Defending the Indefensible: ABC's Moran, Stephanopoulos Shill for Obama's Gulf Address

Despite widespread criticism of President Barack Obama's Oval Office address on the Gulf oil spill–including flak from MSNBC's left-wing posse of Chris Matthews, Keith Olbermann, and Howard Fineman–ABC's Terry Moran and George Stephanopoulos on the June 15 "Nightline" fawned over the president's speech and ignored its obvious shortcomings.

In recapping the address, Moran could not contain his adulation for Obama's ability to assert his presidential authority and inspire the nation:
  • "For the first time in the Oval Office, President Obama addressed the nation. A nation anxious and doubtful about his leadership on the environmental catastrophe that's unfolded in the Gulf for 57 days. So, the main goal tonight, show the country he's truly in charge."
  • "President Obama, who finished a two-day trip to the Gulf Coast this afternoon, clearly wanted to project power in his handling with the oil spill, and the most direct way to do that is to use the language of war of the commander-in-chief."
  • "As the cleanup efforts continue to grapple with the giant spill, residents all along the coast have grown more and more worried, more and more angry and the president spoke to that directly tonight, and he made a promise."
  • "At the end, like so many in the Oval Office before him, President Obama asked for prayers."

Moran praised Obama for taking charge of the Gulf, but failed to acknowledge critics who point out that the commander-in-chief dawdled for 57 days before addressing the nation. The "Nightline" anchor lauded Obama for engendering in Gulf Coast residents a sense of hope, but he ignored the cries of local fishermen who have criticized the president's handling of the spill.

Gushing like an uncapped oil well, Moran discarded journalistic integrity and reported only portions of the address he wanted his viewers to see.

In contrast, NewsBusters reported that MSNBC's liberal panel excoriated the president. Olbermann quipped, "Maybe I missed something. I thought it was a great speech if you've been on another planet for the last 57 days." Matthews promised to "barf" if the president mentioned the Energy Secretary's Nobel Prize again. Fineman lamented, "We want to explain how we`re going to clean up the Gulf. We want to talk about long-range goals. But this 15 or 16 or 17-minute speech really didn't go into any of those things in detail."

After adorning Obama with plaudits, Moran brought on Stephanopoulos, a former Bill Clinton operative turned political correspondent, who made the unconscionable claim that Obama's speech was brimming with detail.

"First of all, this was the first time the president put all of the facts and figures and details to what he's done in one place," declared Stephanopoulos. "You know, 30,000 personnel, the ordering of 17,000 National Guards, men and women down to the area."

While the "Good Morning America" anchor quenched his thirst for a detailed plan of action, MSNBC's liberal panel was starving for specifics.

"Nothing. Nothing specific. Nothing specific at all," bemoaned Olbermann.

"Yeah, you said he aimed too low," proclaimed Fineman. "I don't think he was specific enough, Keith."

"[Energy legislation is] the hardest thing in the world, and he's saying 'I'm going to do it,' and then no more information," bellowed Matthews.

Stephanopoulos also compared Obama's address to FDR's famous fireside chats, but that was a bridge too far even for Moran, who observed, "Franklin Roosevelt, those are big shoes to fill."

A transcript of the segment can be found below:

ABC
Nightline
6/15/10

12:39 a.m.

TERRY MORAN: Just a few hours before President Obama made his first address to the nation from the Oval Office, a shocking new estimate was released of how much oil is gushing into the Gulf each day, up to 60,000 barrels, a number up roughly 200% over the original estimate. It was the latest reminder of how high the stakes are in this historic environment catastrophe.

For the first time in the Oval Office...

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Good evening.

MORAN: ...President Obama addressed the nation. A nation anxious and doubtful about his leadership on the environmental catastrophe that's unfolded in the Gulf for 57 days. So, the main goal tonight, show the country he's truly in charge.

OBAMA: Make no mistake. We will fight this spill with everything we've got for as long as it takes. We will make BP pay for the damage their company has caused. And we will do whatever is necessary to help the Gulf Coast and its people recover from this tragedy.

MORAN: President Obama, who finished a two-day trip to the Gulf Coast this afternoon, clearly wanted to project power in his handling with the oil spill, and the most direct way to do that is to use the language of war of the commander-in-chief.

