MSNBC Rues Obama Not Tougher; CBS Shows Only Obama Backer

In the 20 minutes of post-debate analysis before the broadcast networks ended coverage and the cable channels moved on to other shows Friday night, on MSNBC Chris Matthews and Andrea Mitchell fretted that Barack Obama wasn't tough enough in attacking John McCain on the economy as Mitchell also hailed Obama -- “But, boy, he did show a command of foreign policy in terms of the nuts and bolts of it” -- and regretted Obama didn't do more to tie McCain to George Bush, a theme echoed on NBC by Tom Brokaw who “was surprised he didn't work harder at pinning John McCain to the eight years of the Bush administration.”

CBS featured only one citizen reaction, a man who touted Obama and compared McCain to Nixon, before ending with a quickie poll (neither ABC or NBC had one) that found twice as many “uncommitted voters” thought Obama won (40 percent) than McCain (22 percent).

Interviewing ABC News reporter turned Obama operative Linda Douglass, Matthews pleaded: “Why did your candidate agree so much -- openly and relentlessly -- with his opponent tonight?” He followed up with an impassioned lecture about Obama's missed opportunities to pound McCain:

Why didn't he talk more about the terrible state of the economy, the jobless rate, unemployment, the degree of deficit we're in right now, the degree of national debt, all of those issues out there that effect the average person, the number of foreclosures? He let his opponent talk about taxes and earmarking, his specialties. He seemed to lose control of the economic topic.
MSNBC did not air a representative from the McCain campaign before the network switched to Keith Olbermann's tirades on a live Countdown at 11 PM EDT.

Following Douglass, Matthews went to NBC News reporter Andrea Mitchell, who rued:
I think he should have turned away from taxes and earmarks very quickly and really hammered away on George Bush and on what this $700 billion or $1 trillion problem really means for average people.
Matthews then reminded viewers:
He said at the convention, in accepting the nomination, he was going to make John McCain own the failures of the last seven and eight years, and he didn't do it tonight. He didn't focus on those failures.
Mitchell agreed, then pivoted to praise: “But, boy, he did show a command of foreign policy in terms of the nuts and bolts of it. And, of course, that is the expertise of John McCain.”

A little earlier, the MRC's Brad Wilmouth noticed, Mitchell complained about Obama: “He could have tried to tie John McCain more closely to George Bush.”

Matching that theme, on NBC Tom Brokaw lamented:
I thought Senator Obama missed a couple of opportunities in the earlier economic debate. I would have expected him to talk a little more about the need for regulations on Wall Street, governing these banks and the kinds of transactions that took place. And I was surprised he didn't work harder at pinning John McCain to the eight years of the Bush administration.
Shortly after the debate ended, CBS went to Byron Pitts at CBS television show test center at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas where he was with one hundred “undecided voters” who used dials to react to each candidate during the debate. The camera view only showed a few of the participants, but when Pitts asked who they thought won the debate, more hands went up for Obama than McCain.

Pitts selected just one person to give their reaction, an Obama supporter from Chicago who contended:
I thought, it reminded me a little bit of the Kennedy-Nixon debate. Obama came across very relaxed, very articulate. Senator McCain came across just like Richard Nixon, a little bit stressed. He showed much more emotion than Obama did.
To end the 20 minutes, just before 11 PM EDT anchor Katie Couric went to Sharyl Attkisson for results from a CBS News/Knowledge Networks “poll of approximately 500 uncommitted voters.” She highlighted several results, starting with how on who won 40 percent said Obama, 22 percent replied McCain and 38 percent considered it a tie; and ending with how 46 percent said their opinion of Barack Obama has gotten better compared to just 7 percent whose opinion grew worse.

She didn't provide a number for McCain, perhaps because she ran out of time, but the CBSNews.com posting provided an answer: “Thirty-two percent said their opinion of McCain got better.”

Highlights from MSNBC between 10:40 and 10:59 PM EDT, as gathered by Brad Wilmouth:
ANDREA MITCHELL: Yeah, I think that Barack Obama missed opportunities, on the economic issues, to show more of a connection. He let the debate focus on taxes and budget cuts, rather than on pocketbook issues that are of key concern not only to Democratic voters, but independent voters, swing voters. So I think he could have been punchier on that. He could have tried to tie John McCain more closely to George Bush. On foreign policy, Obama certainly looked as though he were conversant. He had all the facts at his command. But, again, John McCain was dismissive toward him several times, calling him naive – you don't understand tactics, you don't understand strategy– trying to diminish him in the eyes of the viewers and, of course, the voters. And I'm not sure whether that was something that people will find offensive, frankly.

....

MATTHEWS: Linda, my friend, why did your candidate agree so much -- openly and relentlessly -- with his opponent tonight?

LINDA DOUGLASS, OBAMA SENIOR ADVISER: Well, I think there were several areas of agreement, and I think the American people are looking for a new kind of politics where there are not automatic, knee-jerk, partisan responses. When there's agreement to be made, you should acknowledge that. That's the way that a President Obama would operate in a bipartisan Washington.

MATTHEWS: Second question: Why didn't he talk more about the terrible state of the economy, the jobless rate, unemployment, the degree of deficit we're in right now, the degree of national debt, all of those issues out there that effect the average person, the number of foreclosures? He let his opponent talk about taxes and earmarking, his specialties. He seemed to lose control of the economic topic.

DOUGLASS: Oh, I think that's not, I wouldn't agree with that at all, Chris. I mean, I think he made it very clear, and the reason that we think that he won this debate tonight is he made it very clear that he's the one who's going to bring change to the domestic economy. He's the one who's going to be the advocate for the struggling middle class families who can't afford to send their kids to college, who can't afford gas, who can't afford the high price of food even. He's made it very clear that he's going to provide a middle class tax cut, affordable college, accessible, affordable health care, a new energy economy. And John McCain made it very clear that he's going to continue doing exactly what George Bush has done over the last eight years, the very policies that have sucked us into an economic disaster.

MATTHEWS: Linda, thank you very much. We're out of time. Thank you very much. Senior policy advisor Linda Douglass, with the Barack Obama campaign, thanks for joining us tonight. There you have the spin. They did think they made the case on the economy. You and I, I think, agree they lost a bit of the edge they should have enjoyed.

MITCHELL: I think he should have turned away from taxes and earmarks very quickly and really hammered away on George Bush and on what this $700 billion or $1 trillion problem really means for average people.

MATTHEWS: He said at the convention, in accepting the nomination, he was going to make John McCain own the failures of the last seven and eight years, and he didn't do it tonight. He didn't focus on those failures.

MITCHELL: I think he could have been more combative. He seemed to be more genial than you might have expected. But, boy, he did show a command of foreign policy in terms of the nuts and bolts of it. And, of course, that is the expertise of John McCain.
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