Fred Thompson Challenges CNN's Campaign Coverage

During a live interview on Friday's American Morning, Fred Thompson lived up to his reputation as the GOP presidential candidate most willing to challenge the media, as the former Senator complained to CNN anchor John Roberts that the show used a clip of him joking about Fed Chair Ben Bernanke to make it appear Thompson was not interested in a stimulus package for the economy. Thompson: "You sit there and you take an hour's worth of tape, of course, and we have a little fun every once in a while, and sometimes you guys pick that out and have a little fun with it yourself..." When Roberts suggested he was being "dismissive" of a stimulus package, Thompson continued: "You know better than that. ... From time to time, things come up, and I poke fun at it... And you guys pick it out, you know, and leave it lying out there. We proceeded to talk about the economy and talk about a stimulus package, which I've been talking about for two or three days, but if this is your highlight event, it's your highlight event." (Transcript follows)

The interview, which seemed to suffer a bit from a satellite delay as Thompson was appearing from Seneca, South Carolina, started on a note of levity as Roberts described the state's primary as a "moment of truth" for Thompson, and the former Senator quipped that "every moment is a moment of truth." Roberts showed a clip of Thompson at a campaign event joking about wanting to change the channel away from Bernanke's speech over to Law and Order because Bernanke's speech was "a little boring." Roberts set up the clip: "Just as you were speaking, Ben Bernanke was on the television screen behind you talking about his support for an economic stimulus package. Let's take a listen how that unfolded."

UNIDENTIFIED MALE VOICE: And as we sit here, you know, we can take a look at the monitor, and Chairman Bernanke is talking right now. I would imagine you would probably say that the economy perhaps is the most important issue that's facing us?

THOMPSON: Yeah, that's right. But, you know, you could probably get a Law and Order rerun on TNT there if you really wanted to switch that around a little bit.

[LAUGHTER AND APPLAUSE FROM AUDIENCE]

UNIDENTIFIED MALE VOICE: Oh, I don't know if you want to do that. Chairman Bernanke's from South Carolina, so-

THOMPSON: Looks a little boring to me. I don't care-

Roberts continued: "I know, Senator Thompson, you were just joking a little bit there, but you did sound to be a little bit dismissive of the idea at least of an economic stimulus package."

Thompson responded: "No, John. You sit there and you take an hour's worth of tape, of course, and we have a little fun every once in a while. And sometimes you guys pick that out and have a little fun with it yourself, so that's fine. Now, you want to talk about the issue? We went ahead and talked about the issue in some de-"

Jumping back in, Roberts: "Yeah, well, that's what I'm saying. You seem to be dismissive of this idea of a package."

Thompson: "No, I was not being dismiss- You know better than that. We were having a little fun, a little humor. From time to time, things come up, and I poke fun at it, including at myself. And you guys pick it out, you know, and leave it lying out there. We proceeded to talk about the economy and talk about a stimulus package, which I've been talking about for two or three days, but if this is your highlight event, it's your highlight event. Would you like for me to talk about the stimulus package?"

When Roberts interjected that "the question I was trying to ask you, Senator, is you don't seem to have a lot of faith in a stimulus package," Thompson responded that "that's not totally accurate either," and that "I'm not sure what part of that, that you're talking about," before elaborating on what he wants in a stimulus package.

Below is a transcript of the relevant portion of Roberts's interview with Thompson from the Friday, January 18 American Morning on CNN:

JOHN ROBERTS: It could be the moment of truth for the Thompson campaign. He is banking on South Carolina and the Republican party faithful to rev up his campaign. He is expected to be in a fight for the evangelical vote with Mike Huckabee. Joining us now from Seneca, South Carolina, is former Senator Fred Thompson. Senator, good to see you. I want to start off this morning by playing a little excerpt from something that happened at a campaign event yesterday-

FRED THOMPSON, with crosstalk: By the way, every-

ROBERTS: Go ahead?

THOMPSON: Every moment, every moment is a moment of truth for the Thompson campaign.

ROBERTS, laughing: All right, well, we're glad to hear that. Well, let's play this particular moment of truth. Just as you were speaking, Ben Bernanke was on the television screen behind you talking about his support for an economic stimulus package. Let's take a listen how that unfolded.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE VOICE: And as we sit here, you know, we can take a look at the monitor, and Chairman Bernanke is talking right now. I would imagine you would probably say that the economy perhaps is the most important issue that's facing us?

THOMPSON: Yeah, that's right. But, you know, you could probably get a Law and Order rerun on TNT there if you really wanted to switch that around a little bit.

[LAUGHTER AND APPLAUSE FROM AUDIENCE]

UNIDENTIFIED MALE VOICE: Oh, I don't know if you want to do that. Chairman Bernanke's from South Carolina, so-

THOMPSON: Looks a little boring to me. I don't care-

ROBERTS: I know, Senator Thompson, you were just joking a little bit there, but you did sound to be a little bit dismissive of the idea at least of an economic stimulus package.

THOMPSON: No, John. You sit there and you take an hour's worth of tape, of course, and we have a little fun every once in a while. And sometimes you guys pick that out and have a little fun with it yourself, so that's fine. Now, you want to talk about the issue? We went ahead and talked about the issue in some de-

ROBERTS, WITH CROSSTALK: Yeah, well, that's what I'm saying. You seem to be dismissive of this idea of a package.

THOMPSON: No, I was not being dismiss- You know better than that. We were having a little fun, a little humor. From time to time, things come up, and I poke fun at it, including at myself. And you guys pick it out, you know, and leave it lying out there. We proceeded to talk about the economy and talk about a stimulus package, which I've been talking about for two or three days, but if this is your highlight event, it's your highlight event. Would you like for me to talk about the stimulus package?

ROBERTS: No, no, no, no, no, the question I have for you, the question I was trying to ask you, Senator, is you don't seem to have a lot of faith in a stimulus package.

THOMPSON: Well, well, that's not totally accurate either. We've had extensive discussions over the last two or three days. I'm not sure what part of that, that you're talking about, but I can relate what I think about it and what it looks like to me. I've been talking about the fact that it's part of a bigger picture, that we need to make sure that we know what we're talking about before we rush in and increase the debt, that we should not load this package up like a Christmas tree, like we often do, that if we can target it to those who will put the money back into the economy, that is something we need to seriously consider. Now, I think that now the Bush administration, as I understand it, is considering a package of about $150 billion. There's not much detail to it yet. I would hope that it would be more in the form of tax rebates or fewer witholdings in terms of income taxes and put it more directly into the economy. I think that a child tax credit increase of about $500 for about a year would also do the trick. I think those are the things that you have to look at, but everybody on the Hill and everybody in Washington wants to rush willy nilly, you know, at some of these packages that will cost billions and billions of dollars. We need to make sure that we're targeting it in the right way.

Roberts turned the discussion to President Bush's stimulus plan, and then to some of Mike Huckabee's remarks criticizing the candidates who have spent time in Washington.