CNN's Soledad O'Brien twice implied Mitt Romney is lying, on Friday's Starting Point. She pointed to the candidate's admission to being wrong about his 47 percent comments after previously standing by them as a "flip-flop," and something "which some could define as lying."
Meanwhile, on Wednesday she barely touched a 2007 video of then-Senator Obama pandering to a largely black audience and implying the federal government cared less about majority-black New Orleans than it did New York and Florida. O'Brien did not question whether Obama would now "flip-flop" on what he said then.
"So to me that is you say one thing for a certain audience to get them to support you and then you say something different, maybe completely contradictory, to another audience which some could define as lying," O'Brien said. "So is that an etch-a-sketch moment, what we are seeing?" she asked Romney surrogate Rep. Phil Gingrey (R-Ga.).
O'Brien pounded Gingrey over alleged campaign dishonesty, throwing President Obama's accusations in his face. After playing an Obama clip from the campaign trail, O'Brien posed, "doesn't he have a point there as he was on the campaign trail, that he [Romney] was dancing around and this is now a flip from what he said very -- you know -- specifically and concretely before?"
The day after video surfaced of Obama's remarks in 2007, all three networks covered it with CBS pressing advisers from both campaigns on it. In contrast, O'Brien brought up the video only once, downplayed its impact, and only asked Obama campaign manager Stephanie Cutter: "Who do you think is responsible for that [dispersing the video]?"
A transcript of the segment, which aired on October 5 on Starting Point at 7:25 a.m. EDT, is as follows:
SOLEDAD O'BRIEN: Georgia Republican Congressman Phil Gingrey joins us this morning. He's also a Romney campaign surrogate. It's nice to see you, sir. Thank you for talking with us. What was your reaction to hearing that clip, which of course was the governor's interview with Sean Hannity last night?
Rep. PHIL GINGREY, (R-Ga.): Well Soledad, he's exactly right. And he cares about the 100 percent. I think he showed that in the debate a couple of nights ago, the real deal, the sincere, the caring, the compassionate, the strong Mitt Romney. And so I think his remark was exactly right to walk back. That he admitted he made a mistake. And – the fact that he cares about 100 percent, that's the bottom line.
O'BRIEN: Now some people might say well, that's just politically expedient, right? Because if you look at the history of that remark, back on September 17 in what was a kind of a hastily called press conference, he didn't say "I made a mistake, I'm walking back that remark. I was completely wrong." He said this. Let's play it.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If you are not stepping away from anything you said in this video, are you not backing away from anything? And do you worry you've offended this 47 percent who you mentioned?
ROMNEY: It is not elegantly stated. Let me put it that way. I'm speaking off the cuff in response to a question and I'm sure I can state it more clearly and in a more effective way.
(End Video Clip)
O'BRIEN: So he said it was of the cuff and it was sort of inelegantly stated. Then the next day when he was talking to -- I think it was Neil Cavuto, he said I meant what I said and he said this. Let's play that.
ROMNEY: This is a message I'm carrying day in and day out and will carry over the coming months, which is this is a decision about the course of America and where we're going to head.
(End Video Clip)
O'BRIEN: So today he is admitting he was wrong in your words. Isn't that just being a flip-flopper?
GINGREY: Well I don't think so at all, Soledad. I think he got it right when he spoke with Sean Hannity last night when he said "I care about 100 percent of the people." It doesn't matter what income level they are at. And in particular, I care very strongly about the middle class. And he made that point during the debate over and over again.
O'BRIEN: Yeah he surely did.
GINGREY: Much to Obama's dismay.
O'BRIEN: I think you are right about that, sir, I guess, but my point would be that's completely contradictory to what he said the day after the original remark which was, basically, I meant what I said. This is a message I'm caring day in and day out and will carry over the coming months. So one of those has to be true. Either what he said on the 18th or what he said yesterday. Isn't that the definition of a flip-flop?
GINGREY: And I think what he said yesterday, Soledad, was 100 percent true.
O'BRIEN: So President Obama said that a different Mitt Romney showed up at the debate. Of course, he is trying to spin, you know, his not-great performance in the debate or poor performance. Here is what he said. Listen.
