ABC, CBS, and NBC ballyhooed former Defense Secretary Robert Gates's attacks on President Obama and other high government officials on their Tuesday evening and Wednesday morning newscasts. NBC's Brian Williams and CBS's Norah O'Donnell also trumpeted the former Cabinet official's "devastating critique" of the President in his upcoming memoir. All three networks also played up Gates's self-identification as a Republican.
NBC's Today and CBS This Morning brought on former Obama administration officials on Wednesday morning. Both guests did their best to counter their former colleague. Matt Lauer touted David Axelrod's "important perspective" on the issue, and asked, "Did you get a sense that he was a guy who...was disgruntled in any way?" The CBS morning show turned to former chief of staff Bill Daley, who slammed Gates for going public: [MP3 audio available here; video below the jump]
BILL DALEY, FMR. OBAMA CHIEF OF STAFF: ...[T]his rush to do books by people who leave an administration, while the administration is ongoing, I think is unfortunate. It's one thing as historians look back on an administration – but in the middle of it, when you're pursuing a war at the same time – and one that is very controversial with the American people and has been very difficult on our military – I think it's just a disservice, to be very frank with you.
On Tuesday's World News, anchor Diane Sawyer labeled the former defense secretary an "unlikely author," as she introduced correspondent Jonathan Karl's report on the soon-to-be-released book. Karl outlined Gates's "deep misgivings about the President he served," and pointed out that he "calls himself a Republican." The ABC journalist later noted that "his [Gates] harshest criticism is of Vice President [Joe] Biden, who he calls a man of integrity but, quote, 'I think he has been wrong on nearly every major foreign policy and national security issue over the past four decades.'"
Hour later, on Wednesday's Good Morning America, ABC's George Stephanopoulos touted the "bombshell book from former Defense Secretary Robert Gates" as he introduced a second report from Karl, and added that "his blunt and candid wartime reflections take aim at the President, Congress, the White House staff and most harshly Vice President Joe Biden". The correspondent recounted that "the former defense secretary, who calls himself a Republican, is especially harsh in describing the President's actions in the war on Afghanistan."
Brian Williams hyped Gates's upcoming memoir as a "blistering critique" seconds into Tuesday's NBC Nightly News. Williams led into correspondent Andrea Mitchell's report with his "devastating critique" phrase. Mitchell continued by highlighting that the book is "causing heartburn in the White House." She also underlined that "in his sensational new memoir, Gates excoriates the President, Vice President Joe Biden, and former national security advisor Tom Donilon for their handling of the war in Afghanistan and the military." Mitchell and NBC anchor Matt Lauer used similar hype the following morning on Today.
Lauer then interviewed Axelrod, and wasted little time before asking his "disgruntled" question about former Secretary Gates. The former Obama adviser answered, in part, that he was "surprised when I saw the stories yesterday because I always felt they had a good working relationship. He always indicated that he had a good working relationship with the President. And the stories themselves are confusing."
Near the end of the segment, the NBC journalist wondered about "Secretary Gates's credibility on these issues. This is a guy who served both Republicans and Democrats, he was a loyal defense secretary, he sacrificed for his country....can you look me in the eye and tell me that you ever honestly thought he would be a guy who would make things up just to sell a book?"
Besides their interview of Bill Daley, Wednesday's CBS This Morning turned to correspondent Rita Braver, who interviewed Gates for an upcoming episode of the network's Sunday Morning program. Braver outlined the former Obama administration's critiques and claims, but also underlined that "his specific criticisms of the President were quite limited," and that "he [Gates] was also very angry, it seems, at Biden – although again, he says that Biden, personally, was very likeable; impossible not to like; funny and irreverent in meetings."
[Update: the transcripts of the David Axelrod interview from Wednesday's Today on NBC, and the Bill Daley interview from Wednesday's CBS This Morning can be read at MRC.org.]