"Good Morning America," in what is surely a sign of things to come, prepped for Barack Obama's first Middle East trip by focusing three stories on the subject, including one in which George Stephanopoulos admitted that John McCain is "frustrated" by the media attention given to the foreign excursion. GMA co-host Robin Roberts and the ex-Clinton aide discussed the media coverage briefly, in a passive voice.
Referring to Obama's visit next week to Iraq and Afghanistan, Roberts casually wondered, "And finally, how does McCain counter all of this attention that Obama is going to be receiving on this trip?" Stephanopoulos candidly responded, "The McCain campaign is very frustrated by this. As you know, all three evening news anchors going over to -- on this foreign soil with Barack Obama. They know he's going to get a lot of attention." Notice it's "all of this attention that Obama is going to be receiving" rather than "all the coverage we're giving him." And if the McCain camp is "frustrated" by the coverage, isn't that a subject that Roberts and Stephanopoulos should have explored? They didn't.
The two ABC journalists also admired the foreign policy team that Obama has put together to advise the candidate. Roberts marveled, "It's like his own mini State Department." Stephanopoulos then proceeded to rattle off all the Clinton officials who are prepping the Illinois senator. To be fair though, Roberts did point out the gap Americans see in how McCain could lead the military and how Obama would do: "Because our latest poll shows that most Americans, even most Democrats, say that Senator John McCain would be a good commander in chief of the military, fewer than half of those polled feel that way about Obama."
In a previous segment, correspondent Martha Raddatz told news anchor Chris Cuomo that Obama wouldn't have much interaction with the troops during his visit and insisted this might be a good thing for the candidate. Mentioning the Democrats' call for troop withdrawal, she noted, "[The troops] want this to be a conditions based redeployment. They do not want any sort of specific timetable, so if they start talking to Senator Obama about that, that's going to be a little difficult for him."
A surprised Cuomo marveled, "Hmm. That's interesting. Many assume they would be very enthusiastic about the plan to leave." Cuomo was surprised that the troops wouldn't just jump at any exit plan?
Raddatz's frank admission that soldiers might largely disagree with Obama is somewhat surprising, given a past report. On April 7, 2008, Raddatz filed a story for "World News" in which she highlighted soldiers in Iraq split between voting for Hillary Clinton and the senator from Illinois. Raddatz only briefly mentioned that "some" support John McCain. (Presumably, that would include those who, as she mentioned in the July 18 GMA, oppose a quick removal of troops.)
A partial transcript of the July 18 Raddatz interview and a transcript of the Stephanopoulos segment, follow:
CUOMO: Martha, let me turn to you for a second. One of the big political policies going for Senator Obama is that he says he wants to withdraw U.S. troops from Iraq within 16 months, if elected. You just came back from there, obviously. What kind of reception do you think that'll get from the troops on the ground?
RADDATZ: Well, I think it depends on who he talks to and quite frankly he probably won't be around troops a lot. Generally on these congressional delegations, they see them in the chow hall but not going to be any rallies or anything. But I'm sure he'll get a chance to talk to the troops. Troops I have spoken to in the last few weeks say they want to stay. They want this to be a conditions based redeployment. They do not want any sort of specific timetable, so if they start talking to Senator Obama about that, that's going to be a little difficult for him.
CUOMO: Hmm. That's interesting. Many assume they would be very enthusiastic about the plan to leave. Also, what about the commanders on the ground that you spoke to there? How do they feel about such a plan?
RADDATZ: I think same thing, Chris. As you know, the commanders I spoke to and some of them will be talking to Senator Obama, say the same thing. We do not want any sort of specific timetable. I know in the last couple of weeks you've heard senior Pentagon officials say, "We want to bring brigades out of Iraq" and that may sound like Barack Obama's plan but it's very different. Again, that is conditions based. Barack Obama has said again and again, timetable.
ROBIN ROBERTS: All right, now for the bottom line on the political impact of Obama's trip we turn to our chief Washington correspondent and host, of course, of "This Week," George Stephanopoulos.
GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: Hey, Robin.
ROBERTS: All right, George, "The New York Times" reported this morning that Senator Obama has, like, 300 people advising him on foreign policy. It's like his own mini State Department. What should we read into that?
STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, he's preparing to be president and he needs -- he's trying to get all of the best advice he can from across the foreign policy world for this trip, for this campaign. It's led by several high-ranking officials in the Clinton administration, former National Security Adviser Tony Lake, former Assistant Secretary of State Susan Rice, Greg Craig, another State Department official, even the former Secretary of the Navy Richard Danzig. And they're trying to get Barack Obama a comprehensive advice on the various kinds of questions he's going to face on this trip. And he is facing a lot of tricky balancing acts as he goes to Iraq and Afghanistan and Israel and Europe.
ROBERTS: Well, how is he going to kind of change the perception out there? Because our latest poll shows that most Americans, even most Democrats, say that Senator John McCain would be a good commander in chief of the military, fewer than half of those polled feel that way about Obama. So, what does he need on this trip to do to change that?
STEPHANOPOULOS: He's got to show he can do the job and, above all, Robin, not make any mistakes on this trip. A gaffe could be a killer for Barack Obama. In Iraq, he has got a special problem. As Martha hinted at just a couple of minutes ago, he is going to be talking to commanders who disagree with the time line he's set out for Iraq and somehow he's got to find a way to show that he's listening to the commanders, but is not giving up on his principles. That is going to be difficulty number one. Number two, in Israel, he'll face this tricky thicket of questions about the Middle East peace process. Many presidential candidates have made mistakes on that before. He's going to have to avoid that. In Europe, it's slightly different. In Europe, he's facing a situation where he does have an advantage on foreign policy and proving America's image in the world. And somehow, he's got to express the aspirations for the United States, the aspirations of an Obama policy without appearing to criticize President Bush overseas.
ROBERTS: And finally, how does McCain counter all of this attention that Obama is going to be receiving on this trip?
STEPHANOPOULOS: The McCain campaign is very frustrated by this. As you know, all three evening news anchors going over to -- on this foreign soil with Barack Obama. They know he's going to get a lot of attention. I think they will look to take quick hits every day and, of course, pounce on any mistake that Barack Obama makes. That would be the big opening for the McCain campaign.
ROBERTS: All right, George, thank you, as always, for the bottom line. And have a good weekend. Thanks so much.