In a stunning omission on Wednesday's NBC Today, brief coverage of a 2007 video of Barack Obama completely ignored the then-Senator praising his controversial pastor Jeremiah Wright as a "great leader, not just in Chicago, but all across the country." The NBC morning show adopted a dismissive attitude toward the video, with co-host Savannah Guthrie leading off the broadcast: "Conservatives circulate a five-year-old video, in a move the Obama campaign calls desperate." [Listen to the audio or watch the video after the jump]
In the report that followed, chief White House correspondent Chuck Todd further quoted Obama talking points: "In a transparent attempt to change the subject from his comments attacking half of the American people, Mitt Romney's allies re-circulated video of a 2007 event that was open to and extensively covered by the press at the time."
Todd assured viewers: "NBC, along with several other media outlets, covered the same speech at the time."
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While it's true that NBC provided some coverage of the June 5, 2007 speech, that coverage only amounted to a brief mention by NBC Nightly News anchor Brian Williams that evening, who mildly characterized Obama's remarks as "unusually direct":
BRIAN WILLIAMS: Now to presidential politics in this country, and we begin with some unusually direct talk today from Democratic candidate Barack Obama on the issue of race, something he rarely focuses on in his speeches. But today, speaking to a primarily black audience at Hampton University in Virginia, Obama said the Bush administration has done little to address what he called 'a quiet riot' of discontent and despair among blacks in this country, one that erupted in L.A. 15 years ago and has been building again since the administration's response to Hurricane Katrina.
BARACK OBAMA: This administration was color blind in its incompetence. But everyone here knows that the disaster and the poverty happened long before the hurricane hit. All the hurricane did was make bare what we ignore each and every day, which is that there are whole sets of communities that are impoverished, whole sets of communities that don't have meaningful opportunity and don't have hope and are forgotten.
WILLIAMS: Senator Obama's message on race came a day after an unusual forum that found the Democrats talking about another sometimes touchy subject, faith, and they spoke with what some saw as surprising candor.
Again, there was no mention of the then-Democratic presidential candidate praising the radical Reverend Wright.
On Wednesday's Today, in addition to skipping over Wright, Todd significantly watered down Obama's accusation that the federal government discriminated against victims of Hurricane Katrina in comparison to its response to other disasters.
Ignoring Obama's assertion in the speech that "The people down in New Orleans they don't care about as much!," Todd simply noted: "Mr. Obama spoke at length about the hurricane response." In the sound bite that followed, Obama ranted: "People asked me whether they thought race was the reason the response was so slow. This administration was color-blind in its incompetence, but – but everyone here knows that the disaster and the poverty happened long before the hurricane hit."
In a news brief at the top of the 9 a.m. et hour, anchor Natalie Morales reiterated the dismissive tone of the coverage:
A 2007 speech by then-Senator Obama is now generating criticism from conservatives, who say his words are racially charged. The Obama campaign is fighting back, saying Romney's allies are just trying to distract from Romney's secretly taped remarks about 47% of Americans who don't pay federal income taxes.
Following Todd's report, fill-in co-host and Meet the Press moderator David Gregory interviewed former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum about the upcoming presidential debate. Moments later, Guthrie interviewed deputy Obama campaign manager Stephanie Cutter on the same topic. Neither were asked a single question about the Obama video.
Here is a full transcript of Todd's October 3 report:
7:00AM ET TEASE:
SAVANNAH GUTHRIE: Face-off. The first presidential debate now just hours away as Vice President Joe Biden makes a comment that gives his Republican rivals new ammunition. And conservatives circulate a five-year-old video, in a move the Obama campaign calls desperate.
7:07AM ET SEGMENT:
GUTHRIE: And this morning on Today on the Trail, the first presidential debate. The stage is set for tonight's showdown between President Obama and Mitt Romney. Their first face-to-face meeting in five years. Chuck Todd is NBC's political director, chief White House correspondent, and he is outside the debate hall at the University of Denver. Chuck, good morning to you.
CHUCK TODD: Well, good morning, Savannah. It's the first of three 90-minute debates, one-on-one between President Obama and Mitt Romney, and it comes at a critical time. For Romney, it's about turning the page on a rough September, and for the President, it's a chance to shut off Romney's last path to victory. President Obama took a break from Tuesday's debate prep in Nevada, visiting the Hoover Dam.
BARACK OBAMA: It's spectacular and I've never seen it before.
TODD: Meanwhile in Denver, Mitt Romney's break time from debate prep was lunch at the Tex-Mex chain restaurant Chipotle, joined by Ohio Senator Rob Portman, who's been playing Mr. Obama in Romney's mock debate sessions.
With the two candidates off the trail Tuesday, their number two men picked up the slack. Campaigning in North Carolina, Vice President Biden drew some attention with these comments, discussing the GOP ticket's tax plan.
JOE BIDEN: How they can justify raising taxes on the middle class that's been buried the last four years?
TODD: The Romney campaign pounced on the word "buried." Campaigning in Iowa, Paul Ryan fired back.
PAUL RYAN: Vice President Biden just today said that the middle class over the last four years has been, quote, "buried." We agree. That means we need to stop digging by electing Mitt Romney the next President of the United States!
TODD: Later, the Vice President did some damage control, clarifying his remarks.
BIDEN: The middle class was buried by the policies of Romney and that Ryan supported.
TODD: And 24 hours before the start time of tonight's debate late Tuesday, conservatives began circulating a 2007 speech by then-candidate Obama, speaking to an African-American audience about victims of Hurricane Katrina. Fox News host Sean Hannity prominently featured the video as a gotcha moment.
SEAN HANNITY: It contains some of the most divisive class warfare and racially charged rhetoric ever used by Barack Obama.
TODD: NBC, along with several other media outlets, covered the same speech at the time. Mr. Obama spoke at length about the hurricane response.
OBAMA: People asked me whether they thought race was the reason the response was so slow. This administration was color-blind in its incompetence, but – but everyone here knows that the disaster and the poverty happened long before the hurricane hit.
TODD: Late Tuesday the Obama campaign responded, calling Hannity's coverage "desperate," adding, "In a transparent attempt to change the subject from his comments attacking half of the American people, Mitt Romney's allies re-circulated video of a 2007 event that was open to and extensively covered by the press at the time."
OBAMA: This is why I like coming to Vegas.
MITT ROMNEY: This is a great place to be.
TODD: Meanwhile, a new round of NBC News/Wall Street Journal/Marist polls shed some light on where this race stands in the three biggest battleground states. There's good news for Mitt Romney in Virginia, where he's closed gap with President Obama to just two points, compared to a four-point deficit last month. And it's also a close race in Florida, where the President leads Romney by just a single point, also down from a four-point lead last month. But Romney's made no progress in Ohio, where Mr. Obama maintains a significant edge, virtually unchanged since September. Nationally, the new NBC/Wall Street Journal poll also shows the President in a strong position, though the race tightened. He sits at 49% in both his ballot test and job approval rating. Mitt Romney coalesced some Republicans, so closed the gap on likely voters because of Republican enthusiasm, to 46 – 49/46. David.
GREGORY: Chuck Todd, thanks.