NBC's Brian Williams and Andrea Mitchell on Friday night used their presumption, that Senator Joe Biden is Barack Obama's VP choice, to showcase, for a second straight night, the Obama campaign's attack on John McCain over his inability to say how many homes he owns. In setting up the lead Nightly News story on VP speculation, Williams highlighted how “the Obama camp is telling the McCain campaign people who live in that many houses shouldn't throw stones.”
After asserting that “it is looking more and more like Senator Joe Biden is the choice,” reporter Andrea Mitchell contended “Biden, with blue collar roots, could help reinforce Obama's latest message” conveyed in an Obama TV ad: “Call it country club economics. How many houses does he own?”
Following her story, Williams returned to what interested him the most: “Back to the McCain campaign and this issue they're fighting which you predicted yesterday would go down as one of those moments in a campaign. Does this live on and on and on, do you think?” Mitchell maintained it's now an “emblematic” issue which arrived “just when” Obama “needed it.” So, what a coincidence the media have pounced to assist Obama. Mitchell answered:
I think it does, it becomes emblematic and it gives Obama an opening just when he needed it. He was having trouble identifying himself, defining himself. The McCain people were having a couple of good weeks. This has definitely been a setback.
Neither the CBS Evening News nor NBC Nightly News mentioned the McCain homes issue on Friday night, though, like NBC, they certainly didn't hold back on Thursday evening. My August 21 NewsBusters item, “Nets Pounce on McCain's 'Housing Crisis,' But Not So Fast with Kerry's '04 Gaffe,” recounted:
Four years ago when Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry made his “I actually did vote for the $87 billion before I voted against it” remark, the CBS Evening News instead ran a soundbite of Kerry promising “we're going to build an army of truth-tellers” as it took the newscast six months (!) to finally air the vote for/voted against clip and the NBC Nightly News didn't play it for nine days. Yet on Thursday night, both newscasts led with what NBC's Lee Cowan declared is “John McCain's personal housing crisis.”
ABC, which in 2004 aired Kerry's comment a day later when Dick Cheney raised it, didn't lead Thursday with McCain's failure Wednesday to say how many homes he and his wife own, but devoted a full story-plus to it with Jake Tapper deciding “it could be a seminal moment” in the campaign before George Stephanopoulos relayed how the Obama camp thinks “this is one of those metaphorical moments.” He recalled 1992, “when it seemed like President Bush didn't know what a supermarket scanner was.”
Fill-in CBS anchor Maggie Rodriguez led: “John McCain couldn't answer a question most Americans would find simple, how many homes do you own?” NBC's Brian Williams, back in Manhattan from Beijing, opened with how though “reporters are busy chasing down all available clues” on Obama's VP pick:
This was not the biggest political story of the day. That came from John McCain in response to a question about how many houses he owns. He didn't answer. The actual answer is a sizable number.
Relevant portions of the lead story on the Friday, August 22 NBC Nightly News:
BRIAN WILLIAMS: Good evening. If there were gold medals handed out for secrecy, then the Obama campaign has at least entered the medal round of the competition. The candidate says his mind is made up about a number two. Yet, tonight, there are tea leaves but no hard take them to the bank facts and no evidence that the future vice presidential nominee has been told of the job. We'll all know by tomorrow, unless we find out any minute now. And while this all goes on, the Obama camp is telling the McCain campaign people who live in that many houses shouldn't throw stones. Covering all of it tonight to start us off this Friday evening, NBC's Andrea Mitchell....
....ANDREA MITCHELL: Barring a last-minute change, it is looking more and more like Senator Joe Biden is the choice....
Biden, with blue collar roots, could help reinforce Obama's latest message, battled again today in dueling ads.
OBAMA AD: Call it country club economics. How many houses does he own?
MITCHELL: All about McCain's multiple homes. As many as ten says the Obama campaign. Only four says the McCain campaign.
McCAIN AD: Obama's solution? Higher taxes.
MITCHELL In June, when Brian Williams asked Biden if he'd take the job.
JOE BIDEN ON JUNE 22 MEET THE PRESS: If asked, I will do it. I made it clear, I did not want to be asked.
BRIAN WILLIAMS ON MTP: Do not want to be asked, but if asked, of course would be yes.
BIDEN: Of course I would.
MITCHELL: One person not vetted Hillary Clinton. Obama had said she'd be on anyone's short list, but his team did not ask her for any personal records.
HILLARY CLINTON: That's for him to decide.
REPORTER: What advice would you give him?
CLINTON: I'm not in that arena.
MITCHELL: Among the first to know could well be the law students at Widener University in Wilmington, Delaware. Biden was scheduled to teach their class tomorrow as he has for 17 years. They've been told they may have a substitute professor. Brian?
BRIAN WILLIAMS: And while all of this goes on, back to the McCain campaign and this issue they're fighting which you predicted yesterday would go down as one of those moments in a campaign. Does this live on and on and on, do you think?
MITCHELL: I think it does, it becomes emblematic and it gives Obama an opening just when he needed it. He was having trouble identifying himself, defining himself. The McCain people were having a couple of good weeks. This has definitely been a setback.
WILLIAMS: We'll keep covering all of these stories as we move on to news elsewhere. Andrea Mitchell, thanks for starting us off.