Over 13 months ago, the NBC, CBS and ABC newscasts touted Barack Obama as a tough talker who wouldn't back down on threatened spending cuts. Now, that he's backed down, the same networks have ignored the President's retreat. On November 21, 2011, Obama thundered, "My message to [Congress] is simple: No. I will veto any effort to get rid of those automatic spending cuts to domestic and defense spending. There will be no easy off-ramps on this one." [See video below. MP3 audio here.]
This allowed the then-presidential candidate to portray himself as a budget hawk taking a hard line on sequestration. Nightly News anchor Brian Williams introduced Obama's comments by describing the country as a "nation of addicts, spending addicts kicking the can down the road." According to Williams, the President "pushed back hard." Williams and other journalist didn't question the seriousness of Obama's pledge. On Wednesday, the President signed a deal to avert the fiscal cliff and kept those cuts from going into place.
Not shockingly, Williams did not wonder if Obama is now "kicking the can" and allowing America to continue to be a "nation of spending addicts."
On the November 21, 2011 World News, Jonathan Karl promised that "these are real cuts that Congress would have to come to an agreement to do without the help of a super committee."
Guest anchor George Stephanopoulos approvingly noted: "And the President did say that he would veto any attempt to undo these cuts."
(On the November 21, 2011 CBS Evening News, anchor Scott Pelley also highlighted the quote.)
Of course, the President didn't veto attempts to undo the cuts and the networks helpfully ignored his flip-flop.
A partial transcript of the November 21, 2011 coverage is below.
BRIAN WILLIAMS (NBC Nightly News, November 21, 2011): Like a nation of addicts, spending addicts, kicking the can down the road, it was part of the deal that was cut back when the fight over the debt ceiling shut Washington down and split it apart. Instead this so-called super committee of Congress that was supposed to find $1.2 trillion in cuts to reduce the debt has failed. They couldn't do it, and tonight the president went before cameras in the White House briefing room and pushed back hard.
President BARACK OBAMA: Already some in Congress are trying to undo these automatic spending cuts. My message to them is simple, no. I will veto any effort to get rid of those automatic spending cuts, domestic and defense spending. There will be no easy off ramps on this one.
SCOTT PELLEY (CBS Evening News, November 21, 2011): Nancy, stay with us just a minute. You told us last week that some in Congress are already talking about changing the law and lifting those mandatory cuts. Well, late today at the White House the President weighed in on that idea.
President BARACK OBAMA: My message to them is simple: No. I will veto any effort to get rid of those automatic spending cuts to domestic and defense spending. There will be no easy off-ramps on this one.
PELLEY: No easy off-ramps, Nancy. How is that playing on Capitol Hill?
CORDES: Well, it's not at all unexpected, Scott. In fact, congressional leaders from both parties reiterated their support for keeping those automatic spending cuts in place as well. Unless, they say, members of Congress can actually get together and figure out a more sensible way to cut $1.2 trillion from the deficit by the time those spending cuts are supposed to go into in effect in 13 months.
Fill-in anchor GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS (ABC's World News, November 21, 2011): The President pointed out in his statement they had built in a failsafe. The $1.2 trillion is now set to come through what they call a sequester, that means across the board cuts, half from defense, half domestic spending but don't take effect until next year.
JONATHAN KARL: Yeah, but these cuts will be harder to undo, because there is no super committee to help them through this - $1.2 trillion. The biggest hit to defense, this - the Pentagon Defense Secretary Leon Panetta will be such deep cuts that it will force him to cut weapons systems, personnel. Turning, he said, the US military into a paper tiger, giving us the smallest US ground forces that we've seen since before World War II. So these are real cuts that Congress would have to come to an agreement to do without the help of a super committee.
GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: And the President did say that he would veto any attempt to undo these cuts. Okay, Jon Karl, thanks very much.