CBS Asks Axelrod Four Questions on Debate, Saves Libya Controversy for Last Question

On Thursday's CBS This Morning, co-hosts Charlie Rose and Norah O'Donnell waited until the fifth interview question to press Obama adviser David Axelrod about the fiasco in Libya. The question wasn't even a tough one, basically asking for the administration's spin.

"David, the consequences of what happened in the death of the Ambassador in Libya has caused some scrutiny in those incidents in the security there, and people are writing in editorials this morning that perhaps there was some pressure on Ambassador Rice to say what she said," Rose brought up the charges against the administration. "What is the response of the President to these questions and charges?" he asked.

"Well first of all, that's absolute nonsense," the Obama adviser predictably answered. This was part of the only exchange with Axelrod about Libya, the day after a congressional hearing on the events there.

CBS's Margaret Brennan narrated a tough segment on the hearings after the Axelrod interview, which scrutinized the State Department's handling of embassy security in Libya and the administration's reaction to the terrorist attacks. However, Axelrod saw only one question on Libya.

Instead, the first four questions for Axelrod were horserace questions about the debate. Three of them were softballs about Vice President Biden's debate prep. "How is his preparation different than the preparation for the President?" asked Rose.

"Paul Ryan says he expects Joe Biden to come at him like a cannon ball. Is that the strategy?" asked Norah O'Donnell. This question came before the brief exchange about Libya.

A transcript of the interview, which aired on CBS This Morning on October 11 at 7:06 a.m. EDT, is as follows:

CHARLIE ROSE: The President said the stakes are high in all these debates, and you were part of the team helping him prepare, Vice President Biden. How is his preparation different than the preparation for the President?

DAVID AXELROD: Well, I mean obviously he's debating a different person. They're debating the same issues, the same vision. But you have to prepare for the person you're debating. But in any case, it's a great opportunity again to drive the distinctions between the two candidates and talk about distinct approaches to the future. Right now, the Romney campaign is running away from some of their positions like unwanted stepchildren. But we're going to hold them to them and explain to the country exactly what the differences are here, because the choice is very stark.

ROSE: Will he be more aggressive than he has been with, say, Sarah Palin in other debates, because there's a feeling within the campaign that there is a momentum for the President, I mean for Governor Romney, and this debate may play a role in stopping it if you're successful.

AXELROD: Well I think that the big challenge for him is going to be to pin Congressman Ryan down. You know, he was on television a couple of weeks ago, and he was asked to explain Governor Romney's tax plan, and he said well I don't have enough time to explain it, it's too complicated to explain. Well he's got 90 minutes tonight, so hopefully he'll have enough time to explain it, and explain how they're not going to explode the deficits and put a big new burden on the middle class.

NORAH O'DONNELL: David, we see a number of battleground state polls out this morning, including those by CBS News (Inaudible) the contest in several of these states. Can Joe Biden tonight stop the slide in the polls for President Obama?

Well Norah, I don't think there's a slide in the polls. I think there was a bump after the debate. I think it was mostly last weekend. As you know, these polls that you conducted don't measure the days since the debate, they measure what happened from before the debate to after. So I don't think there's big momentum, but there's no doubt that Governor Romney (Inaudible) mostly of Republican-leaning independents as a result of the last debate. What I think the Vice President can do is really drive home the fact that one candidate, the President, has a vision that has squarely in it the interest of the middle class and the notion that you build the economy through the middle class and through a strong middle class. And the other side has this same trickle-down theory that Congressman Ryan voted for all through the last decade, big tax breaks for the wealthy, de-regulation (Inaudible), and we know how that story ends.

O'DONNELL: Paul Ryan says he expects Joe Biden to come at him like a cannon ball. Is that the strategy?

AXELROD: I think (Inaudible) if he says he's going to hold him to account for the positions that Governor Romney has taken in this campaign, their collective records, their approach to issues. Well, then maybe so. But Harry Truman said I don't give them hell, I just tell it like it is and they feel like they're in hell. So maybe Congressman Ryan's feeling the pressure of their own positions.

ROSE: David, the consequences of what happened in the death of the Ambassador in Libya has caused some scrutiny in those incidents in the security there, and people are writing in editorials this morning that perhaps there was some pressure on Ambassador Rice to say what she said. The Wall Street Journal points to David Plouffe. What is the response of the President to these questions and charges?

AXLEROD: Well first of all, that's absolute nonsense. Ambassador Rice went out and she reported what she was told, and what the intelligence community initially reported. And we got facts, we reported them. No one has any greater interest than the President to get to the bottom of this. He feels a sense of responsibility for every diplomat we send overseas, and so of course we want to get to the bottom of it, and we want to bring to justice those people who are responsible for the assassination of this Ambassador, and that's what we are going to do.

Matt Hadro
Matt Hadro
Matt Hadro was a News Analyst for the Media Research Center's News Analysis Division from 2010 through early 2014