CBS Applauds Obama's 'Strong Words' on Libya While Even MSNBC is Not Impressed

At the top of Thursday's CBS Early Show, co-host Chris Wragge touted President Obama's statement on the violence in Libya: "...making his first public statements on the situation there with some very strong words." However, moments after Obama's Wednesday comments, liberal MSNBC host Chris Matthews admitted: "...that was pretty tame language given the horror that's going on in Tripoli."

On Thursday, Early Show co-host Erica Hill spoke with correspondent Mandy Clark, who was reporting from Libya, and asked about the impact of Obama's words on the crisis: "...he was saying the suffering and bloodshed is outrageous and unacceptable. How much of President Obama's words have made it to people on the streets of Libya?" Clark claimed: "Everyone we spoke to felt encouraged that the President had come out with such strong words. They now feel that the eyes of the international community is upon Qadhafi, and that will force him to hold back on any bombing campaigns or any war crimes that he might commit."

In contrast, on Wednesday's Harball, David Korn, Washington bureau chief for the left-wing Mother Jones magazine, related what he was hearing from people on the ground in Libya: "I have a friend whose husband is with the protest in Benghazi...they were all asking the same question, where is the United States? They wanted to hear a little bit more. They don't expect the U.S. or Obama to do anything for them, but they want to hear a little bit more."

The Early Show continued to push the idea that Obama's response was as strong as it could be. White House correspondent Chip Reid parroted administration talking points: "You know, a lot of people thought it was odd that when the President gave his statement yesterday he did not call on Qadhafi to step down....CBS News has learned through senior White House officials that the President has decided that he's got to be cautious at this point. Why? Because the fear is, if this becomes a war of words between Qadhafi and President Obama, that it might provoke Qadhafi to target Americans who are still in Libya." Reid added: "Despite that, though, the President did strongly condemn the violence....also said he's exploring a full range of options against Libya."

On MSNBC, Matthews, Korn, and liberal Huffington Post blogger Howard Fineman clearly weren't satisfied. Fineman called the President's statement: "a lot of sort of diplomatic and Pentagon-ese that doesn't really say anything to the people in the region or to the people in the United States." Matthews wondered: "Shouldn't the President be – look like he's doing something?" Korn concluded: "I think the President could have showed a little more passion.... if this is all he's saying, I'm not sure it serves him that well."

When even Obama sycophants on MSNBC are acknowledging that the President's response to a foreign policy crisis in inadequate, it's hard to understand why CBS's coverage was completely devoid of such criticism.  

Here is a full transcript of the February 24 Early Show coverage:

7:00AM ET TEASE:

ERIC HILL: Breaking news. The violence in Libya escalates as Moammar Qadhafi desperately clings to power. Hundreds of Americans, meantime, try to flee the nation, while President Obama condemns the brutal attacks on demonstrators.

BARACK OBAMA: Suffering and bloodshed is outrageous, and it is unacceptable.

HILL: We will bring you the very latest this morning from Tobruk, one of several cities where Qadhafi's opponents have taken over.

7:01AM ET SEGMENT:
                    
CHRIS WRAGGE: We're going to talk this morning about the situation in Libya, which continues to get worse by the hour. The images are brutal. And yesterday, the President making his first public statements on the situation there with some very strong words, and, of course, saying the priority is, of course, the safety of American citizens there. But we're going to talk about that with Chip Reid, who's in Washington, coming up in just a couple of moments.

HILL: And we do, of course, want to begin then, with Libya. Inside Libya, at this point, with the very latest, CBS News correspondent Mandy Clark has made it to the eastern city of Tobruk, where opposition forces are firmly in control at this hour. Mandy, good afternoon to you.

MANDY CLARK: Good afternoon, Erica. Well, clear signs this morning that Qadhafi is feeling the heat, trying to launch a publicity campaign against accusations he's committing war crimes against his own people. Qadhafi's son made a surprise appearance on state TV this morning, to claim that life in Libya was getting back to normal, and to deny government warplanes had bombed civilians. He promised to take foreign observers on a tour to prove that tomorrow.

Yesterday there were reports of gunfire in street battles in other parts of the city. Anti-government protesters in the city of Misrada tore down a statue of Qadhafi's green book, a symbol of his rule. It's the first major city in the western half of the country to fall to anti-government forces, bringing the insurgency, increasingly closer to the heart of his regime, and his power base in the capital.

Qadhafi called on his supporters to hunt down the protesters house by house. In the capital they were burying their dead. With no end in sight to this uprising, the fear is there will be many more casualties in the coming days. Well, Qadhafi – late word this morning that Qadhafi will appear again on state television to make another announcement. Now the concern here is that he's trying to consolidate his forces in the west, which is his tribal stronghold, and then will launch a counterinsurgency in the east of Libya.

HILL: And, of course, concern as to what that counterinsurgency may look like. As we heard from the President here in the U.S. yesterday, he was saying the suffering and bloodshed is outrageous and unacceptable. How much of President Obama's words have made it to people on the streets of Libya?

CLARK: It has reached the people here. Everyone we spoke to felt encouraged that the President had come out with such strong words. They now feel that the eyes of the international community is upon Qadhafi, and that will force him to hold back on any bombing campaigns or any war crimes that he might commit. Erica.

HILL: Mandy Clark in Tobruk, Libya, today. Mandy, thanks.

