After 117 stories over ten days, what would it take for the big three networks to ease up on their unending obsession with the Herman Cain sexual harassment story? The opportunity to go after another Republican, this time Rick Perry. From Wednesday night's evening newscasts through the Thursday morning shows, there were only two Cain stories (bringing the total to 119).
Good Morning America, CBS's Early Show and NBC's Today all pounced on Perry's debate performance and an inability to remember a government agency that he wished to eliminate. The three morning shows only offered brief passing mentions to the Cain scandal. Instead, co-host Ann Curry pressed Perry, "Have you thought about ending your campaign? Are you staying in this race, sir?"
Going into the debate the night before, however, both CBS's Evening News and NBC's Nightly News each offered another full report on the Cain scandal.
NBC's Chuck Todd breathlessly reported, "The elephant in the room, of course, is Herman Cain and the ongoing saga of the sexual harassment allegations. How does he handle it when or if it comes up? How does he handle this if opponents choose to go after him about it?"
On CBS's Evening News, Jan Crawford intoned, "Republican strategists say the allegations also are starting to have a negative impact on the entire Republican field, distracting from the issues less than two months before people start voting."
Once the debate was over, however, the networks had a new target to attack. Just hours later, ABC's Amy Walters appeared on Nightline and remarked, "This was supposed to be a debate where Herman Cain was under fire, where he was going to have to answer a lot of questions about all the allegations that have come up this week."
On Thursday's GMA, a graphic bombarded, "Perry's Debate Debacle: 53 Second Meltdown on Camera." Co-anchor George Stephanopoulos spent his interview with Rick Perry piling on: "But you did look like you were in pain during that answer last night. What but your thinking about?"
"You have got a host of Republican operatives out overnight saying this is a death blow to your campaign," he helpfully added.
A transcript of the November 10 GMA segment can be found below:
GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: Let's hear from the governor himself, Rick Perry, joining us this morning. And, boy, no one wants pity from an opponent. But you did look like you were in pain during that answer last night. What but your thinking about?
RICK PERRY: I was thinking about the number of federal agencies that were coming to mind. But the one that I wanted to say, the Department of Energy, would not come out. And, you know, in all seriousness, that is one of the problems we have in this country, is we have got so many agencies in government out there, that are impacting people's lives. Everybody makes mistakes. Trust me, I'm a human being.
STEPHANOPOULOS: That is true. That is one of the standard questions that everyone prepares for. Name three agencies you'd get rid of. Larry Sabato, presidential scholar, already calling this the worst moment in modern primary debates. You have got a host of Republican operatives out overnight saying this is a death blow to your campaign.
PERRY: Well, the bottom line is, we're going to get up every day and go talk to the American people. And they know that there is not a perfect candidate that's been made yet. And I'm kind of proof positive of it every day, that people make mistakes when they debate. People make mistakes when they make statements. But there's one thing that Americans do know about me, and that is that my conservative beliefs about getting this country back on track are very deep-founded. For ten years, in the state of Texas, as I've had the great privilege to serve there. We created more jobs than any other state in the nation while America lost two and a half million. So, if they're looking for the best debater or the best, smoothest politician, I might not be it. But if they're looking for someone that is a principle, fiscal conservative, they can count on me every day.
STEPHANOPOULOS: I take your point, Governor. But it came at the worst time for you in this campaign. You're on a downward spiral since the campaign began. Dropped almost 20 points in our ABC News poll nationally. If you look at the polls in the early states. You've gone from first to fourth in Iowa. First to fourth in South Carolina. First to fourth in Florida. Doing even worse in New Hampshire. How do you recover?
PERRY: Oh, we just keep on going out there and talk about the issues that we think are important to the people of this country. And, again, there's going to be some mistakes made. And we'll deal with those as we go through them. And Americans are pretty forgiving people. What Americans are not forgiving about is-- those sitting around the dinner table last night, watching the debate-- worrying about whether or not they're going to be able to have a job in the future to take care of their family.
STEPHANOPOULOS: You got in this race pretty late. Did you fail to understand what kind of preparation it would take?
PERRY: Oh, absolutely. I mean, from the standpoint of preparation to run for the presidency, it is a long slog and a hard slog. But absolutely. We gave complete and absolute thought to that. But again, the perfect candidate's never been created yet. And there's going to be people that make mistakes. And I'll make my share of them.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Let me ask you about Herman Cain. He got some applause last night when he addressed the questions about sexual harassment allegations against him. Did he put those questions to rest last night?
PERRY: You know, that's for the American people to address. And that's the exact right place for it. So, we'll leave it with the American people and allow them to make that decision.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Final question: How are you going to prepare for the next debate?
PERRY: Well, it's coming up on Saturday. So, just like we have prepared all along, is be ready to talk about our plan to cut and to balance and to grow the economy and talk about the issues that are important to the people of America. And we'll probably- as a matter of fact, I have got a website up, George, at Rickperry.org. What federal agency would you most like to forget?
STEPHANOPOULOS: I'll bet you get a lot of answers. Governor, thanks for your time this morning.
PERRY: [Laughs.] You're welcome, George. Thank you.