Robin Roberts Tosses Softballs to Michelle Obama; Hit Laura Bush on Bombs

"Good Morning America" co-host Robin Roberts conducted a two part, almost 11 minute interview with Michelle Obama on Friday that avoided tough questions and consisted almost entirely of softballs. This included reading e-mails from the audience, such as "What does she [the first lady] do for relaxation in the evening, away from the public?" and also "...How can she stay so positive about the economy?"

This is quite a contrast to some of the queries Laura Bush had to deal with when she was first lady. On October 22, 2007, the very same Roberts quoted Archbishop Desmond Tutu to Mrs. Bush. She challenged, "Desmond Tutu went even farther, saying the generosity of Americans, that's what we should export instead of our bombs." She also informed Mrs. Bush of the assertion by New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman that America "should export hope instead of fear."

The 2007 interview with the President's wife was part of a trip that Roberts took with Mrs. Bush to the Middle East. The first lady was on a tour through the area to promote breast cancer awareness. In a follow up interview with a Middle East woman who had suffered from the affliction, Roberts skeptically asked, "Does it help with Mrs. Bush and the United States coming here?...Or is it seen as, 'Okay, the Americans are, again, trying to force something on us?'"

Roberts showed no such skepticism with the issue that Mrs. Obama is currently championing: more government support for military members and their families. Speaking of an event in North Carolina, the ABC host enthused, "The first lady was greeted by Fort Bragg like a rock star."

Now, certainly, helping military families is a laudable goal. But, even on this issue, there are actual tough questions that Roberts could have asked. For instance, CNN reported the following on March 10:

Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki confirmed Tuesday that the Obama administration is considering a controversial plan to make veterans pay for treatment of service-related injuries with private insurance.

...

Currently, veterans' private insurance is charged only when they receive health care from the VA for medical issues that are not related to service injuries, like getting the flu.

Considering that Mrs. Obama says she wants to make military families a top priority, wouldn't this be a relevant issue to bring up? The only query that was vaguely challenging was when Roberts speculated, "Your husband has really had to hit the ground running with all the issues that are facing our country right now. One criticism has been, too much, too fast."

Another example of the difference between the questions to Democratic and Republican first ladies occurred on the November 30, 2005 GMA. Reporter Jessica Yellin exploited a segment supposedly on White House Christmas cards to grill Laura Bush. She quizzed, "Have you ever met with a mother whose own loss has made you question, even for a moment, whether the U.S. should be in Iraq?" Certainly, Michelle Obama received no such hard hitting challenges from "Good Morning America."

A transcript of the first GMA segment, which aired at 7:02am on March 13, follows:

ROBIN ROBERTS: But, we do begin with our exclusive interview with Michelle Obama. Her first television interview since becoming first lady. Now, a recent poll shows 69 percent of Americans view her favorably, which may have something to do with her ambitious agenda that she set for herself. From promoting healthy food to advocating for working parents to, perhaps, her top priority, supporting military families. And that is what she wanted to talk about. We were there yesterday, as he made her first major trip as first lady, to visit with military families at Fort Bragg, in Fayetteville, North Carolina. The first lady was greeted by Fort Bragg like a rock star. The military men and women tangibly excited by her visit.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: It was fantastic! It was wonderful! I'm just glad to be an American!

ROBERTS: Even as she made her way over to come talk to me, there was one more picture to be taken. One more person to hug. And when we tried to chat, well, you can see what happened. You are quickly finding your sea legs as first lady.

MICHELLE OBAMA: You know? You know? We've talked before.

ROBERTS: Yeah, we have.

OBAMA: I'm still just trying to be me. And if I am still being genuinely me, it's easy for me to find my legs because it's just me being me here in Fort Bragg. I just happen to be the first lady now.

ROBERTS: And that's how you look at it, don't you? That's the only thing that's really changed. Look at this, though. [People cheering her from another room.] But for all the cheers, the first lady is here on serious business. This is her first official trip outside of Washington. And she chose the occasion to highlight an issue near and dear to her heart, the struggle of our nation's military families.

