Williams Tosses Softballs to Obama, Empathizes Over Elitist Image

Brian Williams, who slobbered over Barack Obama in their last interview in early January, did so again in a Thursday session conducted at Washington, DC's Newseum and excerpted on the NBC Nightly News. Back on January 7, Williams handed Obama a Newsweek with “Inside Obama's Dream Machine” as the cover story 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?” On Thursday, Williams didn't pose a single challenging question nor mention Jeremiah Wright in any of the ten questions aired, but pulled the same magazine stunt, this time holding up the new Time with a smiling Obama on the cover by the words, “And the Winner* Is...” Williams fondly recalled:
Last time we were together, I handed you a copy of Newsweek, it was the first time you'd held it in your hands with you on the cover. Have you yet held this in your hands?

Obama said he had not, prompting Williams to remind him: “Last time you looked at it and you thought instantly of your mom.” Obama effused: “She'd like that picture. She always encouraged me to smile more.” Proceeding to cue up Obama for a long recitation on how he's not an elitist, Williams empathized: “You end up with people talking about your bowling score, gutter balls, wearing a tie, wearing a tie with farmers. And how have you dealt with that? Is there an operating theory that guides your life these days?”

Next, Williams pressed Obama three times about putting Hillary Clinton on the ticket, starting with this inquiry: “Have there been internal conversations or any outreach, any contact at all with the Clinton camp about a ticket that would involve Senator Clinton?”

Setting up the segment at the top of his newscast, Williams touted how “there's been a measurable change around” Obama, gushing about how “you could see it and feel it in Washington today. The people rushing to him, crowding around him on Capitol Hill” and in “the crowds that greeted him several stories high in the Newseum.”

[UPDATE, 2:30 AM EDT: Williams did raise Wright in the full 23-minute interview posted, as Flash video, on MSNBC.com, but not to discuss the substance. Williams was more interested in Obama's strategic mistake and whether he thought there was “valor” in taking the hit:
“You mentioned a moment ago you've made mistakes in this campaign. Is one of them your handling of the Wright stuff, the Reverend Wright material? You presented to a lot of people kind of the style of a loner, it was allowed to come out there -- given the news cycles these days it was out there as cable wallpaper for several days. You didn't engage. Did you think there was valor in letting it out and taking the hit initially? What was the strategy?”]

My January 7 NewsBusters item, “Williams Slobbers Over Obama; Couric Counters McCain on Surge,” recounted:

In interviews aired Monday night, NBC's Brian Williams slobbered over Barack Obama while CBS's Katie Couric told John McCain the surge in Iraq has not been a success and pressed Mitt Romney to apologize for his negative ads. 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."...
Video of Williams slobbering over Obama on the bus: Scroll down to “Swept Up by the Dream Machine” in the MRC's January 14 edition of Notable Quotables.

Transcript of how Williams set up the lead story on the Thursday, May 8 NBC Nightly News, with all of the questions to Obama the newscast aired:
BRIAN WILLIAMS: ...As for Barack Obama, there's been a measurable change around him. You could see it and feel it in Washington today. The people rushing to him, crowding around him on Capitol Hill where, among other things, he visited the House of Representatives. These days it's also the house of super-delegates. Then there were the crowds that greeted him several stories high in the Newseum in Washington. He was there to sit down with us today to talk about where this race stands.

WILLIAMS: Are you the presumptive nominee of the Democratic Party?

[OBAMA]

WILLIAMS: Have you had any discussions about declaring that victory on the 20th after Kentucky and Oregon are decided?

[OBAMA]

WILLIAMS: Last time we were together, I handed you a copy of Newsweek, it was the first time you'd held it in your hands with you on the cover. Have you yet held this in your hands?

OBAMA: No, I don't want to. Because the last time it was in New Hampshire and I ended up losing. So, I'm not sure if it's the magazine or you, Brian, that's the jinx, but I'm not taking any chances.

WILLIAMS: Last time you looked at it and you thought instantly of your mom.

OBAMA: She'd like that picture. She always encouraged me to smile more.

WILLIAMS: What's the asterisk stand for for to you?

OBAMA: It's a signifier this is not done. But my mom would be proud of me. She might also say, don't get too full of yourself, go out there and do some more work.

WILLIAMS: Due respect, Senator, I'm not guessing, you've had a lot of bowling experience, but you end up with people talking about your bowling score, gutter balls, wearing a tie, wearing a tie with farmers. And how have you dealt with that? Is there an operating theory that guides your life these days?

OBAMA: You know, my theory is not to over-think it because I think the American people are smarter than that. The bowling is a wonderful example, right? You go and to a bowling alley because you want to meet with a bunch of folks. Folks are lined up and their having a great time, we're talking, signing autographs. Then some woman says, why don't you bowl a couple of frames. I say, sure, although I haven't bold in 25 years, I'm out there having a great time. Suddenly this becomes some big sort of signifier of whether or not I'm in tune with blue collar culture. I was raised by small town folks from Kansas with Midwestern values of honesty and hard work and responsibility. And so this notion somehow that I'm some sprout-eating Volvo driving person, when, you know, of all the candidates remaining in this race, I probably came from the toughest circumstances, not overly tough, I don't want to overstate it, but some tough circumstances without a father in the house. And you know, raised by people who come straight out of central casting of small Midwestern towns. I think just doesn't match up with who am I.

WILLIAMS: So are you going to keep wearing a tie because you believe in it?

OBAMA: Sometimes I wear a tie, sometimes I don't. Sometimes I wear a flag pin, sometimes I don't. Sometimes I like a burger and a beer. Sometimes a glass of wine and a steak is good. But this doesn't have much to do with how I'm going to lead the country. What does have to do with leading the country is my commitment to make sure that everybody has the same chances that somebody gave me.

WILLIAMS: Have there been internal conversations or any outreach, any contact at all with the Clinton camp about a ticket that would involve Senator Clinton?

OBAMA: You know, we have not have those conversations because I respect what she has said publicly, that she's continuing this campaign.

WILLIAMS: Is it under consideration?

OBAMA: Brian, what I've said is I want to respect her and her desire to continue in these coming contests. As soon as I know that I'm the nominee, then I'm going to start making overtures, certainly to her as well as everybody else to figure out how we're going to bring this party together.

WILLIAMS: Would she meet the criteria of a Barack Obama running mate in the eventuality that you would be the nominee?

OBAMA: Well, there's no doubt she's qualified to be Vice President, there's no doubt she's qualifiedto be President. Obviously I think I'll be a better President otherwise I wouldn't be running. But she's a very capable, very smart person and I think anybody who has been in a political contest with her can tell you that she's no pushover.
MSNBC.com Flash video of the portion which aired on NBC Nightly News.

Video of the entire 23-minute interview.
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