NBC Seizes on Mark Sanford Congressional Run and Dredges Up Scandal

Amid all of the news breaking in Washington, from the upcoming sequester cuts to President Obama's second term agenda, NBC's Today decided to focus its Tuesday political coverage on a scandal that plagued former South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford four years ago. The news hook was Sanford running in a GOP primary for the congressional seat left open by newly appointed Senator Tim Scott.

Co-host Savannah Guthrie touted an exclusive interview with the Republican: "Second chance? Former South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford running again for Congress years after an affair that ended his marriage and made him a political punch line. Will voters forgive and forget? This morning we'll talk to him live."

Back in 2009, the day after Sanford admitted to the affair, the network morning shows devoted nearly an hour to the scandal, with 25 minutes of coverage on the Today show alone.

After briefly summarizing Sanford's fall from grace, Guthrie asked him a series of questions all centered around the scandal and wondering if the former governor was worthy of a second chance at public office.

Following Democratic Congressman Anthony Weiner resigning due to a sexting scandal in 2012, Guthrie moderated a panel discussion about Weiner getting a second chance in politics after being a "great representative."

While its certainly appropriate to press any politician running for office on their past indiscretions, why did NBC choose to highlight Sanford?


Here is a full transcript of the February 19 segment:

7:00AM ET TEASE:

SAVANNAH GUTHRIE: Second chance? Former South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford running again for Congress years after an affair that ended his marriage and made him a political punch line. Will voters forgive and forget? This morning we'll talk to him live.

7:14AM ET SEGMENT:

GUTHRIE: Former South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford is hoping for a second chance in politics in the wake of a personal scandal that cost him his marriage. We will talk to the Governor exclusively in a moment. But first, his story.

MARK SANFORD: Washington's math doesn't add up.

GUTHRIE: In a new campaign ad, Mark Sanford takes on his biggest hurdle, past scandal.

[ON-SCREEN HEADLINE: After the Scandal; Former Gov. Mark Sanford Runs for Congress]

MARK SANFORD: I've experienced how none of us go through life without mistakes, but in their wake we can learn a lot about grace, a God of second chances, and be the better for it.

GUTHRIE: Four years ago, Sanford was a rising Republican star, governor of South Carolina, with an attractive wife and family. But that promising political career was derailed by an affair with a television reporter in Argentina.

SANFORD: I've let down a lot of people.

GUTHRIE: Missing from the state house for days, Sanford's staff said he was hiking the Appalachian Trail, but Sanford had lied to his staff and was actually visiting his mistress in Argentina.

SANFORD: I've been unfaithful to my wife. I developed a relationship with a – what started out as a dear, dear friend from Argentina.

GUTHRIE: That admission led to his censure, his resignation as head of Republican Governors Association, and the end of his marriage.

JENNY SANFORD: His career right now is the least of my concerns, my important job right now is our children.

GUTHRIE: Now Sanford is trying to revive his political career, campaigning on his fiscally conservative record.

MARK SANFORD: I've cut spending, reduced debt, and made government more accountable.

GUTHRIE: Sanford is now the front-runner in a 16-person Republican field for the March 19th primary. He recently became engaged to his former mistress, whom he has called his soul mate. And former Governor Mark Sanford is with us now exclusively. Governor, good morning, it's good to see you.

SANFORD: You as well.

GUTHRIE: Well let's just cut right to it. You know, there are a lot of people who are watching and they're probably thinking, "You know, everyone does deserve a second chance. Everybody deserves a chance to rebuild their life. But not everybody is entitled to run for public office when it relies on the public trust, especially at a time when our Washington institutions have lost so much respect." What would your response be to that?

[ON-SCREEN HEADLINE: Today Exclusive; Mark Sanford on Running for Office After Scandal]

SANFORD: I guess my response would be two-fold. As I mentioned in that commercial and as I've had conversations with a lot of friends back home. The reality of our lives is that if we live long enough, we're going to fail at something. And I absolutely failed in my personal life and my marriage. But one place I didn't ever fail was with the taxpayer. If you were to look at my 20 years in politics, what you'd see is a fairly remarkable consistency in trying to watch out for the taxpayer. And the ill that's before us as a civilization is that if we don't get our financial house in order, there are going to be incredible consequences for the Dollar, for the American way of life, for our respective savings, and a whole lot more.

GUTHRIE: A couple of things about that, though. Number one, you did pay a fine, ethics charges related to misusing taxpayer funds. We don't have to get in all to the nitty gritty of that.

SANFORD: Sure, sure.

GUTHRIE: But, I mean, doesn't that kind of go against your argument of being, you know, faithful to the taxpayer?
 
SANFORD: No, no. If we were to get into the nitty gritty, what you'd find is – is there was no admission of guilt with any of that. In the same way that a business will settle a case, and you're a lawyer by training, you know, you can say, "Okay, this happened," but in other words, by no means do we agree with what happened. And even the House, which were no – by no means fans, absolved us of all of that. So yes, I did use business class on legitimate business trips, it's a much longer story.

GUTHRIE: To the larger issue, do you really need to run for public office? What is this about? You care about debt and deficit. These are issues that are well-discussed in Washington.

SANFORD: But that's just the problem. They are well-discussed, but all too often too few choose to take real action. And I was actually rated number one in the entire United States Congress by the National Taxpayers Union in efforts to try and reduce government spending, rated number one in the entire United States Congress by Citizens Against Government Waste, rated the most fiscally conservative governor in the United States of America. So I could come up with a lot of merit badges that point to one thing, which is many people will talk about our spending problem in Washington, all too few will try and do something about it.

GUTHRIE: But you've been around a long time, and you know for you the price of re-entering politics is dredging up all the things we just saw. Which may be embarrassing and painful to you, but also the people around you, including your ex-wife, including your family. Is it worth it?

SANFORD: No, I mean there's definitely pain in seeing the clips that you were just showing. But, you know, I sat down with the boys. We had a conversation. I said, "What do you guys want me to do? If you don't want me to do it, I'm out." And their point was, "No, Dad, you've long cared about this stuff. You ought to do it."

And what I would also say is I've been on something of a personal journey. And I believe that if you live long enough, you will indeed fail at something. And I failed mightily. The saying is the higher you rise, the bigger you fall. I failed. But in some ways, what I've come to learn is that ultimately our brokenness as human beings is ultimately our connection. And that goes to a larger article of faith and a whole lot more.

GUTHRIE: And I know you have been very introspective these last few years, you've talked about that. Have you asked yourself, "What is this really about?" Is it about these issues of debt and spending or is this about seeking some kind of personal, political redemption?

SANFORD: Well, I think that we all hope for redemption in our lives. I mean that is one of the great journeys of our respective lives. But I would say my focus is crystal clear, which is, is part of the cost of re-entering politics a discussion about my personal failure and the consequences thereof? Yes. Is that painful to me and a lot of others that I love? Yes. But I keep going back to we are at a tipping point as a civilization. And if we don't get our financial house in order, there are going to be unbelievable consequences for the very folks watching this show right now.

GUTHRIE: Well, former Governor Mark Sanford, it's good to have you here. Thank you for being here and answering the questions.

SANFORD: My pleasure, thanks.

GUTHRIE: Appreciate it.

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