After Discrediting McCain, Williams Again Cozies Up to Obama

A week after NBC's Brian Williams spent his time with John McCain and Sarah Palin in Ohio discrediting the accuracy of their claims and pushing for assurance their campaign wouldn't mention Jeremiah Wright, Williams on Thursday night in Florida returned to the same cozy approach with Barack Obama, though without the memories of mom, he employed in earlier interviews with the Democratic candidate. After declaring Obama's campaign is “fueled by the urgent fight to fix the economy,” Williams cited fresh bad economic news before cuing up Obama: “How do you tailor your message to this crowd? Is there more pain before there's a gain?”

His other three questions in the first excerpt run on Thursday's NBC Nightly News (with more to come Friday night) also didn't challenge any of Obama's claims or attacks, nor raise any detracting information: “Why did it take so long for Bill Clinton to join you for a rally like the one we saw here in Florida last night?” Then two questions which seemed to presume Obama will soon take office: “Does America need American car companies? Is three too many? Two too few? And on top of the billions already spent, what's it worth to you, if the answer is yes?” And lastly, a long question about litmus tests for Supreme Court nominees and if you don't apply one “how then do you also avoid surprises?”

(ABC's Charles Gibson managed to raise a broken Obama promise, as he set up a brief interview excerpt on Thursday's World News:

Last night's broadcast of Barack Obama's 30-minute infomercial, that was on three networks and four cable outlets, it drew an audience of more than33 million viewers. The ad reportedly cost $3 million, and I asked Obama yesterday when we spoke whether he was able to afford that ad because he broke his promise to take public campaign financing.)

In contrast to how Williams treated Obama, last week with McCain and Palin he hit them with hostile questions, such as:

♦ Did this campaign get out of your control? And here's what I mean: A lot of people who know you well saw you take that microphone from that woman in Wisconsin and for the first time in a long time they said, "there, that's John McCain."

♦ You mention Senator Biden's comment the other day about, a new President and a test of the new President's mettle, one of your very closest friends in the Senate, Joe Lieberman said on Face the Nation quote, "our enemies will test the new President early. And it has happened throughout modern history."...When he says the new President will be tested, though, I'm missing how that's different from Senator Lieberman saying quote "our enemies will test the new President early."

♦ Let me ask you both about what must have been a hurtful Sunday for you especially, you Senator McCain, Colin Powell's endorsement of Barack Obama and Governor, respectfully, the heart of his quote, about Governor Palin, Senator McCain, "I don't believe she's ready to be President of the United States which is the job of Vice President. And so that raised some question in my mind as to the judgment that Senator McCain made." When you heard those words from a man you've known for a long time, what was your reaction, saying basically we have little to judge these future leaders on except for the big decision of picking a running mate?

♦ Are we changing the definition? Are the people who set fire to American cities during the '60s terrorists under this definition? Is an abortion clinic bomber a terrorist under this definition, Governor?

♦ Are you going to keep your promise not to involve Reverend Wright in the campaign?

For more on those interviews, check: “Williams Hits McCain & Palin with Powell's Charge She's Unqualified” and: “Williams Pushes McCain & Palin on Ayers, Avoid Wright, Define 'Elite'”

Compare the tone of his McCain interview session with his approach to Obama earlier this year, as recounted in “Williams Tosses Softballs to Obama, Empathizes Over Elitist Image,” my May 8 NewsBusters item:

Brian Williams, who slobbered over Barack Obama in their last interview in early January, did so again in a Thursday session conducted at Washington, DC's Newseum and excerpted on the NBC Nightly News. Back on January 7, Williams handed Obama a Newsweek with "Inside Obama's Dream Machine" as the cover story and wondered: "How does this feel, of all the honors that have come your way, all the publicity? Who does it make you think of? Is there, is there a loved one?" On Thursday, Williams didn't pose a single challenging question nor mention Jeremiah Wright in any of the ten questions aired, but pulled the same magazine stunt, this time holding up the new Time with a smiling Obama on the cover by the words, "And the Winner* Is..." Williams fondly recalled: "Last time we were together, I handed you a copy of Newsweek, it was the first time you'd held it in your hands with you on the cover. Have you yet held this in your hands?"

Obama said he had not, prompting Williams to remind him: "Last time you looked at it and you thought instantly of your mom." Obama effused: "She'd like that picture. She always encouraged me to smile more." Proceeding to cue up Obama for a long recitation on how he's not an elitist, Williams empathized: "You end up with people talking about your bowling score, gutter balls, wearing a tie, wearing a tie with farmers. And how have you dealt with that? Is there an operating theory that guides your life these days?"

Now, all of the questions from Williams to Obama in the interview excerpt aired on the Thursday, October 30 NBC Nightly News (with a second part to run on Friday's newscast):

BRIAN WILLIAMS: And because these days it all comes back to the presidential campaign and the election five days from now, that brings us to the campaign trail. We're on the warning track here at Ed Smith Stadium in Sarasota, Florida. This was one of Barack Obama's stops in Florida today. Democrats are in the minority in this region, but Obama is looking for votes. His campaign fueled by the urgent fight to fix the economy these days. Some of that corporate news had just broken when I met up with him in a tent before he took the podium here this morning.

WILLIAMS TO OBAMA: This morning's news, 7,000 layoffs worldwide, American Express. There's another financial headline every day. How do you tailor your message to this crowd? Is there more pain before there's a gain?

WILLIAMS: And with that he was greeted by the cheers of a crowd estimated at 13,000. He delivered his latest stump speech here today. It's been called his closing argument. He came off the rope line afterwards. We joined up with him again. And during our seated interview later, we talked about last night's rally here in Florida with Bill Clinton.

WILLIAMS TO OBAMA: Why did it take so long for Bill Clinton to join you for a rally like the one we saw here in Florida last night?             

An American industrial question, does, does America need American car companies? Is three too many? Two too few? And on top of the billions already spent, what's it worth to you, if the answer is yes?

Senator, a question about the Supreme Court. Everyone running for President always says, especially on the narrow issue of abortion rights, no litmus test. It's said on both sides of the issue. And if that's true, if you're not going to call a future justice into the oval office, if you're successful in this endeavor and bring up the subject, how then do you also avoid surprises? I don't think George H.W. Bush 41 ever dreamed that in Justice Souter he was appointing a dependable liberal vote. And Eisenhower for years called Justice Brennan his biggest mistake in office. Two surprises that just come to mind.

Brent Baker
Brent Baker
Brent Baker is the Steven P.J. Wood Senior Fellow and VP for Research and Publications at the Media Research Center