ABC’s Robin Roberts conducted a fawning interview with Barack Obama on Wednesday’s Good Morning America, downplaying controversy and instead offering fawning softballs such as "How difficult is it to stay on message?" The GMA host previewed Obama’s big health care speech to Congress and only gently broached the difficulties that the President has had with the legislation.
Earlier in the segment, Roberts vaguely wondered, "Is there a new approach that you're taking to getting your message across?" The ABC co-host mentioned controversial (now former) green czar Van Jones, but managed to not actually ask a question about him: "You talk about talk radio and the things that are being said. Glenn Beck, for instance, really going after Van Jones. Forced to resign. Controversial things that he said about 9/11 and Columbine. How difficult is it to stay on message?"
That’s the best Roberts could do? Why not ask if the President agreed with Jones’ statement about Columbine that "only suburban white kids shoot up schools" or press Obama on the ex-official's connections to the 9/11 Truth movement and whether or not President Bush had advance warning of September 11?
Instead, Roberts followed up by replying to the President’s assertion that he doesn’t worry about scoring political points. She sympathized, "Does that surprise you about the political points?"
Later, the network anchor highlighted the criticism surrounding Obama’s speech on Tuesday to school children. She laughably cited two administration officials condemning conservative complaints and then asked the President to comment on his own subordinates: "Your Education Secretary called the controversy surrounding this, he said, ‘It's just silly.’ Your press secretary called it an 'Animal House food fight.' How would you describe the controversy?"
On May 19, 2008, Roberts talked to Barack and Michelle Obama and fretted about how the then-candidate would deal with nasty Republicans: "Should you get through this process and you have the general election ahead of you, that this is what you can expect more and more of. Are you prepared for that?"
A transcript of the September 9, 2009 segment, which aired at 7:02am EDT, follows:
ROBIN ROBERTS: I sat down with President Obama for an exclusive interview on Tuesday. And we talked about what is at stake tonight. After the speech, will the country know whether or not you are willing to sign a health care reform bill without a public option?
BARACK OBAMA: They will have a lot of clarity about what I think is the best way to move forward. Now, I've given some broad principles and parameters that a health care plan shouldn't increase the deficit, that it should cover the uninsured. That it should have insurance reforms in there, so the people who do have health insurance have better protection. So, there's some core principles that I have already laid out previously. We're going to be providing a much more detailed plan. I'm not going to give you a preview, but I want everyone to tune in.
ROBERTS: I understand you want to save the details of the speech. Are there must-haves? Are you going to draw any kind of lines in the sand?
OBAMA: There are principles that if they're not in the bill, I will not sign it.
ROBERTS: Public option?
OBAMA: And I will give you an example, I already mentioned. If it adds one dime to the deficit, if it’s not fully paid for, then I will not be supportive.
ROBERTS: Is there a new approach that you're taking to getting your message across?
OBAMA: I, out of an effort to give Congress the ability to do their thing, and not step on their toes, probably left too much ambiguity out there, which allowed, then opponents of reform, to come in and to fill up the air waves with a lot of nonsense. Everything from the this ridiculous idea that we were setting up death panels to false notions that this was designed to provide health insurance to illegal immigrants. And then, this broader notion of a government takeover of health care, which none of the bills that worked their way through Congress ever envisioned. So, the intent of the speech is to make sure that the American people are clear exactly what it is that we're proposing. To make sure that Democrats and Republicans understand that I'm open to new ideas. That we're not being rigid and ideological about this thing. But we do intend to get something done this year. And to dispel some of the myths and, frankly, silliness, that's been floating out there for quite some time.
ROBERTS: You talk about talk radio and the things that are being said. Glenn Beck, for instance, really going after Van Jones. Forced to resign. Controversial things he said about 9/11 and Columbine. How difficult is it to stay on message?
OBAMA: It's not hard for me to stay on-message. My job is not to be distracted by the 24-hour news cycle. My job is to stay focused on what is actually going to help the American people. And not spend a lot of time trying to score political points.
ROBERTS: Does that surprise you about the political points?
OBAMA: Look, it is frustrating. It doesn't completely surprise me. I certainly think that I've tried to maintain a tone. And my White House has tried to maintain a tone that is open to all comers. That is not sharply partisan. And yet, you know, despite all that, I think there is still just this unyielding partisanship. In some ways, I think it's gotten worse. Part of the frustration I have is that, on the Republican side, there are wonderful people who really operated on the basis of pragmatism and common sense and getting things done. Those voices have been, I think, shouted down on that side. And I hope that the Republican Party can rediscover that voice. I think they'll find that they'll have a partner in the White House on a whole range of issues.
ROBERTS: We met with the President on Tuesday morning at Wakefield High School in Arlington, Virginia, just before he was to deliver his back-to-school speech to students around the country.
OBAMA: You cannot drop out of school and just drop into a good job. You've got to train for it and work for it and learn for it.
ROBERTS: A speech that was under fire days before, after some, including conservatives, question whether the president was trying to push a political agenda.
RUSH LIMBAUGH: I don't think he's fooling anybody.
ROBERTS: Your Education Secretary called the controversy surrounding this, he said, "It's just silly." Your press secretary called it an "Animal House food fight." How would you describe the controversy?
OBAMA: I guess it was puzzling. As you know, for a long time, I've been talking about the importance of education. Not just in terms of government programs. But also parental responsibility, turning off the TV set, put away the video game. Ironically, a very conservative message, right, about each person to take responsibility to make sure that their kids are learning. It's a message of self help and personal responsibility. And I think it’s an important one for all of us to deliver. I have a bully pulpit. And I thought that would be a good way to kick off the first day of school.
ROBERTS: Personal responsibility, you talk about. But, you know there's a number of schools across this country that are failing.
ROBERTS: And what do you say to a kid, a child in one of those schools, trying to do the best that they can? But as you said, there's so much failure, for various reasons in education.
OBAMA: Well, look, first of all, we as a society, have to understand that nothing will determine our economic competitiveness more than our education system. Everything else pales in comparison. If we have the best-trained workers, if we’ve got the best scientists, the best technicians, then we're going to succeed. If we don't, we won't. So, we all have a vested interest in this. That's why in my budget, in the recovery act, across the board, we've been trying to make sure that we're putting money in there to save the jobs of teachers who are in danger of being laid off in this recession. Making sure that we're training the very best teachers to fill slots in the classroom. Making sure that we've got schools that are up to snuff. Those things are all important. But you're absolutely right that there's going to be some schools that need extraordinary help. And there's no silver bullet. It's going to be a long slog. And my message to kids in those schools is, hang in there. Help's on the way. But in the meantime, even in the worst and most difficult situations, if you apply yourself, you can find some help and you can succeed.