Though he decided “this was John McCain's best debate,” Democratic operative-turned ABC News journalist George Stephanopoulos made it a “clean sweep for Barack Obama” as he declared on Nightline after Wednesday's third and final presidential debate: “He has won every debate.” Add in the VP debate, which Stephanopoulos gave to Joe Biden over Sarah Palin, and Stephanopoulos has awarded all four debates this year to the more liberal candidate. He justified his latest assessment:
He won tonight by staying cool under pressure. He won tonight by parrying the attacks of John McCain. The only thing that John McCain could have really done tonight to change the tenor of this campaign was to get under Obama's skin, to force him into an error. That did not happen tonight. Another win for Barack Obama.
Anchor Terry Moran predicted “you're going to get some heat for this, George, you called all three presidential debates and the vice presidential debate for Obama-Biden.” But instead of suggesting that just might show some bias on the part of Stephanopoulos, Moran presumed it meant Stephanopoulos' evaluations presage the electorate: “Does that mean this thing is over?” Stephanopoulos replied: “I don't know if it's over. Right now, Barack Obama would win, I think, more than 300 electoral votes, if the election were held today. He's well ahead right now.”
Issuing his “Nightline Report Card,” Stephanopoulos awarded both an A on “strategy,” an A for Obama and an A-minus to McCain on “style” and a B grade for both on “accuracy.”
On “style,” Stephanopoulos chastised McCain:
Barack Obama won the battle of the split screens tonight. You look at those reaction shots for John McCain. The rolling of the eyes, he seemed exasperated by Barack Obama. He seemed on the edge of anger sometimes, a little bit over the top. Obama, on the other hand, remaining cool again under pressure, smiling under the attacks. That's the demeanor he's had through these debates. I think it served him very well tonight. I also think that McCain made a key mistake about halfway through the debate when they were talking about the tone of the campaign. Obama says, "Let's get back to the issues that matter to the people at home," and then, unprompted, McCain brings up the issue of the former member of the Weather Underground, Bill Ayers.
The three previous winner declarations from Stephanopoulos, in date order:
The September 27 NewsBusters item, "In 'Nightline Report Card' Stephanopoulos Gives Obama the Win," recounted:
Awarding Barack Obama two grades of A-minus and one B-minus while presenting John McCain with two grades of B-plus and one B-minus, at the end of his "Nightline Report Card" segment on Friday night, ABC's George Stephanopoulos declared Obama the "winner" -- with a big illustrative check mark on screen: "Bottom line, the winner is Barack Obama. He comes into this race where the country wants change. His number one goal was to show that he belonged on that stage. He was a credible commander-in-chief, that he could hold his own on national security. He did that tonight. He gets the win."
October 3 posting, "Stephanopoulos Again Declares the Liberal the Debate Winner," reported:
Six days after declaring Barack Obama the winner of the first presidential debate, following Thursday's VP debate George Stephanopoulos again decided the liberal Democrat in the debate, this time Joe Biden, was the winner -- but in assigning his "Nightline Report Card" grades he gave both Biden and Sarah Palin the same overall assessments: each got one A, one A-minus and one B. Asked by anchor Terry Moran to name "the winner," Stephanopoulos argued: "Joe Biden, but boy, was this close. I think that Governor Palin did an awful lot to help herself tonight. There is no question that she beat expectations, that she was fluent, that she showed she could stand up there on the stage. She laid a couple of attacks there against Barack Obama, but going back to my first point on overall strategy, right now, this is a race where if John McCain cannot convince the country that he's going to take it in a different direction from President Bush, he simply cannot win..."
October 8 NB item, “Stephanopoulos Goes 3 for 3: Again Declares Democrat the 'Winner,'” reported:
Deciding "Obama is two for two," ABC's George Stephanopoulos, who last Friday called Joe Biden the winner over Sarah Palin, declared Barack Obama "definitely won" over John McCain in the second presidential debate, just as he had determined following the first one -- and that makes it three times out of three debates the Democratic operative turned ABC journalist has picked the liberal Democrat. In Tuesday's "Nightline Report Card," Stephanopoulos trumpeted Obama's performance: "He definitely won tonight. I think, again, he showed over the course of this debate, over the course of the two debates, he is answering the number one question Americans have about him. Does he have the experience it takes to serve effectively as President? Over the course now of three hours of debates, he is answering that question minute by minute."