OBAMA: I think I have the fun part.

ROBERTS: How's that?

OBAMA: Well, you know, the things I do are universally popular and important. And it's very easy to rally a nation around military families.

ROBERTS: Sure.

OBAMA: You know? It's not a hard thing to do. People understand it, once the issue is brought to their attention. And they're ready to do whatever they can.

ROBERTS: This is your first trip outside of D.C. Why?

OBAMA: You know, this- this is an important issue for me. And it started taking shape on the campaign trail. I think I was like most Americans. Pretty oblivious to the life of military families. Sort of taking it for granted. I just assumed that if we care about our troops and we send them to war, that, naturally, we'd be taking care of their families. I don't think most of us know that many military families are moving multiple times over the course of a child's lifetime. And every time they move, the spouse has to worry about whether she can find a job at the pay rate that she left the last job. Or whether the spouse can finish his education. Will his credits transfer? And will they have access to decent and quality child care at the next facility that they're located in? And how are families living? Some of whom are young enlisted who are living right at the poverty line because the pay isn't enough. These are things that I wasn't aware that was going on.

ROBERTS: You are married to the commander in chief. And a woman says, I'm on food stamps.

OBAMA: Uh-huh.

ROBERTS: How does that make you feel when you hear that?

OBAMA: You know- It hurts. It hurts. You know, these are people who are willing to send their loved ones off to, perhaps, give their lives, the ultimate sacrifice. But, yet, they're living back at home on food stamps. It's not right. And it's not where we should be as a nation. That's why one of the things that Barack has done in this current budget is put money in there to increase the pay of military by 2.9 percent, which is only a down payment on what we need t do. But even small percentages are going to make the difference in some people's lives. So, that hurts. You know, that's the kind of thing that I don't think anyone in this nation, if they were aware, would tolerate. You know, if we're going to continue to have a strong military, we don't- we have to continue to recruit and retain families. And what we have to realize is that you're not just recruiting a soldier. You're not just trying to retain an individual troop. You're trying to retain that family. And if- when it's time to reenlist they look around and they can't find a life for themselves, you know, I can assure you that spouse will say, "Let's go. Let's call it a day. Let's pull down our tent and move on to something else." And we lose support that we desperately need as a nation.

ROBERTS: Your husband has really had to hit the ground running with all the issues that are facing our country right now. One criticism has been, too much, too fast.

OBAMA: There are also people say he's not doing enough. You know? So, I think that's part of the process. You know, we're at a time when we're going to have to try a lot of things. Some of it won't- some of them won't work. Some of them will. I think right now people understand that we're going to all have to work together and make a set of sacrifices. And they have faith, as I do, that our current commander in chief will see us through these times.

ROBERTS: We asked our audience to allow some questions. And one that they asked, it says, Robin, please ask Mrs. Obama, how can she stay so positive about the economy?

OBAMA: Because I believe in this nation. And I believe in my husband. Those are two things. I wouldn't want anybody but Barack Obama to be working at this time, because he is a focused, clear-thinking, rational man. And that's what we need right now. But, I got to travel around this country for two years. And people are decent. And they're ready to work. People aren't looking for a handout. You know? They just want a fair shake. And that's a good place to start as a nation, when you're trying to move to the next level as a society. So, I- you know, I've got faith in us as a nation.

ROBERTS: Mrs. Obama has not finalized her agenda as first lady. But she does know military families will play a major role in that.

OBAMA: That makes sense. They are largely forgotten, as she said. And a huge need there.

ROBERTS: We spent the majority of the time talking about that yesterday. But, we also, we'll see this later coming up. New details on how the kids are adjusting to life inside their new home. Have they popped into the Oval Office at all?

OBAMA: Oh, yeah.

ROBERTS: We always remember those iconic pictures of the Kennedy kids.

OBAMA: They've done their popping.

ROBERTS: They haven't broken anything in the house have they, yet?

OBAMA: No. We've had some guests who have broken things. But not the kids. And they know who they are.

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