OBAMA: Tonight, I'd like to lay out for you what our battle plan is going forward. I've authorized the deployment of over 17,000 National Guard members along the coast. The one answer I will not settle for is the idea that this challenge is somehow too big and too difficult to meet. You know, the same thing was said about our ability to produce enough planes and tanks in World War II.

MORAN: As the cleanup efforts continue to grapple with the giant spill, residents all along the coast have grown more and more worried, more and more angry and the President spoke to that directly tonight, and he made a promise.

OBAMA: The sadness and the anger they feel is not just about the money they've lost. It's about a wrenching anxiety that their way of life may be lost. I refuse to let that happen. Tomorrow, I will meet with the chairman of BP and inform him that he is to set aside whatever resources are required to compensate the workers and business owners who have been harmed as a result of his company's recklessness. And this fund will not be controlled by BP.

MORAN: And typical of this president's grand–some say grandiose ambitions, a call for a new national energy policy to reduce American dependence on fossil fuels.

OBAMA: Now is the moment for this generation to embark on a national mission to unleash America's innovation and seize control of our own destiny.

MORAN: At the end, like so many in the Oval Office before him, President Obama asked for prayers.

OBAMA: We pray for the people of the Gulf. And we pray that a hand may guide us through the storm towards a brighter day. Thank you, God bless you, and may God bless the United States of America.

[...]

MORAN: And we're joined by our Chief Political Correspondent and "Good Morning America" anchor George Stephanopoulos for his take on the President's address. George, an Oval Office address to a nation that has had real doubts about President Obama's leadership on this crisis. Did he do the job tonight in showing he can take charge?

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS, ABC chief political correspondent: I think he did what he needed to do, saying it, but I say that knowing full well that it's not going to make a difference until we stop seeing that oil on our television and computer screens every day. I think the White House knows that, as well. I think one of the reasons the President decided to give the speech tonight is that they now believe what he did say in the speech, that within a couple of weeks, 90% of the oil coming out of that leak, it will be siphoned off, will be captured and they believe that will set the stage for future political gains and for getting this whole mess under control.

MORAN: So, he was able to deliver that bit of news. But he said a lot of these kinds of things before in the various places he's been talking about this. What else was new? What did we learn tonight from him?

STEPHANOPOULOS: Well we–I think we learned a few things tonight. First of all, this was the first time the president put all of the facts and figures and details to what he's done in one place. You know, 30,000 personnel, the ordering of 17,000 National Guards, men and women down to the area. What we did see new tonight is he named the head of restoration project for the Gulf, Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus, a former governor of Mississippi, former ambassador to Saudi Arabia to come up with a restoration plan, which is critically important to the people of the Gulf. As the President said tonight, so many of them fear that they're going to lose their entire way of life. We heard a new name for the head of that Minerals and Management Service, which has just been plagued, really by corruption, and by lax regulation of the industry. The President putting in a former prosecutor, Michael Bromwich. He has new men in place to help lead this effort. We also saw him come down pretty hard, as you might expect, on BP. On British Petroleum, saying he's informing them they have to come up with this escrow fund, some in Congress calling for up to $20 billion. Now there is some question of whether President has the legal authority to do that. He's just asserting it.

MORAN: Let's take a step back. It's a historic moment in the Obama presidency. First Oval Office address to the nation. Optics. That's a big word in the political class right now. How did he look up there? How do you think people received this moment of Barack Obama addressing from the Oval Office?

STEPHANOPOULOS: You know, usually the public, especially those than tune in who tend to want to support the president anyway have a good reaction to these kinds of speeches, and they get all of his information unfiltered. Now for me it was just, you know, I'm not used to watching the president speak sitting down. You know, he gives so many of his big speeches standing up and I think that was a new way to look at the president. I think he was certainly reaching for the language of Oval Office addresses, all of these have military language–siege, assault on our shores, battle plan. White House aides tell me that the President was trying to recreate the feel of Franklin Roosevelt's fireside chats because he wanted people to understand how serious this moment is. That said, I think all presidents are a little bit nervous going into their first Oval Office address. I think the President showed a little bit of that at the beginning as well.

MORAN: Franklin Roosevelt, those are big shoes to fill. George Stephanopoulos, thanks very much for being with us tonight.
--Alex Fitzsimmons is a News Analysis intern at the Media Research Center. Click here to follow him on Twitter.