CBS's Schieffer Leads Obama Through Bashing of Republican Ticket

In what Bob Schieffer of CBS News's "Face the Nation" promoted as the first interview of Sen. Barack Obama following the first presidential debate, “broadcast journalism's most experienced Washington reporter,” according to CBSNews.com, made no effort to critique Obama’s debate answers and performance, but instead led the Democratic candidate into an hour-long bashing of the Republican ticket. Schieffer’s slant was obvious right out of the gate, emphasizing Obama’s supposed late night work on the bailout.

SCHIEFFER: Senator, it's still very complicated. We should stress this, it still hasn't even been put down on paper, all of it. But I know you were talking with the negotiators through the night last night. What can you tell us about it, and can you support it?

Neither Shieffer nor Obama mentioned the factors leading up to the sub-prime mortgage breakdown over the last 30 years. Instead Obama indicated blame is to be placed on the Bush Administration for all of it. The veteran journalist didn’t question it.

Sen. OBAMA: And I think this is a final verdict on eight years of failed economic policies. SCHIEFFER: Well, let's just--let's just talk about this. When the president came on television and said we need this bailout package, he painted it in the most dire terms.

Schieffer moved on to setting Obama up for a shot at Sen. John McCain, who suspended his campaign last week to return to Washington, DC, to participate in the bailout negotiation. Obama used the opportunity to take credit for it, give McCain no credit, and accuse McCain of a “photo-op session.” Schieffer challenged none of it.

SCHIEFFER: You stood back a little bit at that point. Now that this--it looks like they've gotten to some agreement, should Senator McCain be getting the credit here for forcing these people back to the negotiating table? Sen. OBAMA: No. Look, here's--here are the facts. For two weeks I was on the phone every day with Secretary Paulson and the congressional leaders, making sure that the principles that have ultimately been adopted were incorporated into the bill. I mean, if you think about it, those items that you mentioned at the top of the show...

So Obama claimed to working the phones to insert his principles. The Face the Nation host could have asked him about the content of his conversations with Paulson and congressional leaders. He could have asked Obama where he got the ideas that he said he incorporated. Schieffer didn’t, though. So what did he say?

SCHIEFFER: Mm-hmm. Sen. OBAMA: ...none of those were in the president's provisions. They are identical to the things I called for the day that Secretary Paulson released his package. That, I think, is an indication of the degree to which, when it comes to protecting taxpayers, I was pushing very hard and involved in shaping those provisions. But understand this: The important thing here is making sure that we don't have a photo-op session, because this is serious.

Again, Schieffer asked no follow-up questions. CBS’ chief Washington correspondent then changed direction to asking Obama about his opinion on how the debate went. Obama jumped right into his talking points, accusing McCain of being like Bush and saying that Obama will give 95 percent of American’s tax breaks.

SCHIEFFER: This is your first time to talk about the debate since then. How do you think it went? Sen. OBAMA: Right. Well, I think that the country had a chance to look at two very contrasting visions about where the country needs to go. Senator McCain, on economic policy, fundamentally agrees with George Bush. I mean, up until this recent crisis, as recently as March, when I was calling for a fundamental over--overhaul of the regulatory system on Wall Street, Senator McCain was saying, `I'm basically a deregulator.' On taxes, he has wanted to continue Bush's policies, and in fact wants to double down on them. So you've got, essentially, a continuation when it comes to John McCain, of the policies of the last eight years. He'll talk about earmarks, but that's not a fundamental shift in our basic economic theories. What I've said is we've got to completely reverse course. We've got to have economic growth from the bottom up. And that means that my tax cuts, for example, are going to the 95 percent of Americans who are struggling every day...

There have been journalists and commentators who say McCain’s maverick record shows that McCain is not like Bush and has gone against the Republican party. Others have argued that Obama’s “95 percent” claim is mathematically impossible. Schieffer could have questioned Obama about those counter arguments. What did he say?

SCHIEFFER: Mm-hmm.

Obama continued pushing his talking points, including his desire to “enlist and mobilize the support of the world” to address “nuclear proliferation to hunting down terrorists.”

Sen. OBAMA: ...as opposed to providing additional tax cuts to corporations that are doing very well. So you had a fundamental shift--or contrast in terms of where we need to take the economy. And on foreign policy, likewise, there really wasn't any indication that Senator McCain wanted a significant shift from George Bush's foreign policy. And I think we need to end the war in Iraq, refocus attention on Afghanistan, initiate tough diplomacy; but recognize that on a whole host of issues, from nuclear proliferation to hunting down terrorists, that we've got to enlist and mobilize the support of the world. So I think what we see is, is that the American people are going to havea very clear choice come November.

Schieffer’s response?

