Vieira Hammers Bill Bennett on Palin's 'Trustworthiness'

Meredith Vieira, apparently believing "NBC News" caught Sarah Palin in some credibility-destroying gaffes, questioned Bill Bennett, about Palin's "trustworthiness," on Thursday's "Today" show.

Vieira, reciting charges made on last night's "NBC Nightly News," hit Bennett on relatively trivial matters about Palin's record, such as whether or not she had crossed the Iraqi/Kuwaiti border or if her plane had stopped in Ireland.

MEREDITH VIEIRA: Hey, listen, you have referred to Sarah Palin as an extremely strong candidate, even electrifying. You've called her electrifying. But what about her credibility? You just heard this report, she claimed her state produced 20 percent of the energy in this country. Not true. Her campaign aides say she had visited Iraq. Not true. And then there's that Bridge to Nowhere that she did support before, she said she was against it. McCain has come out against Obama in terms of his trustworthiness, but what about her trustworthiness?

BILL BENNETT: I think this is pretty small beer, really, pretty small stuff. She was in Kuwait, did she step foot in Iraq? Maybe, maybe not. Was she in Ireland? Yeah because the plane landed in Ireland. This is not big stuff. But look-

VIEIRA: How is that small stuff? How, how is that small stuff because she's-

BENNETT: Well 'cause, 'cause, 'cause it is small stuff.

VIEIRA: -defending her foreign policy credentials. She said, "Look I've been there, I've been in Iraq."

BENNETT: Because it, because it is, because it is small stuff.

The following is a complete transcript of the September 18, "Today" show interview, as it was aired after a recycled Savannah Guthrie report from last night's "NBC Nightly News," that questioned Palin's veracity:

MEREDITH VIEIRA: Bill Bennett is a nationally syndicated radio talk show host and a McCain supporter, he was also Secretary of Education under President Reagan. Mr. Bennett, good morning to you, sir.

BILL BENNETT: Hey Meredith.

VIEIRA: Hey, listen, you have referred to Sarah Palin as an extremely strong candidate, even electrifying. You've called her electrifying. But what about her credibility? You just heard this report, she claimed her state produced 20 percent of the energy in this country. Not true. Her campaign aides say she had visited Iraq. Not true. And then there's that Bridge to Nowhere that she did support before, she said she was against it. McCain has come out against Obama in terms of his trustworthiness, but what about her trustworthiness?

BENNETT: I think this is pretty small beer, really, pretty small stuff. She was in Kuwait, did she step foot in Iraq? Maybe, maybe not. Was she in Ireland? Yeah because the plane landed in Ireland. This is not big stuff. But look-

VIEIRA: How is that small stuff? How, how is that small stuff because she's-

BENNETT: Well 'cause, 'cause, 'cause it is small stuff.

VIEIRA: -defending her foreign policy credentials. She said, "Look I've been there, I've been in Iraq."

BENNETT: Because it, because it is, because it is small stuff. These are, these are very tiny things compared to decisions made in office. This is a woman who has taken on the Republican establishment, taken on the Republican governor. She is extremely popular in the state of Alaska. That matters, too. Let's just compare her record and look at everything, that's perfectly fine, with Joe Biden's record. When you talk about Joe Biden, he was opposed to the first Gulf War, was that a good decision? He was opposed to the surge. He said it would be a catastrophe and a total failure. Those are much more consequential issues than what we are talking about in the [inaudible] report.

VIEIRA: When you hear from several of the, when you hear from several of the conservative voices, David Brooks and George Will among them, they are questioning her credentials. They wonder if she is really qualified to be Vice President. What are you hearing from other people within the Republican Party?

BENNETT: Well, they are intellectuals and, you know, sometimes people listen to intellectuals and sometimes they don't. She remains extremely popular, Meredith. I saw an interview with her last night. She was very persuasive. We will have the debate between the all-experienced Joe Biden and the supposedly inexperienced, but not true, Sarah Palin. And we will sort, we will sort a lot of this out. I will tell you-

VIEIRA: Why do you use the word-

BENNETT: -20 years experience can mean learning and growing and really figuring things out or it can mean making the same mistakes over and over-

VIEIRA: Mr. Bennett, why do you use the word "intellectual" it almost sounds like you are using it as a buzz word for elite?

BENNETT: Well, they are elites. I mean there, George, George Will, I don't think would balk at being called an intellectual nor would David Brooks. And they have had-

VIEIRA: Does that make their concerns less valid?

BENNETT: Sorry?

VIEIRA: Does make their concerns-

BENNETT: No it, no, hey, I'm one myself. I got a PhD. But what it doesn't mean is that everybody has to, has to fall in line. And most Americans, most people call my radio show, most conservatives, I should say, and most Republicans are thrilled with Sarah Palin. And the more we see, such as in this interview last night, the more pleased people are. I know that she has a higher approval rating than Joe Biden in the latest CBS/New York Times poll. That's pretty interesting.

VIEIRA: Mr. Bennett, let's talk about the economy, I want to switch gears here. Voters want to know obviously where the candidates stand, that is the number one issue right now, which is why Senator McCain's comments over the past few days have a lot of people scratching their heads. First he says the fundamentals of the economy are essentially strong then he says, he modifies that, says that we are in a crisis. Talks about beefing up Wall Street regulation, when last March he told the Wall Street Journal that he's always for less regulation. And yesterday he changed his mind about bailing out AIG. First he said he was opposed to it, then he said, "No I am not." So where does he stand? Can you find a clear economic message in what he's saying?

BENNETT: I think one is best not being ideological in these circumstances. By the way, let me explain. I'm not a surrogate for the McCain campaign. I'm an independent intellectual Meredith. It's best, as Larry Summers said, to be pragmatic. In general, I think, John McCain certainly has been a deregulator, as I, as I would be, but in this circumstance, we're gonna look at AIG. I think what Summers said is right, and I think what Paulson did was right. And notice the caution that a lot of people on all sides are, are exercising here. This, we've had an earthquake, we've had an explosion, we don't know where all the rubble is gonna settle. And so I think one needs to be very cautious in terms of making judgments. But the argument that AIG had such tentacles, such reach to so many places, so many operations so, many parts of the world, that you couldn't allow it to fail would cause, I think, even a principled, generally principled deregulator to take, to take a second look.

VIEIRA: So on, so on-

BENNETT: What I find, what I, yeah? Sorry.

VIEIRA: So on that one you scratched your head.

BENNETT: I'm sorry?

VIEIRA: So on that one, you scratched your head about Senator McCain's approach to AIG?

BENNETT: No I, no, no. I think it's the exactly right decision because this is not an ideological commitment to deregulation. In general you say, "You know let these companies operate on their own, but you step in when necessary." And I think the AIG, the AIG case is one of the cases where it is necessary. The amazing thing to me is that-

VIEIRA: Alright Bill we, I gotta, I gotta wrap it up here.

BENNETT: Yeah okay, sure.

VIEIRA: I apologize. So much to talk about and I'm sure we'll have you on again.

BENNETT: You bet!

VIEIRA: Always generous with your time Bill Bennett.

BENNETT: Thank you.

VIEIRA: Thanks very much.

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