NBC's 'Today': Not Fair to Pit Deeply Disliked Cheney Against Popular Obama

"Today" reporter Chuck Todd on Thursday spun the dueling speeches of President Barack Obama and former Vice President Dick Cheney as not "a fair fight." Speaking of the two May 21 addresses on the subject of terrorism, the NBC correspondent proclaimed, "Our latest poll indicates it's the most popular member of the Democratic Party facing off against one of the most unpopular members of the Republican Party."

In a follow-up interview with Republican strategist Nicolle Wallace and Democratic strategist Bob Shrum, host Matt Lauer asserted that with regards to issues like closing Guantanamo Bay and the use of enhanced interrogation, "this debate has been settled." He added, "It was settled back in November during the last election, when Americans chose to elect Barack Obama and move away from the legacy of the Bush administration." He mused, "So what does Dick Cheney have to gain or lose today?"

NBC's "Today" and ABC's "Good Morning America" also provided conflicting information on the timing of the two speeches. When asked by co-host Diane Sawyer if the President deliberately timed his speech to be a "high-noon duel" with Cheney, "This Week" anchor George Stephanopoulos responded, "I actually think he would prefer not to. No. This decision was made last week by the White House when they were getting hit for their reversals on the photo in the military tribunal issue." However, "Today" guest Shrum gave the opposite impression to NBC viewers. He exclaimed, "Democrats are happy about this. It is not an accident that the White House scheduled the President's speech after Cheney scheduled his."

At one point, Stephanopoulos gave a surprisingly candid analysis of Obama's decision to close the Guantanamo Bay detention center. He explained, "But the President's problems on this counter-terrorism policy only begin with Vice President Cheney...As we saw yesterday, Democrats have abandoned him in droves over this question of what to do with the detainees."

Lauer also offered a few tough queries for Shrum. He asserted that the President has a major problem, "...That when Barack Obama stepped forward and announced the bold plan to close down that detention center, he didn't then follow it with a bold plan of what to do with the detainees. And until he does, this is going to fester."

A transcript of Lauer's interview with Wallace and Shrum, which aired at 7:07am EDT on May 21, follows:

[Special thanks to MRC intern Mike Sargent for transcribing the segment.]

MATT LAUER: Bob Shrum is a Democratic strategist, Nicolle Wallace is a Republican strategist and former Bush White House communications director, good morning to both of you

BOB SHRUM (Democratic strategist): Good morning.

NICOLLE WALLACE (Republican strategist): Good morning Matt.

LAUER: Hey Bob, let me start with you, with all due respect to Chuck Todd, he just said politically this isn't a fair fight because Dick Cheney is so unpopular. But if he's so unpopular, why is his speech today going to get so much attention? Isn't there something about Dick Cheney that when he speaks, people listen?

SHRUM: Oh, yeah. It's an irresistible magnetic kind of news event. But look– Democrats are happy about this. It is not an accident that the White House scheduled the President's speech after Cheney scheduled his. Democrats would put a sign up around the country saying, a wanted poster saying, "Wanted: Dick Cheney out there as much as possible." He's Mr. 18 percent. In the latest surveys people are giving 67, 68 percent in terms of trust on national security to President Obama. So it's not a fair fight.

LAUER: Nicole, in some ways this debate has been settled. It was settled back in November during the last election, when Americans chose to elect Barack Obama and move away from the legacy of the Bush administration. So what does Dick Cheney have to gain or lose today?

WALLACE: Well, this is really interesting. You know, we didn't really have a robust national security back-and-forth in the last presidential campaign. The economy, I'm sure even Mr. Shrum would agree, dominated the last presidential campaign. But the last campaign that Mr. Shrum ran, John Kerry versus George Bush, we did hash out these issues, and the Democratic Party is in real danger of making the same mistakes they have made before- being seen by the voters as blinking or flinching when it comes to taking the hard line that may not be politically popular but has certainly been proven effective in protecting this country from terrorism in the days and years now since 9/11. So, those will be the points the Vice President makes. And I think we've established he has complete magnificent indifference to his poll numbers. He doesn't care if people approve of him politically or personally. He just wants to make sure that this administration keeps us safe.

LAUER: Hey Bob, I know she called you there, but let me move on. This vote in the Senate on Wednesday, 90-6, to strip away the money that was set aside to close down the detention center at Guantanamo Bay. Democrats not happy about this either. Isn't this the symptom of a problem, the problem being this – that when Barack Obama stepped forward and announced the bold plan to close down that detention center, he didn't then follow it with a bold plan of what to do with the detainees. And until he does, this is going to fester.

SHRUM: Sure. And we're going to get the plan. I will bet you that we can come back in January and the center will be closed. You know, the interesting thing about this, is Nicolle wants to talk about 2004. It's kind of pathetic. Let's look ahead to 2010. Because in 2010 if Dick Cheney is the face of the Republican Party, he will do to Republicans what Herbert Hoover did to them in 1934, and they'll suffer a huge defeat in the midterm election.

LAUER: That's an unlikely scenario he'll be the face of the party in 2010, isn't it?

SHRUM: Well he is. He's out there right now, people are seeing him all the time. Republican strategists I’ve talked to, and I give Nicolle credit for either courage or foolhardiness. Most Republican strategists don't want to defend him being out there, don’t want him out there at all. When I see him, I think of that old phrase, and I paraphrase it, "bring him on." Let's hear more from him.

LAUER: Nicolle, last word on this.

WALLACE: I think being called foolish and brave by Bob Shrum is probably a compliment somewhere in there.

SHRUM: It wasn't an un-compliment. It was just a description.

WALLACE: Well, the Democratic obsession with playing politics with national security has bit them in the butt before and it will do it again.

SHRUM: It is a smear to say we want to play politics with national security. We have differences, that’s a smear.

LAUER: Bob Shrum and Nicolle Wallace. Thanks to both of you, I appreciate your time.

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