On Thursday, NBC’s Today and CBS This Morning joined ABC’s Good Morning America in promoting Donald Trump questioning Ted Cruz being a natural born U.S. citizen. On Today, co-host Savannah Guthrie proclaimed: “Donald Trump is escalating his attacks on Republican rival Ted Cruz, reiterating questions about the Texas senator's eligibility to run for president. And now another prominent Republican is suggesting the issue is worth looking into.”
In the report that followed, correspondent Peter Alexander declared: “America’s birther-in-chief Donald Trump again trying to fuel doubts whether Ted Cruz, born in Canada, is eligible to be president of the U.S.” He touted how “Trump is now finding an unlikely ally in a recent target, John McCain,” followed by a soundbite of the Arizona senator giving credence to the accusation.
On CBS This Morning, co-host Gayle King announced: “In the Republican race, Donald Trump says that Ted Cruz should ask a judge if he can be president. This is the latest twist in Trump's new challenge to the Canadian-born Texas senator.” She noted how Cruz was “fighting back,” “while trying not to drive away the voters.”
Correspondent Major Garrett warned: “...for Cruz, born in Calgary, Canada to an American mother, the issue is an unwelcome, possibly damaging distraction.” Like Alexander on NBC, Garrett highlighted McCain piling on Cruz.
Wrapping up the report, Garrett asserted: “Cruz is in the middle of a week-long bus tour of Iowa, helpless to avoid the seeds of doubt Trump is trying to plant.”
Introducing another full segment on the topic at the top of the 8 a.m. ET hour, King mentioned how even the White House was getting in on the Cruz bashing: “White House press secretary John Earnest said it would be ironic if Republican voters chose a nominee who was not born in the United States.”
In a discussion with Face the Nation moderator John Dickerson that followed, co-host Norah O’Donnell remarked on “McCain essentially taking the knife...in Cruz's back” and “twisting it a little bit.” Dickerson replied: “...you're right, he’s not a fan of Ted Cruz and so he’s happy in this case, you know, to pile on a little here.”
While both networks were happy to portray false claims about Cruz’s citizenship as a problem for his presidential campaign, NBC and CBS routinely condemned anyone who even mentioned similar untrue birther attacks on Barack Obama.
In April of 2011, then-CBS Evening News anchor Katie Couric and MSNBC host Andrea Mitchell both falsely claimed that Obama was the only president to ever face questions about his citizenship, with Mitchell calling such questions “pure racism.”
In May of 2012, after Mitt Romney secured the Republican nomination, NBC decided that Trump resurrecting the birther issue against Obama would “overshadow” the GOP nominee’s “big moment.”
In August of 2012, after Romney made a joke that “No one’s ever asked to see my birth certificate,” NBC and CBS both blasted him. On Today, Alexander uttered: “...the Obama campaign quickly cried foul, insisting, ‘Romney’s decision to directly enlist himself in the birther movement should give pause to any rational voter across America.’”
In an interview with Romney, CBS anchor Scott Pelley scolded: “...you threw a little red meat at the conservative wing of the party there....for the record, you believe that Barack Obama is the legitimate President of the United States?”
A few days later, Today co-host Matt Lauer hyperventilated: “...he says it was a joke. Is it funny to kind of pay attention to a fringe group and question the very legitimacy of the President of the United States's citizenship?"
Just in September, all three broadcast networks went after Trump for not denouncing a supporter who wrongly argued President Obama was not an American citizen.
Here are excerpts of the January 7 reports on Today and CBS This Morning:
7:04 AM ET
SAVANNAH GUTHRIE: Alright, let's do politics now. And in the presidential race, Donald Trump is escalating his attacks on Republican rival Ted Cruz, reiterating questions about the Texas senator's eligibility to run for president. And now another prominent Republican is suggesting the issue is worth looking into. NBC national correspondent Peter Alexander has the latest. Peter, good morning.
