CBS and NBC Cheer Obama's 'Extraordinarily Bold' Speech, 'Robust Defense of Government'

Throughout coverage of President Obama's address to Congress Thursday night, anchors and correspondents on both CBS and NBC gave fawning reviews of the new jobs plan, in some cases, even before the speech began. In contrast, ABC took a much more skeptical tone, with a focus on the President's falling poll numbers.  

Evening News anchor Scott Pelley opened CBS's coverage by proclaiming the President was "hanging out a 'help wanted' sign" for unemployed Americans, with chief White House correspondent Norah O'Donnell excitedly announcing moments later that Obama would put forward "an extraordinarily bold plan" to create jobs.

Over on NBC, Nightly News anchor Brian Williams lamented the "burdens of office" faced by Obama, while Meet the Press host David Gregory described the speech as "a big leadership moment" for the President. After the speech, Gregory praised it as "very forceful," applauding how Obama "made a very robust defense of government....saying there is a role for government that is crucial here in getting Americans back to work, in actually spending more money at a time when Republicans are arguing about an anti-government message and how to get government out of your life."

The post-address analysis on CBS featured Face the Nation host Bob Schieffer making comparisons to Harry Truman: "A very different approach for this president to take. I mean, he really went at them tonight. I mean, very – a lot of Harry Truman in this speech tonight."

In contrast to the gushing on CBS and NBC, ABC took a markedly different approach as Good Morning America co-host George Stephanopoulos described how high unemployment "has haunted Obama's presidency." Turning to 20/20 anchor Chris Cuomo, Stephanopoulos reported: "Tonight, we have a brand new ABC News poll showing that he already has now the worst approval rating of his presidency. Only 43% of the country approves of the job President Obama is doing and so much of it is rooted in this issue of jobs."

Cuomo added: "35% say their finances are worse off since President Obama took office. 77%, one of the biggest numbers you'll see in a poll, say the country's headed seriously off on the wrong track."

Like Schieffer, Stephanopoulos also made reference to Truman: "...you're hearing about a lot, in White House and President Obama's campaign circles these days is Harry Truman....that famous 1948 campaign when he ran against the do-nothing Congress." White House correspondent Jake Tapper explained: "...if the Republicans in the House do not pass it, he [Obama] has said, in the open, in public, he will use that to run against the Republican Congress in 2012. Run against them not as a do-nothing Congress, as Harry Truman said, but as an obstructionist Congress."


Here is a portion of CBS's September 8 coverage of the speech:

7:00PM ET

SCOTT PELLEY: With unemployment stuck above 9% and nearly 14 million Americans out of work, President Obama is hanging out a 'help wanted' sign. In a rare presidential address to a joint session of the House and the Senate, he will ask Congress to help him put the unemployed back to work. We are seeing a live picture now from the House chamber. He is asking the House and Senate to pass what he is calling the 'American Jobs Act.' It includes tax cuts, more spending on construction, and an extension of unemployment benefits. Norah O'Donnell is our CBS News chief White House correspondent. Norah?

NORAH O'DONNELL: Scott, the President is facing an economy that just won't move forward or create jobs so this is a huge speech for him tonight. That's why his advisors wanted to make it before a joint session of Congress and, as we've first reported, this is going to be a plan with a price tag of over $400 billion. More than half of it will be tax cuts – tax cuts for every working American, tax cuts for every small business. Infrastructure spending, help for the unemployed to try and get them back to work. So this is an extraordinarily bold plan by the President.

It remains to be seen how much of it can actually get through this divided government. But this is going to be a speech by the President tonight in which he hopes to call for a – make a call to action for Congress and if Congress doesn't act he is going to run against those Republicans in Congress, because even tomorrow he's going to kick off a series of speeches in Richmond, Virginia and then next week in Ohio. He wants to make his case directly to the American people.

(...)

PELLEY: Agree or disagree with the President's proposals, Bob Schieffer, I think you have to admit he took it to them tonight.

BOB SCHIEFFER: He really did. I mean, he threw the high hard one at them. And, you know, from the very beginning. I mean, this is not the cool, detached college professor that some people have accused Barack Obama of being. This was a guy who knows his back is to the wall and he called the Congress in there and had them sit down while he told them 'I'm talking to the people out there' and he made them listen. This is very different. A very different approach for this president to take. I mean, he really went at them tonight. I mean, very – a lot of Harry Truman in this speech tonight.

(...)

Here is a portion of NBC's coverage:

7:07PM ET

(...)

BRIAN WILLIAMS: Moderator of Meet the Press, David Gregory, is watching here in the studio along with us. David, first of all, a lesson in just how man-handled president's get coming down that aisle, everyone wants their face time, hand time, camera time with the president. But second, since you've covered the White House, among other things, think of the burdens of office, this president, his predecessor, any president, think of what he's just been briefed on. He now has to pivot, he now has to talk about the economy, the stakes just couldn't be higher.

