At the top of Wednesday's NBC Today, co-host Matt Lauer portrayed former Defense Secretary Robert Gates as an ungrateful and disgruntled ex-employee: "Blindsided. President Obama's former Defense Secretary Robert Gates takes on his old boss – the man who awarded him the Medal of Freedom – in a blistering new memoir. This morning, what may have made him turn?" [Listen to the audio or watch the video after the jump]
In the report that followed later, correspondent Andrea Mitchell fretted: "President Obama's decision to keep George Bush's defense secretary, a Republican, has now blown back on the White House." Like Lauer, she made sure to note how Obama had honored Gates: "Gates gave no hint of his resentment when he left the cabinet two years ago and President Obama awarded him the Medal of Freedom, the nation's highest civilian honor."
In a report for Tuesday's Nightly News, Mitchell similarly highlighted: "When Bob Gates left the Obama cabinet, the President surprised his defense secretary with the Medal of Freedom, the nation's highest civilian honor."
After a sound bite played of Obama declaring that Gates had been "one of the best" defense secretaries, Mitchell melodramatically proclaimed: "But in his sensational new memoir, Gates excoriates the President, Vice President Joe Biden, and former national security advisor Tom Donilon for their handling of the war in Afghanistan and the military."
Wrapping up that report, Mitchell observed that despite the "unusually harsh criticism of Obama," Gates "calls the President's approval of the raid against Osama Bin Laden 'one of the most courageous decisions I had ever witnessed in the White House.'"
On Wednesday's Today, Mitchell announced that the White House was "Stunned by Gates's unexpectedly tough criticism..."
Here is a full transcript of Mitchell's January 8 report on Today:
7:00AM ET TEASE:
MATT LAUER: Blindsided. President Obama's former Defense Secretary Robert Gates takes on his old boss – the man who awarded him the Medal of Freedom – in a blistering new memoir. This morning, what may have made him turn? And reaction from the White House.
7:07AM ET SEGMENT:
LAUER: Let's go to Washington now, where the White House is pushing back against an upcoming memoir that is highly critical of the Obama administration. Its author, the President's former Defense Secretary Robert Gates. Andrea Mitchell is NBC's chief foreign affairs correspondent. Andrea, this is a big deal, good morning.
ANDREA MITCHELL: It is indeed. In that new memoir – good morning, Matt – to be published next week, former Defense Secretary Bob Gates unloads on the President, on the Vice President, and on their former national security team. In published reports authenticated by NBC News from people who have read the book.
[ON-SCREEN HEADLINE: Gates vs. The White House; Fmr. Defense Sec'y Slams President in New Book]
BARACK OBAMA: I've asked Secretary Robert Gates to continue as secretary of defense. And I'm pleased that he's accepted.
MITCHELL: President Obama's decision to keep George Bush's defense secretary, a Republican, has now blown back on the White House. In Bob Gates' new memoir, Duty, the former CIA and Pentagon chief calls the Obama White House "the most centralized and controlling" since the Nixon years. While Gates praises President Obama's decisions on Afghanistan, he says the President didn't believe in his own strategy. Recalling after one meeting, "I thought: the President doesn't trust his commander, can't stand Karzai, doesn't believe in his own strategy, and doesn't consider the war to be his. For him, it's all about getting out." A far cry from what Gates told Matt in 2009 on Today.
ROBERT GATES: I think we're all on the same page.
MITCHELL: Gates is particularly tough on Vice President Biden, writing, "I think he has been wrong on nearly every major foreign policy and national security issue over the past four decades." And Gates blasts former national security advisor Tom Donilon and his team for, quote, "aggressive, suspicious, and sometimes condescending and insulting questioning of our military leaders."
While Gates praises former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, he says he was dismayed to hear Clinton tell the President she opposed the Iraq troop surge in 2007 because she was running against Mr. Obama. In turn, Gates says the President acknowledged opposing the surge himself for political reasons.
DAVID IGNATIUS [WASHINGTON POST]: I think some of his comments about Obama and about Secretary Clinton will persist, they'll come back, they'll be used by Republicans.
MITCHELL: But Gates gave no hint of his resentment when he left the cabinet two years ago and President Obama awarded him the Medal of Freedom, the nation's highest civilian honor.
GATES: I'm deeply honored and moved.
MITCHELL: Stunned by Gates's unexpectedly tough criticism, the White House has issued a statement saying that, "The President deeply appreciates Bob Gates's service and welcomes differences of view, but disagrees with Secretary Gates's assessment," especially of Biden, whom the White House hailed as "one of the leading statesmen of his time." Matt.
LAUER: Alright, Andrea Mitchell in Washington. Andrea, thank you.