Networks: 'Tough' Obama 'Wasted No Time' Issuing 'Fighting Words' Against ISIS

After President Obama admitted on Thursday that he had "no strategy" for dealing with the ISIS terrorist network, on Wednesday, the network morning shows rushed to portray the aimless commander-in-chief as a tough-talking leader ready to "destroy" the radical killers.

At the top of ABC's Good Morning America, co-host George Stephanopoulos hyped: "President Obama's tough words to the ISIS terrorists who executed American journalist Steven Sotloff." In the report that followed, correspondent Brian Ross proclaimed: "President Obama vowed that ISIS will pay the price for the murder of a second American journalist. The President delivered fighting words this morning..." [Listen to the audio or watch the video after the jump]

Talking to White House correspondent Jonathan Karl moments later, Stephanopoulos declared: "In those remarks, the President laid also out a bold goal. He said the bottom line is the U.S. goal is to degrade and destroy ISIS as a threat." Karl quickly shattered the image of a tough and decisive Obama:

Very definitively this is beyond where he's gone but there seemed to be a mixed message there because when he was asked to clarify if he was now saying the U.S. wants to destroy ISIS, he backtracked significantly saying we can continue to shrink ISIS's sphere of influence to the point where it is a manageable problem. So in the course of one set of remarks, he went from talking about destroying this terrorist group to making it into a manageable problem.

Fill-in co-host Natalie Morales opened NBC's Today by announcing: "President Obama vows 'justice will be served' in the wake of the brutal murder of yet another American by ISIS militants." Introducing a later report, she asserted that the President was "vowing to destroy the terror group."

Correspondent Richard Engel noted how the beheading of Sotloff "just adds more pressure on Washington to do something about the still unchallenged ISIS threat in Syria," but then touted how Obama "expressed outrage" and "resolve" over the murder.  

Near the end of the segment, Engel alluded to administration critics:

ENGEL: Many believe the U.S. needs to attack ISIS in Syria without delay.

RYAN CROCKER [FORMER U.S. AMBASSADOR IN IRAQ]: We cannot allow an enemy this dangerous to have a safe haven anywhere.

ENGEL: Instead, the administration's focus has been fighting ISIS with air strikes across the border in Iraq, leaving ISIS unchallenged in Syria.

On Sunday's Meet the Press, Engel went much further, revealing that military officials were "apoplectic" over Obama's poor handling of foreign policy.

On CBS This Morning, correspondent Clarissa Ward claimed that Obama "wasted no time addressing Sotloff's execution..." Obama actually wasted several hours of time. The news of the beheading came midday on Tuesday and the President didn't make his statement until early Wednesday morning.

Like Karl on GMA, CBS White House correspondent Major Garrett followed Ward's report and acknowledged the dissembling nature of Obama's remarks:

The President was then asked to describe U.S. military goals against Islamic state fighters who have now murdered two American journalists. At first, the president used language reminiscent of the long running battle against Al Qaeda....Moments later the President softened that language, describing the goal against Islamic state fighters as to make that threat manageable.


Here are transcripts of the September 3 morning show coverage:

Good Morning America
7:02 AM ET

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: We have a lot to get to this morning starting with that execution of another American journalist. Authorities confirm overnight that video is Steven Sotloff being murdered by an ISIS militant. ABC's Brian Ross is here with the latest. Good morning Brian.

BRIAN ROSS: Well good morning George. As you say U.S. authorities have confirmed the gruesome video is authentic as President Obama vowed that ISIS will pay the price for the murder of a second American journalist. The president delivered fighting words this morning as he said ISIS will achieve nothing by the barbaric murders of Steven Sotloff and James Foley.

BARACK OBAMA: We will not be intimidated. Their horrific acts only unite us as a country and stiffen our resolve to take the fight against these terrorists.

ROSS: U.S. officials say Sotloff never had a chance in the hands of the brutal ISIS group despite an emotional plea for mercy from his mother.

SHIRLEY SOTLOFF: I ask you to please release my child.

ROSS: British authorities this morning said the hooded executioner appears to be the same British accented speaker who two weeks ago beheaded journalist James Foley. Investigators are already comparing the voices from the two ISIS videos along with an analysis of the desert setting, the speaker’s use of his left hand to hold the knife and his eyes. Earlier U.S. facial recognition experts had created this likeness from an examination of the eyes and the president this morning vowed to find whoever was responsible.

OBAMA: And those who make the mistake of harming Americans will learn that we will not forget and that our reach is long and that justice will be served.

ROSS: At the end of the Sotloff video, ISIS produced yet another western hostage, identified as a British citizen named David Haynes, threatening to do the same to him and U.S. officials say there are at least two more Americans being held by ISIS, two young aid workers who had gone to Syria to help civilians caught in the middle of the strife there George.  

