAMA: I mean, last night, I think we set a new record because it took us 45 minutes before we even started talking about a single issue that matters to the American people.
REYNOLDS: Instead, he was questioned about issues ranging from his controversial preacher-
GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: Do you think Reverend Wright loves America as much as do you?
REYNOLDS: -to the radical urban terrorists who used to be his neighbors in Chicago-
STEPHANOPOULOS: Can you explain that relationship for the voters and explain to Democrats why it won't be a problem?
REYNOLDS: -to his past statements.
CHARLES GIBSON: Do you understand that some people in this state find that patronizing?
REYNOLDS: He was even grilled about his flag pin, or lack thereof. A series of questions that aides say left him dispirited. But the debate, hosted by ABC News, came in for scathing criticism. Its own Web site logged more than 15,000 hits, most of them negative. Obama partisans sure didn't like it.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN IN AUDIENCE: -and I thought it was unfair-
REYNOLDS: Today Obama noted how much his opponent seemed to enjoy the evening.
OBAMA: You know, Senator Clinton, you know, looked in her element. She's-
OBAMA CLIP #2: That's her right, to, kind of, twist the knife a little bit.
OBAMA CLIP #3: You know, you've just got to, kind of, let it-
[CHEERS AND APPLAUSE]
OBAMA: You know.
REYNOLDS: Obama said today that what you saw during the debate was the rollout for the Republican campaign against him in the fall. So it must have been painful for him to have it come out during a debate with a fellow Democrat.
ABC's World News:
CHARLES GIBSON: Next, we turn to presidential politics, a day after last night's contentious Democratic debate. Both candidates were back campaigning today. Both showed last night they could take a political punch. But many of the blows today were being aimed at the debate itself and the questions asked. ABC's David Wright joins us tonight from Philadelphia. David?
DAVID WRIGHT: Good evening, Charlie. As you can imagine, the debate was the talk of the town here today, not all of it positive. The consensus is that Barack Obama had a rough night. At a town hall meeting in North Carolina today, Obama shrugged off last night's confrontation.
BARACK OBAMA: When you're running for the presidency, then you've got to expect it. And, you know, you've just got to, kind of, let it- [brushes shoulder]
WRIGHT: Dismissing some of the questions with evident disdain. Last night, a grueling round of questions focused on issues such as Obama's patriotism, and his more controversial friends.
GIBSON: -and your former pastor, the Reverend Jeremiah Wright.
GIBSON: If you knew he got rough in sermons, why did it take you more than a year to publicly disassociate yourself from his remarks?
WRIGHT: Obama today took issue with that.
OBAMA: 45 minutes before we heard about health care. 45 minutes before we heard about Iraq. 45 minutes before we heard about jobs. 45 minutes before we heard about gas prices.
WRIGHT: Today, in Philadelphia's Redding market, we met plenty of others who shared those views.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: I felt they wasted a whole hour, a good hour, talking about nothing.
WRIGHT: ABC News has heard from thousands of angry viewers today. One said, "This so-called debate will be shown to my communications students as an example of what shoddy journalism looks like."
"Shame on you, Charlie and George," wrote another. "We deserve better."
But others were more positive. Among them: "Folks, if he can't deal with the hostile questions from George and Charlie, how do you expect him to deal with McCain and company in the fall?"
HILLARY CLINTON: How many of you watched the debate last night?
WRIGHT: Today Hillary Clinton spoke about immigration and health care, but largely steered clear of the debate. But Bill Clinton couldn't resist.
BILL CLINTON: Well, they've been beating up on her for 15 months. I didn't hear her whining when he said she was untruthful in Iowa, or called her the Senator from Punjab. And, you know, they said some pretty rough things about me, too. But, you know, this is a contact sport. If you don't want to play, keep your uniform off.
WRIGHT: There's now an organized campaign by the liberal group MoveOn and others to send a message to ABC. But Obama's campaign today didn't miss a beat. Today, he picked up two more superdelegates, Charlie.