PETER ALEXANDER: Savannah, good morning. Just wait until you hear who is now siding with Donald Trump on this one – it's Senator John McCain. Trump says he doesn't want to undermine Ted Cruz. Just this morning praising him on Twitter for renouncing his Canadian citizenship 18 months ago. But Cruz is pushing back, accusing Trump of simply trying to distract from the real issues in the race by making political noise.
[ON-SCREEN HEADLINE: Cruz Responds to “Birther” Controversy; Sen. McCain Also Weighs In on Eligibility Issue]
DONALD TRUMP: Are you ready?
ALEXANDER: America’s birther-in-chief Donald Trump again trying to fuel doubts whether Ted Cruz, born in Canada, is eligible to be president of the U.S.
TRUMP: How do you run against the Democrat, whoever it may be, and you have this hanging over your head, if they bring a lawsuit.
ALEXANDER: Cruz has repeatedly dismissed Trump’s concerns.
SEN. TED CRUZ [R-TX]: The Constitution and laws of the United States are straight forward. The very first Congress defined the child of a U.S. citizen board abroad as a natural born citizen.
ALEXANDER: But Trump is now finding an unlikely ally in a recent target, John McCain.
TRUMP: He's not a war hero.
FRANK LUNTZ: He’s a war hero.
TRUMP: He is a war hero – he’s a war hero because he was captured.
ALEXANDER: The party's 2008 nominee, himself born in the Panama Canal Zone, a U.S. territory.
SEN. JOHN MCCAIN [R-AZ]: That's different from being born on foreign soil. So I think there is a question. I am not a constitutional scholar on that, but I think it's worth looking into. I don't think it's illegitimate to look into it.
CBS This Morning
7:09 AM ET
GAYLE KING: In the Republican race, Donald Trump says that Ted Cruz should ask a judge if he can be president. This is the latest twist in Trump's new challenge to the Canadian-born Texas senator. Cruz is fighting back, though, while trying not to drive away the voters. Major Garrett is in Pocahontas, Iowa, where Ted Cruz will make his first campaign stop of the day. Major, good morning.
MAJOR GARRETT: Good morning. Ted Cruz has argued nine cases before the United States Supreme Court, graduated with honors from Harvard law school, and was once a collegian debate champion. None of that has prepared him for the birther debate now raging with Donald Trump or for Trump's unsolicited legal advice.
[ON-SCREEN HEADLINE: Clashing Over Cruz; Trump Doubles Down on Rival’s Birthplace Questions]
DONALD TRUMP [CNN]: I don't like the issue. I don't like even bringing it up.
GARRETT: Against all evidence, Donald Trump claims an aversion to birtherism.
TRUMP: I'm doing this for the good of Ted, I ‘m not doing it for me, because I like him and he likes me.
GARRETT: But for Cruz, born in Calgary, Canada to an American mother, the issue is an unwelcome, possibly damaging distraction.
TRUMP: And everybody tells me he had a joint passport.
GARRETT: The real estate mogul offered Cruz, a Harvard-trained lawyer, some legal advice.
TRUMP: You go to federal court to ask for what’s called a declaratory judgment.
GARRETT: Cruz denied having a Canadian passport and said the legal question is moot.
CRUZ: As a legal matter it's quite straightforward. I would note that it has occurred many times in history. John McCain was born in Panama, but he was a natural born citizen because his parents were U.S. citizens.
GARRETT: But McCain, a frequent opponent of Cruz in the Senate, offered no help. McCain faced similar questions during his 2008 White House run, due to his birth on a U.S. military base overseas.
SEN. JOHN MCCAIN [R-AZ]: That’s different from being born on foreign soil. So I think there is a question. I am not a Constitutional scholar on that, but I think it's worth looking into.
GARRETT: In New Hampshire, Jeb Bush called the issue “phony.”
JEB BUSH: This is Donald Trump trying to put everybody into his own reality TV show. I'm not gonna play it.
GARRETT: And Rand Paul says one thing is for certain.
SEN. RAND PAUL [R-KY]: He is qualified and eligible to be the prime minister of Canada.
GARRETT: Cruz is in the middle of a week-long bus tour of Iowa, helpless to avoid the seeds of doubt Trump is trying to plant.