NBC Nightly News anchor Brian Williams on Thursday fretted about the "very tough spot" a Chinese dissident and human rights activist has put Hillary Clinton in. On Friday's Good Morning America, Josh Elliott kept the spotlight on Clinton, lamenting that the Secretary of State is "caught in the middle" of this ongoing diplomatic crisis.
Rather than start his report by focusing on Chen Guangcheng, the man who's life is in danger, Williams warned, "We begin tonight with a man who has changed his mind and by doing so put the U.S. and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in a very tough spot in what is already a complicated relationship with China." [See video below. MP3 audio here.]
Reporter Andrea Mitchell focused on Chen's apparent change of heart, breathlessly explaining, "In a dramatic reversal of what he told U.S. diplomats in Beijing yesterday, a blind Chinese dissident now says he wants to leave China."
She added that there might now be no "way to avoid offering Chen political asylum" in America.
On Friday's Good Morning America, the program featured very little coverage, just two brief reports. News reader Elliot worried, "Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, caught in the middle of it all." Correspondent Martha Raddatz similarly sympathized, "Hillary Clinton has been under intense scrutiny since Chen pleaded for the secretary to fly him to the U.S. because he fears for his life."
In contrast to Nightly News and Good Morning America, World News anchor Diane Sawyer put the emphasis on Chen. She highlighted, "A blind man, that activist hero who made the daring escape, slipping past Chinese guards under cover of night, is now asking her to take him to the United States on her plane."
However, Sawyer also made a point to refer to Clinton as a "champion of human rights."
On CBS This Morning, Bill Plante noticed the potential downside for the Obama administration: "The Chen case has become a diplomatic disaster in U.S./China relations. And now it's generating plenty of political heat here in Washington over the way the administration has handled it."
CBS also stood out from the other networks when Evening News anchor Scott Pelley focused on just what Chen has been protesting, describing him as a "a famous human rights campaigner who exposed forced abortions in China that are sometimes ordered to enforce the policy that allows only one child per family."
A transcript of the May 3 Nightly News segment can be found below:
BRIAN WILLIAMS: Good evening. We begin tonight with a man who has changed his mind and by doing so put the U.S. and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in a very tough spot in what is already a complicated relationship with China. And tonight, this rather incredible drama involving a blind dissident in China has ricocheted back here and is now part of the race for President. We begin with our Chief Foreign Affairs Correspondent Andrea Mitchell in our Washington newsroom. Andrea good evening.
ANDREA MITCHELL: Good evening, Brian. In a dramatic reversal of what he told U.S. diplomats in Beijing yesterday, a blind Chinese dissident now says he wants to leave China. The diplomatic crisis is already an issue for Hillary Clinton in Beijing, and now Republicans back home are seizing on it as well. At 4 a.m. in this Beijing hospital surrounded by security, Chen Guangcheng answered a phone call from human rights activists as they were meeting with Republican Members of Congress. Chen told them he wants to come to the U.S. to rest. He worries about his family and wants more help from Hillary Clinton.
CHEN GUANGCHENG: I want to meet with the Secretary Clinton.
MITCHELL: Clinton, walking a diplomatic tightrope told China's leaders they need to address human rights.
HILLARY CLINTON: All governments do have to answer to citizen's aspirations for dignity and the rule of law and that no nation can or should deny those rights.
MITCHELL: But that was a softer version than her prepared remarks which included a warning to China not to punish dissidents. It's already become an issue in the campaign. Mitt Romney said the administration was too eager to keep its summit on track and should not have handed Chen over to the Chinese.
MITT ROMNEY: If these reports are true, this is a dark day for freedom and it's a day of shame for the Obama Administration.
MITCHELL: But Ambassador Gary Locke told NBC's Ian Williams Chen was not pressured to leave the safety of the U.S. Embassy.
GARY LOCKE: Suddenly he jumped up and said let's go. And before we got in the van, I asked him again, is this what you really want to do? Do you want to leave the Embassy, are you ready to go? And he said yes.
MITCHELL: In the eye of the storm since his dramatic weekend escape from house arrest, Chen has made a series of emotional calls, including to NBC News. Locke says Chen has clearly had a change of heart and they will visit him again to find out what he really wants. But as Clinton tries to pressure China for help on Iran, Syria, and North Korea and Treasury Secretary Geithner on the economy-
TIMOTHY GEITHNER: We meet here in Beijing at a time of risk and challenge in the global economy.
MITCHELL: -both countries now must deal with Chen and how China handles dissidents, issues both countries wanted to downplay.
WILLIAM COHEN: This is a lose-lose proposition for the United States because the administration will be criticized for failing to stand up tall enough in defending him.
MITCHELL: There may no longer be a way to avoid offering Chen political asylum if he wants it, which would further escalate tensions of course with China, which would have the final say over whether he could leave.