Matt Miffed with McCain's Deal with Bush: 'Why Didn't You Guys Take a Stand?'

Now that John McCain and his fellow “moderate” Republican Senators have made a deal with the White House allowing the CIA and U.S. military to go about the job of protecting America from terrorists, NBC’s Matt Lauer is distressed that the group didn’t “stand up” to the White House and insist on even softer treatment.

In an interview on Friday morning’s Today, Lauer confronted McCain: “Why didn’t you guys stand up and take a stand on specifics? Why didn’t you say look, OK, there’ve been reports, for example, with Khalid Sheikh Mohammed at the secret CIA centers that he was waterboarded, we will not let that stand, Mr. President?”

And Lauer held up Colin Powell as the arbiter of whether this was a good deal, asking McCain: “Do you think now that this moves in the direction where he’ll be satisfied?”

Lauer repeatedly suggested the agreement between McCain’s group and the White House was an election-year gimmick. “Was it a move against torture, or just political theater?” he asked during the opening tease. A few minutes later, he observed to co-host Meredith Vieira: “Some are saying this was all for show, and that nothing has really changed.”

Lauer then proposed to McCain that “some cynics” were suggesting “this was really all about political theater.” Today never identified who the “some cynics” might be, but over on ABC’s Good Morning America, MRC’s Megan McCormack noticed how chief Washington correspondent George Stephanopoulos told co-host Robin Roberts that Democrats were upset by the Bush-McCain deal.

Discussing the deal, Roberts reminded Stephanopoulos: “The Democrats pretty much sat this one out, let the Republicans duke it out. But where do the Democrats now stand on this?”

Stephanopoulos suggested they were going to be forced to go along with McCain’s deal: “They took a pass. I mean, you’re exactly right. They were cut out of the negotiations. They were happy to have Senator McCain leading the criticism. Now that he’s joined ranks with the President, they’re not real happy, they’re grumbling about it, but they can’t really fight it either.”

Lauer has taken his gripes about the treatment of terrorist prisoners straight to the President, complaining in an interview for the September 11 Today, as MRC’s Geoff Dickens noted at the time. Lauer demanded to know of Bush: “Are you comfortable that the United States did not break the law in conducting that kind of interrogations in those secret sites?” Later in the program, Lauer worried: “Are you at all concerned that at some point, even if you get results, there is a blurring the lines of, between ourselves and the people we’re trying to protect us against?”

Apparently, not even the media’s normal affection for John McCain can shield him from their wrath when he sides with the Bush administration’s odious anti-terror policies.

Now, more from Friday’s Today, as transcribed by the MRC’s Justin McCarthy, beginning with Lauer’s opening tease for his interview with McCain:

“Done deal. The Bush administration finally reaches an agreement with some breakaway Republican Senators on how to interrogate and prosecute the world’s most notorious terror suspects. Was it a move against torture or just political theater?”

A few minutes later, Lauer told Meredith Vieira about his upcoming interview: “After a big showdown over whether to redefine a part of the Geneva Conventions, a deal has now been reached between the White House and some powerful Republican Senators. But some are saying this was all for show, and that nothing has really changed. We’re going to talk to a key player in all of this, Senator John McCain, in a live interview.”

In a report preceding Lauer’s interview, NBC White House correspondent Kelly O’Donnell framed the issue in terms of midterm election politics, not necessary wartime policies: “This is one of those Washington stories where everyone gets to come out claiming victory. The President gets to talk about the war on terror, while the focus is off the war in Iraq for a bit. And Republicans get to appear united just weeks before the midterm election.”

Then Lauer introduced McCain, and exclusively questioned him from the perspective of those questioning whether he and his group of renegade Republicans gave away too much to the White House, never once suggesting that McCain’s public criticisms have hurt America’s reputation or that his proposed policies will impair the CIA’s ability to extract useful information that could save American lives in the future.

Lauer’s questions to McCain:

# “Arizona Republican, and former POW, Senator John McCain was a key player in the give and take on this bill. Senator McCain, always good to see you good morning....The President said this preserves what is essential, and that is that CIA interrogation programs. So, does that mean that you and your Republican colleagues in the Senate feel that the CIA has done nothing, or is now doing nothing, that goes against the Geneva Conventions?”

# “But why didn’t the Senate, why didn’t you guys stand up and take a stand on specifics? Why didn’t you say look, OK, there have been reports, for example, with Khalid Sheikh Mohammed at the secret CIA centers that he was waterboarded. ‘We will not let that stand, Mr. President?’”

To that, McCain replied, “We said exactly that. There will be no such thing as waterboarding. We outlined the grave breaches of conduct, and you will never see that again, and we’ve stood up and said that cannot be done. Most importantly, we said we will not change the Geneva Conventions. We’re very proud of what we did. The ACLU and others don’t want the President to be able to question these people. We think that the program is a is legitimate.”

# “So when you say you did not, that the Article Three of the Geneva Conventions is intact, you feel when you said last week American lives could be placed at risk by what was happening, you now feel that with the action that you and your fellow Republicans have taken that you put an end to that risk?” McCain said, “Of course.”

# “The, you know, there are some cynics here, and there are a lots of cynics in Washington as you know, Senator McCain, who say that the Senators stood up a couple of weeks ago and they took the moral high ground and they said we’re willing to risk party unity to stand up for the Pres- to stand up to the President and say torture will not stand. But in the end, the President got pretty much everything he wanted and this was really all about political theater. How do you respond to that?”

# “Much was made about a letter that was written to you, Senator, by former Secretary of State Colin Powell, saying that because of the way this debate was moving, he thought the world was beginning to quote ‘doubt the moral basis of the war on terror.’”

McCain interjected: “I agree with him. I agree with him.”

Lauer: “First of all, have you spoken to Secretary Powell since this agreement, and do you think now that this moves in the direction where he’ll be satisfied?”

McCain replied, “I’m confident he will be satisfied. I’m confident all the other admirals and generals who wrote. But I’m not confident that the ACLU, and other more liberal organizations will be satisfied, because they didn’t want this program. So, we have a difference. But I think you’ll see progress. I think you can be proud of what we’ve done but, more importantly, we’ve preserved the Geneva Conventions. We will still allow these terrible terrorists to be questioned and we will, you will see them go on trial. That was our goal, and that’s what we’ve achieved.”

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