Nets Hail ‘Real Moment’ in Debate for ‘Fierce’ and ‘Forceful’ Hillary

All three network morning shows on Friday celebrated Hillary Clinton’s Thursday night debate performance as if she was a champion prize fighter. On NBC’s Today, co-host Savannah Guthrie proclaimed: “Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders faced off in their most contentious debate yet. Clinton accusing Sanders of running a, quote, ‘artful smear,’ against her.”

Appearing minutes later, Meet the Press host and debate co-moderator Chuck Todd touted how genuine Clinton’s attack line was: “But I can tell you, Savannah, in talking to the campaign, that was a real moment. Meaning, this wasn't like a planned somebody described it to me, enough is enough, and she just decided to go at him.”

He added the news flash: “I think the two of them might not like each other.”

On CBS This Moring, correspondent Nancy Cordes offered a report that focused on promoting Clinton’s offense strategy:

...this line of attack by Sanders about her Wall Street donations is having an impact. They bring it up a lot. So she had to find a way to turn the argument back on him, and given her poll numbers here, she had little to lose....Sanders was caught off-guard by Clinton's ferocity....Sanders has raised doubts this week about Clinton’s progressive credentials. Last night, she turned the tables on him.

Wrapping up the segment, Cordes hyped supposed good news for Clinton: “The Clinton camp is feeling a little better about the e-mails after the State Department classified two of former Secretary of State Colin Powell’s e-mails. Republicans argue there’s a big difference between two e-mails and her 1,500...”

Following the report from Cordes, co-host Norah O’Donnell turned to Face the Nation moderator John Dickerson and proclaimed: “Well, Hillary Clinton was fierce, she was forceful, and she went after Bernie Sanders, talking about an ‘artful smear,’ ‘attacks by insinuation.’” She wondered: “Will it work or was it risky?”

Dickerson tempered her enthusiasm:

It showed her being forceful and fierce, but what do regular people hear when they hear somebody gets a lot of money from a certain industry? They think maybe there’s a connection there. And so, is it really a smear for Sanders to bring that up or is he saying, simply, that because of the donations, she won't go as far as he will?

Fellow co-host Gayle King observed: “Bernie Sanders, at some point, seemed stunned, but on the other hand, he also didn't take it lying down.”

Tell the Truth 2016

On ABC’s Good Morning America, correspondent Cecilia Vega led off her report: “We have not seen a debate like this before. Some of the most heated exchanges in this race so far. One jab after the next last night. Hillary Clinton, as you said, down in those polls and she came out swinging.”

Near the end of the segment, Vega happily noted: “Just about the only thing they didn't argue about, those e-mails.” A soundbite followed of Sanders once again refusing to raise the issue: “There's a process under way, I will not politicize it.” A clip followed of Clinton dismissing the scandal: “Before those e-mails it was Benghazi. I have absolutely no concerns about it whatsoever.”

While the broadcast networks focused on the rhetorical battle between Clinton and Sanders, none of the morning shows covered the extreme left-wing policies advocated by the candidates throughout the debate or bothered to fact-check any of their statements.

Here is a full transcript of the segment with debate co-moderators Rachel Maddow and Chuck Todd on NBC’s February 5 Today:

7:09 AM ET

SAVANNAH GUTHRIE: Let's turn to Chuck Todd and Rachel Maddow, they’re with us now. Of course they co-moderated last night’s Democratic debate on MSNBC. Good morning to both of you, congrats on the debate and I hope you enjoyed the 20 minutes of sleep you got last night.

CHUCK TODD: Thanks, absolutely.

[ON-SCREEN HEADLINE: Clinton & Sanders Spar in NH Debate; Battle Over Wall Street, Donations & Dem Direction]

GUTHRIE: Let us start with that debate, we saw a Hillary Clinton who was very aggressive in tone. Do you think, Chuck, she did anything to change the dynamic of this race, either in New Hampshire or in this larger battle for the nomination?

TODD: Well, I think that, that's what she was looking at, was the larger battle. Look, the Clinton campaign doesn't believe they're gonna win here in New Hampshire. But they're trying to sort of set the terms of the debate, put Senator Sanders on his heels a little bit. And I’ll you, it was clear, you know, that they had a plan and she was pretty aggressive at him.

MATT LAUER: Rachel, though, Senator Sanders is being very, very disciplined when it comes to sticking to his game plan. He's saying, “She's a moderate. She's tied to Wall Street. Period.” Is that strategy going to continue to be effective?

RACHEL MADDOW: Well, it's been working for him, at least in New Hampshire so far. I mean, I think that saying that this is all home state advantage between New Hampshire and Vermont is a little bit of a stretch. There's definitely a real phenomenon behind Bernie Sanders, and I think some of it is driven by doubts about Secretary Clinton. The one that he’s driven home the most is that she's effectively part of a corrupt system.

It was interesting last night that she gave full voice to all of her criticisms of him. He never did exactly the same thing back at her. He made his case, and he spelled it out, but he didn't sort of –  he didn't go as aggressively at her in terms of his language on the stage. And that was a form of discipline that I think – I think both candidates did what they wanted to do, but it was a very different approach from the two of them.

GUTHRIE: It seems like the moment of the debate, Chuck, was when Hillary Clinton said, “You've been running this artful smear and if you want to say something to me, say it right now and say it directly.” How do you think that plays? Does it make her look strong, or was the tone off-putting?

TODD: Well, we'll see. It was interesting, it certainly created audible gasps and boos of sorts in the room, which, frankly, you could never tell in the room which side the audience was leaning, Sanders or Clinton. But that moment, sort everybody like stood up straight. But I can tell you, Savannah, in talking to the campaign, that was a real moment. Meaning, this wasn't like a planned idea, “Oh, I'm going to accuse him of smearing the campaign.” She sort of is like – as somebody described it to me, enough is enough, and she just decided to go at him. I think the two of them might not like each other.

LAUER: Alright, remains to be seen. Obviously we didn't get a chance to talk about the Republicans, but we’ve got several days left until New Hampshire, we can accomplish that. Chuck and Rachel, thank you, guys.

MADDOW: Thanks.

TODD: Thanks.  

Kyle Drennen
Kyle Drennen
Kyle Drennen is the Senior News Analyst for MRC