CBS: Does Experience Matter for the Presidency? Not Really

NewsBusters.org - Media Research CenterOn Friday’s CBS "Early Show," co-host Harry Smith interviewed the Managing Editor of Time Magazine, Richard Stengel, about the publication’s latest cover story on the presidential campaign entitled "How Much Does Experience Matter?," with a clear picture of Barack Obama’s silhouette surrounded by a holy aura of light (see picture). Smith previewed the segment earlier in the show by wondering: "Still ahead, the question of experience dominating the Democratic campaign, does it really matter?"

In the segment that followed, the answer to that question was a resounding ‘no.’ Stengel began by using the anecdotal evidence of Abraham Lincoln to prove that experience does not matter: "I mean, the most famous example, of course, is Abraham Lincoln, who is probably our least experienced president, who was sandwiched between our two most experienced presidents, Buchanan and Andrew Johnson, both of whom were failures."

Stengel went on to defend JFK, claiming the young president was not responsible for the disastrous Bay of Pigs invasion, but rather that the more experienced, and Republican, Dwight Eisenhower was the reason for the invasion’s failure:

David's [Time writer, David Von Drehle] great piece starts out with John F. Kennedy who came in, the first 100 days, he's tested in the Bay of Pigs. He makes a terrible mistake. He says, man, 'if I'm going to learn something, at least I learned it early.' But then who got them into the Bay of Pigs originally? Dwight Eisenhower, the most experienced president.

Stengel later went on to claim that: "The thing is, and what David really says is that character trumps experience...It's really the way you are as a person. Your temperament, your intelligence, all of those things make up for what you may lack in experience."

Smith responded by quoting the article: "This quote that he pulls up, 'the truth that finally overtakes you.' This whole -- this notion of leadership which is a collection of intangibles."

Stengel uses a final historical example of the unimportance of experience:

There's that great famous story about when FDR went to see Oliver Wendell Holmes when he was running for president. And Holmes said you know 'he has a second-rate mind but a first-rate temperament,' and he meant -- that meant he'd be a good president.

At the end of the segment, Smith handed coverage over to fellow co-host Julie Chen, who made this observation:

CHEN: Harry, isn't that our tag line, 'CBS News, Experience'?

SMITH: Yeah.

CHEN: Now 'CBS News, Character.'

SMITH: Character, and intuition.

CHEN: Right.

Of course Dan Rather’s false National Guard story about President Bush in 2004 was all about character.

Here is the full transcript of the segment:

7:00AM TEASER:

HARRY SMITH: Clinton versus Obama. Democratic battle hits a fever pitch four days before the do-or-die primaries in Texas and Ohio.

7:02AM TEASER:

JULIE CHEN: Also this morning, Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton have been fighting over the question of experience in their battle for the Democratic nomination. And this morning we're going to take a look at a fascinating report that examines just how crucial experience is.

SMITH: Cover story on Time Magazine today.

7:13AM TEASER:

SMITH: Still ahead, the question of experience dominating the Democratic campaign, does it really matter?

7:17AM SEGMENT:

HARRY SMITH: As Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama battle it out, getting ready for the primaries in Texas and Ohio on Tuesday, the question of experience has taken center stage. Time Magazine has two articles on the subject, on the issue that hits news stands today. 'Does Experience Matter in a President' and 'The Science of Experience.' And Time's Managing Editor Rick Stengel is with us this morning. Good morning.

RICHARD STENGEL: Good to be here Harry.

SMITH: David Von Drehle writes this amazing piece and you're looking for the answer, and it's not so easily defined, ease it -- easily in terms of experience being a predictor of success.

NewsBusters.org - Media Research CenterSTENGEL: Right. It's not so easy. I mean, the most famous example, of course, is Abraham Lincoln, who is probably our least experienced president, who was sandwiched between our two most experienced presidents, Buchanan and Andrew Johnson, both of whom were failures. So what does that tell you? I mean, Lincoln was just a one-term Congressman. David's great piece starts out with John F. Kennedy who came in, the first 100 days, he's tested in the Bay of Pigs. He makes a terrible mistake. He says, man, 'if I'm going to learn something, at least I learned it early.' But then who got them into the Bay of Pigs originally? Dwight Eisenhower, the most experienced president.

SMITH: Right. And one of the other things he says, if this were really an indicator, then second terms would have -- would, you know be -- would -- the presidents would flourish and they would be so terrific, second terms are usually horrible for presidents.

STENGEL: Exactly. I mean, if we look at modern history, Nixon's second term, kind of a disaster. LBJ, incredibly experienced, second term he ran out of gas. The thing is, and what David really says is that character trumps experience.

SMITH: Right.

STENGEL: It's really the way you are as a person. Your temperament, your intelligence, all of those things make up for what you may lack in experience.

SMITH: This quote that he pulls up, 'the truth that finally overtakes you.' This whole -- this notion of leadership which is a collection of intangibles.

STENGEL: Right. I mean, Richard Norton Smith, who he quotes in the piece, is a great presidential historian, says ultimately it's about character. Experience feeds into character, but it's the kind of judgment you have, the kind of temperament you have. There's that great famous story about when FDR went to see Oliver Wendell Holmes when he was running for president. And Holmes said you know 'he has a second-rate mind but a first-rate temperament,' and he meant -- that meant he'd be a good president.

SMITH: And very quickly, the bounce piece is all about 'The Science of Experience,' and the takeaway from that is?

STENGEL: Well, the takeaway from that is experience cuts both ways. Of course it's important and often good, but sometimes what it does -- it means you just do the same wrong thing over and over again.

SMITH: Right. It's such interesting stuff. And it's on the cover of Time Magazine right now. 'How Much Does Experience Matter?' Rick Stengel, thanks very much for being with us this morning.

STENGEL: Thanks Harry.

SMITH: Really appreciate it. Now here's Julie.

JULIE CHEN: Harry, isn't that our tag line, 'CBS News, Experience'?

SMITH: Yeah.

CHEN: Now 'CBS News, Character.'

SMITH: Character, and intuition.

CHEN: Right.

Kyle Drennen
Kyle Drennen
Kyle Drennen is a News Analyst for MRC