On MLK Anniversary, NBC Sees Another Day to Boost Obama

In a puff piece on Wednesday's NBC Today, White House correspondent Kristen Welker heralded President Obama's upcoming speech marking the anniversary of Martin Luther King's "I have a dream" speech: "President Obama has delivered a number of big speeches before, but this one is different. He'll be speaking in the shadows of Dr. King, a man who gave his life fighting for civil rights. So, today, the stakes couldn't be higher." [Listen to the audio or watch the video after the jump]

Only Obama's fellow liberals were given sound bites throughout the report that sounded more like a press release. First, White House aide Valerie Jarrett declared: "Are comparisons inevitable? Sure. But I think he's looking forward to the opportunity....I think, as the original speech was about not just civil rights but it was about jobs, and so I think he'll talk about that, and I think it'll also be a message to the next generation."

Welker then tagged left-wing PBS host Tavis Smiley as an "Obama critic" who "called on the President to do more than just talk." Smiley lectured: "Where racism and poverty are concerned, there is no excuse for this administration not talking more about it. We've got to move beyond just celebrating with our words and start to emulate King with our deeds."

Finally, Welker teed up The Grio's managing editor and frequent MSNBC commentator Joy-Ann Reid: "This isn't the first time the President has spoken against today's historic backdrop. Five years ago he accepted his nomination in Denver on the 45th anniversary. Still, this moment is different."

Like Smiley, Reid hit Obama from the left and pushed for more action: "It's one thing to sort of talk about the greatness of the moment, talk about history, and to give beautiful words, but I think what people want to come away with is a call to action. That's what the 1963 speech was."

Welker wrapped up the fawning segment by touting Obama's pre-speech preparations: "Now aides tell me President Obama will be fine tuning his speech throughout the day, not unusual for this president....he consulted with civil rights leaders, faith leaders, and he placed a personal phone call to Congressman John Lewis, the last living speaker from that 1963 march."

Following Welker's report, co-host Savannah Guthrie sympathized with the President over the high expectations for the address: "Can you imagine the pressure? Even for a president who's used to that kind of pressure."  


Here is a full transcript of the August 28 segment:

7:07AM ET

SAVANNAH GUTHRIE: As we mentioned, this is the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King's "I have a dream" speech, and to mark the occasion, the President will deliver his own speech today from the very spot where Dr. King gave his iconic address. NBC's White House correspondent Kristen Welker has the story. Kristen, Good morning.

[ON-SCREEN HEADLINE: Remembering "I Have A Dream"; President to Deliver Speech on MLK's 50th Anniversary]

KRISTEN WELKER: Savannah, good morning to you. President Obama has delivered a number of big speeches before, but this one is different. He'll be speaking in the shadows of Dr. King, a man who gave his life fighting for civil rights. So, today, the stakes couldn't be higher.

MARTIN LUTHER KING: I have a dream today.

WELKER: They are words that helped change a nation and pave the way for this historic moment.

BARACK OBAMA: I, Barack Hussein Obama...

WELKER: So when the first  black president stands on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial today, in the same place as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., there will be great expectations.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Everyone is just so excited about it.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: He needs to stress that the work of the civil rights movement is not finished.

WELKER: Aides admit the President feels the pressure. During a radio interview Tuesday, Mr. Obama tried to lower the anticipation.

OBAMA: It won't be as good as the speech 50 years ago.

VALERIE JARRETT: Are comparisons inevitable? Sure. But I think he's looking forward to the opportunity.

WELKER: Top advisor Valerie Jarrett says the President's remarks will focus on progress made and the challenges that lie ahead.

JARRETT: I think, as the original speech was about not just civil rights but it was about jobs, and so I think he'll talk about that, and I think it'll also be a message to the next generation.

WELKER: But Obama critic Tavis Smiley called on the President to do more than just talk.

TAVIS SMILEY [PBS HOST]: Where racism and poverty are concerned, there is no excuse for this administration not talking more about it. We've got to move beyond just celebrating with our words and start to emulate King with our deeds.

WELKER: This isn't the first time the President has spoken against today's historic backdrop. Five years ago he accepted his nomination in Denver on the 45th anniversary. Still, this moment is different.

JOY-ANN REID [THE GRIO.COM MANAGING EDITOR]: It's one thing to sort of talk about the greatness of the moment, talk about history, and to give beautiful words, but I think what people want to come away with is a call to action. That's what the 1963 speech was.

WELKER: Now aides tell me President Obama will be fine tuning his speech throughout the day, not unusual for this president. In preparation, he consulted with civil rights leaders, faith leaders, and he placed a personal phone call to Congressman John Lewis, the last living speaker from that 1963 march. Savannah.

GUTHRIE: Alright, Kristen Welker at the White House for us, thank you.

Can you imagine the pressure? Even for a president who's used to that kind of pressure.

MATT LAUER: No question.

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