Stephanopoulos Corrects McCain But Last Week Defended Obama

Assessing Barack Obama's speech last Thursday, for the “Nightline Report Card,” ABC's George Stephanopoulos awarded Obama A's as he dismissed Republican complaints about his “red meat” attacks on John McCain, declaring they allowed Obama to affirmatively answer “the commander-in-chief question” and hailed how he addressed social issues “in a way that a majority of Americans” will embrace. But this week, he tried to discredit McCain's points. On McCain's assertion he's more bi-partisan than Obama, Stephanopoulos recited a list of issues where “Obama has reached out to the other side.” Then citing McCain's claim that he will cut taxes while Obama will raise them, Stephanopoulos countered:
Senator Obama's plan, and this has been verified by outside experts, 95 percent of the country will get a tax cut, that's not the same -- that is bigger than the one that John McCain offers.
Overall, Stephanopoulos awarded Democrats with slightly better grades than the Republicans for their respective confabs, including ten A's over four nights to the Democrats in Denver, twice as many as the five A's over three nights he gave the Republicans. Throwing out F's he gave both parties for what he saw as bad stages, and an incomplete for each, of 15 grades for the Democrats, he issued ten A's, two grades of B+, two of B and one C.  This week, from St. Paul, Stephanopoulos presented 12 grades for the Republican convention: Five A's, one A-, four grades of B, one B- and one C.

The grades, day by day last week and this week:
Democratic convention:

Monday:
Heartstrings: A (Kennedy)
Filling in the Blanks: B+
Bells and Whistles: F (garish stage)
Clinton Psychodrama: incomplete

Tuesday:
The Speech: A (Hillary's)
Red Meat: A (more attacks on Bush-McCain by Hillary)
Filling in the Blanks: C
Body Language: B+
Heartstrings: A (Chelsea Clinton)

Wednesday:
Filling in the Blanks: A
Heartstrings: A
Red Meat: A
Body Language: A

Thursday::
Red Meat: A
Heartstrings: B
Bells and Whistles: B
Filling in the Blanks: A

Totals, of 15 grades:
A: 10
B+: 2
B: 2
C: 1


Republican convention:

Tuesday:
Palin Pick: incomplete
A Soldier's Story: A
Bush Factor: B
Independent's Day: B

Wednesday:
Winning Them Over: A
Filling in the Blanks: B
Red Meat: A for substance, C on delivery
Turning the Page: A
Bells and Whistles: F  

Thursday:
Breaking with Bush: A-
Body Language: A
Does He Get It?: B-
Red Meat: B

Totals, of 12 grades:
A: 5
A-:1
B: 4
B-:1
C: 1
From the Thursday, August 28 Nightline, awarding Obama an “easy A” in the “Red Meat” category:
STEPHANOPOULOS: Easy A tonight. You talked about it in the open. Barack Obama made a choice tonight. He was not going to be Mr. Too Cool for School. He came out hard, he came out tough against John McCain. On the economy and foreign policy.

OBAMA, IN SPEECH: You know, John McCain likes to say that he'll follow bin laden to the gates of hell. But he won't even follow him to the cave where he lives.

TERRY MORAN: You know, he threw a lot of punches tonight; jabs, solid uppercuts, but Republicans are going to say that was below the belt and that this was too tough

STEPHANOPOULOS: They already are saying that. I talked to several Republicans officials tonight. They say it came off as nasty. They did the dial groups, those focus groups where people rate what they're seeing. They said those were very, very flat. But I think what Barack Obama did here tonight was answer the commander in chief question. Are you ready to lead, can you be tough enough to lead? He answered it in his demeanor by going on the attack.
Stephanopoulos on an A for Obama in the “Filling in the Blanks” category: “Defended on issues like guns and gays, gay marriage and discrimination rights and abortion in a way that a majority of Americans, I think, can respond to.”

Fast forward seven days to the Thursday, September 4 Nightline, and Stephanopoulos was more critical and eager to correct supposed factual errors:

Explaining the B-minus for “Does He Get It?” Stephanopoulos dismissed “pretty standard traditional Republican boilerplate” from John McCain:
Number one issue in the country right now is the economy, the economic problems people are facing. John McCain led with that and he talked about the problems people are facing, but he had a litany of issues that were pretty standard traditional Republican boilerplate, and he didn't connect the stories he was telling to the policies he was proposing.
For McCain, Stephanopoulos used his B in the “Red Meat” category not to assess the effectiveness of the attack on the opposition, as he did with Obama, but to correct McCain's supposed errors:
STEPHANOPOULOS: He didn't really try that hard on the red meat. Only six mentions of Barack Obama to the 21 mentions of McCain that Obama had in his speech. Probably his best line was this one.

JOHN McCAIN, IN ACCEPTANCE SPEECH: I will reach out my hand to anyone to help me get this country moving again. My friends,  I have that record and the scars to prove it. Senator Obama does not.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Now, the Obama campaign is going to take off after that charge. They're going to say it's not true on ethics reform, on working for non-proliferation, Barack Obama has reached out to the other side. I think the other issue, they're really going to hit hard on is John McCain said that I'm going to cut taxes, Barack Obama will raise them. They're going to hit hard, they do it in every ad. Senator Obama's plan, and this has been verified by outside experts, 95 percent of the country will get a tax cut, that's not the same -- that is bigger than the one that John McCain offers.
Of course, even buying into that 95 percent number, that's based on what Obama says he will do. McCain was just predicting what he will really do.

My two earlier posts on the “Nightline Report Card”

The August 28 item, “Nightline Awards Democrats 'Straight A's' for 'Perfect' Third Night,” recounted:
"Professor George Stephanopoulos," on Wednesday's Nightline, awarded the Democrats "straight A's" for the third day of their convention, with an A for "Filling in the Blanks," an A for "Heartstrings," an A for "Red Meat" and an A for "Body Language." The former Bill Clinton campaign operative and White House aide glowed over "a night of perfect political choreography" from his former boss and other Democrats as he marveled "the only problem Barack Obama has right now, and it's a high-class problem, as Bill Clinton used to say, is can he top what happened tonight?" Anchor Terry Moran echoed: "An extraordinary series of speeches."
The September 4 posting, “Stephanopoulos: 'A Little Too Ugly? A Little Too Derisive?'” reported:
Issuing the Nightline "Report Card," Stephanopoulos, who a week earlier awarded Joe Biden and Democrats four A's, gave Giuliani and Palin three A's, a B and a C. For "Red Meat," he presented an A "for substance," but a C "on delivery" because he contended their repeated mention of how Barack Obama was a "community organizer" came across as "a little too derisive."
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