NBC's Mitchell Touts Slick Willie As Wife's 'Biggest Asset,' Skips Conservative Critics

Bill Clinton promoted his new book "Giving" in the second half-hour of NBC’s Today on Wednesday morning. Matt Lauer and Meredith Vieira repeatedly promoted how the idealistic former president would arrive to tell viewers "how you can change the world." (That's a play on the book's subtitle.) To set up the interview, NBC’s Andrea Mitchell compiled a story in a typical story on the Clintons, with no conservative or Republican critics in it, and the toughest, most skeptical expert in the piece was Dee Dee Myers, the former Clinton press secretary. Myers declared that Hillary has the problem that her husband is "a global rock star and one of the most popular people on the face of the planet." Mitchell concluded that the former president is "one of her biggest assets."

MRC’s Geoffrey Dickens labored through the goo to get the transcript. Matt Lauer opened the show in part with this promo over the theme music: "And, Running Mate. Former President Bill Clinton talks about politics, his wife Hillary's run for president, the polls and how you can change the world today, Wednesday, September 5th, 2007."

At 7:23, Lauer echoed the promo, complete with cozy kidding and friendly giggling off-camera from the NBC staff:

Lauer: "Coming up in our next half-hour former President Bill Clinton on how you can change the world, on presidential politics and he'll make a bold prediction right now, who will be the nominee for President on the Republican side?"

Bill Clinton: "I don't have a clue." [Raucous staff laughter]

Lauer: "That's a tease! We'll talk to Bill Clinton after your local news."

At 7:30, Meredith Vieira echoed the you-can-change-the-world promo yet again:

"And coming up in just a moment former President Bill Clinton. He could be headed back to the White House but if he does it will be his wife, Hillary, leading the way this time. And his biggest challenge may be letting her take the spotlight while he helps her on the campaign trail. Coming up we'll talk to him about the race for the White House and his new book, explaining how each of us can change the world."

Twenty seconds later, after the promos were all read, Matt Lauer then began the segment:

"But let's begin this half hour with former President Bill Clinton. The nation's 42nd commander-in-chief is out with a new book. We're gonna talk to him about that, in just a moment. But it's his role as campaigner-in-chief that's getting a lot of attention these days. NBC's Andrea Mitchell has more. Andrea, good morning to you."

[On screen headline: "The Bill Factor, The Power Of President Clinton."]

Andrea Mitchell: "Good morning, Matt. Well experts in both parties say he is the best political strategist in the business and now he's got another book that is sure to be a bestseller. So how will that affect the political fortunes of his wife at a critical point in the campaign? He's not the typical candidate's spouse. Whether on book tour, on Oprah or on the campaign-"

Hillary Clinton: "Don't you miss having a president who sounds like that?"

Mitchell: "He is a huge draw. John Edwards has labor endorsements."

John Edwards: "And we are marching together."

Mitchell: "Barack Obama is attracting big crowds. But for Democrats, Bill Clinton has more star power than any of the candidates, perhaps even his wife."

David Letterman: "Constitutionally he could be a vice presidential candidate. Could he?"

Hillary Clinton: "Apparently not."

Letterman: "Apparently not?"

Hillary Clinton: "No and believe me, he looked into that."

Mitchell: "Tuesday night, it was his turn."

Letterman: "You have to be careful, politically, what, what you say now."

Bill Clinton: "Now what I say can impact her campaign so I try to show some discipline about what I say, you know? For example I got 10 rules about coming here tonight...'Don't make news, don't make news, don't make news, don't make news.'"

Letterman: "I see."

At this juncture, the supposed tough part of the story kicked in, about how the country might have mental problems with her:

Mitchell: "But could he overshadow her, even as she is trying to break through the political glass ceiling?"

Dee Dee Myers, former Clinton press secretary: "The fact that she has a man standing over her shoulder and a man who was once president and who is a global rock star and one of the most popular people on the face of the planet raises, again, a set off issues that this country has never dealt with."

Ellen Degeneres: "Hi!"

Hillary Clinton: "Hi!"

Degeneres: "Look who it is!"

Mitchell: "She gets asked about him at every turn."

Unidentified man: "The question on everybody's mind is, while you're out campaigning will Bill actually take care of the house?"

Hillary Clinton: "He, actually, does some things but we have help."

Mitchell: "And he gets asked about her."

Bill Clinton on Oprah: "Some days I get a call from around the country saying, 'You realize I'm 15 years older than you were, when you did this?' And I say, well nobody made you run girl. I like what I'm doing."

Mitchell: "And so far what he is doing is a big asset to his wife's campaign. In fact, Hillary Clinton is getting her biggest crowds when her husband is campaigning at her side. But her aides say that she is running on her own record, even if, for now, the former president is one of her biggest assets."

The pom-pom-shaking Wednesday morning story was an echo of the story Mitchell reported early on Tuesday’s Nightly News – a story dedicated to giving the Clintons more media on the topic of how much media they’re doing, from Ellen to Oprah to Letterman. But NBC never wondered whether the Clintons were only doing easy, friendly media opportunities – or whether it might be their responsibility to be display a greater instinct for tough questioning than the light, giggly forums with Ellen, Oprah, or Dave.

Tim Graham
Tim Graham
Tim Graham is Executive Editor of NewsBusters and is the Media Research Center’s Director of Media Analysis