When ABC and NBC interview First Ladies, both the tone and substance of the discussion tend to hinge on whether the husband is an Obama or a Bush.
On Wednesday's ABC "World News" and NBC "Nightly News," network correspondents sat down with Michelle Obama in South Africa for exclusive interviews in which they lobbed softball questions and avoided her husband's policies. But in interviews with Laura Bush in 2007 and 2010, ABC questioned the then-First Lady's Mideast trip and NBC re-litigated President Bush's response in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.
ABC's wide-eyed correspondent David Muir couldn't muster a serious policy question during the entire interview with the Democratic First Lady, going so far as to explicitly relegate politics to the dustbin. "Politics aside, if I can ask you personally, if you would like another four years to continue your work as First Lady?" queried Muir, to which Mrs. Obama unsurprisingly replied that "there's so much more work to do."
Ignoring President Obama's record, Muir found time to ask Mrs. Obama about her unannounced meeting with Nelson Mandela, what love advice she will give her daughters, and whether the Obamas want a second term, while NBC correspondent Kristen Welker, who fawned over Mrs. Obama earlier in the week, also chose to ignore policy in an interview that could have been a carbon copy of Muir's.
In a contrast to Mrs. Obama's coverage, NBC "Today" host Matt Lauer, reporting from New Orleans to mark the five-year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, asked Mrs. Bush if its "painful" for her to come back to the region where "so much of the blame for what happened or didn't happen here was laid at the feet of your husband." Mrs. Bush took the question in stride, retorting, "No, not really. I mean I feel very close to the people on the Gulf Coast and always have."
In October 2007, ABC "Good Morning America" host Robin Roberts, who was traveling with Mrs. Bush through the Middle East, wondered aloud whether the Republican First Lady was welcome: "Does it help with Mrs. Bush and the United States coming here?...Or is it seen as, 'Okay, the Americans are, again, trying to force something on us?'"
ABC was quick to question Mrs. Bush's Middle East tour, but neither ABC nor NBC challenged Mrs. Obama's visit to Africa or her husband's policy toward the continent, despite on-the-record criticism from high-profile humanitarian activists, including actor George Clooney.
CBS did not interview the First Lady on Wednesday's "Evening News."
A transcript of the June 23 NBC "Nightly News" segment can be found below:
KRISTEN WELKER, NBC News correspondent: Take me inside that room. What was it like to be there with Nelson Mandela?
MICHELLE OBAMA: I don't know if it means anything different for me as an African American First Lady because Nelson Mandela means so much to so many people, but I feel blessed. And it makes me think about the legacy that I want to leave for those that follow. And again that's not just because I'm First Lady, but because I'm a citizen, I'm a mother.
WELKER: In a recent interview with Ann Curry, the president said, "I'm sure there are days when I say one term is enough." Do you ever feel that way?
OBAMA: We have a lot more work to do so I'm ready for more. I have always enjoyed campaigning because when you're connecting with people you're reminded what we're doing this for, what the needs are, how good people are.
WELKER: We have seen a lot of Malia and Sasha. Is this a one-time thing where they'll be in the spotlight like this?
OBAMA: Well, this is really the only time we get to travel. We are on summer break. So it is a delicate balance but our overall goal is to make sure our girls are not in the public eye. There will be times when they will be but this is a rare and an important trip and experience for them.
WELKER: What's the first thing you're going to tell your husband about this trip when you go home?
OBAMA: Oh, gosh, well we already been talking. I talk about the kid's reactions to stuff. He's always anxious to see what did the kids do when they saw. So we still, we're parents, we still talk about our kids more than anything else.
BRIAN WILLIAMS: First Lady Michelle Obama sitting down with our own Kristen Welker in South Africa. We've put the entire interview on our website, that's nightly.msnbc.com.
A transcript of the June 23 ABC "World News" segment can be found below:
DAVID MUIR: Nelson Mandela. What was it like in that room?
MICHELLE OBAMA: Surreal. Something I never thought would happen in my lifetime for me. It was powerful because his presence in and of itself is powerful.
MUIR: What did you say to him?
OBAMA: I told him, you, you cannot imagine how important your legacy is to who I am, to who my husband is. I just said, thank you. Thank you. Thank you.
MUIR: For ten-year-old Sasha and twelve-year-old Malia, a portrait most children see only in a book. You have so protected your daughters from the media glare, and admirably so, but when they read the Cat in the Hat, there were not only children smiling there but so many people back home listening to their voices, carefully.
MALIA OBAMA: Too wet do go out and too cold to play ball. So, we sat in the house. We did nothing at all.
SASHA OBAMA: No, no, make that cat go away. Tell the cat in the hat you do not want to play.
MICHELLE OBAMA: I look at them in the same way and think, wow, you guys have grown up and you're so poised and you're so sweet so there's that motherly side of me, but it's still always a balance between protecting them. They're here because it's June and they're not in school.
MUIR: And, Sasha, she might have a future. A little dramatic flair there.
MICHELLE OBAMA: Yeah, Sasha's got a little flavor.
SASHA OBAMA: Those things should not be in this house. Make them go.
MUIR: All of the children here, when you walk into a room, all their faces light up. And back home we see the same thing. All of your work with children. And I'm curious. Politics aside, if I can ask you personally, if you would like another four years to continue your work as First Lady?
MICHELLE OBAMA: I think there's so much more work to do. We've really just begun to lay the foundation. I want to make sure there's still a footing in them in the same way that my husband does. So more time would be helpful.
MUIR: So you like the job?
MICHELLE OBAMA: I love the job.
MUIR: She wants four more years, and the students want more from her. made by students of These are the questions that some of the young people had hoped to ask you downstairs.
MICHELLE OBAMA: Okay.
MUIR: What legacy do you and Barack Obama plan to leave behind but I liked this one. What advice will you give to your girls when they fall in love?
MICHELLE OBAMA: Oh, wow.
MUIR: You're about to have a teenager, right?
MICHELLE OBAMA: Oh, yes, she's there. I would tell all young people, choose people who will lift you up, find people who will make you better.
MUIR: You said the President has made you better.
MICHELLE OBAMA: Yes.
MUIR: And you have said, let's just for the record.
MICHELLE OBAMA: Yeah. I haven't told him that so now it's on record. So he's going to bring that up whenever I'm mad at him.
MUIR: That you've made him better.
MICHELLE OBAMA: Yes, I think, of course, I've made him better.
MUIR: I heard it. That's on record too.
--Alex Fitzsimmons is a News Analysis intern at the Media Research Center. Click here to follow him on Twitter.