Brian Williams, the disgraced journalist who gushed over the “reflective” Barack Obama and bowed to the Democratic president, has now changed his mind. With Republican Donald Trump in the White House, he now wants tough, hard-hitting questions. The man who once held up a copy of Newsweek and asked Obama to comment on it, on Monday lamented that Trump wasn’t grilled by journalists.
After a press conference with Canada’s Prime Minister, Williams railed, “The news out of this gathering, however, is not anything either leader said. It was exactly the opposite. It's what wasn't said because it wasn't asked.”
An annoyed Williams ranted, “The questions went to a local news reporter from channel seven in Washington D.C. and a young woman from the website The Daily Caller. And that way, no matter how robust the press corp covering the President, the President controls the flow and the topics in a de facto way by deciding who to call on and who not to call on.” Journalist Katy Tur snidely derided the “softball” questions from the reporters who were called on:
What we got from the White House — the reporters the White House hand chose, a Daily Caller reporter and a Sinclair broadcasting reporter, were two of what you could call softball questions.
Williams is in no position to call for speaking truth to power. This is an actual question he once asked to Obama:
“I’m hoping to find you in a reflective mood on a cloudy day. We’re the first to speak to you coming off your summer vacation. How does it re-charge you? What do you think about? What do you see? What do you read about? How are you thinking about your job these days?”
— NBC Nightly News anchor Brian Williams to President Obama, in an August 29, 2010 interview.
Perhaps encouraging Obama to reflect on his mood wasn’t the best use of time for someone talking to the President. But this is the same Williams who declared on January 16, 2017 that the Obama administration had “no personal scandals" over eight years.
Here are a few of the softballs Williams tossed at Obama, including the time he bowed for the President:
“On the bus ride along the snowy road to Lebanon, New Hampshire, I showed him this week’s Newsweek, hot off the presses. [to Obama] How does this feel, of all the honors that have come your way, all the publicity?...Who does it make you think of? Is there, is there a loved one?”
— NBC’s Brian Williams on the January 7, 2008 Nightly News.
Anchor Brian Williams: “Last time we were together, I handed you a copy of Newsweek. It was the first time you’d held it in your hands with you on the cover. Have you yet held this [Time magazine cover declaring Obama the winner of the primaries] in your hands?”
Senator Barack Obama: “No, I don’t want to. Because the last time it was in New Hampshire and I ended up losing. So...I’m not taking any chances.”
Williams: “Last time, you looked at it and you thought instantly of your mom.”
Obama: “She’d like that picture. She always encouraged me to smile more.”
— NBC Nightly News, May 8, 2008.
“When an American politician comes to Berlin, we’ve had some iconic utterances in the past. We’ve had ‘Ich bin ein.’ We’ve had, ‘Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall’....Is the phraseology that you would like remembered: ‘People of Berlin, people of the world, this is our moment, this is our time’?”
— Anchor Brian Williams interviewing Obama on the July 24, 2008 NBC Nightly News.
Brian Williams: “About this president. The very idea of this man, this product of Kenya and Kansas by way of Hawaii and Asia, as our 44th president is still so very new. And he is so different from all the men who’ve gone before him. People react strongly to this president. We’ve seen people moved to tears after just the briefest encounter with him...Now it is First Family time and time for us to say goodnight. Mr. President that’s your elevator. Thank you sir, have a good evening. (Bows)
Barack Obama: Appreciate it very much. Thank you very much Brian.
— NBC Nightly News anchor Brian Williams during a two-hour special which aired over several nights during the first week of June 2009.
A partial transcript of the February 13 MSNBC segment is below:
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BRIAN WILLIAMS: That is kind of the classic two and two press availability. Opening statements by both leaders, and then two questions each from the White House correspondents and their visiting Canadian equivalent. The news out of this gathering, however, is not anything either leader said. It was exactly the opposite. It's what wasn't said because it wasn't asked. There is no shortage of superb coverage coming out of this White House press corps that has been bolstered and strengthened and contains very few shrinking violets. Look at the work of Maggie Haberman and Ashley Parker to name two over just the past few days. But they weren’t called on. And Katy Tur, I’m coming to you, because the questions went to a local news reporter from channel seven in Washington D.C. and a young woman with the website The Daily Caller. And that way, no matter how robust the press corp covering the President, the President controls the flow and the topics in a de facto way by deciding who to call on and who not to call on.
KATY TUR: There is no shortage of tough and fair journalists in that room. The ones that we saw that were both tough and fair, that were called on today, came from the Canadian side. And that's where you got the news making questions. What we got from the White House — the reporters the White House hand chose, a Daily Caller reporter and a Sinclair broadcasting reporter, were two of what you could call softball questions. The second one more so, where the reporter asked what is the biggest national security threat a month into this administration? It is remarkable that Donald Trump was not asked about General Flynn. It's remarkable because he did not call on somebody where that could be a possible question. We should note to our viewers, you weren't able to hear because we cut away, but a reporter in the room did yell out, "Does general Flynn still have your confidence?" Donald Trump did not answer that and he walked away.