Williams Delivers Friendly, Empathetic Segment With Hillary Clinton

Nine days after a glowing segment with Barack Obama, NBC's Brian Williams on Wednesday night again delivered a very friendly session with a Democratic presidential candidate, this time Hillary Clinton. Since the Iowa caucuses, Williams has not interviewed any of the Republican candidates for the NBC Nightly News, but last fall he did and displayed quite a contrast in approaches -- quizzing Republican Rudy Giuliani about controversies in his past while tossing softballs to Democrat John Edwards.

In the Wednesday NBC Nightly News segment, Williams provided a congenial chat with Clinton, showing her on a rope line and then wondering: “How do you explain the energy of a rope line to a rookie?” Raising her “emotional” moment, Williams cued her up: “How did that question convert itself, in your mind, into a moment of grace?” As for her Granite state comeback, simply: “What do you think happened in New Hampshire?” Williams ended by empathizing with her tough grind: “For the Senator from New York, the business of politics comes after the public events. Today it's a conference call with Democratic governors on the economy. Tonight it's on to Reno, tomorrow to California. And that's life on the road.” Standing in a holding room, he quipped: “At least the food on the road makes it all worthwhile.”

NBC didn't even air the most unctuous question Williams posed. An MSNBC.com online transcript and video of the entire 28-minute interview includes: “Akin to the question in New Hampshire, it has gotten personal quite early. How have you kept going?”

The posting also revealed how Williams pressed Clinton to denounce Senator Joe Lieberman: “A colleague of yours in the Senate, Joe Lieberman, is campaigning with Republican colleagues of yours, John McCain. Should Joe Lieberman still be a member of the Democratic Party? Should he be able to run a committee under the Democratic banner?”

The TV story lasted just under four minutes, but only about half was devoted to the actual interview, so only a small portion of the interview aired.

Let's see if any future interview by Williams with a GOP candidate is as friendly.

My January 7 NewsBusters item, “Williams Slobbers Over Obama,” recounted:
NBC's Brian Williams slobbered over Barack Obama Monday night. Riding on a bus in New Hampshire the day before the Granite state's primary, Williams showed Obama the Newsweek with the Democratic candidate on the cover and wondered: "How does this feel, of all the honors that have come your way, all the publicity? Who does it make you think of? Is there, is there a loved one?"

This week's Newsweek cover has a picture of Obama with an Obama quote: "Our time for change has come." The headline over the cover story by Richard Wolfe, a frequent guest of MSNBC's Keith Olbermann: "Inside Obama's Dream Machine." The subhead hailed Obama as "an icon of hope." Echoing that theme, Williams later observed how "in his stump speech, he now says 'we' instead of 'I.' The implication: What happened in Iowa was the start of a movement."
My November 28 NewsBusters posting, “NBC's Williams Avoids Controversy with Edwards, Not with Giuliani,” reported:
Three weeks ago, when NBC anchor Brian Williams interviewed Rudy Giuliani, Williams raised Giuliani's closeness to Bernard Kerik and pressed him on Iraq as he pointed out how 2007 had become "the bloodiest year" in the war, but in an interview with John Edwards aired Tuesday night, Williams stuck to softballs and didn't bring up the indictment of a major Edwards donor or push Edwards about how the "surge" in Iraq he rejected is working. The two interviews are the most recent in the "Making of the President" series on the NBC Nightly News.

In the taped session with Republican presidential candidate Giuliani aired on November 6, Williams inquired: "Let's talk about your friend Bernard Kerik. Press reports are, as recently as today, that he could be a few days away from indictment, perhaps. When was the last time, first of all, that you spoke with him?" And on Giuliani supporting the war: "We just learned today '07 is the bloodiest year in Iraq. What would you do in Iraq starting today?"

