Double Standard: NBC Hit Bush Visit to Afghanistan as a Stunt, Promotes Obama's Trip

Eight months before the 2006 midterm election, President Bush made a “surprise” visit to Afghanistan. On the March 1, 2006 edition of the Today show, hosts Katie Couric and Matt Lauer made sure to paint Bush’s visit as a publicity stunt due to his approval rating being at an “all-time low” and the controversy surrounding a bid by a United Arab Emirates-based company to run operations at various U.S. seaports. Couric touted it as an “important symbol.” Kelly O’Donnell cited the visit with all its baggage as a “difficult stretch for the president.”

At the time, the network insisted their viewers be absolutely clear about the president’s approval rating and scandals bedeviling his administration back at home. Not only that, Today's coverage included a guest who argued that it was simply impossible to “divorce how the war is going with the perception of how President Bush is doing as president.”

Fast-forward to 2014 with the barrage of scandals haunting President Obama including Benghazi, the IRS, continuing Obamacare woes, and of course most recently, the VA scandal. President Obama has had lower approval ratings but he is not incredibly popular and his party stands to face a drubbing in the November midterms. Yet the treatment by Today was wildly different.

On Monday’s Memorial Day edition of the Today Show, White House correspondent Kristen Welker lamented that the President’s surprise visit was “overshadowed” by the “looming VA scandal.” over B-roll of the President thanking the troops.

The segment included clips of veterans spending Memorial Day in Washington, D.C., some describing the VA scandal as a “systemic” problem that’s been going on forever and brushing it off as “we all make mistakes.”

The message was clear: President Obama is trying his darndest and ultimately it's not his fault that the VA is in such shambles. He's really trying his best to fix the "systemic" problem, after all. All that was missing was Juan Williams joining in to exclaim that the trip shows the president’s going “overboard” in his support for our troops!

What a difference eight years and a Democratic commander-in-chief makes when it comes to reporting.

Below are the two relevant transcripts:

03/01/06
TODAY Show

KATIE COURIC: Good morning. President Bush makes a surprise visit to Afghanistan; his first ever. Meanwhile, back home his approval rating sinks to an all-time low.

[...]

COURIC: And welcome to TODAY on this Wednesday morning, everyone. I'm Katie Couric.

MATT LAUER, co-host: And I'm Matt Lauer. The President touched down in Afghanistan just a few hours ago. It's his first visit to the front lines in the war on terror since his Thanksgiving trip to Iraq back in 2003.

COURIC: That's right. And he's visiting with US troops, Matt. A very important symbol for the military in general, especially at a time when the situation in Iraq appears to be growing worse by the day. Hundreds have been killed there in the past week alone. That, plus ongoing questions about that controversial Port deal have contributed to approval ratings that have reached a new low, according to one poll. Can he rebound? We'll talk with Chris Matthews about that.

KELLY O’DONNELL: The presidents travels come at a time when his popularity at home has itself gone south. His latest job approval rating is down to 34% colored by a spike in violence in Iraq and public anxiety about an Arab firm running US ports. A difficult stretch for the president.

GUEST: I think it is impossible to divorce how the war is going with the perception of how President Bush is doing as president.
 

05-26-14
TODAY Show

KRISTEN WELKER: Good morning to you. President Obama will participate in the traditional Memorial Day ceremonies later today, including laying a wreath at Arlington National Cemetery and he'll continue to navigate the mounting scandal over the V.A., after a whirlwind four-hour visit to Afghanistan. As veterans across the country prepare to mark Memorial Day, a surprise visit by the Commander in Chief over the weekend to thank those still serving in Afghanistan.

PRESIDENT OBAMA: The American people stand united. We support you. We are proud of you. We stand in awe of your service.

WELKER: Adding to the tribute, a performance by country star Brad Paisley.

[...]

WELKER: Overshadowing the trip, the growing scandal at home over allegations of widespread misconduct at V.A. Hospitals. Mr. Obama alluded to the controversy.

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Helping our wounded veterans and warriors heal isn't just a promise, it's a sacred obligation.

WELKER: The V.A. On the minds of veterans at parades across the country.

VET: I believe that what's happening, if it's factual, is a disgrace to our veterans.

VET: We're humans. We will make mistakes. They do take care of us.

VET: This is a systemic problem that has happened for many, many, many years

Jackie Seal
Jackie Seal is a 2014 summer intern with the MRC's News Analysis Division.