'Today' Buries McCain, Celebrates Obama's Union Stunt

On this morning's "Today" show it was a tale of two candidates who have fallen behind in the polls. One was eulogized and left for dead, the other one was glowingly profiled. Can you guess which one was a Democrat and which one was the Republican?

First, Sen. John McCain sat down on the "Today" set and had to endure NBC's David Gregory burying his campaign in a set-up piece that was so tough "Today" co-host Matt Lauer awkwardly apologized: "It's always strange for me to be sitting here with a guy and we're running a tape that's a little bit like a political obituary there."

In contrast, NBC's Lee Cowan showed Sen. Barack Obama playing health care worker for a day as he swept cobwebs from ceilings and fixed breakfast for an elderly man as part of a labor union staged photo-op meant to highlight the inability of health care providers to earn "a living wage."

While both candidates have fallen behind the frontrunners in their respective parties it was McCain who received the harsher treatment as Lauer asked: "Why are you skipping the Iowa straw poll? A lot of people think your polling very, very far down in Iowa, tied for fourth in some polls there. Is it to avoid a bad outcome?"

On the other hand, Obama was served up the following softball from Cowan: "What does it say about the state of our health care that you've got a 86-year-old man being taken care of by a 61-year-old woman and you put the two of them together and they probably don't have a living wage?"

The following are the two candidate profiles as they occurred on the August 9 "Today" show. First the Gregory burial of McCain, then the Obama tribute from Cowan:

Matt Lauer: "Now to the race for the White House. At one point Senator John McCain was considered the frontrunner to grab the Republican presidential nomination but recently his campaign has been faltering a bit. So the, can the outspoken Republican senator turn things around? We're gonna talk to Senator McCain, live, in a moment but first a little background from NBC's chief White House correspondent David Gregory. David, good morning to you."

[On screen headline: "Decision 2008, McCain On The Ropes?"]

David Gregory: "Good morning, Matt. These are the dog days of August but for Senator McCain's White House bid this is make or break time as he tries to rebuild his campaign. A summer of setbacks for the man once considered the GOP's frontrunner. Now, after shaking up his staff and slashing his budget the Arizona senator is relishing his role as underdog and trying to mount a comeback."

Sen. John McCain: "I'm confident come September, when people pay attention, we'll replicate the success that we had in 2000 and even more so. That may be difficult."

Gregory: "In national polls and in early state surveys, McCain has faded, trying to catch Rudy Giuliani, Mitt Romney and Fred Thompson who is not yet officially in the race. What's happened? The campaign fell well short of its fundraising goals, mismanaged the money it did have and as a result created a storyline of a campaign in turmoil."

Byron York, The National Review: "Here's a man who wants to be the chief executive and he talks a lot about fiscal responsibility and cutting spending and it turns out his campaign was going broke and he didn't really know it."

Gregory: "Those internal problems were compounded by McCain's stance on the issues. He supports the surge strategy in Iraq at a time when independent voters, McCain's strength, have soured on the war."

McCain: "We are winning, we must win and we will not set a date for surrender."

Gregory: "Nothing has hurt him more among Republican primary voters than his support for immigration reform."

Dan Schnur, former McCain campaign aide: "John McCain, whether it's because of campaign finance reform, whether it's because of issues like global warming, whether it's the immigration issue, he's always gonna have troubles with the Republican Party base."

Gregory: "McCain is now running a slimmed-down campaign focused on Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina and searching for that maverick touch that can get him back into the race. McCain advisers argue there is a silver-lining here and that is that the race on the Republican side still remains unsettled and in their judgment most primary voters, still, have not made up their minds."

Then, a little later in the 7am hour, "Today" aired this puff-piece on Obama:

Matt Lauer: "Barack Obama has a long list of jobs on his resume: community organizer, lawyer and of course, senator. Well now you can add home health care worker to that list and it's all because of a challenge from one of the nation's largest unions. NBC's Lee Cowan has that story."

[On screen headline: "Obama's Union Dues, Health Care Worker For A Day."]

Lee Cowan: "At age 86 you're certainly owed a helping hand but not many people get a presidential candidate to clean their house."

Sen. Barack Obama: "It takes me back to my bachelor days."

Cowan: "Barack Obama took a humbling step off the stump Wednesday and landed in John Thornton's kitchen, mopping his floor, washing his dishes and making his breakfast."

Obama: "How does he take his coffee?"

Pauline Becks: "Cream and sugar."

Cowan: "I think some people may look at some of these pictures and say when was the last time you picked up a mop or washed some dishes?"

Obama: "I did laundry, although my wife will say that I was not the guy who folded up the laundry."

Cowan: "It was nothing short of a dare from the SEIU, the nation's largest labor union, who put it to all the candidates to take time off campaigning and walk, one day, in someone else's shoes."

Anna Burger, Secretary-Treasurer: "We think that anybody who wants to be president should understand what it's like to be a working person in America today."

Cowan: "Mr. Obama had big shoes to fill. Pauline Becks, she's a home health care provider who looks after John. He's 86, he's an amputee and he can't get around without her. She gets just $10.50 an hour for her sometimes back-breaking work and has two foster children to support."

Becks: "Oh you have to get a second and third income to survive."

Cowan: "What does it say about the state of our health care that you've got a 86-year-old man being taken care of by a 61-year-old woman and you put the two of them together and they probably don't have a living wage?"

Obama: "It says that we've got to, we've got to do something more fundamental than just tinkering around the edges."

Cowan: "The Illinois senator got the full dose of her routine. She even made him sweep cob webs off the ceiling."

John Thornton: "Do you feel tired?"

Obama: "You know I'm worn out."

Cowan: "As for Pauline she seemed suitably impressed. He did well, you think?"

Becks: "Yes he did."

Cowan: "Didn't miss anything?"

Becks: "Well we won't go there."

Cowan: "Mr. Mom, he's not. But on a day after some big rallies and high-priced fundraisers, Barack Obama seemed genuinely at home. For Today, Lee Cowan, NBC News, San Francisco."

Lauer: "I like this concept and by the way, a note, Senator Hillary Clinton also took up the union's challenge and we're gonna tag along with her next week when she spends the day working as a nurse in a hospital. That's Tuesday, right here on Today."

Geoffrey Dickens
Geoffrey Dickens
Geoffrey Dickens is the Deputy Research Director at the Media Research Center.