On Monday, all three network morning shows surprisingly devoted full reports to President Obama being strongly criticized for not attending – or not at least sending a top official to attend – an anti-terror march in Paris on Sunday. At the top of NBC's Today, co-host Matt Lauer announced: "While world leaders join millions for a massive anti-terror rally in Paris, the President is under fire for not taking part."
Opening ABC's Good Morning America, co-host Robin Roberts declared: "As millions take to the streets, President Obama is taking heat for not taking part." On CBS This Morning, fill-in co-host Jeff Glor told viewers: "Secretary of State John Kerry said this morning he will go to France later this week. That announcement follows heavy criticism of President Obama for skipping Sunday's rally in Paris. No senior U.S. figures were there."
Introducing the report on Today, fellow co-host Savannh Guthrie noted: "Well, the White House is being blasted, meanwhile, for not sending a high-ranking official to that unity rally in Paris on Sunday. Neither President Obama nor any top U.S. official attended the event that saw dozens of world leaders linked arm in arm."
Correspondent Andrea Mitchell followed by proclaiming:
That was a stunning absence, just look at the pictures of the unity march Sunday. Forty world leaders, including all of Europe. Even Israel's Benjamin Netanyahu, along with his adversary, Palestinian President Abbas. But not President Obama, not Joe Biden, or anyone from the cabinet....And this comes after a notable absence of really strong reaction from the President since those horrors in France last week.
After Mitchell explained that John Kerry would be visiting Paris on Thursday, Guthrie wondered: "I mean, is this trip by Kerry now more damage control than diplomacy?" Mitchell agreed: "Sure it's damage control."
On GMA, correspondent Terry Moran highlighted Obama being slammed with "sharp criticism" in New York papers: "'Sorry, Charlie,' The New York Post blares, while The Daily News, 'You let the world down.'"
Moments later, White House correspondent Jon Karl told co-host George Stephanopoulos: "...this looks like a missed opportunity for the President to show a powerful symbolic display of unity with the world against terrorism."
On CBS This Morning, White House correspondent Bill Plante pointed out: "The absence of any U.S. leader now has the White House on the defensive....And no one from the administration showed up at a rally attended by thousands in Washington, D.C., just over a mile from the White House."
Plante even brought up past controversies of Obama being tone deaf: "The President has been criticized before for appearing insensitive to global crises. While on vacation in Martha's Vineyard in August he played golf shortly after condemning the beheading of journalist James Foley."
Unlike NBC and ABC, CBS was the only network morning show to get reaction from a Republican guest. In a live interview, co-host Norah O'Donnell asked Florida Senator Marco Rubio: "We saw an incredible show of unity yesterday in Paris....And you saw world leaders, everyone from Netanyahu to Abbas to Cameron, all in the front row, but not a high-ranking U.S. official. Do you think that's troubling?"
In part, Rubio responded: "I thought it was a mistake not to send someone....Eric Holder was in Paris, and maybe John Kerry should have gone or somebody else or a plethora of people they could have sent. I think in hindsight I would hope that they would do it differently."
In a follow-up question, fellow co-host Charlie Rose seemed defensive: "So what do you think we missed? An opportunity to stand with other world leaders and therefore that puts us at a different perception?"
Well, you're reporting on it this morning, I mean that – and it will be reported around the world and certainly people will, especially at a time of such great pain, people will take cues from something like that. I mean, we recall after 9/11 what it felt like to have all these nations around the world rally to our side and take up our cause after we suffered so greatly on September 11th of 2001. The French are going through a similar trauma, and I thought it would have been important to have someone there. But again, I understand why the President himself didn't go, but perhaps someone else from his administration.
All three shows did include a line on the White House defending itself by arguing that the President's security detail "could have inconvenienced those who did attend" and "would have distracted from the march" or "significantly interfered with the crowd."
Here are transcripts of the January 12 reports:
7:00 AM ET TEASE:
MATT LAUER: Escaped. The suspected female accomplice from those terror attacks in France now in Syria. And while world leaders join millions for a massive anti-terror rally in Paris, the President is under fire for not taking part. This morning, what he is doing in response to that criticism.
7:08 AM ET SEGMENT:
SAVANNAH GUTHRIE: Well, the White House is being blasted, meanwhile, for not sending a high-ranking official to that unity rally in Paris on Sunday. Neither President Obama nor any top U.S. official attended the event that saw dozens of world leaders linked arm in arm. But overnight, Secretary of State John Kerry did announce plans to head to Paris later this week. Let's go to NBC's Andrea Mitchell, she's got more on all of it. Andrea, good morning.
[ON-SCREEN HEADLINE: White House Caves to Pressure?; Sending Sec'y Kerry to France in Wake of Criticism]
ANDREA MITCHELL: Good morning, Savannah. That was a stunning absence, just look at the pictures of the unity march Sunday. Forty world leaders, including all of Europe. Even Israel's Benjamin Netanyahu, along with his adversary, Palestinian President Abbas. But not President Obama, not Joe Biden, or anyone from the cabinet. The President was at the White House. The Vice President was at his home in Delaware.
