ABC's Chris Cuomo Has Few Follow-ups for 'Campaign Boogeyman' Ayers

"Good Morning America" news anchor Chris Cuomo on Friday conducted an interview with former bomber William Ayers that qualified as neither a softball or a grilling of the ex-domestic terrorist. Although he did challenge Ayers, he didn't interrupt when the Chicago professor insisted that America fought a "violent terrorist war" or when the '60s radical characterized the U.S. government as murdering thousands "every month" during Vietnam.

Additionally, the online version of the ABC story referred to Ayers as a "campaign boogeyman," while co-host Diane Sawyer in an introduction for the piece defensively explained, "The name of Bill Ayers, William Ayers, was used as kind of a political weapon by the Republicans." During the segment, Cuomo even editorialized that Ayers is now a "respected professor" at the University of Illinois. Respected, perhaps, by leftists and radicals, but many Americans still hold great anger towards Ayers and his terrorist group the Weather Underground. Cuomo also failed to delve into the issue of Chicago Annenberg Challenge (CAC), a liberal organization that Barack Obama served on the board of and was the brainchild of Ayers.

On the other hand, Cuomo did not let Ayers get away with his insinuation that he had no real connection to the now-President-elect. Referring to the often repeated story that Obama began his campaign for the state senate in the living room of Ayers, Cuomo challenged, "You can't say that somebody's a family friend, have them in your house, trying to launch their political career and then say this is nothing." Later, after Ayers tried to minimize the extent of his relationship with the Illinois Democrat, Cuomo retorted, "But, then you have to come clean about saying, 'And I'm one of those people. Barack Obama either sought me out or I sought him out to discuss my ideas, my radical ideas and then he made his own decisions.'" The journalist added, "If that's true, okay. But, it can't be that and, 'We never discussed any of this.'"

As noted earlier, Cuomo did not ask Ayers about the extent of his relationship with Obama in regards to the Chicago Annenberg Challenge. In a September 23, 2008 piece for the Wall Street Journal, writer Stanley Kurtz explained both the radical nature of the CAC and Obama's connection to it:  

The CAC's agenda flowed from Mr. Ayers's educational philosophy, which called for infusing students and their parents with a radical political commitment, and which downplayed achievement tests in favor of activism. In the mid-1960s, Mr. Ayers taught at a radical alternative school, and served as a community organizer in Cleveland's ghetto.

...

CAC translated Mr. Ayers's radicalism into practice. Instead of funding schools directly, it required schools to affiliate with "external partners," which actually got the money. Proposals from groups focused on math/science achievement were turned down. Instead CAC disbursed money through various far-left community organizers, such as the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (or Acorn).

...

The Obama campaign has cried foul when Bill Ayers comes up, claiming "guilt by association." Yet the issue here isn't guilt by association; it's guilt by participation. As CAC chairman, Mr. Obama was lending moral and financial support to Mr. Ayers and his radical circle. That is a story even if Mr. Ayers had never planted a single bomb 40 years ago.

So, Cuomo should be credited for actually challenging Ayers at times, but it must be said that he failed to object to some of the hateful, outrageous things uttered by the former terrorist during the interview and that the ABC journalist did not fully investigate the connections between Obama and Ayers.

For an analysis of part two of Cuomo's interview, see this November 14, 2008 blog.

A transcript of part one, which aired at 7:07am, follows:

7am tease

DIANE SAWYER: Bill Ayers breaks his silence. Republicans called him Barack Obama's terrorist pal. This morning, what he says about the President-elect and does he regret his radical past? A life, exclusive interview.

7:01

ROBIN ROBERTS: And we are standing by to talk to the man who became embroiled in the Obama campaign, Bill Ayers. He's here in our studio speaking out for the first time.

7:07am

SAWYER: And now, silence is about to be broken on another event during the campaign, the recent campaign. The name of Bill Ayers, William Ayers, was used as kind of a political weapon by the Republicans. Chris has the interview with him this morning. He is here live with us and also a look back. Chris?

CHRIS CUOMO: All right, Diane. Thank you. William Ayers was thrust into the spotlight in this year's presidential race by his association with Barack Obama. The question at hand is just how significant that association was. Now, in a moment, Mr. Ayers will talk to us. But first, let's take a look at how this '60s radical-turned college professor found himself at the center of a media storm. William Ayers' name first came up during Barack Obama's primary race with Senator Clinton.

ABC GRAPHIC: Center of Political Firestorm: William Ayers Sets the Record Straight

SENATOR HILLARY CLINTON: Senator Obama served on a board with Mr. Ayers for a period of time.

CUOMO: But it was during Obama's battle with John McCain that Ayers would become a regular line of attack.

SENATOR JOHN MCCAIN: His relationship with Mr. Ayers is open to question.

SARAH PALIN: Our opponent is someone who sees America as imperfect enough to pal around with terrorists.

CUOMO: Ayers would become a target because of his radical past. A son of privilege, he rebelled by joining the Weather Underground, an anti-war group that bombed the Capitol, the Pentagon and police headquarters during the 1970s. Three group members, including Ayers then- girlfriend were killed in this townhouse when one of the bombs they were making exploded. Then, after 9/11, Ayers was quoted as saying that he didn't regret any of the bombings and that the group didn't do enough. By then, Ayers had become a respected professor at the University of Illinois, Chicago and had met a politician named Barack Obama.

MCCAIN: But, as Senator Clinton said in her debates with you, we need to know the full extent of that relationship.

SENATOR BARACK OBAMA: 40 years ago, when I was eight-years-old, he engaged in despicable acts with a radical domestic group. I have roundly condemned those acts. Mr. Ayers is not involved in my campaign. He has never been involved in this campaign and he will not advise me in the White House.