SCHIEFFER: All right. We're going to take a break here and come back and talk about some of that in more detail in just a minute.

He did ask Obama for more details, not about Obama’s statements, but about McCain’s.

SCHIEFFER: And we're back now with Senator Obama. Senator, it seems to me that the whole debate came down to a couple of questions. You questioned Senator McCain's judgment repeatedly, he repeatedly said you just didn't understand; that you didn't have the knowledge or the understanding to deal with these issues, both the financial issues and foreign policy issues.

Sen. OBAMA: Right. Well, the interesting thing is he kept on asserting I didn't understand, but beyond saying the line never indicated what exactly I didn't understand. It's true I don't understand Senator McCain's positions on a whole host of issues, because given how the Bush administration has created an extraordinary crisis in the economy and considering that we remain bogged down in Iraq--al-Qaeda is resurgent, Iran is developing nuclear weapons--that our foreign policy is, if not in a shambles, then certainly not in a place that I think anybody is comfortable with. Given those facts, what I don't understand is that Senator McCain continues to promote them. There was not one instance where Senator McCain could support his assertions with some indication that, in fact, he had some secret understanding of what the Bush administration was doing that made sense. In fact, he essentially is defending a status quo that is not working for the American people.

That’s a lot of accusations. How did Schieffer follow that?

SCHIEFFER: Some Democrats said that they thought he was being condescending to you. Did you take it in that way?

Forget about the economy, al Qaeda, and nuclear weapons. Schieffer was concerned about McCain being condescending. When Obama said he would not meet with foreign leaders without pre-conditions, flip-flopping on his previous stance, the seasoned journalist who has covered every presidential campaign since 1972 pressed him ever so gently about his conditions.

SCHIEFFER: ...and under what conditions. Would you, and under what conditions would you talk to, say, somebody like President Ahmadinejad of Iran? Sen. OBAMA: Right. Well, what I've said repeatedly is that as president of the United States, I would reserve the right to meet with anybody at a time and place of my choosing if I thought it would advance our national interests and make us safer. That is--should be uncontroversial. I mean, Nixon met with Mao, you know, Kennedy met with Khrushchev, Reagan met with Gorbachev. So you know, we have a tradition of recognizing that diplomacy, even with our enemies, can be an important tool of American power.

But after Obama compared himself to Nixon, Kennedy, and Reagan, Schieffer’s follow-up response?

SCHIEFFER: Sure...

But, believe it or not, Schieffer turned up the heat. On the next issue, he was determined to pressure Obama into answering a specific question. He wanted to nail the junior Senator down on his opinion about…get ready…Sarah Palin’s qualifications to be vice president.

SCHIEFFER: While we're still on foreign policy, Senator McCain's running mate, Sarah Palin, claimed in an interview that Alaska's proximity to Russia somehow enhances her foreign policy experience and credentials. Do you agree with that? Sen. OBAMA: I will let the American people make a judgment on that. I think that...

Schieffer is dissatisfied with Obama’s answer. So he tries again.

SCHIEFFER: Well, do you believe she's qualified?

Sen. OBAMA: Again, I think it's important for the American people to make a judgment based on what they hear from Sarah Palin herself. More importantly, I think we're electing a president before--alongside a vice president, but the president ultimately is going to be in charge. I think what people have to ask themselves, is John McCain equipped to deal with the 21st century challenges that we have? Still, dissatisfied with Obama’s answer, he tries again.

SCHIEFFER: But... Sen. OBAMA: Is he able to look to the future and not to the past?

And again…

SCHIEFFER: But don't you think what she says is important? Sen. OBAMA: Well, I...

And one more time…remember, she “could be a heartbeat away.”

SCHIEFFER: I mean, she could be a heartbeat away from the presidency.

Sen. OBAMA: I think it is important, and the--I think that I'm more concerned about the fact that she doesn't seem to have any differences with President Bush when it comes to foreign policy and would continue, as John McCain would, the same policies that we've seen over the last eight years that have, I believe, weakened our position in the world.

He finished the segment by allowing Obama to bash McCain’s spending freeze option that he discussed during the debate, with no questions about Obama’s own spending freeze proposal. Schieffer’s final words recapped the University of Mississippi’s racial past and said America has come a long way because “Ole Miss was hosting a presidential debate that included the first African-American to capture a major party presidential nomination. It was a fine debate, but it was so much more. It was a significant moment in American history.” Given Schieffer's senior status in network news anchoring – 30-plus years – it’s baffling that he did not choose to mention McCain’s significant moment in American history, being the most senior candidate ever. Read the transcript on CBSnews.com. The link to the transcript was available following the broadcast on September 28, 2008, but has since been removed.