ABC's Sawyer Longs for Calm Between Clinton and Obama

"Good Morning America" co-host Diane Sawyer used an interview with Senator Barack Obama on Wednesday to repeatedly plead for a truce between the Democratic presidential contender and his chief opponent, Hillary Clinton. Discussing the verbal battle that took place during Monday's debate, Sawyer implored, "We have heard a lot of people say they are exhausted by this charge, counter charge."

Later in the segment, the GMA co-host reiterated the need for calm, saying, "So, is this done? Is it a truce for future debates? No more of that kind of back and forth?" Clearly, a contentious conflict between the two liberal heavyweights bothered Sawyer. (This is, it should be restated, the same show that in early 2007 featured a reporter sizing up the Obama/Clinton battle as one between the Illinois senator's "fluid poetry" and the former first lady's "hot factor.") She closed the segment by, yet again, repeating the same question. After Obama speculated that further debates would relate to issues and not personal attacks, the ABC journalist hopefully queried, "Sounds as if you're really declaring a truce this morning. Different tone?"

Sawyer also questioned Obama about Tony Rezko, the indicted real estate developer who bought property next to what would become the senator's Chicago home, thus making Obama's deal to buy his land go through easier. Sawyer began her question by stating, "As we know, Mr. Rezko is a real estate developer." Well, many Americans don't know about the story. As previously reported in NewsBusters, a Nexis search found only one mention of the scandal on ABC prior to January 10, 2008. (On that date, reporter Brian Ross looked into the subject.) And one could certainly make the argument that the only reason it's being covered now is because Mrs. Clinton has been publicly attacking Obama about it.

A transcript of the story, which aired at 7:15am on January 23, follows:

DIANE SAWYER: And minutes ago, we had a chance to talk to Senator Barack Obama about all of this. We have heard a lot of people say they are exhausted by this charge, counter charge. Senator Hillary Clinton said you're the one who came looking for a fight in that debate. My question is, did you, and do you think anything you did is turning people off?

SENATOR BARACK OBAMA: Well, Diane, I haven't been looking for a fight, I've been looking to solve the problems that face the country. And I think anybody who has watched this campaign knows we have run a consistently positive campaign. The only thing that I want to make sure to do during this debate was to correct some of the, you know, distortions of my record that have been brought up during the course of this campaign.

SAWYER: So -- So--

OBAMA: Ultimately, ultimately what the American people, I think, are looking for is somebody who is going to be straight with them about how we solve the immediate economic crisis that we're facing and how we solve some of our long-term problems to make sure our next generation is going to be able to live out the American dream.

SAWYER: So, is this done? Is it a truce for future debates? No more of that kind of back and forth?

OBAMA: I'm sure that there are going to be disagreements on policy. My hope is, is that what we stop is some of the presentations of each other's records that may not be accurate. And that's what I think I wanted to specifically address.

SAWYER: Well, we are examining both sides this morning. And one thing I just wanted to address, and try to clear up this morning is the whole question of Tony Rezko. Because, as we know, Senator Clinton had something to say about him, --this in the debate. It was a charge leveled at you.

HILLARY CLINTON: Yes. They did have ideas and they were bad ideas. Bad for America, and I was fighting against those ideas when you were practicing law and representing your contributor Rezko in his slum landlord business in inner city Chicago.

SAWYER: As we know, Mr. Rezko is a real estate developer. He has been charged with fraud and money laundering. You returned $85,000 of money donated from him and business associates from his campaign. But, this morning, the Clinton campaign says you've not returned it all, an estimated $200,000 reported in the L.A. Times.

OBAMA: Well, we have returned any money that we know was associated to Mr. Rezko and, you know, that is something that if there's additional information that we don't know about, we would be happy to return the money. You know, the facts are this. This is somebody who was active in politics in Illinois, who I knew. Nobody had any indications that he was engaging in wrong-doing. At the point where he was engaging in alleged wrong-doing, it had nothing to do with me and nobody has made that allegation and Senator Clinton knows that. But the important thing -- The important thing, Diane--

SAWYER: You said it was -- excuse me, but you said it was bone-headed, to enter into the real estate relationship with him on that parcel of land when he was under a cloud of suspicion.

OBAMA: Well, what is certainly true is that, in terms of appearances, and I've already said this, that I should not have entered into any kind of agreement with him. But the important point, Diane, and this has been -- this story has been repeated again and again, everybody who is investigated, knows that I haven't gotten in involved in anything that was related to the problems that he's having with the law. Now, what is also important is that right now, we've gotten an economy that is tumbling, in a downward spiral, and we've got to have a president who is consistently talking about those issues that matter to the ordinary person who is living paycheck to paycheck.

SAWYER: Do you think that in what President Clinton is doing, that he has diminished the respected role of a former president? Do you think he's crossing some sort of line by campaigning against and attacking you?

OBAMA: Oh, I think it's perfectly acceptable for former President Clinton to campaign on behalf of his wife. You know, there's nothing wrong with that and I've never had any objection to that. The only thing I want to make sure of is that when he goes after me, that he goes after me on the basis of facts and policy differences, and, you know, stuff isn't just made up. And that's what we addressed in the debate. My hope and suspicion is that going forward, they will be a little more cautious in terms of how they present what's going on. And if we do that, then we have can have a healthy debate. I'm happy to have a discussion with anybody about how we're going to move this country forward in an effective way.

SAWYER: Sounds as if you're really declaring a truce this morning. Different tone?

OBAMA: You know, Diane, I think that we've been through a very long campaign. One thing I'm proud of is that my tone has been consistent. And that has been respectful, honest and trying to focus on the problems the American people are concerned about.

SAWYER: Quick question. Are you really going to give President Clinton an age allowance on the dance contest?

OBAMA: We'll certainly invite him to the inauguration party. We concede there.

Scott Whitlock
Scott Whitlock
Scott Whitlock is the associate editor for the Media Research Center's site.