At the top of Monday's NBC Nightly News, anchor Brian Williams proclaimed: "Firestorm. A Congressman's words about rape rocket across the country...women's issues are front and center again." Introducing the lead story moments later, Williams announced how "suddenly" Republican Todd Akin's comments "exploded well beyond the borders of Missouri."
Correspondent Andrea Mitchell began her report by nationalizing the gaffe made by Akin during a local news interview: "Republicans fear their hopes for the White House and control of the Senate could turn on what happened at a St. Louis TV station..." Mitchell later touted: "In a race where the President had a 15-point advantage with women voters in the last NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll, Republicans were reeling."
On Tuesday's Today, Capitol Hill correspondent Kelly O'Donnell echoed Mitchell: "Republican leaders now call Akin a threat to their goal of winning control of the Senate and taking the White House."
On Nightly News, after noting that Mitt Romney called the remarks "wrong and offensive," Mitchell attempted to link Paul Ryan to Akin's views: "Ryan – who cosponsored a law with Akin that critics say would outlaw all abortions, even in cases of rape – called Akin today trying to deliver the same message."
Immediately following Mitchell, Williams brought in political director Chuck Todd and feigned ignorance as to how the media-hyped incident became such a controversy: "And Chuck, just to repeat here, why did this get so much bigger so quickly than just a senate race in Missouri?"
Todd responded in part: "President Obama has been running ads attacking Romney on issues of access to contraception, the funding of Planned Parenthood. There is already a wide gender gap. They [Republicans] didn't want it to get worse."
Here is a full transcript of Mitchell's August 20 Nightly News report:
7:00PM ET TEASE:
BRIAN WILLIAMS: Firestorm. A Congressman's words about rape rocket across the country and while fellow Republicans spent the day urging him to quit his Senate race, women's issues are front and center again.
7:01PM ET SEGMENT:
WILLIAMS: It was an interview with a candidate on television, the kind of thing that happens every day during this campaign season but when the questioning turned to abortion in the case of rape, the Republican candidate for U.S. Senate in Missouri answered in a way he came to regret. And suddenly it exploded well beyond the borders of Missouri in this campaign season where every word counts. It's where we begin tonight with NBC's Andrea Mitchell.
ANDREA MITCHELL: Republicans fear their hopes for the White House and control of the Senate could turn on what happened at a St. Louis TV station when the host asked Missouri Republican Senate front-runner Todd Akin, a sitting Congressman, about abortion.
UNKNOWN INTERVIEWER: What about in the case of rape? Should it be legal or not?
TODD AKIN: It seems to me first of all from what I understand from doctors that’s really rare. If it's a legitimate rape the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down. But let's assume that maybe that didn't work or something. You know, I think there should be some punishment but the punishment ought to be on the rapist and not attacking the child.
MITCHELL: Mitt Romney quickly called The National Review Online and said Akin's comments were insulting, inexcusable, frankly wrong and offensive. And NBC News has learned Paul Ryan – who cosponsored a law with Akin that critics say would outlaw all abortions, even in cases of rape – called Akin today trying to deliver the same message. Later, in a coordinated Republican effort to force Akin out, Romney increased the pressure on WMUR.
MITT ROMNEY: The thing he should consider is what is in the best interests of the things he believes most deeply, what will help the country at this critical time.
MITCHELL: Republican Senate Campaign Chairman Senator John Cornyn told Akin he'll pull the plug on millions of dollars of campaign funds if he stays in. But Akin later told Sean Hannity's radio show he won't quit all though he did back track on rape.
AKIN: I had heard from medical reports that rape is such a traumatic type of thing that it -- that there is a reaction. But I, you know, though, that's wrong.
MITCHELL: Democrats, led by the President, sought to take advantage.
BARACK OBAMA: Rape is rape. And the idea that we should be parsing and qualifying and slicing what types of rape we're talking about doesn't make sense to the American people. And certainly doesn't make sense to me.
MITCHELL: The biggest beneficiary Akin's opponent Democratic Senator Claire McCaskill.
CLAIRE MCCASKILL: I don't think this is somebody that most of the moderate Republicans in this state can support.
MITCHELL: The biology is not in doubt. Girls and women who are raped have about a 5% chance of getting pregnant no different from unprotected consensual sex. The politics are also clear. In a race where the President had a 15-point advantage with women voters in the last NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll, Republicans were reeling. Tonight conservative Republicans are increasing the pressure. Everyone from Sean Hannity to Ann Coulter to party chairman Reince Priebus publicly saying that Akin should go before he does permanent damage to the Republican campaign. Brian.
WILLIAMS: Andrea Mitchell from our D.C. newsroom starting us off. Andrea thanks.