CBS’s Schieffer: Obama Infomercial Like Reagan’s ‘Morning in America’ Ads

On Thursday’s CBS Early Show, co-host Maggie Rodriguez talked to Face the Nation host Bob Schieffer about Obama’s Wednesday night campaign infomercial and Schieffer offered rave reviews: "...this was something we haven't seen the like of in American Politics...It reminded me so much of the commercials that Ronald Reagan ran in 1984, the ‘Morning in America’...What Barack Obama’s message was last night, ‘things are not so good, but take heart, because we can make it okay.’ I thought it was very, very effective...it was a very effective piece of campaign advertising."

Following Rodriguez’s discussion with Schieffer, co-host Harry Smith talked with Washington Post media critic and CNN contributor, Howard Kurtz, about the commercial. Kurtz’s review was a bit more mixed: "This wasn't a 60-second ad. It wasn't a "Morning America" ad by Reagan, it was a show, and as a show it had to draw people in. I think it did a pretty good job of that, but as I said, at times it was a bit over the top." Earlier, Smith asked Kurtz: "What did you not like?" and Kurtz replied: "Well, for example, Maggie mentioned the faux Oval Office at the beginning, a lot of people, I think are going to find that a tad presumptuous-" Smith interrupted: "The Oval Office is not brown. It doesn't -- I don't think the Oval Office is brown, but go ahead." Kurtz pointed out: "Look at that tree in the window, it looks just like the South Lawn, he's got the flag." As Kurtz mentioned, in her discussion with Schieffer, Rodriguez observed: "...it opens with him standing in an office that some people thought looked like the Oval Office."

Following Smith’s interruption, Kurtz continued his critique: "But also, and then the politicians coming on at various moments that say -- talk about what a great guy Obama is. Well, you know, that seems like a standard canned political commercial. Where I thought the biggest mis-step was, was at the end. The whole point of this infomercial, Harry, was to bring Barack Obama out of the clouds to show that he is somebody who can relate to average people, working people, the railroad worker, the widow working two jobs, and then suddenly...they cut to the big stadium and the big rally and you're back to the Obama who gave the speech in Berlin."

The Early Show coverage also included mentions of Obama breaking his promise to accept public campaign financing, providing the money for such a prime time ad. In a report at the top of the show, correspondent Jeff Glor explained: "Flush with cash, the Obama campaign reportedly paid three million for the prime time rights. Money they have thanks to Obama's June decision not to use the public financing system. A troubling flip-flop, says John McCain." Later, Smith remarked to Kurtz: "Yeah, but McCain called it ‘a gauzy feel-good commercial, paid for with broken promises.’ That's a pretty good line." Kurtz replied: "It is a good line, I'm sure his speech writers worked a long time on that and McCain has a point in that Obama did flip-flop on the promise to accept public financing. Had he done that he couldn't have afforded to buy all of this time on the networks."

Here is the full transcript of the coverage:

7:00AM TEASE:

JULIE CHEN: Obama's prime time pitch.

BILL CLINTON: Barack Obama represents America's future.

CHEN: And McCain's rebuttal.

JOHN MCCAIN: Just remember, that it was paid for with broken promises.

CHEN: With the race so unpredictable, should you believe the polls?

7:02AM SEGMENT:

JULIE CHEN: But first, with only five days to go, Barack Obama pulls out all the stops as he goes prime time, while John McCain relishes playing the role of the underdog. Early Show national correspondent Jeff Glor is in Orlando, covering the campaigns. Jeff, good morning.

JEFF GLOR: Julie, good morning to you. If you were watching television last night, it was tough to miss. Barack Obama, as he used both his money and connections, to make another pitch and John McCain responded. As if Barack Obama needed more help.

BARACK OBAMA: In case all of you forgot, this is what it's like to have a great president. [pointing to Bill Clinton]

GLOR: Last night, he got a boost from Bill Clinton.

BILL CLINTON: I think it's clear the next President of the United States should be and, with your help, will be Senator Barack Obama!

GLOR: In Orlando, their first campaign appearance together, which came shortly after a half hour-long Obama prime time commercial, that ran on three TV networks, including CBS.

OBAMA: This election's a defining moment, a chance for our leaders to meet the demands of these challenging times and keep faith with our people.

GLOR: Not to mention an appearance on the Daily Show.

JON STEWART: Tell me about this half-hour special.

OBAMA: This is the Obama infomercial.

GLOR: Flush with cash, the Obama campaign reportedly paid three million for the prime time rights. Money they have thanks to Obama's June decision not to use the public financing system. A troubling flip-flop, says John McCain.

JOHN MCCAIN: What's disturbing about it is that he signed a piece of paper back when he was a long-shot candidate and he signed it. It said I won't -- I will take public financing for the presidential campaign if John McCain will.

GLOR: On Larry King, McCain said Obama was not a socialist but that he was on the far left and the republican nominee acknowledged the uphill climb.

MCCAIN: I think, obviously, I know we're still the underdog. You know, I love the underdog status. I just want to leave that status about the time the polls close.

GLOR: McCain will concentrate on Ohio today, with four stops there, while Barack Obama goes from Florida to Virginia to Missouri. Maggie.

MAGGIE RODRIGUEZ: CBS's Jeff Glor in Florida, thank you, Jeff. Joining us now, Bob Schieffer, CBS News chief Washington correspondent and host of Face the Nation. Good morning, Bob.

