Stephanopoulos Gives Edwards Rough Reception on Announcement Day

Catspawing for another candidate, or just solid journalistic probing? In either case, ABC's George Stephanopoulos gave John Edwards a rough go when the former NC senator appeared on Good Morning America today to announce his candidacy for president.

Steph was on the offense from the get-go: "Back in 2004, you criticized President Bush for exploiting the tragedy of 9/11 by having his convention in New York City. Aren't you exploiting Katrina by announcing your candidacy in New Orleans?"

Edwards didn't respond directly to the exploitation allegation, asserting only that he was seeking to draw attention to New Orleans's plight. And not to himself? At the risk of reading too much into every jot and tittle, I'd say that Steph's formulation "aren't you exploiting?" is considerably more accusatory than would have been "are you exploiting?"

Next from George: "You said last year that you were wrong to vote for the war in 2002. If that's true, why shouldn't Democrats nominate someone who is against the war from the start, like Barack Obama?"

Just two questions into the interview, and already an invidious comparison with Obama. Ouch! Edwards responded that what's most important is "a willingness to be honest, tell the truth, to have integrity and take responsibility for both what they've done in the past and what they'll do in the future." Let's leave aside the specific issue of Iraq for the moment. As a principle, can Edwards seriously be arguing that it's more important to have a president who admits he's wrong than to have one who gets it right in the first place?

Steph, a bit later: "Are you more qualified than Hillary Clinton to be president?"

A direct, seemingly un-dodgeable question. But they haven't invented the question that a nimble trial lawyer like Edwards can't dodge: "That's not my decision to make."

Really? Should you be running if, at the very least, you haven't made that decision in your own heart? And if you're not willing to proclaim it, why should voters believe it? This sounds like a man who doesn't want to burn his vice-presidential bridges.

Steph: "You ran with John Kerry in 2004. After that campaign he told friends that you promised him that you wouldn't run against him in 2008. Is that true?"

Edwards: "Well, I never talk about any personal conversations I had with John Kerry."

Steph: "That didn't sound like a denial." Gotcha!

Edwards rolled with the punches. But give George credit. For whatever reason . . . he punched.

UPDATE: Edwards just made his official announcement, speaking from from New Orleans.. On such a momentous day, the normally able and articulate orator was oddly off his game. He stumbled right out of the blocks: "The reason I'm here . . . actually, the best explanation of the reason I'm announcing here in the Ninth Ward of New Orleans," etc. Huh? He seemed distracted, desultory, nonchalant to the point of not caring. Even the CNN anchor observed that he was "subdued, almost tired-looking."

Adding insult to injury, so uninspiring was the speech that the news networks cut away in midstream. I can understand Edwards wanting to project a down-to-earth image. We won't criticize the blue flannel shirt with the white undershirt peeking through. But there's a happy medium between John Kerry stiffness and the double Ambien dose of Edwards today.

UPDATE, DEUX:

Over at MSNBC, Norah O'Donnell had a Dem and a Republican on to discuss the Edwards announcement. Norah asked Debbie Dingell, who if I'm not mistaken is married to Dem Congressman John Dingell, whether Edwards' entry into the race makes it more difficult for John Kerry to jump in and run against his former VP ticket-mate. Dingell, barely suppressing a smile: "I think John Kerry is one of the more 'challenged' candidates in the primary. He obviously made a big stumble prior to the general election, and I think he's going to find it very difficult to raise money during this presidential campaign cycle." Ouch!

Contact Mark at mark@gunhill.net

Mark Finkelstein
Mark Finkelstein is a contributing editor for NewsBusters.