STEPHANOPOULOS: Such a difficult situation. Okay Brian thanks.


Today
7:03 AM ET

MORALES: We do want to begin with the breaking news. President Obama this morning addressing the murder of another U.S. hostage of ISIS during a morning news conference in Estonia. The President calling it "horrific act of violence" while vowing to destroy the terror group. NBC's chief foreign correspondent Richard Engel is in Turkey along the Syrian border. Richard, good morning.

[ON-SCREEN HEADLINE: "We Will Not Be Intimidated"; President Says "Justice Will Be Served" to ISIS]

RICHARD ENGEL: Good morning, Natalie. The White House says that a video apparently showing the beheading of an American journalist does appear to be genuine. And this just adds more pressure on Washington to do something about the still unchallenged ISIS threat in Syria. On a NATO visit in Estonia, President Obama expressed outrage at the beheading of American reporter Steven Sotloff and resolve.

BARACK OBAMA: Americans are repulsed by their barbarism. We will not be intimidated. Their horrific acts only unite us as a country and stiffen our resolve to take the fight against these terrorists. And those who make the mistake of harming Americans will learn that we will not forget and that our reach is long and that justice will be served.

ENGEL: In a video released by ISIS yesterday, Sotloff faced his death with dignity and bravery. A friend says that's how he lived his life too.

JANINE DI GIOVANNI [MIDDLE EAST EDITOR, NEWSWEEK]: It took a lot of courage for him to continue to cover the story.

ENGEL: The 31-year-old freelance reporter never flinched or cowered, even as he knew these were his final moments. His killer appeared to be the same terrorist who murdered American reporter James Foley in a video two weeks ago. The same swagger, the voice with what sounded like the same British accent.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN [ISIS TERRORIST]: I'm back, Obama.

ENGEL: Steven Sotloff's mother Shirley had pleaded for mercy for her son.

SHIRLEY SOTLOFF: We want to see him home safe and sound and to hug him.

ENGEL: The Sotloff family said they were now grieving in private. Many believe the U.S. needs to attack ISIS in Syria without delay.

RYAN CROCKER [FORMER U.S. AMBASSADOR IN IRAQ]: We cannot allow an enemy this dangerous to have a safe haven anywhere.

ENGEL: Instead, the administration's focus has been fighting ISIS with air strikes across the border in Iraq, leaving ISIS unchallenged in Syria.

ISIS has threatened to kill a British hostage next. And overnight the White House authorized 350 more American troops to Iraq, where ISIS also as a stronghold. Natalie, Willie, back to you.

MORALES: Thank you. Richard Engel along the Turkey-Syria border.


CBS This Morning
7:03 AM ET

CHARLIE ROSE: The ISIS video showing the beheading of another American journalist is authentic. American officials confirmed this morning that Steven Sotloff has been beheaded. The Islamic terror group posted the gruesome images yesterday.

NORAH O'DONNELL: President Obama said just this morning that he is repulsed by the killing calling it a "horrific act of violence." Clarissa Ward is in London as ISIS continues to threaten more lives. Clarissa good morning.

CLARISSA WARD: Good morning. The President wasted no time addressing Sotloff's execution which comes just two weeks after the beheading of another American journalist saying that Americans are disgusted by this barbarism of his killing and that his killers will face consequences for their actions.

BARACK OBAMA: And those who make the mistake of harming Americans will learn that we will not forget and that our reach is long and that justice will be served.

WARD: The scene has become familiar, an American journalist kneeling in an orange jumpsuit in the desert delivers what appears to be scripted final words.

STEVEN SOTLOFF: I am Steven Joel Sotloff.

WARD: The executioner, disguised in black, blames Sotloff's death on President Obama and U.S. air strikes on ISIS targets in Iraq.

UNKNOWN PERSON: I'm back, Obama and I'm back because of your arrogant foreign policy towards the Islamic state.

WARD: His execution comes two weeks after the beheading of another American journalist, James Foley. An investigation is under way to see if the executioner who speaks with a distinct British accent is the same man behind Foley's death. Sotloff, from Miami, Florida, had been reporting on the Arab spring for Time magazine and others for the past few years. His death comes in spite of a plea from his mother Shirley Sotloff last week.

SHIRLEY SOTLOFF: I want what every mother wants, to live to see her children's children. I plead with you.

WARD: A statement released by a spokesman last night said, "The family knows of this horrific tragedy and is grieving privately. There will be no public comment from the family during this difficult time." The video ends with a chilling announcement to the next victim. A British man identified as David Cawthorne Haines. ISIS knows that these executions are unlikely to change the policies of the U.S. and its allies, but analysts say these videos have two purposes, to drive fear and horror into the hearts of American people and to inspire new recruits to enjoin the Islamic state. Norah.

O’DONNELL: All right, Clarissa, thank you.

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