BOB SCHIEFFER: Good morning, Maggie.

RODRIGUEZ: Let's talk about Barack Obama's infomercial, it opens with him standing in an office that some people thought looked like the Oval Office, then he goes on to feature profiles of people struggling in America. And here's what I noticed, Bob, the first profile was of a family in Missouri, then a family in New Mexico, then Kentucky, then Florida. Three battleground states and one red state. Was this his effort to go after undecideds and do you think it worked?

BOB SCHIEFFER: Well, I think there's no question he was going after undecided votes, but this was something we haven't seen the like of in American Politics. I mean, the fact that he had the money to buy a half hour on three networks and a bunch of other cable outlets last night, in itself, is simply remarkable. It was hard to miss this. It reminded me so much of the commercials that Ronald Reagan ran in 1984, the 'Morning in America.' You saw a lot of sunrises, you saw families, you saw a smooth kind of heart-chugging reassuring music in the background, and those ads were very, very successful. Ronald Reagan was telling people everything has gotten really good and, you know, 'reelect me and we'll keep it good.' What Barack Obama's message was last night, 'things are not so good, but take heart, because we can make it okay.' I thought it was very, very effective. This was for undecided voters. He's not going to convince anybody who was going to vote for John McCain to change, but I think it was very -- a very strong message for undecided voters. Did it work? We'll find out. But I thought that as these things go, it was a very effective piece of campaign advertising.

RODRIGUEZ: After such an effective piece of campaigning, what does John McCain need to do? What will his closing argument be in the last days?

SCHIEFFER: Maggie, I think the argument you're going to hear, you're hearing it now, and you're going to hear it even more, is John McCain is going to say 'I'm the guy standing on the ramparts. I'm the one thing that is standing between you and a big increase in taxes.' He's going to say over and over, 'I am not going to raise your taxes and Barack Obama wants to and he's going to have a Democratic Congress, heavily Democratic, that's going to help him do it. You've got one chance to escape a tax raise and that is to elect me.' That, of course the Obama people say, is a bogus argument, but that's the argument that John McCain is going to make.

RODRIGUEZ: Bob Schieffer, as always, thanks a lot.

SCHIEFFER: You bet.

RODRIGUEZ: Now here's Harry.

HARRY SMITH: Alright, thanks, Maggie. Barack Obama's 30-minute infomercial dominated prime time last night, airing on a total of seven networks and cable channels. Joining us is Howard Kurtz, host of CNN's Reliable Sources and media critic for the Washington Post. Good morning.

HOWARD KURTZ: Good morning, Harry.

SMITH: Did you think it was good TV?

HOWARD KURTZ: Well, parts of it were good TV. The -- it was almost like a highly produced 60 Minutes special, when they dealt with the struggling families, who happen to live in the key swing states, if 60 Minutes only dealt with swing state voters. I thought those little profiles with Obama in the role of narrator were very effective. There were other parts that I felt were less effective.

SMITH: What did you not like?

KURTZ: Well, for example, Maggie mentioned the faux Oval Office at the beginning, a lot of people, I think are going to find that a tad presumptuous-

SMITH: The Oval Office is not brown. It doesn't -- I don't think the Oval Office is brown, but go ahead.

KURTZ: Look at that tree in the window, it looks just like the South Lawn, he's got the flag.

SMITH: [Laughter]

KURTZ: But also, and then the politicians coming on at various moments that say -- talk about what a great guy Obama is. Well, you know, that seems like a standard canned political commercial. Where I thought the biggest mis-step was, was at the end. The whole point of this infomercial, Harry, was to bring Barack Obama out of the clouds to show that he is somebody who can relate to average people, working people, the railroad worker, the widow working two jobs, and then suddenly-

SMITH: And then it goes to the giant rally, right-

KURTZ: -they cut to the big stadium and the big rally and you're back to the Obama who gave the speech in Berlin.

SMITH: You know, it's interesting, as I'm looking at it, is there an infomercial? Is it a movie? What is it exactly? And I think the things people at home are saying 'can I see myself in this movie and can I see myself being comfortable with this guy in the White House?'

KURTZ: And that is, of course, what it is all about and why Obama was willing to use some of his money, although with the money he's earned -- he's raised, you know, about five million, is perhaps a rounding error. To make people -- to close the sale, to make people comfortable with him, after all, here's McCain every day hitting Obama, and in his own ads, as untested, unready, a near socialist, 'pals around with terrorists.' Then you get a half an hour of Obama seeming like a pretty sweet, reasonable guy. He talked about his parents he tried to intertwine his own life story, which is a pretty remarkable life story, with the struggles and the aspirations of ordinary people, that was the point of that ad.

SMITH: Yeah, but McCain called it 'a gauzy feel-good commercial, paid for with broken promises.' That's a pretty good line.

KURTZ: It is a good line, I'm sure his speech writers worked a long time on that and McCain has a point in that Obama did flip-flop on the promise to accept public financing. Had he done that he couldn't have afforded to buy all of this time on the networks. But more importantly, I think that, you know, he had to hold people's attention. This wasn't a 60-second ad. It wasn't a "Morning America" ad buy Reagan, it was a show, and as a show it had to draw people in. I think it did a pretty good job of that, but as I said, at times it was a bit over the top.

SMITH: It'll be interesting to see what the numbers are later on today. Alright, Howard Kurtz, thanks so much.

KURTZ: Thank you, Harry.

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