Viewers who watched the three morning shows on Friday were greeted with a less than enthusiastic review of Harry Reid's debate performance on Thursday. On ABC's Good Morning America, Jon Karl announced, "Reid often rambled." On CBS's Early Show, Ben Tracy called the event "a debate that, at times, found Harry Reid exasperated." NBC's Today was the least critical, announcing only that Reid had "the most to lose."
Yet, only Karl on Good Morning America played a clip of a confused Reid at the podium, fumbling for his notes: "Okay. Got to find my little notes here...Okay. A lot of paper here."
Karl was also the only journalist who, after Reid denied that he got rich by being a senator, featured the Democrat asserting, "I've been on a fixed income since I went to Washington." Karl quipped, "By the way, the fixed income for a Senate Majority Leader is $193,000, $193,400. "
However, though the coverage skewed negative against Harry Reid's performance, the morning shows still left out several of the hard hitting questions from moderator Mitch Fox asked. On Iraq, he pressed:
MITCH FOX: Senator Reid, you were quoted as saying the following: 'The war is lost, and the surge is not accomplishing anything as indicated by the extreme violence.' Do you believe that your statement demoralized the troops, and were inaccurate as judged by the success of the troop surge?
Early Show and Today completely skipped this query. Yet, NBC's Kelly O'Donnell informed viewers that it was Angle who "was challenged on some controversial things she said." One wouldn't know it, but so was Reid.
In response to Fox's debate question about, Reid argued:
HARRY REID: Mitch, I first met General Petraeus in Iraq. The statement that I made was made following General Petraeus saying the war cannot be won militarily. He said, and I said, the war can only be won militarily, economically, and diplomatically. That’s why after I made my statement, and General Petraeus made his statement, we did the surge then, not later. And it was the right thing to do.
None of the networks fact checked the Majority Leader's comments. In fact, in January of 2007, he created a petition against the surge in Iraq. On January 10, 2007, he announced, "Again, speaking for me, I know I'm at a loss as to what's going to happen with these additional troops."
On GMA, Karl was the only reporter to even allude to this part of the debate. He played a clip of Angle attacking, asserting that Reid "demoralized our troops and endangered them. And you need to apologize."
In follow-up segments, the network hosts appeared disappointed as to why Reid didn't do better. GMA co-host George Stephanopoulos talked to DNC chairman Tim Kaine and worried, "Sharron Angle really held her own last night. No knockout blow from Harry Reid. What does your Senate leader need to do to pull this out?"
On the Early Show, co-anchor Harry Smith complained to political analyst John Dickerson: "You're a guy who's been in this business forever and ever and ever, it seems to me Harry Reid did not do himself any favors last night."
Other debate topics that were discussed by the moderator, but downplayed or ignored in the morning coverage: Coverage of abortion in the health care bill, illegal immigration and the Supreme Court.
A transcript of the GMA segment, which aired at 7:03am EDT, follows:
GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: Political punches.
SHARRON ANGLE: Man-up, Harry Reid.
STEPHANOPOULOS: A Tea Party favorite challenges the senate leader in their first and only debate. With just 18 days to go, is it the tipping point in the Senate's top race?
STEPHANOPOULOS: With just 18 days to go until the midterm elections, there was a critical debate last night in Nevada where Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is in a tight race with Tea Party favorite Sharron Angle. Jonathan Karl is ringside and he joins us live from Las Vegas. Hey, Jon.
ABC GRAPHIC: Taking on the Leader: Angle to Reid: "Man Up"
JON KARL: Good morning, George. This is the closest, nastiest and most important Senate race in the country. And last night was the one and only chance for voters to see the Senate Majority Leader versus the Tea Party candidate. Sharron Angle set the tone, telling Harry Reid to man up.
SHARRON ANGLE: Man-up, Harry Reid. You need to understand that we have a problem with Social Security.
KARL: The zingers continued throughout the debate.
HARRY REID: That's really extreme.
ANGLE: There you go again.
REID: Absolutely wrong.
ANGLE: Demoralized our troops and endangered them. And you need to apologize.
KARL: And that's been the tone of the entire campaign, where brutally-negative attack ads fill the air waves.
ANGLE AD: What else do we need to know about Harry Reid?
REID AD: She says rape victims should be forced to have the baby.
ANGLE AD: Harry Reid, the best friend illegals have ever had.
ANGLE AD: Reid actually voted to use taxpayer dollars to pay for Viagra for convicted child molesters.
REID AD: Introducing Sharron Angle's crazy juice!
KARL: And on stage, no middle ground, especially on the number one issue here in Nevada, which has the nation's highest unemployment rate.
REID: My job is to create jobs. What she's talking about is extreme.
ANGLE: I believe that my job is to create the policies that will encourage the private sector to do what they do best and that is to create jobs.
KARL: They clashed on how Washington should work.
REID: She simply doesn't understand what went on in Washington.
ANGLE: : I submit to you, Senator, that I do know the process. The process is, read the bill first, and then pass it.
KARL: There was no clear winner. But Reid often rambled.
REID: Okay. Got to find my little notes here.
MITCH FOX: Closing statement.
REID: [Fumbling with papers on his podium]: Okay. A lot of paper here.
KARL: And Angle was more aggressive, launching the debate's harshest attack. Accusing Reid of using his Senate seat to make himself rich.
ANGLE: I'd like to know, we'd like to know, how did you become so wealthy on a government payroll?
REID: That's really kind of a low blow. I've been on a fixed income since I went to Washington.
KARL: By the way, the fixed income for a Senate Majority Leader is $193,000, $193,400. And, George, from now on, there's little opportunity for either of these candidates to change the course of the race. Voting in Nevada begins tomorrow.