Transcript of the “Nightline Report Card” segment on the Wednesday, October 15 Nightline, as provided by the MRC's Brad Wilmouth who corrected the closed-captioning against the video:
TERRY MORAN: So this third and final presidential debate is in the books. So who came out on top? Our chief Washington correspondent George Stephanopoulos joins us once again for the “Nightline Report Card.” All right, George, this was a scrap, a real good one. Let's start with the main issue here, strategy. What's the grade there?
GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: Both candidates did well. “A” for Barack Obama, “A” for John McCain. This was John McCain's best debate. He was pressing the issues, as you said. He was putting Barack Obama on the defensive, especially on the issue of taxes right at the beginning. He had a clear break from President Bush when he said, “If you wanted to run against President Bush, you should have done that four years ago.” But probably the most interesting move he made was when he introduced this new character, Joe Wurzelbacher the plumber, into the debate.
JOHN MCCAIN CLIP #1: Of course, I’ve talked to people like Joe the plumber.
MCCAIN CLIP #2: Now, my old buddy Joe the plumber is out there.
MCCAIN CLIP #3: I want Joe, you, to do the job.
MCCAIN CLIP #4: Hey, Joe, you're rich. Congratulations.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Joe Wurzelbacher is not only rich, he’s also famous now, and he's going to basically become John McCain's chief surrogate out on the campaign trail in these final couple of weeks. But, look, Barack Obama handled this all very, very well. He was cool under attack. He explained away every attack, responded well, and again, on the issues where he has, I think, a big advantage over John McCain right now, on the economy, overall, on health care, on education, he did especially well explaining his positions and connecting, I think, with voters back home.
MORAN: So “A”s on strategy. This was a different format tonight, the two men sitting inches away from each other, trading those accusations. Style, what are the grades on style?
STEPHANOPOULOS: “A” for Barack Obama, “A minus” for John McCain. And I think that's because Barack Obama won the battle of the split screens tonight. You look at those reaction shots for John McCain. The rolling of the eyes, he seemed exasperated by Barack Obama. He seemed on the edge of anger sometimes, a little bit over the top. Obama, on the other hand, remaining cool again under pressure, smiling under the attacks. That's the demeanor he's had through these debates. I think it served him very well tonight. I also think that McCain made a key mistake about halfway through the debate when they were talking about the tone of the campaign. Obama says, “Let's get back to the issues that matter to the people at home,” and then, unprompted, McCain brings up the issue of the former member of the Weather Underground, Bill Ayers.
MCCAIN: Mr. Ayers, I don't care about an old washed up terrorist, but, as Senator Clinton said in her debates with you, we need to know the full extent of that relationship.
STEPHANOPOULOS: There were dial groups done by many organizations, having undecided voters watching the debate. When John McCain did that, brought up Bill Ayers on his own, they went south very, very quickly.
MORAN: That Bill Ayers attack just hasn't seemed to work for him at all. And, finally, accuracy. What are the grades?
STEPHANOPOULOS: Two “B”s. “B” for Barack Obama, “B” for John McCain. For McCain, I think he misstated Barack Obama's position on health care when he said people like Joe Wurzelbacher would be fined, small businesses would be fined. He also misstated how extensive the McCain, the Obama tax cuts would be, how many small businesses would be affected by the tax increases, excuse me. Barack Obama, wrong when he said that all of John McCain's ads have been negative. Also wrong when he underplayed his connections to the community organizing voter registration group ACORN. Both within the bounds of normal behavior for politicians, but not “A”s.
MORAN: All right, so, bottom line, who won the third and final debate here, George?
STEPHANOPOULOS: Clean sweep for Barack Obama. He has won every debate. He won tonight by staying cool under pressure. He won tonight by parrying the attacks of John McCain. The only thing that John McCain could have really done tonight to change the tenor of this campaign was to get under Obama's skin, to force him into an error. That did not happen tonight. Another win for Barack Obama.
MORAN: Now, you called, you're going to get some heat for this, George, you called all three presidential debates and the vice presidential debate for Obama/Biden. Does that mean this thing is over?
STEPHANOPOULOS: I don't know if it's over. Right now, Barack Obama would win, I think, more than 300 electoral votes, if the election were held today. He's well ahead right now. There are about 2 1/2 weeks left. We'll see what happens in those final 2 1/2 weeks. You know, if you look back at these debates, though, I think you will see, and this is a judgment that's pretty much been confirmed by every poll, both on the debate nights, but also in subsequent polling. People have come away from these debates, voters both undecided and Democrats, have come from these debates saying they are more reassured by Barack Obama. I think he may look back and say this is where he sealed the deal, but, of course, we still have 2 1/2 weeks left.
MORAN: George Stephanopoulos, grading the debates for us throughout, calling for the Democrats. Thanks very much for that, George.