CBS: Christine O'Donnell 'Grilled' on 'History of Controversial Comments'

At the top of Thursday's CBS Early Show, co-host Maggie Rodriguez teased an upcoming report on Wednesday's Delaware Senate debate by proclaiming: "U.S. Senate candidate and tea party favorite Christine O'Donnell is grilled in her first highly-anticipated debate, where she addresses everything from witches, to China, to late-night TV jokes."

Rodriguez's declaration was later followed by a completely one-sided report from congressional correspondent Nancy Cordes, who focused exclusively on O'Donnell being interrogated over past statements: "Well, this debate involved two candidates, but the spotlight was really on one of them, Christine O'Donnell, and her history of controversial comments."

After playing clips of moderators, CNN anchor Wolf Blizter and Delaware First Media's Nancy Karibjanian, grilling O'Donnell, Cordes mockingly remarked: "Outside the auditorium, several witches milled about, some for O'Donnell, some against." She then noted how O'Donnell's "now infamous ad came up more than once."

Cordes acknowledged that, "The national attention on this race seemed to put both O'Donnell and the Democrat, Chris Coons, on edge." But added: "O'Donnell tried to stick to conservative talking points but struggled to name a Supreme Court decision she disagreed with....And refused to say whether she believes in evolution."

Near the end of the report, Cordes dismissed O'Donnell's criticism of Coons as desperate: "O'Donnell spent the night on the attack because she's 20 points behind in the polls, accusing her opponent at one point of being a Marxist and in one of the few light moments in this debate, he laughed and said, 'I'm a life-long capitalist.'"

Cordes never explained that Coons had once referred to himself that way in college. However, in the 8AM ET hour, news reader Erica Hill did mention that fact: "Coons had to explain the influence of a Marxist professor." A clip was played of Coons defending himself: "It's an article I wrote as a senior, the day of our commencement speech. And the title and the content of that clearly makes it obvious that it was a joke."

At the end of Cordes's 7:09AM ET report, Rodriguez asked about the reaction of the debate audience: "...what was the feeling among the people who were there, the people on campus, about how [O'Donnell] performed last night?" Cordes replied: "O'Donnell seemed to surpass their expectations simply because their expectations were so low." She then concluded: "...frankly, they didn't come away thrilled with either candidate. They thought he was very condescending. They thought she was very vague."

Here is a full transcript of Cordes's October 14 report:

7:00AM ET TEASE:

MAGGIE RODRIGUEZ: Delaware Drama. U.S. Senate candidate and tea party favorite Christine O'Donnell is grilled in her first highly-anticipated debate, where she addresses everything from witches, to China, to late-night TV jokes.
                                
CHRISTINE O'DONNELL: This election cycle should not be about comments I made on a comedy show over a decade and a half ago.

RODRIGUEZ: So did her performance help or hurt her chances?

7:09AM ET SEGMENT:

RODRIGUEZ: We turn now to politics and the red-hot Senate race in Delaware. Last night's first debate between the two candidates got national attention because of various statements by one of them, tea party-backed Republican Christine O'Donnell. CBS News congressional correspondent Nancy Cordes is at the University of Delaware, where the debate was held. Nancy, good morning.

NANCY CORDES: Good morning, Maggie. Well, this debate involved two candidates, but the spotlight was really on one of them, Christine O'Donnell, and her history of controversial comments.

[ON-SCREEN HEADLINE: Delaware Debate; Candidates Spar in Highly-Anticipated Showdown]

WOLF BLITZER: On the specific quote that you said that China has a plan to take over America, do you know about this plan?

O'DONNELL: Well, they misquoted me at the time, I believe. But look at what's going on.

CORDES: O'Donnell's financial troubles also came up.

NANCY KARIBJANIAN: How can voters rely upon your thoughts on how to manage the deficit if you're having such personal financial issues of your own?

O'DONNELL: When I fell upon difficult times, I made the sacrifices needed to set things right. I sold my house, and I sold a lot of my possessions.

CORDES: Outside the auditorium, several witches milled about, some for O'Donnell, some against.

O'DONNELL: I'm not a witch.

CORDES: Her now infamous ad came up more than once.

CHRIS COONS: There's been lots of discussion in the national media about things my opponent has said or done that I, frankly, thing are distraction from the core issues that Delawareans ask about – ask both of us about.

O'DONNELL: You're just jealous that you weren't on Saturday Night Live.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTRESS [SNL SKIT]: Because I'm not a witch. And, if I am, do you really want to cross me?

CORDES: The national attention on this race seemed to put both O'Donnell and the Democrat, Chris Coons, on edge.

COONS: Miss O'Donnell, we're going to try and have a conversation here this evening rather than just a diatribe if we possibly could.

CORDES: O'Donnell tried to stick to conservative talking points but struggled to name a Supreme Court decision she disagreed with.

O'DONNELL: I'll put it up on my website.

CORDES: And refused to say whether she believes in evolution.

O'DONNELL: What I believe is irrelevant.

BLITZER: Why is it irrelevant?

O'DONNELL: Because what I will support-

BLITZER: Voters want to know what you believe.

CORDES: O'Donnell spent the night on the attack because she's 20 points behind in the polls, accusing her opponent at one point of being a Marxist and in one of the few light moments in this debate, he laughed and said, 'I'm a life-long capitalist.' Maggie.

RODRIGUEZ: Nancy, we could all see it on TV and make our own decisions about how she handled herself but what was the feeling among the people who were there, the people on campus, about how she performed last night?

CORDES: Well, we talked to a lot of the students and O'Donnell seemed to surpass their expectations simply because their expectations were so low. But, frankly, they didn't come away thrilled with either candidate. They thought he was very condescending. They thought she was very vague. These two candidates will have another chance to impress the voters today. They're debating again this afternoon.

RODRIGUEZ: Hopefully, they will. Somebody's got to win. Nancy Cordes in Washington. Thank you, Nancy.

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