DAVID GREGORY: Well, they're huge and Pete [William's] reporting only underlines what we've spent the last decade dealing with and reporting on, which was the reality that the country faces that there is potential for additional attacks and a question of vigilance. Against this backdrop, where the country is perhaps facing a double-dip recession, people are not spending, people are saving instead. The housing market is still failing and you have a financial crisis now in Europe that mirrors what we faced in the United States. There's a big leadership moment now, the President is essentially saying government can do something here and must do something to try to instill some confidence, to assert leadership. That's what Americans are angry about, because they think it's just missing.

WILLIAMS: The President has told friends – as we just saw him shaking the hands of his vice president and Speaker John Boehner – that his relationship with the Speaker of the House is quite good, it's some of the other members that he's had trouble with. Of course, as well-documented recently during the debt ceiling fight that we just went through.

(...)

WILLIAMS: David Gregory in the studio watching with us. David, you had some interesting observations about using the power of the president.

GREGORY: Well, I though this was a very forceful speech. I mean, the President understands the stakes here, the country could go into another recession right now. He made a very robust defense of government, that government has a role to play here. Americans are angry at Washington, at Democrats and Republicans alike. And he's standing up and saying there is a role for government that is crucial here in getting Americans back to work, in actually spending more money at a time when Republicans are arguing about an anti-government message and how to get government out of your life.

One thing that struck me, Brian, you know the message after his election during the stimulus fight was pass this because we want it. Tonight it was clear they did the chess match here, they went something that 'lives on arrival' on Capitol Hill, they gamed out what they think could actually pass because they know that's what the public wants, is some result, not just another fight.

(...)

Here is a portion of ABC's coverage:

7:00PM

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: Good evening, I'm George Stephanopoulos at ABC News headquarters in New York and we're interrupting your regular program because President Obama is about to appear before a joint session of Congress for the fifth time in his presidency. He's going to present what he says is a new plan to tackle America's jobs crisis. It is the issue you care most about and it has haunted Obama's presidency.

Just last week, we learned that months into the recovery the economy created no jobs at all in the month of August. Unemployment still stuck above 9%. And the White House believes it will stay there through the election next year, perhaps get even worse if the plan President Obama proposes tonight gets stuck in Congress.

I'm joined here by 20/20 anchor Chris Cuomo. And Chris, we talk about the President's political situation before he addresses Congress. Tonight, we have a brand new ABC News poll showing that he already has now the worst approval rating of his presidency. Only 43% of the country approves of the job President Obama is doing and so much of it is rooted in this issue of jobs.

CHRIS CUOMO: Absolutely, George, and the numbers tell a tough story. 35% say their finances are worse off since President Obama took office. 77%, one of the biggest numbers you'll see in a poll, say the country's headed seriously off on the wrong track. And the challenge with jobs, everybody says it's the most important issue, however, it means something different to everyone. For some, it is the simple ability to provide for a family. For others, it means tax policy. For others, it means job regulation. As we're doing 'Bringing America Back,' people are coming in with their stories. Jobs is most important, but it means different things to different people. It makes a very high bar for success for the President tonight.

STEPHANOPOULOS: And there are big differences, as you say, about how to create those jobs right now. Jake Tapper's at the White House, as we see the hall of Congress getting ready for the President to appear. And Jake, the President has done this before. Of course, we had the big stimulus plan at the beginning of his presidency, more than $800 billion was proposed. The President and his team hoped that it would bring unemployment below 8%, but that didn't work.

JAKE TAPPER: That's right. That was 2009, of course. And 2010 was 'recovery summer.' But here we are in 2011 and President Obama intending to give another big speech about jobs.

(...)

STEPHANOPOULOS: And I think the White House is also believing that even if the President cannot convince the Congress to act, he can win the argument with the country to put tremendous pressure on the Congress and the President, you're hearing about a lot, in White House and President Obama's campaign circles these days is Harry Truman. That famous, Jake Tapper, that famous 1948 campaign when he ran against the do-nothing Congress.

TAPPER: Yeah, that's absolutely right. And President Obama has made no secret of the fact that this will be a defining moment, not only legislatively, whether or not Congress passes what he's putting forward, but also if they do not pass, if the Republicans in the House do not pass it, he has said, in the open, in public, he will use that to run against the Republican Congress in 2012. Run against them not as a do-nothing Congress, as Harry Truman said, but as an obstructionist Congress, as a Congress that, in the President's words, 'puts party ahead of country.' A not so veiled reference to the Republicans not being patriotic. So, that is a preview of what we're likely to get in 2012. Very, very harsh rhetoric, George.

(...)

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