Since the Russian invasion of Ukraine, NBC has been the only Big Three broadcast network to look back to President Obama ridiculing Mitt Romney for calling Russia a U.S. "geopolitical foe" in 2012. On Wednesday's NBC Today, White House correspondent Peter Alexander reminded viewers: "Republicans have repeatedly attacked President Obama's Russia policy as weak and naive....Helping fuel that criticism, this moment from the 2012 campaign, where President Obama mocked Governor Mitt Romney for calling Russia America's number one geopolitical foe." [Listen to the audio or watch the video after the jump]
Neither ABC's Good Morning America nor CBS This Morning managed to work that into their coverage of the unfolding international crisis on Wednesday.
In fact, reporting on both broadcasts sought to defend Obama's handling of the situation. On Good Morning America, correspondent Martha Raddatz asserted: "Both Kerry in Ukraine and President Obama back home are sending the same decisive message, that Russia needs to de-escalate or face international pressure."
After CBS This Morning failed to include a Romney flashback during two full reports on the topic, co-host Charlie Rose ran a clip of an interview he conducted Tuesday on his PBS show with former Defense Secretary Robert Gates. After the clip, Rose touted Gates lecturing Obama critics: "Gates also urged some of his fellow Republicans to tone down their criticism of President Obama. He said name calling will not help the United States achieve its goals in Ukraine."
The only hint of Republican criticism during the ABC and CBS morning coverage were brief sound bites of Arizona Senator John McCain saying it was time the Obama administration "got real" on dealing with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
By contrast, NBC not only ran the McCain sound bite, but bolstered his criticism. Alexander noted: "Experts say that Cold War chill is back, leaving President Obama with limited options for dealing with Putin." A clip played of Andrew Weiss from the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace declaring: "What we're looking at right now is nothing less than a potential total collapse of the U.S.-Russian relationship."
Here is a full transcript of Alexander's March 5 report on Today:
7:00 AM ET TEASE:
MATT LAUER: Easing tensions? High-level talks underway right now on the crisis in Ukraine. Can the White House and Kremlin put aside their differences and find a way to peacefully resolve that situation?
7:01 AM ET SEGMENT:
LAUER: Let's get right to our top story this morning, the crisis in Ukraine. That country's flag is now flying once again over a key government building in eastern Ukraine. It had been occupied by pro-Russian demonstrators since the weekend.
SAVANNAH GUTHRIE: Meantime, Russian leaders agreed to a NATO request to hold a special meeting today to discuss this crisis. Also on the diplomatic front, Secretary of State John Kerry is expected to meet with Russia's foreign minister in Paris. NBC's Peter Alexander's at the White House following all these developments. Peter, good morning to you.
[ON-SCREEN HEADLINE: Talks Aimed at Easing Tensions; Russia Agrees to Special NATO Meeting on Ukraine]
PETER ALEXANDER: Savannah, good morning. This is going to be John Kerry's first face-to-face meeting with his Russian counterpart since this crisis began. The Russian foreign minister he's meeting with has said the threat of sanctions will not change his government's position. So obviously, the situation remains tense.
Overnight, White House officials here explain that they're still pushing what they call this "diplomatic off ramp" for Russia, if Russian troops return to their bases.
The escalating crisis in Ukraine has put a microscope on the rocky relationship between Barack Obama and Vladimir Putin. The two presidents delivering competing televised messages. Mr. Obama ridiculing Putin's justification for sending troops into Crimea, claiming ethnic Russians are under attack.
BARACK OBAMA: President Putin seems to have a different set of lawyers making a different set of interpretations. But I don't think that's fooling anybody.
ALEXANDER: A former U.S. official described Putin as emotional, showing off his angry side Tuesday. The Russian leader flatly denied his troops had even occupied Crimea, accusing the U.S. government of interfering "...from across the pond in America as if they were sitting in a laboratory and running experiments on rats, without any understanding of the consequences."
It's the latest rift in a relationship strained in recent months by sharp disagreements over Syria and NSA leaker Edward Snowden. The leaders' exchanges producing awkward photo ops. As for Putin, the horseback-riding, gun-toting, race-car-driving former KGB spy seems to relish playing up his image as Russian strong man.
During this latest dispute, Republicans have repeatedly attacked President Obama's Russia policy as weak and naive.
SEN. JOHN MCCAIN [R-AZ]: It's time we woke up about Vladimir Putin. It's time that this administration got real.
ALEXANDER: Helping fuel that criticism, this moment from the 2012 campaign, where President Obama mocked Governor Mitt Romney for calling Russia America's number one geopolitical foe.
OBAMA: And the 1980s are now calling to ask for their foreign policy back. Because, you know, the Cold War's been over for 20 years.
ALEXANDER: Still, experts say that Cold War chill is back, leaving President Obama with limited options for dealing with Putin.
ANDREW WEISS [CARNEGIE ENDOWMENT FOR INTERNATIONAL PEACE]: What we're looking at right now is nothing less than a potential total collapse of the U.S.-Russian relationship.
ALEXANDER: A little more about the relationship between those two men, a senior administration official here said President Obama does not see Vladimir Putin as irrational, explaining that there is a consistency to Putin's actions. Clearly, Savannah and Matt, they don't see eye to eye. The official says Obama and Putin spent much of that last phone call, 90 minutes on the phone together, talking past one another. With President Obama basically knocking down every claim that Putin made.
GUTHRIE: Alright, Peter Alexander with all the latest from the White House, thank you.