Softballs: ABC's Cynthia McFadden Again Skips Tough Questions for Michelle Obama

Tuesday's Nightline featured the second part of an exhaustive, three part interview with Michelle Obama. Once again, co-anchor Cynthia McFadden failed to ask any tough questions to the First Lady, instead offering only softballs and repeating White House spin.

McFadden followed Mrs. Obama as she did events promoting higher employment for returning veterans. Co-anchor Bill Weir teased the latest segment as yet another celebrity puff piece (complete with clips from Sesame Street and Extreme Makeover): "We got a little taste of Michelle Obama at home last night. Tonight, you two go on the road." Since military issues were the topic, where were the questions about the 2000th death in Afghanistan?

McFadden allowed herself to be a prop, simply touting administration talking points: "[Mrs. Obama has] come to Florida today with good news. With encouragement from Joining Forces, 2,000 companies have stepped up and provided over 125,000 jobs for returning vets and their spouses, with a promise to double that."

ABC has already played a combined 14 minutes of the interview with the First Lady (two nights on Nightline and Monday's Good Morning America.) A fourth part will air Wednesday night.

On Monday, McFadden gushed, "Is it different to be a black child growing up in America today than it was four years ago?"

ABC has asked tough questions of other presidential spouses. While talking to Republican Laura Bush in 2007, Robin Roberts recounted, "Desmond Tutu went even farther, saying the generosity of Americans, that's what we should export instead of our bombs."

Talking to Middle Eastern woman while on a trip with the then-First lady, Roberts lectured, "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?'"

A transcript of the October 9 segment can be found below:


11:35

BILL WEIR: And FLOTUS picks her battle. How First Lady Michelle obama is calling out Americans to help change the lives of those who serve and families who love them.

...


BILL WEIR: It is 28 days and counting until the presidential election. And tonight, more on our series with the first lady of the united states. My co-anchor, Cynthia McFadden, back for that. We got a little taste of Michelle Obama at home last night. Tonight, you two go on the road.

CYNTHIA MCFADDEN: We do, indeed, Bill. Well, unemployment, of course, has dogged her husband's administrations with veterans and their families, among the hardest hit. Michelle Obama says before her husband ran for president, she knew little about the struggles of military families. But the people she met across the country so touched her, she's devoted herself to taking a difference. We went to Florida with her for our series, "The Contenders: Family Ties." We're waiting on the tarmac as the First Lady's plane lands a at Mayport Naval base in Jacksonville, Florida. It happens, as you might expect, with military precision.

UNIDENTIFIED OFFICER: And salute.

MCFADDEN: A line of officers, waiting to greet her.

MICHELLE OBAMA: I'm probably like most Americans, where my connections to military life was pretty tangential. So, most Americans are like me, they don't have a clear idea of the sacrifice these men and women have made.

MCFADDEN: Her husband is campaigned on the ending of the war in Iraq. But as that happens, the war in Afghanistan rages on, with 17 troops killed just last month. The pressures on military families are intense.

MICHELLE OBAMA: Multiple deployments. Figuring out, what you do with a child when you're moving for the seventh or eighth time, from state to state to state. And I was floored by the stories that I heard. And I thought, I'm educated, consider myself pretty well-informed about a lot of issues. Didn't know these stories.

MCFADDEN: She says those stories motivated her and the vice president's wife, Jill Biden, to create a program called joining forces. They've taken the message to Sesame Street.

JILL BIDEN: Well, it's important to know the people in your neighborhood who are serving in the military.

MICHELLE OBAMA: Because they and their families need our support.

MCFADDEN: And to primetime, helping to expand a community center for homeless, female vets on Extreme Makeover:  Home Edition.

[Clip from Extreme Makeover: Home Edition.]

MCFADDEN: But the toughest problems, of course, television cameos cannot solve, like the crushing unemployment rate of returning vets. At 9.7 percent, it's nearly two points worse than the dismal numbers for the rest of Americans.

MICHELLE OBAMA: I won't be satisfied, nor will my husband, until every veteran and military spouse who wants a job has one. All of you deserve nothing less. Nothing less.

MCFADDEN: She's come to Florida today with good news. With encouragement from Joining Forces, 2,000 companies have stepped up and provided over 125,000 jobs for returning vets and their spouses, with a promise to double that.

MICHELLE OBAMA: They've learned how to translate their service training to the private sector. And that takes a little time to figure out, you know, if somebody's been flying a helicopter, what can they do at a railroad? You know, if somebody's been doing lgistics in Afghanistan, maybe I can figure out how that makes sense.

MCFADDEN: We met some of the veterans who were hired through the program. This group all employed by Citibank.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: My last job was anti-submarine officer.

MCFADDEN: You're hunting submarines in the Gulf.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Yes.

MCFADDEN: How does that apply to what Citibank does?

UNIDENTIFIED: WOMAN: Well, lot of it does. Leadership. Management abilities. People skills.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: A lot of folks will get out, only to do  the same type of role on the civilian side if that role is available. And if not, they feel somewhat powerless. They don't know, "what can I do right now?" And this initiative really opens up and says there's so much more you can do.

MCFADDEN: You don't have to chase submarines, right? Because there's very few people who are doing that in civilian life. The program seems to be having an impact. From July of last year to July of this year, there's 20 percent fewer unemployed vets.

MICHELLE OBAMA: They are fighting for the rights and freedoms of all of us. And that's what's moved me about this effort. That's why I get so passionate and get teary about it because--

MCFADDEN: You are teary about it.

MICHELLE OBAMA: Yeah. You just want to make it right.

MCFADDEN: You keep this up, you'll have Sasha and Malia signing up.

OBAMA: I think if one of my daughters came and told me they wanted to serve, I would be worried. I'd be like any mom. would be concerned about their safety. But I would support them wholeheartedly. I think this training and experience is some of the best training and experience that young people can get.        

MCFADDEN: Well, tomorrow we turn to the campaign. My colleague Diane Sawyer will have an exclusive interview with President Obama and we'll be with the First Lady on the campaign trail.

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