In 'Nightline Report Card' Stephanopoulos Gives Obama the Win

Awarding Barack Obama two grades of A-minus and one B-minus while presenting John McCain with two grades of B-plus and one B-minus, at the end of his “Nightline Report Card” segment on Friday night, ABC's George Stephanopoulos declared Obama the “winner” -- with a big illustrative check mark on screen:
Bottom line, the winner is Barack Obama. He comes into this race where the country wants change. His number one goal was to show that he belonged on that stage. He was a credible commander-in-chief, that he could hold his own on national security. He did that tonight. He gets the win.
The grades from the ex-Democratic operative: On “Strategy,” Obama an A-minus, John McCain a B-plus; for “Style,” Obama another A-minus, McCain another B-plus; and on “Accuracy,” Obama got his lowest grade, a B-minus, McCain a B.

In assessing “strategy,” Stephanopoulos trumpeted Obama's performance:
Even better was overcoming the bar on commander-in-chief. He comes in at a significant disadvantage on commander-in-chief. People wonder whether he as this experience to be President, to handle national security and I think on answer after answer after answer, he showed confidence, he showed toughness and he showed he belonged on that stage.
Looking at “style,” Stephanopoulos marked down McCain:
John McCain tended not to look either at his opponent, Barack Obama, or at the camera. He tended to address Jim Lehrer so he wasn't looking at the camera. Look at Barack Obama: He looked straight at the camera, he also was willing to engage John McCain again and again and I think he got the advantage there, so A-minus for Barack Obama, B-plus for McCain.
Full transcript of the segment on the Friday, September 26 Nightline:
TERRY MORAN: George Stephanopoulos joins us to grade tonight's action in the Nightline Report Card. All right, George, let's -- how you doing tonight?

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: Good, thank you.

MORAN: Let's start with their approaches. The approach that each candidate took, strategy. What are the grades?

STEPHANOPOULOS: Barack Obama A-minus, John McCain B-plus. Each of them had an offensive and a defensive strategy tonight. Let's take Obama first. On offense, he had to try to tie John McCain to George Bush and I thought he did that relatively effectively on the economy, particularly at the beginning. But even better was overcoming the bar on commander-in-chief. He comes in at a significant disadvantage on commander-in-chief. People wonder whether he as this experience to be President, to handle national security and I think on answer after answer after answer, he showed confidence, he showed toughness and he showed he belonged on that stage.

For John McCain, he also had two goals. On one, he had to try to tarnish Barack Obama on the issue of -- the question of experience, the question of judgment. He used the words often. How many times did he say Barack Obama doesn't understand. I think where he didn't do enough, even though he did a good job at showing how he was different from President Bush in the past, I don't think John McCain did enough going forward to show how he would take the country in a different direction. That's why I think Barack Obama gets the edge here. A-minus for Obama, B-plus for McCain.

MORAN: Okay, how about the intangibles, that's the substance, how about the style? What are the grades there.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Again, Barack Obama A-minus, John McCain B-plus. Let's take McCain first. He did do a good job. As you pointed out in your piece, he was crisp and he was declarative. I also thought he did a very good job at bringing out emotion over the course of the debate in telling stories, weaving that. But, and I want to show some of this here, John McCain tended not to look either at his opponent, Barack Obama, or at the camera. He tended to address Jim Lehrer so he wasn't looking at the camera. Look at Barack Obama: He looked straight at the camera, he also was willing to engage John McCain again and again and I think he got the advantage there, so A-minus for Barack Obama, B-plus for McCain.

MORAN: And just a follow-up on that, George, quickly. That visual contrast that's up there, that's historic really. Black, white, an older man, Barack Obama 47. What do you make of that?

STEPHANOPOULOS: Barack Obama a little taller, John McCain a little shorter. Generally the taller candidate wins for President. But there's something else going on here. I'm not sure if it was our monitor and I can't wait to see what people at home thought about this. It did appear that John McCain, at times, was looking a little more washed out than you might expect. And Barack Obama, and maybe I was wrong, but we were talking about it up here on the set, sometimes it seemed like the lighting on him was even darker than he appears in person. I'm wondering if people saw that at home as well.

MORAN: The perils of the makeup artist as you know as we both know there, George. How about accuracy. A lot of claims out there, what are the grades?

STEPHANOPOULOS: So many it's hard to sort them through all. But let's look at the grades. For Barack Obama, B-minus, John McCain a B. Again, they both were in the range for politicians. I think McCain had a trivial error when he told the story about Eisenhower's letters, he didn't actually say he'd resign, whether he wrote a letter of resignation before D-Day. He also said that Barack Obama would have the government take over the health care. That's not the Obama plan. But on the points where there's more engagement, I think Barack Obama had a little more trouble. He said that Admiral Mullen did not say his time line was dangerous, Admiral Mullen in fact did say that. They had a big dispute over whether Henry Kissinger wanted direct talks with Iran. He does want direct talks with Iran, but not at the presidential level, at the level of Secretary of State. So I give a little bit of an edge here because more time was spent on the areas where Barack Obama was a little less accurate than John McCain.

MORAN: Bottom line?

STEPHANOPOULOS: Bottom line, the winner is Barack Obama. He comes into this race where the country wants change. His number one goal was to show that he belonged on that stage. He was a credible commander in chief, that he could hold his own on national security. He did that tonight. He gets the win.

MORAN: All right. George Stephanopoulos declaring Barack Obama the winner. I might have gone a little bit the other way. I'm not sure.
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