The NBC and CBS morning shows on Thursday both pushed the theme that Mitt Romney made a gaffe with his handling of Libya. At the same time, they shielded Barack Obama. Good Morning America's Jake Tapper stood out in highlighting problems for the President. In the wake of the murder of Ambassador Chris Stevens, Tapper asserted that "many questions remain about insufficient security at those diplomatic posts on the anniversary of 9/11 and U.S. leadership in the region in the wake of the Arab Spring."
In contrast, CBS This Morning devoted a large chunk of its coverage to allowing Barack Obama to defend himself. The three minute and 41 second story featured the President talking for a massive two and a half minutes. How long did Romney get in the Norah O'Donnell segment? A mere ten seconds.
The comments from Obama came from a 60 Minutes exclusive interview. In the excerpted clip, Steve Kroft, rather than ask a hard-hitting question about how the President has handled the crisis in Libya, offered this softball: "Your opponent, Governor Romney, used the attack in Libya and also, the situation in Cairo yesterday, to attack your policies - to go after your foreign policy - in a fairly broad-based attack. What are your thoughts on that?"
Kroft followed up by wondering if Romney's attacks were "irresponsible."
Over on NBC, co-host Savannah Guthrie interviewed John McCain and grilled the senator about how the former Massachussetts governor responded in the last two days: "Was it correct for Mitt Romney to seize on that political opportunity at a moment when the U.S. ambassador had been killed?"
Matt Lauer derided, "Mitt Romney taking heat from some members of his own party for his criticism of the statement from the U.S. embassy in Cairo following the initial demonstration there."
On CBS, O'Donnell pushed the same line, noting that "Democrats and Republicans criticized Romney."
Tapper, alone, highlighted substantive criticism of U.S. policy in Egypt, insisting, "...Some are now asking why the U.S. gives Egypt billions of dollars in foreign aid each year."
He reiterated that questions about "insufficient security at these diplomatic posts on the anniversary of 9/11" could "potentially hurt President Obama."
A transcript of the September 13 CBS This Morning segment can be found below:
07:15 am EDT
O'DONNELL: Now, these anti-American protests have triggered a sharp exchange between President Obama and Governor Mitt Romney. On Tuesday, the U.S. embassy in Cairo condemned the anti-Islam movie that apparently sparked a lot of this. Romney called that statement disgraceful. Then, in his own statement Tuesday night, he accused the Obama administration of sympathizing with the protesters, instead of condemning them. Yesterday, after the deaths of the four Americans were announced, Democrats and Republicans criticized Romney. But the GOP presidential candidate refused to back down.
[CBS News Graphic: "Race For The White House: Candidates Trade Jabs Over Attacks Remarks"]
ROMNEY: These views were inappropriate. They were the wrong course to take when our embassy is – has been breached by protesters.
O'DONNELL: On Wednesday, the President responded forcefully to Romney in an interview with Steve Kroft of '60 Minutes'.
[CBS News Graphic: "The President's View: Obama Responds To Romney's Criticism"]
STEVE KROFT (from pre-recorded interview): Your opponent, Governor Romney, used the attack in Libya and also, the situation in Cairo yesterday, to attack your policies - to go after your foreign policy - in a fairly broad-based attack. What are your thoughts on that?
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: I think most Americans - Democrats or Republicans - understand that there are times where we set politics aside, and one of those is when we've got a direct threat to American personnel who are overseas. And so, you know, I think that if you look at how most Republicans have reacted - most elected officials – they've reacted responsibly, waiting to find out the facts before they talked; making sure that our number one priority is the safety and security of American personnel.
It appears that Governor Romney didn't have his facts right. You know, the situation in cairo was one in which a – an embassy that is being threatened by major protests releases a press release, saying that the film that had disturbed so many Muslims around the world wasn't representative of what Americans believe about Islam, in after effort to cool the situation down. It didn't come from me. It didn't come from Secretary [Hillary] Clinton. It came from folks on the ground who are potentially in danger, and, you know, my tendency is to cut folks a little bit of slack when they're in that circumstance, rather than try to question their judgment from the comfort of a campaign office.
And, you know, I do have to say that, more broadly, you know, we believe in the First Amendment. It is one of the hallmarks of our constitution that I'm sworn to uphold. And so, we are always going to uphold the right for individuals to speak their mind. On the other hand, this film is not representative of who we are and our values, and I think it's important for us to communicate that. That's never an excuse for violence against Americans, which is why my number one priority - and my initial statement - focused on making sure that - not only are Americans safe, but that we go after anybody who would attack Americans. But there's a broader lesson to be learned here, and, you know, Governor Romney seems to have a tendency to shoot first and aim later. And as President, one of the things I've learned is that you can't do that; that, you know, it's important for you to make sure that the statements that you make are backed up by the facts; and that you've thought through the ramifications before you make them.
KROFT: Do you think it was irresponsible?
OBAMA: I'll let the American people judge that.
O'DONNELL: Well, we'll focus on the political fallout of the Middle East attacks in our next half hour. One of Governor Romney's leading supporters, Ohio Senator Rob Portman, will be with us, along with CBS News political director John Dickerson.