And this comes after a notable absence of really strong reaction from the President since those horrors in France last week. Some comments that he made in the Oval Office at a photo opportunity, a line or two added to a community college event in Nashville.
Attorney General Eric Holder was in Paris for a counterterror meeting, but he didn't March. At the time he was actually doing interviews with Meet the Press by satellite and other TV networks. Secretary of State Kerry seems to be the only top official with a real explanation, he was keynoting a climate summit India. He will now go to Paris Thursday, when he's already planning to have been nearby in Geneva for nuclear talks with Iran.
Of course there are security concerns, I've talked to officials, any time the President or the Vice President travels. And their presence could have inconvenienced those who did attend. But one former official said it sure seems ham handed. Savannah.
GUTHRIE: And real quick, Andrea. I mean, is this trip by Kerry now more damage control than diplomacy?
MITCHELL: Sure. Sure it's damage control. He has a very close relationship with the French, he spoke in French from the State Department when this all happened. But he was going to be in Geneva, showing up on Thursday, even though he's still doing very important travel in Asia right now. That certainly does seem a little bit after the fact.
GUTHRIE: Alright, Andrea Mitchell in Washington, thank you.
Good Morning America
7:00 AM ET TEASE:
ROBIN ROBERTS: The urgent new terror warning this morning from ISIS. Police here on high alert as brand new images of the hostages are revealed overnight from the deadly attack in France. As millions take to the streets, President Obama is taking heat for not taking part.
7:06 AM ET TEASE:
TERRY MORAN: All this after a truly awesome day of demonstrations. More than one million marched in Paris, more than three million across France. Forty world leaders here, but no senior American, leading to some sharp criticism of President Obama in the U.S. press. "Sorry, Charlie," The New York Post blares, while The Daily News, "You let the world down."
7:06 AM ET SEGMENT:
GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: As Terry [Moran] mentioned, the White House taking some heat for not being at the rally. President Obama not there, not Vice President Biden, no top cabinet officials. And as you saw, front pages having a field day. Let’s go to Jon Karl at the White House. Jon, how is the president's team explaining this?
[ON-SCREEN HEADLINE: White House Feeling the Heat; Obama Criticized for Missing Rally]
JONATHAN KARL: Well George, at the very least, this looks like a missed opportunity for the president to show a powerful symbolic display of unity with the world against terrorism. But what White House officials are telling me is that if the President or Vice President had gone to that march it would have required incredible security that would have distracted from the march, would have interfered with the march and would not have been productive. Although its worth noting you had more than forty foreign leaders there and of course a lot of security anyway. Each one of those foreign leaders requires intense security. And there was a companion march here in Washington just a few blocks from the White House. No senior officials took part in that one either. The White House is pointing out though, George, that the president did go on Thursday to the French Embassy and has repeatedly expressed solidarity with the French and help in getting to the bottom of this.
STEPHANOPOULOS: And the Attorney General Eric Holder in Paris yesterday, not at the march, was there for a security summit. When I spoke to him from there yesterday he left the door open to retaliation along with France so they can pin down who is responsible for this.
KARL: Yeah, no doubt. And he was over there working that. John Kerry, Secretary of State will be in Paris later this week working with the French on that.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Okay Jon, thanks very much.
CBS This Morning
7:06 AM ET
JEFF GLOR: Just moments ago Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu arrived at the kosher supermarket, attacked by one of the terrorists. Secretary of State John Kerry said this morning he will go to France later this week. That announcement follows heavy criticism of President Obama for skipping Sunday’s rally in Paris. No senior U.S. figures were there. Bill Plante is at the White House where officials say there were good reasons for that. Bill good morning.
[ON-SCREEN HEADLINE: Paris No-Show; Obama, Cabinet Skip Rallies for Terror Victims]
BILL PLANTE: Well good morning. The planning for the rally began on Friday, we understand, and there were apparently no formal invitations, and the White House reaction was that the President's security would have significantly interfered with the crowd of a million or more who were expected to attend. But the absence of any U.S. leader now has the White House on the defensive. Leaders from some of America's strongest allies were among the more than 40 heads of state marching in solidarity with French President Francois Hollande Sunday. The group included German Chancellor Angela Merkel and British Prime Minister David Cameron. even Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu were there. But not President Obama, Vice President Biden or any high-ranking official representing the United States, including Attorney General Eric Holder who was in Paris for counterterrorism meetings. And no one from the administration showed up at a rally attended by thousands in Washington, D.C., just over a mile from the White House. President Obama called President Hollande but has had little public reaction to the attacks.
BARACK OBAMA: I want the people of France to know that the United States stands with you today, stands with you tomorrow.
PLANTE: He mentioned them briefly on Friday while announcing his free community college plan in Tennessee but not in his weekly video address. On Thursday he visited the French Embassy to sign a book of condolences. The President has been criticized before for appearing insensitive to global crises. While on vacation in Martha's Vineyard in August he played golf shortly after condemning the beheading of journalist James Foley. There was one U.S. official present at the rally in Paris, Ambassador to France Jane Hartley. And the White House announced on Sunday that the president will hold a summit next month on ways to counter violent extremism like the attacks in France. Charlie?
CHARLIE ROSE: Bill, thanks.