Morning Shows Rush to Cover Ford's Criticism of Bush Administration

Not surprisingly, all three morning shows featured the Bob Woodward interview with recently deceased former President Gerald Ford, in which Ford criticized the Bush administration for its decision to go to war with Iraq. Good Morning America and the Today show were the most eager to showcase Ford’s critique of the administration, broadcasting full reports and featuring audio clips from the interview during the 7am half hour, while CBS’ Early Show relegated the story to a brief anchor-read at 7:35 am.

On ABC, anchor Robin Roberts, substitute co-host George Stephanopoulos, and reporter Claire Shipman seemed disappointed that the former president had not come forward publicly with his criticism prior to his death, saying that it could have made a difference in the U.S.’s decision to go to war:

Shipman: "...He would have made a big difference if he had done this, obviously, before he died."

Stephanopoulos: "Oh, can you imagine had he come out--to have a former president, a Republican former president, come out and criticize the--President Bush, especially if it was in early 2003, it could have made a huge difference."

Roberts: "It could have."

A full transcript from the ABC report follows:

Robin Roberts: "But first to those secret tapes of the late Gerald Ford and his stinging words on the war in Iraq, a topic he spoke about with a candor that he hadn't--that we hadn't heard from him before. ABC's Claire Shipman is here with us this morning, has more on that. Claire?"

Claire Shipman: "A big surprise, Robin. The interview was conducted in 2004 and 2005, Ford, knowing it wouldn't become public until after his death. Still, what makes this so unusual is that President Ford was extremely close to, really personal friends, with two of the men he criticizes, Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld. Understanding the interview would remain secret until after his death, President Ford spoke freely with Woodward and was bluntly critical of the Bush administration's Iraq war policy, something he'd never done publically."

Former President Gerald Ford [audio tape recording]: "I think Rumsfeld and Cheney and the President made a big mistake in justifying going into the war in Iraq."

Shipman: "Ford knew the now-Vice President and former secretary of Defense well. Each man took a turn as Ford's chief of staff, and Rumsfeld also served as Ford's defense secretary. In the interview with Woodward, Ford had high praise for Cheney, calling him a first rate chief of staff, but said he had become, quote, 'pugnacious,' as vice president."

Bob Woodward, Washington Post: "He says some rather stinging things that people would not necessarily think or identify with Gerald Ford."

Shipman: "Ford and Woodward covered a broad range of topics, from the Vietnam war to his relationship with Henry Kissinger to his current problems in the Middle East. But it's the former president's comments on the Bush administration's Iraq policy that stand out."

Ford: "I would have maximized our effort through sanctions, through restrictions, whatever, to find another answer."

Shipman: "And while there's no direct criticism of President Bush, Ford did take issue with the President's philosophy of waging war to spread democracy."

Ford: "I just don't think we should go hellfire damnation around the globe freeing people, unless it is directly related to our own national security."

Shipman: "And remember, President Ford is coming at this from a unique perspective. He presided over the bitter end of Vietnam, something else he discussed with Woodward extensively, and he admitted that it rankled to be labeled the only American president to lose a war, Robin and George."

Roberts: "Some people are wondering why did he wait, or said that he wanted it released after his death, that's vintage Gerald Ford."

George Stephanopoulos: "It is certainly in keeping with his character. You know, whatever feelings he had, he wasn't going to put President Bush in a very, very tough spot by coming out and publically criticizing the war, unlike some others who have worked for him, like his national security advisor, Brent Scowcroft."

Roberts: "As you said, though, he, if anybody knows what it would feel like, it would be Gerald Ford."

Shipman: "Indeed, and he would have made a big difference if he had done this, obviously, before he died."

Stephanopoulos: "Oh, can you imagine had he come out--to have a former president, a Republican former president, come out and criticize the--President Bush, especially if it was in early 2003, it could have made a huge difference."

Roberts: "It could have."

Meanwhile, the Today show also began their program with the Ford interview, starting with this Matt Lauer introduction:

Matt Lauer: "Good morning. A big mistake. That's what the late President Gerald Ford called the Bush administration's justification for going to war in Iraq, in a revealing interview held until his death."

Former President Gerald Ford [audio tape]: "And I just don’t think we should go hellfire damnation around the globe freeing people, unless it is directly related to our own national security."

Lauer: "And his criticism didn't stop there..."

Minutes later, this report from White House correspondent Kelly O’Donnell followed:

Lauer: "But we begin with the late President Gerald Ford. Even as funeral plans are still being finalized, a two-year-old interview is causing some new controversy. NBC’s White House correspondent Kelly O’Donnell is near President Bush’s ranch in Crawford, Texas. Kelly, good morning to you."

Kelly O’Donnell: "Good morning, Matt. This is all coming just as President Bush is bringing together his most senior war advisors. Vice President Cheney, Secretary of State Rice, Defense secretary Gates and the national security team all here in Crawford today to talk about changes for the war. Now, this criticism does come from a probably unexpected place. The late President Ford did sit down with Watergate-era journalist Bob Woodward, with the condition that his words would not be made public until after his death. And the late President Ford had some of his harshest criticism for Rumsfeld and Cheney, who were major players in the Ford administration."

Ford: "I think Rumsfeld and Cheney and the President made a big mistake in justifying going into the war in Iraq. They put the emphasis on weapons of mass destruction. I’ve never publicly said that I thought they made a mistake, but I felt very strongly that it was an error in how they should justify what they were going to do."

O’Donnell: "And former presidents usually reserve criticism of the sitting president during their lifetimes. Now, I checked with the senior White House officials this morning to see what they have to say about this. They said expect no specific comment on the criticism, saying that today they are grieving for President Ford and his family and that's where their focus is. Matt?"

The Early Show on CBS, however, did not feature Ford’s statements as prominently as their competitors. Coverage of the Woodward interview was limited to this quick anchor read from Harry Smith:

Harry Smith: "Before he died, President Ford said he did not think we should have gone to war in Iraq. In an interview with the 'Washington Post' done two years ago, Ford called using the excuse of weapons of mass destruction to justify the war a big mistake."

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