ABC's Diane Sawyer Presses Carville on 'Mixing Messages,' Leno Joke

On Friday's "Good Morning America," co-host Diane Sawyer actually provided some skepticism about the actions of the Obama administration over the last week and wondered if the White House has "been knocked off its stride this week." This piece was GMA's third segment of the day on the controversy the President created on Thursday when he told "Tonight Show" host Jay Leno that his bowling skills were on the level of "Special Olympics or something." (Obama has since apologized.)

An ABC onscreen graphic challenged, "Obama on the Defense: Should President be on Late Night?" Sawyer talked to liberal political operative James Carville and former Bush White House Press Secretary Dana Perino. She pressed Carville, "Even Democrats are saying the combination of the TV time spent on the NCAA brackets, also Jay Leno and the apology this morning about the Special Olympics means the White House off its stride. Mixing messages. What do you say?"

Perino proved herself a rather tough opponent for the combative Carville. After the former Clinton campaign operative defended Obama's California trip and his appearance with Leno, Perino contended that "one of the dangers of going on that show is something you might say in a bar when you're not President of the United States, might get a laugh." She added, "But when you're President of the United States, it ends up leading 'Good Morning America.'"

Later, when Carville tried to claim that Obama has not made many gaffes, Perino jumped in and quipped, "Well, when you're using a teleprompter all the time, it's hard to have gaffes."

A transcript of the March 20 segment, which aired at 7:06am, follows:

DIANE SAWYER: Well, has the Obama administration been knocked off its stride this week? Joining us now from New Orleans, Democratic strategist, GMA contributor, James Carville. And from Washington, former White House press secretary Dana Perino. Welcome to you both this morning.

JAMES CARVILLE: Good morning.

DANA PERINO: Good morning.

ABC GRAPHIC: Obama on the Defense: Should President be on Late Night?

SAWYER: James, let's start. Even Democrats are saying the combination of the TV time spent on the NCAA brackets, also Jay Leno and the apology this morning about the Special Olympics means the White House off its stride. Mixing messages. What do you say?

JAMES CARVILLE: Well, first of all, n terms of the NCAA basketball tournaments, these people criticizing wouldn't know a football bat from a soccer mitt. I mean, my God. He's the President of the United States. He's a basketball fan. He fills it out. On my radio show in Sirius XM, we got President Clinton on there. We got President Bush 41. We have got a presidential bracket contest.

SAWYER: But you're the master of the single message, James. Doesn't this give Republicans an opening?

CARVILLE: I don't think so. And I think talking about a basketball tournament is totally- look, President Roosevelt listened to a horse race in the White House. I think he bet on horse races, which I think it would be nice if we had a horse degenerate in the White House. It would be good for us.

SAWYER: What about- What about Leno? About what that venue?

CARVILLE: We tend to forget, Jay leno has been on the air for 17 years. He has got the most popular nighttime show there is. The President was out in California which, by the way, according to my count is the largest state in the United States. These Republicans are saying he shouldn't go to California. That is beyond me. But, I think it was an exceptional time for Mr. Leno. And I think the President showing some respect for him and going on his show is perfectly fine. I don't have a problem with it.

SAWYER: All right. Dana, what do you think?

PERINO: I think going to California is fine. I think if you decide to go on Jay Leno, that's fine. I think that one of the dangers of going on that show is something you might say in a bar when you're not President of the United States, might get a laugh. But when you're President of the United States, it ends up leading "Good Morning America." And that is a danger in that. But, I think the other thing that's critically important here is that they've been, in a week- for a week now, in the midst of a total distraction. And every day that they're talking about AIG and now, they're going to be talking about the Special Olympics today, means it's another day they're not able to advance their message on health care reform or education reform or energy reform. And they've given the Republicans a real opportunity here.

SAWYER: And, James, let me ask about this question of distraction. Because, in the mixed messages category, a lot of people are questioning something the chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, said that the President did view the AIG week- you can call it the bonus week here- as a kind of distraction from the main job of getting the financial system stabilized. Is it a distraction, the bonuses, AIG?

CARVILLE: Sure, it's a distraction. And, look, would you like when you're President, to have everything go smoothly? But inherit three wars, a collapse of the housing market, collapse of the banking system, and no demand, you stay busy. You got a lot of plates spinning. And every now and then, one of them falls on you. You go and pick it up. But, Sure. Dana's been in the White house. And she can attest to the fact there's many distractions out there. You know, and some of them are caused by themselves. But, you know, by and large, given the job they have ahead of them, and as young as this administration is, I think they're doing quite well. And a lot of the stuff is manufactured, like the basketball brackets. You know? But, at any rate, give the guy some credit. They've pushed a lot of stuff out there real early. And they're getting up early and working late.

SAWYER: Dana?

PERINO: I think, look, every, single president that takes over, inherits issues. That's what it means to be president of the United States. President Bush inherits a recession. And then, nine months later, we ended up with the September 11th attacks. And then that really defined the presidency. But you have to do is you have to keep your message on and not deal with self-inflicted wounds. And I think, in some ways, they've had some self-inflicted wounds. I remember every day at the white house- every Friday at the White House, I'd say next week has got to be better than the one we just had. And then you push the reset button. I think the AIG thing is a much bigger deal than the Obama team has said in the past few days. It is a kitchen table issue. And I think that is evidenced by the fact it's been seven days and it's still leading the news.

CARVILLE: I might add that AIG was a little bit of an inherited problem. It wasn't exactly a pristine financial organization.

PERINO: The loophole Senator Dodd was asked to put in place, was not at all inherited.

CARVILLE: Right. Again, that might be one thing.

PERINO: But, that's the thing that made everybody mad.

CARVILLE: But I got news for you: That was not a healthy operation when he took office. And it was a collapse in demand. And also, the President dealt very effectively, I think, in trying to deal with the housing. You know, we had 300,000 people lose their houses last month. And so, we're worried about whether or not he had this gaffe. I mean, you know, he has very few gaffes, by the way. But we well know- it's hard to have gaffes.

PERINO: Well, when you're using a teleprompter all the time, it's hard to have gaffes.

CARVILLE: Dana- When you leave somebody with the largest financial disaster since the Great Depression and three wars, they got a lot to do. We ought to step back and give him a chance to accomplish these things. I think they're doing a very good job.

PERINO: I totally agree that they need some time.

CARVILLE: All right. I could just sit back and let this go on all the way into spring.

PERINO: I agree they need some time. But they need to press the reset button this week and have a better week next week.

CARVILLE: No. I don't think they need to press the reset button. They just need to do a couple things different. They're moving in the right direction.

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