7:06AM ET SEGMENT:

WRAGGE: As we mentioned, President Obama is calling the violence against Libyan protesters outrageous. And says it must stop. CBS News chief White House correspondent Chip Reid has the latest on the U.S. response. Chip joins us now from Washington. Chip, good morning.

CHIP REID: Well, good morning, Chris. You know, a lot of people thought it was odd that when the President gave his statement yesterday he did not call on Qadhafi to step down. In fact, he did not even mention his name. Well, CBS News has learned through senior White House officials that the President has decided that he's got to be cautious at this point. Why? Because the fear is, if this becomes a war of words between Qadhafi and President Obama, that it might provoke Qadhafi to target Americans who are still in Libya with violence or perhaps even take them hostage. That, of course, would be a nightmare scenario the White House very much wants to avoid. Despite that, though, the President did strongly condemn the violence.

[ON-SCREEN HEADLINE: Obama's Response; Calls Bloodshed "Outrageous and Unacceptable"]                            

BARACK OBAMA: The suffering and bloodshed is outrageous, and it is unacceptable. So are threats and orders to shoot peaceful protesters, and further punish the people of Libya. These actions violate international norms, and every standard of common decency. This violence must stop.

REID: And the President also said he's exploring a full range of options against Libya. What does that mean? Well, senior White House officials tell me it certainly includes sanctions, both unilateral by the United States, and with the United Nations. It also includes military options. The most likely first step would be working with NATO to create a no-fly zone over Libya, so that Moammar Qadhafi can't use his air force to target his own people. Chris.

WRAGGE: Chip, thank you. CBS's Chip Reid at the White House for us this morning.

Here is a transcript of the February 23 exchange on Hardball:

5:11PM ET

CHRIS MATTHEWS: Howard Fineman joins me right now. Howard, this was not much of a statement in terms of – I guess it's to get the headlines out there in terms of the people in the region. He strongly condemns any action of any violence by the government, of course, it's been outrageous, he calls it outrageous. They've been using mercenaries from Africa – from sub-Saharan Africa to gun down their own people, young men, with semi-automatic weapons, pretty horrendous stuff. I wonder if that was pretty tame language given the horror that's going on in Tripoli.

HOWARD FINEMAN: Well, I think it was. He talked about 'intensifying consultations' and preparing 'a full range of options,' and a lot of sort of diplomatic and Pentagon-ese that doesn't really say anything to the people in the region or to the people in the United States, who have become fixated on what's going on in this part of the world.

MATTHEWS: You know, Bill Kristol made a statement – you and I don't normally side with him, but he did make a statement today in the Washington Post that the President ought to get a little more aggressive. Now he's talking about using of armed forces, which is a typical Kristol kind of response, but shouldn't the President be – look like he's doing something?

DAVID KORN: Well, I think, you know, he could say we're collecting evidence, you know, we're watching, we're interviewing defectors who are coming out.  There's talk about having a multilateral no-fly zone. I know – I have a friend whose husband is with the protest in Benghazi and she hasn't spoken with him in a couple days, but when she was talking to him a day or two back, they were all asking the same question, where is the United States? They wanted to hear a little bit more. They don't expect the U.S. or Obama to do anything for them, but they want to hear a little bit more.

MATTHEWS: Okay, let's try to do the analysis we do here, I think, we do here rather well, which is politics. Is the President concerned that if he shows any kind of muscle here, any kind of interference, that it will somehow undermine the legitimacy of this new revolution?

FINEMAN: Well, possibly, but I think he may be seduced a little bit by the success of his relative silence in Egypt. I mean, Egypt, that thing was pushed along by the military, by a lot of very organized forces within the country, including their military, which was in close consultation with ours.

This is a very different situation. Qadhafi is playing his hand in public in a very violent and crazy way, both in his own personal statements and in the violence he's unleashed there. So the proportionate response from the President, I think, needs to be more forceful, both in his language and in the threat, as David said, the no-fly zone, the taking of evidence, we've got to get more serious. This is not Egypt. Every one of these things is its own. Barack Obama's natural inclination is caution. That's often very good in a diplomat, but this is a different situation from Egypt. And as somebody who's – like everybody else here – watching him perform as a global leader, this seems a little-

MATTHEWS: This statement could have been put out by the first President Bush. It has the aspect of an Arabist statement – I shouldn't be too strong here – but it doesn't have any dignity. I mean, Ronald Reagan, to his credit, said evil empire, before the fall of the wall.

KORN: Well, yeah, he called Qadhafi-

MATTHEWS: He said 'Tear down this wall.'

KORN: He called Qadhafi a 'mad dog,' which might not have helped much back in those days, but no doubt the White House is scrambling to put together a response with allies and so forth. But I think the President could have showed a little more passion.

MATTHEWS: Why did he do this tonight?

KORN: I think there's been a lot of demand for him to speak, but if this is all he's saying, I'm not sure it serves him that well, unless he has a little more to offer. Because you could have guessed at all this. What else did he have to say?

MATTHEWS: Well, let's see how well-

FINEMAN: The other thing is we don't have control of the situation here any more than we really did in Egypt. But the difference is, in Egypt, other responsible people had control. Here there isn't anybody.

MATTHEWS: Let's hope some of the language reaches the people over there. Live like human beings is a pretty personal statement about the situation there. Anyway, thank you Howard Fineman. Thank you, David Korn.

— Kyle Drennen is a news analyst at the Media Research Center. You can follow him on Twitter here.

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