Brent Baker picked up on how Meet The Press host David Gregory was obsessing over Rick Santorum accusing President Obama of having a "phony theology" on his contraceptive mandate. That obsession was the first of several hardballs Gregory threw Rep. Paul Ryan. He went Full Russert on Ryan, throwing video clips of Democrats at him and pressing him to defend the Republicans, asking if the GOP would suffer for its alleged extremism.
But then there were the softball questions that Gregory threw the Democrat sharing that segment, Rep. Chris Van Hollen. This was Gregory's first softball "question" for the liberal: "Congressman Van Hollen, how do you see it?" Later, Gregory added this gem: "Congressman Van Hollen, respond."
Here's how it unfolded.
Smashing Ryan One: After playing a clip of Santorum whacking Obama for a "phony theology," Gregory asked: "So, Chairman Ryan, let me start with you. Is that what we can expect from Republicans in this campaign, is a faith-based broadside and an attack against the president's leadership?"
Ryan strongly suggested Obama was violating religious liberty. Gregory threw another hardball: "You think it's an appropriate part of the debate for a Republican contender for the White House to say the president has a phony theology as part of his agenda and say things like, 'Well, if he says he's a Christian then he's a Christian.' Haven't we been through all of this before trying to demonize the president?"
It didn't matter to sloppy Gregory that when Obama-defending reporters in Ohio asked if he was saying the president is less of a Christian than he was, Santorum said that "no one is suggesting that."
Van Hollen Softball One: After pushing Ryan around, Gregory then turned and asked "Congressman Van Hollen, how do you see it?"
Then he followed up by soliciting for anti-Santorum talking points: "How do you respond, though, more generally to what you heard Senator Santorum say out there on the campaign trail energizing the base by talking about a phony theology that he believes the president adheres to?"
Smashing Ryan Two: Gregory went back to Full Russert on Ryan with a Pelosi clip:
GREGORY: Well, part of this, of course, is not just happening on the campaign trail, Chairman Ryan, as you well know. Republicans in the House are taking on this issue of contraception and what they see as a religious freedom test. And this was the image at the first of two hearings by the House Government and Oversight Committee, all men, all religious leaders, all men, no women. You heard Nancy Pelosi, she had a few things to say about that. Listen.
NANCY PELOSI: Where are the women? And that's a good question for the whole debate. Where are the women? Where are the women on that panel? Imagine they're having a panel on women's health and they don't have any women on the panel. Duh.
GREGORY: I mean, this was the "duh" moment. There was a second panel where there were women, but there's still a larger question here. There are Democratic leaders who are women who are using this for fundraising to say to a lot of women around the country who understand that contraception is not just about birth control but about women's health, that this should really be an issue. Are you concerned as a Republican that Republicans are overdoing this issue and could actually hurt the party's chances in November?
Ryan wasn't intimidated: "No. I'm concerned that the issue might get misconstrued. Look, every person in America, men or women, are free to use contraceptions as they want to. That's not the issue here. The question is, is should the government have the kind of power to mandate these things of us? This compromise is really a distinction without a difference, it's mandating that everybody pay for everyone else's free, you know, birth control and contraception. The question is, is can the government mandate that people violate their religious teaching, their conscience, their freedom of religion?"
Van Hollen Softball Two: Gregory could have naturally turned around and wondered if the Democrats were going to suffer from pushing contraceptive mandates on Catholic employers, whether this might hurt Obama and the Democrats in swing states. But no, he served more liberal framing for the liberal:
Well, so you have two different visions here, Congressman Van Hollen, which is what you heard Congressman Ryan say or whether this is fundamentally a women's health issue and protection of accessibility to key elements of women's health. Is that what you're going to see play out here?
How does anyone at NBC (or anyone in the American media) see this as Fair and Balanced David in action?
So this would be Gregory's defense. There were some tougher moments for Van Hollen -- when Gregory was hitting the liberal from further left. First, he seemed to think Van Hollen didn't support Gov. Martin O'Malley's crusade for "gay marriage" in his home state of Maryland:
GREGORY: But we're -- I know, and we're going to get to the economy. But I asked you a direct question about same-sex marriage. You don't support same-sex marriage, do you?
VAN HOLLEN: No, I do, I do support civil marriage equality. I -- especially with the provisions they have, for example, in the Maryland legislation that's being worked on to make sure...
GREGORY: But you don't support, you don't support what Maryland has passed as a state, do you?
VAN HOLLEN: I support what Maryland has passed, yes.
GREGORY: So same-sex marriage is, in your view, constitutional and same-sex couples should be fully recognized as a marriage?
VAN HOLLEN: I support the Maryland legislation, yes.
Gregory also pushed from the left on Van Hollen against keeping the payroll-tax cut: "Congressman Van Hollen, I spoke with business leaders this week at a discussion, a panel here in Washington. You can't argue that this is somehow a big profile in courage to extend a tax cut that's not paid for at a time of great fiscal imbalance in Washington."
Smashing Ryan Three: When Gregory tuned to Ryan on the budget, he bizarrely suggested someone (not the Senate Democrats) haven’t passed a budget in three years. He went Full Russert again, complete with video clip:
GREGORY: We've got a budget here that's probably not going to be passed because they haven't passed one in over 1,000 days. We're in a campaign year, so budgets seem not to really matter. What you have are campaign blueprints and you have a Republican vision of what government ought to do for Americans and a Democratic vision of what they ought to do. I had the chief of staff, Jack Lew here, former budget chairman, excuse me, former head of OMB for the president. And I asked him about what was necessary now and I want you to respond to what he said.
JACK LEW: I think that there's pretty broad agreement that the time for austerity is not today. We need to be on a path where over the next several years we bring our deficit under control. Right now we have a recovery that's taken root and if we were to put in austerity measures right now, it would take the economy in the wrong way.
GREGORY: So this is the fundamental point, Congressman Ryan, do you disagree with that? Because Ben Bernanke, the Fed chief has made this point, which is protect the recovery, don't get into the realm of austerity where we're belt-tightening to the point, you know, that you see what's happening in Greece, that you could that you could hurt recovery that's occurring here in the country.
Van Hollen Softball Three: When Ryan was finished, Gregory then turned to the liberal and said, "Congressman Van Hollen, respond."
Liberal media critics who only count talking heads and don't seem to read transcripts would suggest that this segment was a fair-and-balanced one-and-one segment, and then later claim that overall, Republicans get more time than Democrats on these shows. (They often do this by excluding all the liberal reporters from their counts.) A fuller examination of these Sunday shows put the lie to the idea that these are cozy platforms for the GOP.