NBC's Williams Skips V.A. Scandal in Obama Interview; Omits Reid's Claim on Bergdahl Swap

Brian Williams glossed over the V.A. scandal during his interview of President Obama on Friday's NBC Nightly News. Williams did devote time to the ongoing controversy surrounding the release of senior Taliban leaders in exchange for Bowe Bergdahl – specifically the White House failing to inform Congress 30 days before the Islamists were let go from Guantanamo Bay, as required by federal law.

However, the anchor didn't mention that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid revealed that he was informed of the trade for Bergdahl on May 27, 2014 – a day before it actually happened. Williams also forwarded the President's own misleading claim about his grandfather's World War II service: [MP3 audio available here; video below the jump]

BRIAN WILLIAMS: Your personal connection: it's quite a distinction to be able to say that a family member fought in Patton's Third Army.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Well, you know, my grandfather was the first to be very humble about his – his service. He – he came in after the initial charge. You know, these men who were so young when they – when they came here and showed such extraordinary courage and capacity to – and changed the world, and then, go back home and settle back down, and didn't really make a fuss about it....

Back in 2009, correspondent Nancy Benac of the Associated Press detailed that Stanley Dunham actually served in a supply and maintenance company that never came under the enemy's fire. Benac later noted that Dunham's unit served under Patton's command for two months in early 1945, and quoted from his grandson's autobiography: "Gramps returned from the war never having seen real combat."

The NBC anchor led the interview by asking, "On the subject of Bowe Bergdahl, there is real confusion, and we're hoping you can clear up this one point that arose last night and today: what was the reason for not informing the eight members of Congress who would customarily be informed by this?" The President answered by emphasizing that "when somebody wears our country's uniform and they're in a war theater and they're captured, we're going to do everything we can to bring them home. And we saw an opportunity, and we took it, and I make no apologies for it."

Williams followed up by repeating his question: "The reason for the lack of congressional communication?" Mr. Obama replied, "As I said before, the main concern was that we had to act fast, in a delicate situation, that required no publicity." This apparent need to "act fast" was due to the administration's claim about Bergdahl's poor health. However, Stephen Hayes of The Weekly Standard pointed out a recent Wall Street Journal report that noted that "the video that generated the sense of urgency was filmed in December 2013, six months before the 'emergency' prisoner exchange." The Big Three journalist didn't bring up this scoop during the interview.

The anchor asked one more question about the Bergdahl issue before turning to his recent interview of controversial NSA leaker Edward Snowden. He ended the interview with his misleading question about the President's grandfather.

The full transcript of the interview of President Obama from Friday's NBC Nightly News:


BRIAN WILLIAMS: After speaking to the crowd of thousands here on this hallow ground, President Obama sat down with us for an exclusive interview at a time when things military happen to dominate the news – chiefly, Bowe Bergdahl, the U.S. army sergeant coming home to the U.S., after years behind enemy' lines, in exchange for those five prisoners from Guantanamo Bay.

WILLIAMS (from pre-recorded interview): On the subject of Bowe Bergdahl, there is real confusion, and we're hoping you can clear up this one point that arose last night and today: what was the reason for not informing the eight members of Congress who would customarily be informed by this?

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Brian, I have to tell you the same thing that I've been saying for the last several days, which is we have a rule – a principle – that when somebody wears our country's uniform and they're in a war theater and they're captured, we're going to do everything we can to bring them home. And we saw an opportunity, and we took it, and I make no apologies for it. It was a unanimous decision among my principals in my government, and a view that was shared by my – the members of the joint chief of staff. And this is something that I would do again, and I will continue to do wherever I have an opportunity – if I have a member of our military who's in captivity, we're going to try to get them out.

WILLIAMS: The reason for the lack of congressional communication?

OBAMA: As I said before, the main concern was that we had to act fast, in a delicate situation, that required no publicity.

WILLIAMS: The five prisoners part of the exchange: by their resumes, they're professionals –  former high-value assets. The question asked on the cover of Time magazine this week: 'Was It Worth It?'

OBAMA: The fact is that we are ending a war in Afghanistan. We have released – both under my administration and previous administrations – a large number of former Taliban fighters, some of whom returned to the battlefield. But, by definition, you don't do prisoner exchanges with your friends. You do them with your enemies.

WILLIAMS: In our interview recently with Edward Snowden in Russia, I raised the allegation – the charge – that he has badly damaged his country. How has the United States been harmed by what he did?

OBAMA: Well, I'm not going to comment on the particulars of the case. I will say that the disclosures that we've seen had a very significant impact on our intelligence operations around the world; had a grave impact on a number of our diplomatic relationships; compromised our ability to gain insight into some of the work that our adversaries do.

I've said before, and I'll say again, there's no doubt that this is an area of legitimate debate. And I think there are patriots on both sides who recognize, on the one hand, we've got to make sure that our eyes and ears are open for potential threats. What's also true, is we got to make sure not only that our privacy is protected, but that the manner in which our intelligence services operate internationally comports with our values and our ideas.

WILLIAMS: Your personal connection: it's quite a distinction to be able to say that a family member fought in Patton's Third Army.

OBAMA: Well, you know, my grandfather was the first to be very humble about his – his service. He – he came in after the initial charge. You know, these men who were so young when they – when they came here and showed such extraordinary courage and capacity to – and changed the world, and then, go back home and settle back down, and didn't really make a fuss about it.

My grandfather passed away over 20 years ago. This is one of those days where I thought to myself, it would have been nice to have him here. I think he would have been – he would have been proud to see that what he was a part of so long ago was now being celebrated by a grandson who – who is the commander-in-chief of the greatest military on Earth. I think he would have been pretty proud, and probably a little more than surprised.

WILLIAMS (live): Part of our conversation with the President here today.

Matthew Balan
Matthew Balan
Matthew Balan is a news analyst at Media Research Center