ABC's Moran Touts Obama's 'Star Power,' But Hits Him on Surge

ABC's Terry Moran, who back in 2006 was already enthralled with Barack Obama (“You can see it in the crowds. The thrill, the hope. How they surge toward him. You're looking at an American political phenomenon”), on Monday night from Iraq refrained from such infatuation as ABC's World News, nonetheless, gave Obama a lengthy platform to espouse his Iraq policy. Moran began his lead story by trumpeting how “Barack Obama came to Baghdad, and he brought his star power with him. Hundreds of U.S. troops and State Department personnel mobbed Obama at the embassy here.”

The rest of Moran's story, however, focused on “what has become an open disagreement between military commanders here and Obama, over his plan to withdraw all U.S. combat troops from Iraq on a 16-month timetable.” But while Moran raised the subject twice, Obama got plenty of time to recite his views with the two answers consuming a lengthy 50 or so seconds each and a third, about whether given the success of the surge he'd support it now, he got 25 seconds of air time -- meaning Obama three answers took up more than half of Moran's story.

Anchor Charles Gibson, who will get a one-on-one with Obama for Wednesday's World News, on Monday introduced Moran by advising: “The trip has renewed focus on the cornerstone of Obama's foreign policy, the withdrawal of all combat troops from Iraq by 2010. That stand got support, at least initially, from the Iraqi prime minister over the weekend, then came under renewed attack today from Senator John McCain.”

Moran reported late in his piece:
The surge of U.S. troops, combined with ordinary Iraqis' rejection of both al-Qaeda and Shiite extremists, has transformed the country. Attacks are down by more than 80 percent nationwide. U.S. combat casualties have plummeted -- five this month so far, compared with 78 last July. And Baghdad has a pulse again.

Viewers then saw Moran inquire of Obama: “If you had to do it over again, knowing what you know now, would you support the surge?” Obama responded “no” before elaborating.

More of Moran's interview will air on Monday's Nightline and Tuesday's Good Morning America.

Following CBS News reporter Lara Logan's sit-down with Obama on Sunday, Moran got the Democratic presidential candidate in Baghdad on Monday as part of Obama's week-long Magical Media Tour. Katie Couric will land him Tuesday in Jordan, Charlie Gibson in Israel on Wednesday and Brian Williams in Germany on Thursday before Tom Brokaw has him from London on Sunday's Meet the Press. TVNewser, which is maintaining a TV interview list, quipped: “Get those requests in. Obama's got Friday and Saturday open.”

My two earlier posts on Obama's Magical Media Tour:

Day 1 of Obama's Magical Media Tour: All Air from Outside the Paint

Day 2 of Obama's Magical Media Tour: He Speaks of How Bush Makes World Bleak

On Monday Moran wasn't as gentle with Obama as he had been back in March. In an exclusive interview just after Obama's race speech, Moran tossed softballs and cued up Obama to expound on his views about race. He never challenged Obama on his awareness of the Reverend Jeremiah Wright's hate speech. Instead, he hailed Obama for how in the “remarkable speech” he “tried to talk about race honestly.”

My March 18 NewsBusters posting reported:

Tuesday's (March 18) Nightline featured an "exclusive" interview with Obama in which ABC's Terry Moran tossed softballs and cued up Obama to expound on his views about race. He never challenged Obama on his awareness of Wright's hate speech.

Moran trumpeted: "Obama tried the almost impossible in America: He tried to talk about race honestly, about injustice, about white resentment, about black anger."

Moran also fretted over how "Obama has to worry about" his views on other issues getting "drowned out," as if that should be the concern of a journalist, as Moran hoped for "another way to think and communicate" about race:
What Obama has to worry about now is that everything he is trying to say that isn't about race -- his views on Iraq, the economy, health care, education -- all that will get drowned out in our old, predictable ways of thinking about race. The big question now for Obama -- and for the rest of us, really -- is there another way, another way to think and communicate across the color line?
The MRC's Scott Whitlock caught how Moran prefaced an interview excerpt aired the next morning on Good Morning America by bubbling:
Well, as you know, one of the hardest things to do in American politics, in American society, is to talk honestly about race. And it's clear that's what Barack Obama was trying to do in that remarkable speech.
Moran got an early start in oozing over Obama, earning the “Media Hero Award” in the MRC's “Best Notable Quotables of 2006: The Nineteenth Annual Awards for the Year's Worst Reporting,” posted with video, for a quote in a story previously detailed in the Wednesday, November 8, 2006 MRC CyberAlert, “ABC's Nightline Gushes: Obama, An 'American Political Phenomenon,'” which recounted:
On Monday night's edition of Nightline, just hours before the polls opened for Tuesday's midterm election, ABC's Terry Moran prematurely promoted a potential 2008 Democratic presidential contender. Moran went along with Illinois Senator Barack Obama as he campaigned for Democrats across the country. Moran's piece was full of praise for the "American political phenomenon," whom, according to Moran, millions see as "the savior of the Democratic Party."

