NBC’s Today, Nightly News Ignore Clinton's Criticism of Obama's Foreign Policy

Any intraparty criticism of President Obama’s recent foreign policy moves regarding Iraq was nowhere to be found on NBC’s morning or evening news programs as former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton leveled some criticism at Obama on the subject in an interview with The Atlantic that was published over the weekend.

Both Sunday and Monday mornings’ installments of Today and Sunday night’s NBC Nightly News ignored this angle of disagreement among arguably the two most well-known and influential figures in Democratic politics as Obama authorized U.S. air strikes against ISIS militants in northern Iraq late last Thursday and throughout over the weekend. [MP3 audio here; Video below]

Aside from mentions on two of the Sunday morning political talks shows, the first mention on either the traditional morning or evening programs came on Sunday’s ABC World News as chief White House correspondent Jonathan Karl highlighted Clinton’s comments during a segment on the latest developments in Iraq.

Karl concluded his report by telling viewers that: 

As the president vacations here he's getting some rare criticism from Hillary Clinton who said in an interview published today that the failure to support moderate rebels in Syria, something that she wanted to do as Secretary of State, helped fuel the rise of the ISIS terrorist group. 

On Monday’s CBS This Morning, there were two mentions of Hillary Clinton’s distancing words from President Obama and his foreign policy. While interviewing CBS News senior security contributor Mike Morell, co-host Norah O’Donnell asked Morell if he agreed with her statements: 

You were there at the CIA. You say this was not an intelligence failure. Over the weekend, we heard the former secretary of state Hillary Clinton suggesting it was a policy failure. I mean, she said that Obama's failure to assist the moderate rebels in Syria left, quote, unquote, “a big vacuum.” Is this an outgrowth of our inaction in Syria?

Morell disagreed and described the challenges he saw with arming the rebels: 

It is difficult for me to see how arming the moderate rebels would have made that much difference in Syria. We would have had to have done it on a very, very large scale that I think would have frightened our partners in the region because it would have put a very, very large footprint, U.S. footprint on the ground in the Middle East. 

It is worth noting that Morell took this position of defending President Obama in this latest misstep as he served as Deputy CIA Director (and Acting CIA Director in a few, short periods) in the Obama administration from 2010 to 2013. While the hosts of CBS This Morning stated at the onset that Morell as “a former Deputy CIA Director” and, in asking him a question, said “[y]ou were there at the CIA,” at no point was it mentioned that Morell’s time at the agency in that position was during the Obama administration.

The second citing of the possible 2016 Democratic candidate for president was during the 7:30 a.m. half hour with the following news brief from O’Donnell:

And The Atlantic reports former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is distancing herself from President Obama's foreign policy. She told the magazine the decision not to intervene early in Syrian’s war was a failure. Clinton commented on President Obama’s foreign policy doctrine, ‘don't do good stuff,’ she said, quote, “great nations need organizing principles and don't do stupid stuff is not an organizing principle.” Looks like the beginning of distancing herself from the president before the presidential run. 


The complete transcript from the August 10 segment on ABC World News can be found below. 

ABC World News

August 10, 2014

6:05 p.m. Eastern

BYRON PITTS: We go overseas now to Iraq where the U.S. military has launched a new round of airstrikes like this one yesterday. American jets and drones took out enemy targets striking five times in five hours. Those strikes also helping to clear the way for cargo planes to drop food and water to the tens of thousands of refugees running for their lives. ABC's chief White House correspondent Jonathan Karl has the story. 

[ON-SCREEN HEADLINE: Crisis In Iraq; U.S. Launches New Airstrikes]

JONATHAN KARL: Today, over the skies of northern Iraq, the heaviest U.S. bombardment since President Obama authorized airstrikes. It started at 2:15 a.m. Eastern time. U.S. aircraft hitting a terrorist truck. It was firing on Kurdish forces near the city of Irbil. 30 minutes later, a bomb dropped on another truck in the same area. At 3:40, a terrorist mortar destroyed. 5:45, another armed truck is hit, followed by another armed vehicle at 7:25. Five air strikes in just five hours. Part of an effort the president acknowledged isn't likely to end any time soon. 

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: This is going to be a long term project. 

