ABC's George Stephanopoulos Defends Obama's Smoking, Coos Over Physical Fitness

Ex-Clinton aide turned journalist George Stephanopoulos on Tuesday gushed over the results of Barack Obama's first White House physical, even going so far as to defend the President's continued smoking. Talking to Dr. Richard Besser, the Good Morning America host defended, "My reaction is, what is the big deal? He's got the most stressful job on the planet." [Audio available here.]

The former Democratic operative continued, "Couple cigarettes a day. So what?" Besser, ABC News' medical editor, was forced to bring his colleague back to reality: "You know, there's more and more research coming out on the impact of light smoking. What you're finding is, if you have three cigarettes a day, you have about 70 percent of the risk of someone who is having two packs a day."

During the segment, it was explained that Obama's bad cholesterol is 138. (An ideal number would be 100 or lower.) This didn't stop Stephanopoulos from enthusing, "[Obama's] in great shape, with the heart of an athlete."

Besser did note the President's good numbers: "You look at the ratio of your total cholesterol to your- your high cholesterol. You want that under, five. His is 3.4, which is really very good. You also look at something called CRP, and you want that under one. His is very low."

However, viewers may be wondering, if Stephanopoulos will defend Obama's smoking, is there anything he won't spin?

A transcript of the March 2 segment, which aired at 7:13am EST, follows:

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: Let's bring in Dr. Richard Besser. And, Rich, 95 percent cured of smoking, that's been the White House line for about a year now. Now, I guess that's not the kind of term a doctor would use. But what does it mean?

RICHARD BESSER: It's not the kind of term you use. 95 percent Of what? It depends on where you started from. Clearly, it sounds like he's making progress. He's getting closer to quitting. And it's easier to quit if you're a light smoker than if you're a heavy smoker. But, he hasn't quit.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Right. But we were talking about this yesterday after we first learned about it. My reaction is, what is the big deal? He's got the most stressful job on the planet. Couple cigarettes a day. So what?

BESSER: You know, there's more and more research coming out on the impact of light smoking. What you're finding is, if you have three cigarettes a day, you have about 70 percent of the risk of someone who is having two packs a day.

STEPHANOPOULOS: 70 percent?

BESSER: Yeah. There's a lot of cardiovascular problem from just a few cigarettes a day. Getting cigarettes totally out is what you have to shoot for. Most people who try and quit smoking, they fail the first few times. And so, he shouldn't give up. He's in a great position to teach the country about how hard it is, but how you can succeed.

STEPHANOPOULOS: How do you take the last step?

BESSER: You need help. He's doing the Nicorette gum. Even with the support, only about 30 to 40 percent will be smoke-free in a year. But if you do it on your own, 95 percent of people at the end of a year, back to smoking.

STEPHANOPOULOS: The President clearly in great shape. 180 Pounds. Low heart rate. Yet his cholesterol goes up.

BESSER: Two years ago, he had cholesterol below 100, which is in the optimal range. Now, it's above 130, which is in the borderline high range. The press secretary blames it on his diet. And that's a good place to start. He has some other markers, though, that are very good signs of cardiac health. You look at the ratio of your total cholesterol to your- your high cholesterol. You want that under, five. His is 3.4, which is really very good. You also look at something called CRP, and you want that under one. His is very low. So, there's some mixed markers and he can go after that with diet.

STEPHANOPOULOS: But, and we only have a few seconds left here- If it's borderline, why not just take the statens?

BESSER: I think putting someone on a drug for their entire life when you can treat it with diet isn't the way to go. There's some mixed opinions on that. But he's going to tackle it by adding fruits, vegetables and fiber.

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