CBS, NBC Hype Romney 'Controversy' and 'Error' in Israel, Ignored Obama Gaffe in 2008

Sunday's CBS Evening News and the NBC Nightly News tried to spin negatively a vague statement by Mitt Romney advisor Dan Senor that the GOP presidential candidate would "respect" the Israeli government's decision if it chose to attack militarily Iran's nuclear capability, suggesting that the Romney campaign's words amounted to a criticism of the Obama administration, and thus a breach of protocol that American politicians in a foreign land should not criticize the U.S. government.

But the effort to paint the statement into a gaffe contrasts with the media silence in July 2008 when then-Senator Barack Obama, during a trip to Israel as he campaigned for the White House, claimed to be a member of a Senate committee on which he did not serve, in an effort to portray himself as tough on Iran, as he tried to take credit for the actions of the Senate Banking Committee.

As previously documented by Newsbusters, conservative FNC contributor Fred Barnes observed at the time that Obama was not a member of that committee, joking that, if Senator John McCain had claimed incorrectly to be on a Senate committee, it would have been portrayed as a "senior moment."

Also of note, a Nexis search finds no evidence that either CBS or NBC informed viewers in November 2011 when President Obama made the more blatant gaffe of being caught on an open microphone at the G-20 Summit seeming to agree with then-French President Nicolas Sarkozy that Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu was a "liar."

Returning to Sunday's NBC Nightly News, anchor Brian Williams plugged the supposedly embarrassing "controversy" for Romney as he teased the show:

On our broadcast tonight from London, Mitt Romney in Israel: What his campaign said today about Iran that set off controversy.

Williams began the broadcast:

Good evening. When he was here in London just days ago in a conversation with us, Governor Mitt Romney said he didn't want to be critical of the President or be fashioning foreign policy, as he put it, while he was on foreign soil. He wrapped up a controversial visit to London, and then left here for Israel. And tonight, the Romney campaign is doing a little damage control on the subject of foreign policy, another lesson that the politics of the Middle East can be fraught for any American politician.

In his report, correspondent Peter Alexander soon chimed in:

Earlier, Romney's top advisor on Israel, Dan Senor, appeared to endorse a tougher policy toward Iran, insisting Romney would back Israel if Israel has to take action on its own in order to stop Iran from developing the capability to build a nuclear weapon. The campaign later released a statement softening that stance. During his speech to Jewish supporters and American donors, Romney said, while no option should be excluded, he hopes diplomacy prevails.

On the CBS Evening News, anchor Jeff Glor began the show:

And good evening, everyone. I'm Jeff Glor. After a rough first stop on his five-day overseas trip, Mitt Romney was hoping Israel would go better than Britain, but the day was not error-free. In Jerusalem, while voicing strong support for Israel's right to self-defense, Romney also had to back off an aide's suggestion that he'd support an Israeli strike against Iran's nuclear program.

After noting that Romney received a "warm welcome," including from his longtime friend, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, correspondent Jan Crawford cautioned:

But it was not all smooth sailing in the often bumpy seas of Middle East diplomacy. Earlier Sunday, senior advisor Dan Senor caused a stir when he seemed to imply Romney would back Israel's bombing of Iran. telling reporters, "If Israel has to take action on its own, in order to stop Iran from developing that capatibility, the governor would respect that decision."

She then added:

That's stronger language than what the White House used and, for that matter, Mr. Romney, who has said he won't criticize American foreign policy abroad. This afternoon, I asked him to clarify. would you or would you not then support Israel's bombing of Iran?

After a clip of Romney's response to her question, the CBS correspondent continued:

But, in a speech tonight before supporters and donors, Romney appeared to take an indirect shot at the President whom he has criticized on the campaign trail, saying he is not a strong enough defender of Israel.

A Pew Research Center poll released last February notably showed solid support for Israel from the American public with regard to the nuclear threat from Iran.

Returning to the Obama trip to Israel from 2008, FNC's Barnes on the July 23, 2008, Special Report with Brit Hume, recounted:

[Senator Obama] was trying to brag about how tough he was on the Iranians, and he said his committee, the Senate Banking Committee, had passed a resolution ... that would have caused American firms to divest of Iranian interests. And the trouble is, he's not on that committee. ... And he didn't vote for it. That would be a senior moment if McCain did it.

The July 23, 2008, CNN Newsroom had shown then-Senator Obama answering questions in Israel, and, after being accused of changing his position on whether Jerusalem might be divided after the creation of a Palestinian state, Obama brought up and attached himself to Senate actions against Iran. Obama:

Now, in terms of knowing my commitments, you don't have to just look at my words, you can look at my deeds. Just this past week, we passed out of the U.S. Senate Banking Committee, which is my committee, a bill to call for divestment from Iran, as a way of ratcheting up the pressure to ensure that they don't obtain a nuclear weapon.

Below are complete transcripts of the relevant stories from the CBS Evening News and the NBC Nightly News from Sunday, July 29:

#From the CBS Evening News:

JEFF GLOR: And good evening, everyone. I'm Jeff Glor. After a rough first stop on his five-day overseas trip, Mitt Romney was hoping Israel would go better than Britain, but the day was not error-free. In Jerusalem, while voicing strong support for Israel's right to self-defense, Romney also had to back off an aide's suggestion that he'd support an Israeli strike against Iran's nuclear program. Political correspondent Jan Crawford is traveling with the campaign.