But with Democratic candidate Edwards Tuesday night, Williams stuck to the horse race and sympathetic personal issues, wondering about the impact of Oprah Winfrey -- "a formidable celebrity" -- campaigning for Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton's contention she will be the nominee, the status of his wife's health and Williams cued him up to elucidate his foreign policy expertise: "If you had to pick one, what one foreign country, currently, keeps John Edwards up at night?"
Now, the Wednesday segment with Senator Clinton. The MRC's Brad Wilmouth corrected the closed-captioning against the video of what aired on the January 16 NBC Nightly News:
BRIAN WILLIAMS: And now to the Democrats. On this day after their debate in this very place, we spent the day with Senator Hillary Clinton. If you agree with the assessment that the candidates fought pretty much to a draw last night, Senator Clinton sees each new day these days as a victory considering her surprise victory in New Hampshire. She wants the next victory to be right here on January 19th in the Democratic caucus. It's really the only way she gets to meet people, the contained, controlled chaos of the rope line. A post-event political staple with the Secret Service eyeing every incoming hand. Today, here in Nevada, we were waiting for the candidate at the end of the line.

WILLIAMS TO CLINTON: How do you explain the energy of a rope line to a rookie?

HILLARY CLINTON: That it is such intense personal involvement that people have come to see you, they want to touch you, they want to talk to you, they want you to sign something for them.

WILLIAMS: This is what her days are like, this particular panel discussion on nuclear waste.

CLINTON: There are so many problems-

WILLIAMS: Last night was different. The high wire act of our televised MSNBC debate. It turns out last night's Clinton-Obama truce on race applies only to race. When we met up with her this morning, the Senator tweaked Obama on his statement to a Reno newspaper saying voters don't want a bureaucrat, a sentiment he repeated at the debate last night.

BARACK OBAMA: Being President is not making sure that schedules are being run properly.

CLINTON: And I was taken aback when Senator Obama said yesterday that he didn't intend to try to manage or run the government, that he was going to have advisors to do that. That is very reminiscent of what we've had for the last seven years. I intend to run the government.

WILLIAMS TO CLINTON: You told John Meacham, the editor of Newsweek, that you thought the, the question that caused a brief emotional moment on your part was a moment of grace. And it was asked by a woman who later voted for Barack Obama. How did that question convert itself, in your mind, into a moment of grace?

HILLARY CLINTON: You know, Brian, I try to live in the moment in these campaigns. You know, if you were following me around with a little tiny mini-cam, you'd see a lot of moments like that, where somebody, you know, says, "I need your help." Or they throw their arms around me and say that "my son got an operation because of a program you did." Or, you know, "I just want you to know I'm with you."

WILLIAMS TO CLINTON: What was it you felt turning in New Hampshire? Enough with the analysis. Let's hear it from the candidate. What do you think happened in New Hampshire?

CLINTON: I think the election, in a very real way, started with the New Hampshire debate. You know, as a woman, I may have gone a little overboard in the beginning of this campaign to really make my case to be commander-in-chief. Because I know at the end of the day people look at who's running for President, and they have to ask themselves: "Is this somebody who will protect and defend us?" And I didn't spend as much time talking about why I'm motivated to do what I do, what I've done for 35 years.

WILLIAMS: For the Senator from New York, the business of politics comes after the public events. Today it's a conference call with Democratic governors on the economy. Tonight it's on to Reno, tomorrow to California. And that's life on the road.

WILLIAMS TO CLINTON, IN SPARSE ROOM: How would this holding room be different if your husband and entourage were here.

CLINTON: Well, there'd be more people.

WILLIAMS TO CLINTON: Yeah.

CLINTON: It's a gauntlet you have to run. It's harder than any political system in the world, and probably for a good reason because it's the hardest job in the world.

WILLIAMS TO CLINTON: At least the food on the road makes it all worthwhile.

CLINTON: Well, it's not the quality so much as the quantity that does keep you fueled up, Brian. That's the problem with, you know, being on campaigns. You know, you always, afterwards, you say, "Oh, why did I eat that pizza again?"
Brent Baker
Brent Baker
Brent Baker is the Steven P.J. Wood Senior Fellow and VP for Research and Publications at the Media Research Center