NBC's Williams Empathizes with the 'Human' in Obama

Just as he did in two earlier interviews with Barack Obama when he held up magazine covers and asked Obama to glow in the moment, in an excerpt from this week's session with Obama aired on Friday's NBC Nightly News, Williams cued up Obama with another visual image -- this time holding up a photograph of Obama in sandals in Honolulu when he went for a walk after visiting his dying grandmother -- to empathize: “The human in you, and the husband and father and grandson must want to just bust out sometimes, or disappear, if you can't go for a walk like that?” Back in January, Williams held up a Newsweek with Obama on the cover and wondered: “How does this feel?” In May, he held up a Time magazine cover with Obama's picture and presented it to him: “Have you yet held this in your hands?”

Showing Obama the picture of him walking in a Honolulu neighborhood, Williams pondered: 
I want to ask you about -- it's a press-related question. This picture was so striking to me. And according to the press pool traveling with you, you asked to just take a walk and be alone. You're visiting your grandmother. What may, by all accounts be the last time you see her. How do you react to this, I guess it's part of the contract you make when you run in such an extended campaign, but, the human in you, and the husband and father and grandson must want to just bust out sometimes, or disappear, if you can't go for a walk like that?
The Nightly News excerpt only included one other question from Williams, one about “concern expressed about one-party control. That it would mean a green light to the likes of Reid and Pelosi and that parties with one-party control tend to overreach. Do you have an assurance to the American people that you would rein it in and not try to overreach?”

My October 30 NewsBusters item, “After Discrediting McCain, Williams Again Cozies Up to Obama,” recounted the first interview excerpt run Thursday night:
A week after NBC's Brian Williams spent his time with John McCain and Sarah Palin in Ohio discrediting the accuracy of their claims and pushing for assurance their campaign wouldn't mention Jeremiah Wright, Williams on Thursday night in Florida returned to the same cozy approach with Barack Obama, though without the memories of mom, he employed in earlier interviews with the Democratic candidate. After declaring Obama's campaign is "fueled by the urgent fight to fix the economy," Williams cited fresh bad economic news before cuing up Obama: "How do you tailor your message to this crowd? Is there more pain before there's a gain?"

His other three questions in the first excerpt run on Thursday's NBC Nightly News (with more to come Friday night) also didn't challenge any of Obama's claims or attacks, nor raise any detracting information: "Why did it take so long for Bill Clinton to join you for a rally like the one we saw here in Florida last night?" Then two questions which seemed to presume Obama will soon take office: "Does America need American car companies? Is three too many? Two too few? And on top of the billions already spent, what's it worth to you, if the answer is yes?" And lastly, a long question about litmus tests for Supreme Court nominees and if you don't apply one "how then do you also avoid surprises?"...
Back on January 7, Williams handed Obama a Newsweek with "Inside Obama's Dream Machine" as the cover story and wondered: "How does this feel, of all the honors that have come your way, all the publicity? Who does it make you think of? Is there, is there a loved one?"

Check my January 7 NewsBusters item, “Williams Slobbers Over Obama; Couric Counters McCain on Surge,” for much more on that interview aboard a bus in New Hampshire.

Then, in a May 8 sit-down with Obama, Williams didn't pose a single challenging question nor mention Jeremiah Wright in any of the ten questions aired, but pulled the same magazine stunt, this time holding up the new Time with a smiling Obama on the cover by the words, "And the Winner* Is..." Williams fondly recalled: "Last time we were together, I handed you a copy of Newsweek, it was the first time you'd held it in your hands with you on the cover. Have you yet held this in your hands?" Obama said he had not, prompting Williams to remind him: "Last time you looked at it and you thought instantly of your mom." Obama effused: "She'd like that picture. She always encouraged me to smile more."

For more on that interview, see: “Williams Tosses Softballs to Obama, Empathizes Over Elitist Image

The second excerpt from the October 30 interview, conducted in Sarasota, as aired on the Friday, October 31 NBC Nightly News:
BRIAN WILLIAMS: Tonight we have part two of our conversation yesterday in Florida with Barack Obama. And tonight's installment is about party politics, and privacy.

WILLIAMS TO OBAMA: If you're successful on election night, if your party is successful on election night and you do well in the House and Senate, there's been a lot of concern expressed about one-party control. That it would mean a green light to the likes of Reid and Pelosi and that parties with one-party control tend to overreach. Do you have an assurance to the American people that you would rein it in and not try to overreach?

[OBAMA]

WILLIAMS TO OBAMA: I want to ask you about -- it's a press-related question. This picture was so striking to me. And according to the press pool traveling with you, you asked to just take a walk and be alone. You're visiting your grandmother. What may, by all accounts be the last time you see her. How do you react to this, I guess it's part of the contract you make when you run in such an extended campaign, but, the human in you, and the husband and father and grandson must want to just bust out sometimes, or disappear, if you can't go for a walk like that?

OBAMA: Look, there's no doubt that the hardest thing about this whole process, other than being away from my kids, is the loss of anonymity. You know, you -- you don't have the opportunity just to do the things that ordinary folks do.

WILLIAMS: You can't walk into an Arby's on the interstate.

[OBAMA]

WILLIAMS: Just a part of our conversation with Barack Obama, who we saw earlier trick-or-treating with his daughter. We discussed a number of other topics from the Taliban to the transition, in the event he finds himself as President-elect next week. And we posted more of the interview on our Web site: Nightly.MSNBC.com.
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