KARL: But there are some signs air strikes are having an impact. Today, the ISIS group was forced to retreat from two towns near Irbil and the U.N. reports about 15,000 people have been able to flee Mount Sinjar where they have been trapped and facing death. This new video from Mount Sinjar shows just how dire the situation remains. The British estimating as many as 150,000 remain under siege, most members of a minority group ISIS has threatened to wipe out and the Iraqi government reported today, finding a mass grave of 500 killed by ISIS near Sinjar, some of them buried alive. ABC News caught up with a group of Christians seeking safety at St. Joseph's Church in Irbil, where the pastor told us Iraqi Christians are facing extinction. 

UNIDENTIFIED IRAQI PASTOR: We talk – [inaudible] language, which is the language of Christ, that will be the end of a great civilization. 

KARL: Rare video recently shot by VICE News inside a Syrian town controlled by ISIS shows the kind of blood thirsty extremism the U.S. is up against. This 14-year-old boy saying, quote,”I would like to join the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria and kill with them.” As the president vacations here he's getting some rare criticism from Hillary Clinton who said in an interview published today that the failure to support moderate rebels in Syria, something that she wanted to do as Secretary of State, helped fuel the rise of the ISIS terrorist group. Byron?

BYRON PITTS: Jon Karl, thank you. 

The transcripts of the two relevant segments on August 11's CBS This Morning are transcribed below.

CBS This Morning

August 11, 2014

7:08 a.m. Eastern

[ON-SCREEN HEADLINE: Targeting ISIS; Morell on Threat Posed by Militant Group]

CHARLIE ROSE: CBS News senior security contributor Mike Morell is in Washington. He is a former Deputy CIA Director. Mike, good morning. 

MIKE MORELL: Good morning, Charlie. 

ROSE: What is the U.S. goal and strategy here? 

MORELL: The goal in the short-term is to keep the ISIS fighters from taking over Irbil, the capital of Kurdistan in the north and to free the – the religious group that has been trapped in the mountains there. That seems to be working, but what is going to take a lot more work, Charlie, is to actually degrade the group and to destroy the group. What we're doing right now is not going to do that. 

ROSE: And what will it require to do that? 

MORELL: I think two things. One is it's going to require us, with our capabilities, to take out the leadership of the group while the Iraqi army and the Kurdish army, the peshmerga, fights on the ground against these guys and that ladder of peace is going to take a political agreement in Baghdad, which we see this morning is getting even more difficult to get. 

NORAH O’DONNELL: Mike, the president himself admitted over the weekend that this Islamic State militant’s advance is more rapid than intelligence estimates. Was this an intelligence failure or a policy failure? 

MORELL: I don't think this was an intelligence failure. This is a classic problem in the intelligence world. There's a difference between strategic warning and tactical warning. There was strategic warning here in the sense that the intelligence community was saying for over a year, year and a half, two years, that this group was getting stronger and stronger and stronger. What's much more difficult is that tactical warning that says they are going to move tomorrow or they are doing to move in the next week. That's much more difficult. That's what we didn't have. 

O'DONNELL: You were there at the CIA. You say this was not an intelligence failure. Over the weekend, we heard the former secretary of state Hillary Clinton suggesting it was a policy failure. I mean, she said that Obama's failure to assist the moderate rebels in Syria left, quote, unquote, “a big vacuum.” Is this an outgrowth of our inaction in Syria? 

MORELL: There is no doubt that what ISIS was able to do in Syria was probably the key factor in strengthening them in terms of what they’re doing in Iraq today. It is difficult for me to see how arming the moderate rebels would have made that much difference in Syria. We would have had to have done it on a very, very large scale that I think would have frightened our partners in the region because it would have put a very, very large footprint, U.S. footprint on the ground in the Middle East. 

ROSE: So you support the decision made by the president at the time?

MORELL: Yes. 

ROSE: Mike Morell, thank you.

(....)

7:32 a.m. Eastern

O’DONNELL: And The Atlantic reports former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is distancing herself from President Obama's foreign policy. She told the magazine the decision not to intervene early in Syrian’s war was a failure. Clinton commented on President Obama’s foreign policy doctrine, ‘don't do good stuff,’ she said, quote, “great nations need organizing principles and don't do stupid stuff is not an organizing principle.” Looks like the beginning of distancing herself from the president before the presidential run. 

ROSE: Let’s see what the president’s people say in response.

O’DONNELL: Yeah.

Curtis Houck
Curtis Houck
Curtis Houck is a news analyst for the Media Research Center's News Analysis Division