Moran gushed on the November 6 show:
You can see it in the crowds. The thrill, the hope. How they surge toward him. You're looking at an American political phenomenon. In state after state, in the furious final days of this crucial campaign, Illinois Senator Barack Obama has been the Democrat's not-so-secret get-out-the-vote weapon. He inspires the party faithful and many others, like no one else on the scene today...And the question you can sense on everyone's mind, as they listen so intently to him, is he the one? Is Barack Obama the man, the black man, who could lead the Democrats back to the White House and maybe even unite the country?
In a softball question to Senator Obama, Moran asked him about the buzz surrounding his political future: "And right now you are on a roll. You're, people,'Obamania,' they, they call it. The rock star. You get a big cheer when you get up there."...
The MRC's Brad Wilmouth corrected the closed-captioning against the video to provide this transcript of the lead story on the Monday, July 21 World News:
CHARLES GIBSON: Good evening. This is a special edition of World News with a single sponsor and more time for news. And we begin with Barack Obama, who is in Iraq now. The trip has renewed focus on the cornerstone of Obama's foreign policy, the withdrawal of all combat troops from Iraq by 2010. That stand got support, at least initially, from the Iraqi prime minister over the weekend, then came under renewed attack today from Senator John McCain. ABC's Terry Moran is in Baghdad and sat down with Obama today. Terry, good evening.

TERRY MORAN: Barack Obama came to Baghdad, and he brought his star power with him. Hundreds of U.S. troops and State Department personnel mobbed Obama at the embassy here. In brief remarks, he offered them his gratitude and support.

BARACK OBAMA: We just want to say thank you.

MORAN: That scene came right after his dinner with General David Petraeus, the U.S. commander here. And then we sat down with him to talk about what has become an open disagreement between military commanders here and Obama, over his plan to withdraw all U.S. combat troops from Iraq on a 16-month timetable. Did General Petraeus talk about military concerns about your timetable?

OBAMA: You know, I would characterize the concerns differently. I don't think that they're deep concerns about the notion of a pullout per se. There are deep concerns about, from their perspective, a timetable that doesn't take into account what they anticipate might be some sort of change in conditions. And this is what I mean when I say we play different roles. My job is to think about the national security interests as a whole, and to have to weigh and balance risks, in Afghanistan, in Iraq. Their job is just to get the job done here. And I completely understand that.

MORAN: But the difference is real. Commanders here want withdrawals to be based on conditions on the ground. Obama emphasizes his timetable, but he insists he would remain flexible. I'm going to try and pin you down on this-

OBAMA: Here, let me say this, though, Terry, because, you know, what I will refuse to do, and I think that, you know-

MORAN: How do you know what I'm going to ask?

OBAMA: Well, then if I don't get it right, then you can ask it again. Is to get boxed in into what I consider two false choices, which is either I have a rigid time line of such and such a date, come hell or high water, we've gotten our combat troops out, and I am blind to anything that happens in the intervening six months or 16 months. Or, alternatively, I am completely deferring to whatever the commanders on the ground says, which is what George Bush says he's doing, in which case I'm not doing my job as Commander-in-Chief.

MORAN: This is Obama's second trip to Iraq. His first was in January 2006 when the country was plunged into horrific violence. But the surge of U.S. troops, combined with ordinary Iraqis' rejection of both al-Qaeda and Shiite extremists, has transformed the country. Attacks are down by more than 80 percent nationwide. U.S. combat casualties have plummeted -- five this month so far, compared with 78 last July. And Baghdad has a pulse again. If you had to do it over again, knowing what you know now, would you support the surge?

OBAMA: No, because, keep in mind that-

MORAN: You wouldn't?

OBAMA: Well, no, keep in mind, these kinds of hypotheticals are very difficult. You know, hindsight is 20/20. But I think that, what I am absolutely convinced of is that at that time, we had to change the political debate because the view of the Bush administration at that time was one that I just disagreed with.

MORAN: And so, when pressed, Barack Obama says he still would have opposed the surge. He did admit to me, however, that he didn't anticipate what people here sometimes call the Iraqi surge, the uprising of Iraqis against al-Qaeda extremists and Shiite extremists. And he said he did not anticipate that. But he is insisting that he's focusing forward on what he believes needs to be done, setting that timetable for withdrawal.
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