JAN CRAWFORD: Between meetings with Israeli officials, Romney visited the holiest of Jewish sites, the Western Wall, where he was besieged by well wishers before he walked to the Wall and left a prayer. In visits with senior officials, Romney got a warm welcome, including from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who called Mitt Romney-

BENJAMIN NETANYAHU, ISRAELI PRIME MINISTER: -a personal friend of mine and strong friend of the state of Israel.

CRAWFORD: But it was not all smooth sailing in the often bumpy seas of Middle East diplomacy. Earlier Sunday, senior advisor Dan Senor caused a stir when he seemed to imply Romney would back Israel's bombing of Iran. telling reporters: "If Israel has to take action on its own, in order to stop Iran from developing that capatibility, the governor would respect that decision."

That's stronger language than what the White House used and, for that matter, Mr. Romney, who has said he won't criticize American foreign policy abroad. This afternoon, I asked him to clarify. would you or would you not then support Israel's bombing of Iran?

MITT ROMNEY: We should use every diplomatic and political vehicle that's available to use to keep Iran from becoming a nuclear capability state. If all those options fail, then we do have other options, and we don't take those other options off the table. But that's as far as I'm willing to go in terms of discussing this matter while I'm on foreign soil.

CRAWFORD: But, in a speech tonight before supporters and donors, Romney appeared to take an indirect shot at the President whom he has criticized on the campaign trail, saying he is not a strong enough defender of Israel.

ROMNEY: We cannot be silent as those who seek to undermine Israel voice their criticisms, and we certainly should not join in that criticism. Diplomatic distance in our public between our nations emboldens Israel's adversaries.

CRAWFORD: Now, Romney may not have directly criticized the President, but he sure came close, and his words are what a lot of people here wanted to hear. but the question, Jeff, is how that will impact Jewish voters back in the United States.

#From the NBC Nightly News:

BRIAN WILLIAMS, IN OPENING TEASER: On our broadcast tonight from London, Mitt Romney in Israel: What his campaign said today about Iran that set off controversy.

(...)

WILLIAMS: Good evening. When he was here in London just days ago in a conversation with us, Governor Mitt Romney said he didn't want to be critical of the President or be fashioning foreign policy, as he put it, while he was on foreign soil. He wrapped up a controversial visit to London, and then left here for Israel. And tonight, the Romney campaign is doing a little damage control on the subject of foreign policy, another lesson that the politics of the Middle East can be fraught for any American politician. It's where we begin tonight with NBC's Peter Alexander, who is traveling with Governor Romney. He's in Jerusalem tonight. Peter, good evening.

PETER ALEXANDER: Brian, good evening to you from outside the old city. Here today, Mitt Romney insisted the U.S. has what he called a, quote, "solemn duty and moral imperative" to prevent an Iranian threat to Israel. Surrounded by a crush of Israelis and international press, Mitt Romney made a pilgrimage today to Jerusalem's Western Wall, delivering a prayer at one of Judaism's holy sites, and later a warning to Iran.

MITT ROMNEY #1: Make no misake, the ayatollahs in Tehran are testing our moral defenses. They want to know who will object and who will look the other way.

ROMNEY CLIP #2: We will not look away, nor will my country look away from our passion and commitment to Israel.

ALEXANDER: Earlier, Romney's top advisor on Israel, Dan Senor, appeared to endorse a tougher policy toward Iran, insisting Romney would back Israel if Israel has to take action on its own in order to stop Iran from developing the capability to build a nuclear weapon. The campaign later released a statement softening that stance. During his speech to Jewish supporters and American donors, Romney said, while no option should be excluded, he hopes diplomacy prevails.

ROMNEY: We should employ any and all measures to dissuade the Iranian regime from its nuclear course. And it is our fervent hope that diplomatic and economic measures will do so.

ALEXANDER: The Romney campaign also hoped to exploit the, at times, tense relationship between President Obama and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

BENJAMIN NETANYAHU, ISRAELI PRIME MINISTER: Governor Romney, Mitt, it's a pleasure to welcome you in Jerusalem.

ALEXANDER: With a photo op of the old friends who met in a Boston consulting firm in the 1970s.

NETANYAHU: -sanctions and diplomacy so far have not set back the Iranian program by one iota.

ALEXANDER: -declaring Jerusalem the capital of the Jewish state and vowing to move the U.S. embassy there, a point of contention to the Arab world. Romney has enjoyed a warm reception. But the Obama campaign attacked Romney for offering few foreign policy specifics, and tried to resurrent Romney's missteps at the Olympic games.

ROMNEY: There were a few things that were disconcerting.

ROBERT GIBBS, OBAMA CAMPAIGN: I think it's clear, voters in this country wonder aloud whether Mitt Romney's ready for the world, and I think the world is not yet ready for Mitt Romney.

ALEXANDER: And with this visit, Mitt Romney is hoping to peel away some Jewish voters back home. Voters, Brian, who overwhelmingly supported Barack Obama four years ago. After a fund-raiser here tomorrow, he heads on a final leg of his tour where he will arrive in Poland.