NBC's Williams In Awe of Obama's 'Even Keel' During Bin Laden Killing

Interviewing President Obama about the killing of Osama Bin Laden on Wednesday's NBC Rock Center, Nightly News anchor Brian Williams couldn't resist gushing over the level-headed commander-in-chief: "How do you keep an even keel? Even when we look back on the videotape of that night, there's no real depiction that there's something afoot."

Williams was referring to the President attending the White House Correspondents' Dinner as the mission to kill Bin Laden was underway, having to "laugh it up" and "live a little bit of a lie for the public good." Obama explained: "You know, that was a little bit of acting going on there, because my mind was elsewhere."

Continuing to fawn over the administration keeping the mission secret, Williams put these hard-hitting questions to the White House national security team: "Nothing, including the provisions for the Situation Room, was left to chance. Is it true you ate Costco food, as to not draw any attention? And multiple pizzerias were contacted as to prevent any one large order from drawing attention to the gathering?...can you confirm those food details?"

Deputy National Security Adviser Denis McDonough replied: "As a big fan of Costco, I can confirm that we did eat Costco that night. Frankly, throughout the day."

Williams opened the hour-long Obama infomercial by excitedly touting it as an historic exclusive: "...we are about to take television news cameras inside the White House Situation Room for the first time in its history. We're here tonight entering this room to talk about this photograph, taken in this room a year ago. And the decisions and the military action that resulted in the death of Osama Bin Laden."

Burnishing the weight of Obama's decision to launch the operation, Williams referenced the failed attempt by Jimmy Carter to rescue American hostages from Iran in 1980: "If this had failed in spectacular fashion, it would have blown up your presidency, I think, by all estimates. It would have been your Waterloo and perhaps your Watergate, consumed with hearings and inquiries. How thick did the specter of Jimmy Carter, Desert One hang in the air here?"

Obama used the opportunity to deny such political considerations:

You know, I thought of it. But I will tell you that there are moments in your presidency where you really do put politics aside. Certainly we thought about the fact that if there was a failure here, it would have disastrous consequences for me politically. We knew the examples of the Carter presidency and we understood what happened there. But I tell you, the only thing that I was thinking about throughout this entire enterprise was, I really want to get those guys back home safe.

The closest Williams came to a challenging question about failures in Obama's broader foreign policy laid blame on the military, not on the President: "You got him [Bin Laden], but what did it get you? What did it get us? Are we demonstrably safer? We've had setbacks vis a vis our military, with desecration, with the burning of the Koran, unforced errors what's the net effect and result now that you have a year's clarity behind you?"


Here are portions of the May 2 broadcast:

(...)
    
9:18PM ET

BRIAN WILLIAMS: Keeping this secret also meant going on about the business of the presidency. Touring that awful storm damage in Alabama while knowing at that very moment U.S. Navy SEALs were already on the move halfway around the world. You had to go to Tuscaloosa.

BARACK OBAMA: Yeah.

WILLIAMS: You had to go have fun at the Correspondents' Dinner. Seth Meyers makes a joke about Osama Bin Laden.

SETH MEYERS: People think Bin Laden is hiding in the Hindu Kush, but did you know that everyday from 4 to 5 he hosts a show on C-SPAN?

WILLIAMS: How do you keep an even keel? Even when we look back on the videotape of that night, there's no real depiction that there's something afoot.

OBAMA: You know, when I go down to Tuscaloosa, I'm very much present there. Because the tragedy and the devastation that had happened to the folks there, I think, consumed all my attention. So that wasn't difficult to – to focus on. You know, the Correspondents' Dinner was a different story. You know, that was a little bit of acting going on there, because my mind was elsewhere.

MIKE MULLEN [FMR. CHAIRMAN, JOINT CHIEFS OF STAFF]: I ran into many friends and acquaintances that night who subsequently remarked after the fact that pretty good poker player. He didn't give anything up.

TOM DONILON [NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISOR]: We didn't want to have any sense anywhere that something was up. That we had any sort of mass cancellations with respect to the dinner. I did run into one correspondent who said you're leaving – you're leaving early. Where are you going? You know, and I said I got this thing tomorrow.

WILLIAMS: I can't remember if you went to that Correspondents' Dinner. But here's the President going to Tuscaloosa, Correspondents' Dinner. You have to laugh it up. You've got to live a little bit of a lie for the public good.