CUOMO: So, let's hear from the man himself. William Ayers joins us this morning. He is the author of many books. The one that's been rereleased most recently is right there, "Fugitive Days: Memoirs of an Anti-War Activist." Now, thank you very much for being here. '

WILLIAM AYERS: Nice to see you.

CUOMO: Clearly, the matter at hand is this relationship with Barack Obama. So, let's get right to it. You did have a meaningful relationship with Barack Obama. Didn't you?

AYERS: I knew Barack Obama, absolutely. And I knew him probably as well as thousands of other Chicagoans And like millions and millions of other people worldwide, I wish I knew him better right now.

CUOMO: But thousands of people were not asked to help start his political career in their home, right? That's an intimacy.

AYERS: I was asked by the state senator to have a coffee for Barack Obama when he first ran for office. And we had him in our home and I think he was probably in 20 homes that day, as far as I know. But, that was the first time I really met him.

CUOMO: You used the term "family friend." President-elect uses a phrase more like "Bill from the neighborhood." Those two are not the same thing. Family friend signifies your relationship, doesn't it?

AYERS: I think you're quoting from the afterword of "Fugitive Days," right? I'm talking there about the fact that I became an issue unwittingly and unwillingly in the campaign and I decided that I didn't want to answer any of it at that moment because it was such a profoundly dishonest narrative. But, I'm describing there how the blogosphere characterized the relationship. I would say, really, that we knew each other in a professional way, again, I would say on the same level as thousands of other people. And I am a guy around the neighborhood, incidentally. Absolutely.

CUOMO: But you understand the concern here. It seems that there's an evasiveness here. Yes, you served on boards together. But that relationship, that somebody's in your home. You are introducing them to a political community that you have connections with. You are vouching for somebody. There's an advocacy. There's a relationship. Certainly, you must have spoken with Barack Obama about things. You must have gotten to know him before you did that? Fair enough?

AYERS: No, actually, I didn't get to know him before I did that. But I did know him in a context of being on a board together. And that relationship was public, always in a large, kind of, context. But, you know, I don't really agree with your premise that this is worth, somehow, this is worthy of really exploring. Because, I don't really buy the idea that guilt by association should be any part of our politics. And the interesting thing is, as much as this was created as an issue in the campaign, it appears that for most people, it had no traction. It had no meaning. So, the assumption that if two people share a cup of coffee or take a bus downtown together or have a thousand other types of association. That that somehow means they share politics, outlook, policy or responsibility of one another's actions.

CUOMO: But when you're measuring the content of a man's character who wants to be president of the United States, certainly, information about his friendship/coffee/ association with the man that has the past that you have, creating violence against the United States, you must understand how that would be a concern?

AYERS: No, I don't agree with either part of that. I think the dishonest narrative is, one, to demonize me. Let's remember, that what you call a violent past, that was at a time when thousands of people were being murdered by our government every month and those of us who fought to end that war were actually on the right side. So, if we want to replay that history, I would reject the whole notion that demonizing me or the Weather Underground is relevant. But, secondly-

CUOMO: Different discussion. Violence is either never okay or its sometimes okay. It's a separate philosophical discussion. The relevance here is Barack Obama was campaigning to be president. The analogy is if John McCain had an association, somebody had a coffee for him in his house to launch his political career who was blowing up abortion clinics but never hurt anyone, you don't think that would be relevant?

AYERS: I think the content is relevant, but let's go back. Again, the content of the Vietnam protest is a content where there were despicable acts going on, but the despicable acts being carried out were being carried out by our government. I never hurt or killed anyone. I was involved in the anti-war movement. I was a militant. I was part of the militant faction of opposing the war. And I've been quoted again and again and saying I don't regret it. And frankly- And saying I don't think we did enough. And I don't think we did enough. Just as today, I don't think we've done enough to stop these wars. And I think we must all recognize the injustice of it and do more.

CUOMO: And we are going to discuss your book more in the upcoming, why you're releasing it now, what you want people to get out of it. But, clearly, you have to understand the sensitivity. You can't say that somebody's a family friend, have them in your house, trying to launch their political career and then say this is nothing. Because you make it sound like it's something by saying it's nothing.

AYERS: No, absolutely not. What I'm saying about the guilt by association, which, as you know, has a long and tragic history in this country. What I'm saying is that everyone of us actually should talk to lots and lots of people and especially our political leaders. Far from being a demerit on his record, the fact that he's willing to talk to a lot of people from a lot of different walks of life, listen to a lot of opinions and still have a mind of his own is something we should honor and admire.

CUOMO: But, then you have to come clean about saying, 'And I'm one of those people. Barack Obama either sought me out or I sought him out to discuss my ideas, my radical ideas and then he made his own decisions. If that's true, okay. But, it can't be that and, 'We never discussed any of this.'

AYERS: It's not at all true that he sought me out to listen to my radical ideas or that I sought him out. The truth is we came together in Chicago in the civic community around issues of school improvement, around issues of fighting for the rights of poor neighborhoods to have jobs and housing and so on. And that's the full extent of our relationship. So, this idea that we need to know more, like there's some dark hidden secret, some secret link is just a myth and it's a myth thrown up by the people who wanted to exploit the politics of fear. And I think it's a great credit to the American people that those politics were rejected. The idea that we should continue to be frightened and worried and, you know, barricaded is falling down and it should.

CUOMO: Let's take a quick break. But we're going to discuss what's in the book, why you want people to read it right now and what it says about the ideas that this society has to confront.

Scott Whitlock
Scott Whitlock
Scott Whitlock is the senior news analyst for the Media Research Center and a contributing editor for NewsBusters.org