Evening Newscasts Forward Obama's ABC-Enabled Defense of Wife

Monday provided a great example of a network correspondent advancing Barack Obama's political cause by treating him as a victim of a nefarious GOP attack, thus allowing him to appear virtuous in his reply, an answer the other networks then highlighted to enhance the victimization theme. ABC, CBS and NBC on Monday night showcased Obama's scolding of the Tennessee Republican Party for posting a video on You Tube contrasting Michelle Obama's February admission that “for the first time in my adult life, I am proud of my country,” with people declaring their pride in the U.S.

(As detailed, with video, in the earlier NewsBusters posting by Scott Whitlock, on Monday's Good Morning America ABC's Robin Roberts asked if he is “prepared” for “more and more” such attacks. Obama called the ad “low class” and ominously warned his opponents should “be careful” in making his wife an issue “because that I find unacceptable.”)

Monday night, ABC's David Wright reported that “Obama tried to subtract one potential issue from the general election -- his wife.” But without playing the February Michelle Obama soundbite to remind viewers what she said, Wright asserted “certain Republicans have already questioned her patriotism.” As if the concern is baseless. On CBS, Dean Reynolds played the February clip before relaying how Barack Obama “blasted a Republican Internet ad which uses a controversial statement she made about her husband's campaign to question her love of country.” Lee Cowan, on NBC, related Obama's “Rule Number One: lay off his family. When asked on ABC's Good Morning America about this Republican ad criticizing his wife for saying that 'this was the first time' that she'd been 'proud of her country,' he fired back.”

Key portion of the exchange on Good Morning America:

ROBIN ROBERTS: You know what's going on in Tennessee with the GOP there. And their Web campaign about taking the remarks that you made earlier about being first time in your adult life being proud of the U.S.

MICHELLE OBAMA, IN FEBRUARY: For the first time in my adult lifetime I'm really proud of my country.

BOB S., REALTOR, IN THE AD: Boy, I've been proud to be an American since I was a kid.

JUAN B., POLICE OFFICER, IN THE AD: I'm proud of this country each and every day.

ROBERTS: Should you get through this process and you have the general election ahead of you, that this is what you can expect more and more of. Are you prepared for that?
Posting on YouTube of the four-minute video, a pretty low-quality production that is only on the Web.

Back in February, the networks didn't consider Michelle Obama's remarks anything to be embarrassed by or ashamed of -- to the extent they bothered to report them.

My Tuesday, February 19 NewsBusters item, “Burden on Cindy McCain Over Michelle Obama's Lack of U.S. Pride,” recounted:
Michelle Obama proclaimed that "for the first time in my adult life, I am proud of my country," but instead of putting the burden on the Obama campaign to defend her admission of a lack of pride in her nation, NBC on Tuesday night framed its coverage around Cindy McCain's "rhetoric" in issuing a "political jab" over the remark and concern over whether that "was a knock at Michelle Obama?" But at least NBC highlighted the comment from Monday. ABC's World News didn't utter a word about it while CBS's Jim Axelrod pointed out how the Obama "campaign says don't slice apart the quote to infer she's not a patriot."

NBC Nightly News anchor Brian Williams set up the story: "For the Republicans, the rhetoric today was also largely about words. And today it involved the wife of the frontrunner, Cindy McCain." Kelly O'Donnell relayed how "the most memorable political jab of the day did not come" from John McCain but from Cindy McCain who declared "I'm proud of my country." O'Donnell treated that as an attack which required justification: "Asked directly if this was a knock at Michelle Obama, John McCain steered clear."
My Thursday, February 21 NewsBusters post, “ABC Spikes Michelle Obama's Gaffe, Then Declares It Unimportant,” reported:
ABC's World News, which on Tuesday skipped Michelle Obama's comment that "for the first time in my adult life, I am proud of my country," on Wednesday finally got to it, but only minimally as George Stephanopoulos praised her "good damage control" and declared: "I don't think it's going to be a huge deal." Hard for it to become "a huge deal" when a broadcast network's most-watched news program doesn't bother to report it. On Wednesday, the World News campaign stories again ignored the remark and the newscast only arrived on the story in anchor Charles Gibson's last question to Stephanopoulos.

Gibson played the comment, then explained: "Now she said today what she was talking about, or meant to say, was that she was proud of how many people are now taking part in the political process. Is this a big deal? Is it a tempest in a teapot?" Stephanopoulos was pleased by her explanation: "Ah, well that was good damage control by Michelle Obama." He acknowledged "her first comment was a mistake," but "as long as this isn't repeated, as long as they don't dig the hole deeper -- she did start to dig out today -- I don't think it's going to be a huge deal."
Coverage, of Barack Obama's comments, on the Monday, May 19 broadcast network evening newscasts:

ABC's World News:
DAVID WRIGHT: Today, on Good Morning America, Obama tried to subtract one potential issue from the general election -- his wife. Certain Republicans have already questioned her patriotism.

BARACK OBAMA, ON GMA: If they think that they're going make Michelle an issue in this campaign, they should be careful because that I find unacceptable. These folks should stay off my wife. All right? Just in case they're watching.

CBS Evening News:
DEAN REYNOLDS: In addition to defending his views, Obama today defended his wife.

MICHELLE OBAMA: For the first time in my adult life, I am proud of my country.

REYNOLDS: He blasted a Republican Internet ad which uses a controversial statement she made about her husband's campaign to question her love of country, contrasting it with statements from average Americans.

JUAN B, POLICE OFFICER, IN THE TENNESSEE REPUBLICAN PARTY VIDEO: I am proud of this country each and every day.

BARACK OBAMA, ON GMA: If they think that they're going to try to make Michelle an issue in this campaign, they should be careful, because that I find unacceptable. [edit jump] But I also think these folks should lay off my wife, all right?

REYNOLDS: Just a taste of what to expect this fall.

NBC Nightly News:
LEE COWAN: Obama is already laying the ground rules for the general election. And Rule Number One: lay off his family. When asked on ABC's Good Morning America about this Republican ad criticizing his wife for saying that “this was the first time” that she'd been “proud of her country,” he fired back.

BARACK OBAMA, GMA: It is just low class. [edit jump] But I also think these folks should lay off my wife.
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