HILLARY CLINTON: Well, that's exactly true. I did not go. I had – one of Chelsea's friends got married. I went to the wedding. I went to the reception. I was at the reception and it was so ironic. All these smart, young people who work in all kinds of enterprises. One of them came up and said do you think we'll ever get Bin Laden? I said I don't know. I have no way of knowing, but I can tell you this. We'll keep trying. I thought, and so I'm leaving now.

WILLIAMS: And simultaneously Seth Meyers at the Hilton is making a Bin Laden joke.

CLINTON: I know it. And I – really, I got home. I couldn't sleep. I couldn't sleep the next night. I mean, it was – and I don't have trouble sleeping. But those were two tough days.

(...)

9:25PM ET

WILLIAMS: On Sunday morning, May 1st of last year, at 11 a.m., members of the national security team started arriving in the Situation Room for what they knew would be a long haul. The Navy SEALs were waiting for night fall to launch the attack and everyone knew a mistake at this stage of the game would mean scrubbing the mission. And so nothing, including the provisions for the Situation Room, was left to chance.

Is it true you ate Costco food, as to not draw any attention? And multiple pizzerias were contacted as to prevent any one large order from drawing attention to the gathering? Mr. McDonough, can you confirm those food details?

DENIS MCDONOUGH [DEPUTY NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISOR]: As a big fan of Costco, I can confirm that we did eat Costco that night. Frankly, throughout the day.

DONILON: Did we declassify that?

MCDONOUGH: We did not. It's a good question. It's a good question, boss.

WILLIAMS: The President played golf that morning. Nine holes on the grounds of nearby Andrews Air Force Base. Back at the White House at 2 p.m., he headed downstairs to join the others in the Situation Room.

This is the lower hallway, the part nobody gets to see of the house where you get to live and work. And you have – you have worn a path to the Situation Room. I saw these. This is unbelievable. These are the...

OBAMA: These are the photos.

WILLIAMS: This is the drama of...

OBAMA: As it was unfolding.

WILLIAMS: ...of that night. All of the different scenes and vignettes. I mean, when you see it now, I would imagine that was as tight as things ever get in this building.

OBAMA: It was tense. It was a tough, tough night. But I tell you, everybody operated just the way you'd hope they operated. So we're going in the Situation Room.

WILLIAMS: So they open it for you?

OBAMA: Once in awhile.

WILLIAMS: Upon entering the Situation Room, everyone has to surrender their electronics. They're placed in a metal-lined wooden box that was once a cigar humidor. It's a bright but sparse series of rooms with low ceilings and suede covered walls for sound insulation. And in every room, digital clocks read out the time zones including the President's location at any given moment.
    
(...)

9:38PM ET

WILLIAMS: For at least one elder statesman in that picture that day, this mission dredged up an awful but always present reminder of Desert One, the failed attempt to rescue the Iranian hostages back in 1980, when 8 U.S. special operators were killed.

MULLEN: Bob gates, who in that photo was off to my left. Bob Gates had been in that same room when Desert One happened. And so my first glance was at him.

WILLIAMS: If this had failed in spectacular fashion, it would have blown up your presidency, I think, by all estimates. It would have been your Waterloo and perhaps your Watergate, consumed with hearings and inquiries. How thick did the specter of Jimmy Carter, Desert One hang in the air here?

OBAMA: You know, I thought of it. But I will tell you that there are moments in your presidency where you really do put politics aside. Certainly we thought about the fact that if there was a failure here, it would have disastrous consequences for me politically. We knew the examples of the Carter presidency and we understood what happened there. But I tell you, the only thing that I was thinking about throughout this entire enterprise was, I really want to get those guys back home safe.

(...)        

9:55PM ET

WILLIAMS: You got him, but what did it get you? What did it get us? Are we demonstrably safer? We've had setbacks vis a vis our military, with desecration, with the burning of the Koran, unforced errors what's the net effect and result now that you have a year's clarity behind you?

OBAMA: Even before we got Bin Laden, we had Al Qaeda on its heels. And by getting Bin Laden, we capped off that two-year campaign. That was important. That makes us safer. Did it completely diminish all risk of terrorism? Absolutely not. But all told, a year later, are we better off? Are we safer because we got Bin Laden? Absolutely.

(...)

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