BARACK OBAMA, President of the United States: Whoever it was that was on stage last night doesn't want to be held accountable for what the real Mitt Romney has been saying for the last year. And that's because he knows full well that we don't want what he has been selling over the last year. Governor Romney may dance around his positions. He may do a tap dance and two-step. But if you want to be President, then you owe the American people the truth.
(End Video Clip)
O'BRIEN: Now the President neglected to say that during the debate but doesn't he have a point there as he was on the campaign trail, that he was dancing around and this is now a flip from what he said very -- you know -- specifically and concretely before?
GINGREY: I have been watching and involved in presidential politics since 1960 when I first voted. And the Republican, the conservative candidate in the primary, is always going to lean right and come back to the center for the general, the opposite for the Democrat. That's all you are seeing here. It's very typical. We strong conservatives understand that. There are a lot of undecideds in this country that are hopefully right of center, not left of center, but we want those votes too. So this is campaign strategy. This is nothing new under the sun. And President Obama understands that for sure.
O'BRIEN: Okay, so then let's walk through that a little bit. Because when Eric Fehrnstrom was on my show not so long ago back on March 21, he talked about the etch-a-sketch moment and what you described, sir, very much sounds to me like an etch-a-sketch moment. I'm going to play for you first what Eric Fehrnstrom said.
ERIC FEHRNSTROM, Romney campaign spokesman: Well I think he hit a reset button for the fall campaign. Everything changes. It's almost like an etch-a-sketch. You can kind of shake it up and we start all over again.
(End Video Clip)
O'BRIEN: So is that what you are saying, that this really is a definition of etch-a-sketch?
GINGREY: Well, I think it was very important for Governor Romney to let the American people know that he has the capability of working across the aisle, working with the Democrats. He explained that very carefully in regard to what happened with the health care law in Massachusetts. 87 percent of the legislature in the Commonwealth, Democrats, and he has the ability to work across the aisle. Whereas President Obama crammed this health care law down the throats of Congress and the American people with not one Republican vote, didn't even ask for one. Everything was done between he and Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid. A slam dunk.
O'BRIEN: And I thought the governor made that point very eloquently during the debate actually in the closing remarks. I thought he did that very well, but that's not exactly my question. Because my question is what you said is during the campaign, you know, you lean to the right and then you come back to the center when you are actually in the general election. So to me that is you say one thing for a certain audience to get them to support you and then you say something different, maybe completely contradictory to another audience which some could define as lying. So is that an etch-a-sketch moment, what we are seeing?
GINGREY: And some could refer to that as campaign tactics. Good campaign tactics without violating one's principle. I – nobody is more conservative than the Congress and the House than Phil Gingrey. I'm in the top seven, tied for first. And I felt very comfortable with what the President said the other night during the debate. With what Mitt Romney said. I am very comfortable with his position. I have no doubt that he will govern to the right of center and that's where the American people are.
But at the same time, he will use his ability, his knowledge, his humility, his wisdom to work across the aisle and we have to do it, Soledad. You know that. We cannot kick the can down the road anymore. We have to avoid this fiscal cliff. And a new President Romney, our 45th president, will do that.
O'BRIEN: So, but – you are talking about campaign tactics and that's because you're an elected official. But for me, regular voter, I hear that and I think this is kind of what's wrong with politics.
You've just described – we take one tactic and then you are going to completely change your position when talking to another audience. But you feel comfortable with that change because you feel that you know that he is going to govern to the right of center even though there are some changes that sound more left when he – or more centrist in Wednesday night's debate.
I guess, I understand as someone who's campaigned, that might make sense for you, but I think for a lot of voters it just feels like so basically campaigning can be lying.
GINGREY: Well, I wouldn't call it lying. A football team has a lot of players, as you know, when the coach gives that pep talk, it'll maybe a little different what he says to the running backs and says to the linemen, but they are all on the same team. You have to pull everybody together. And that's all Mitt Romney is doing.
O'BRIEN: All right, okay, sports metaphor on that. I'm sure there are a lot of people that will disagree with you. Congressman Gingrey, nice to see you, sir. We appreciate your time this morning. Thank you.
GINGREY: Soledad, thank you. Always good to be with you.