In September, Good Morning America's George Stephanopoulos hyped Mitt Romney's "47 percent" tape as sending "shock waves" through the presidential race. ABC analyst Matt Dowd called it a "six or seven" on the Richter scale of political controversies. Yet, when damaging video surfaced of Barack Obama discussing race, Stephanopoulos offered no hyperbolic language and Dowd insisted that Romney would make a "mistake" if he brought it up at the debate.
On Wednesday, Stephanopoulos calmly opened the show my noting, "And just hours before the first debate, the new release of a five-year-old Obama speech." He wondered, "What's behind it and will the speech make any difference tonight?" In contrast, on September 18, the host excitedly touted, "Breaking now, Mitt Romney caught on tape at a private fund-raiser. His candid comments causing shock waves." Stephanopoulos hyped, "The campaign rushing to contain the damage. Romney responds in a late night press conference." [See video contrast below. MP3 audio here.]
On Wednesday, analyst Matt Dowd, who previously worked for Democratic and Republican candidates, knocked down the significance of the new Obama tape: "I would be shocked if this tape comes up tonight [at the debate]. I just don't think people think it's that big of a deal."
Dowd lectured, "And I think Mitt Romney would make a mistake if he brought it up."
In comparison, when Romney's tape broke, Stephanopoulos pushed, "Matt, you've worked in a lot of campaigns for both parties. Where does this register on the Richter scale?"
Dowd gravely pronounced, "Somewhere between, I think, six and seven."
[ABC's Jake Tapper, it should be pointed out, covered the Obama tape fully and fairly. For more on that, go here.]
A transcript of the October 3 segment can be found below:
GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: Here we go. The Super Bowl of politics is here. The final countdown to fight night. And just hours before the first debate, the new release of a five-year-old Obama speech.
BARACK OBAMA: Folks are frustrated. Black people angry.
STEPHANOPOULOS: What's behind it and will the speech make any difference tonight?
GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: Let's add in David Muir, already inside the debate hall. Our political contributor, Matthew Dowd here with me. And David, unlikely that Mitt Romney is going to bring up this tape tonight. But the governor is behind nationally and especially in those key battleground states. So, do they think they have to shake things up tonight?
DAVID MUIR: They absolutely do, George. I talked to a half-dozen advisers over the next 24 hours. And they all agree that he's going to try and accomplish three major things on this debate stage behind me. First of all, He is going to be offering a blistering critique of the President. That shouldn't be difficult for the governor. He does that on his stump speech. The second thing, though, is criticism within his own party that he needs to offer more details. Forward-looking specifics. Expect him to offer a little more about his tax plan. There's been a lot of questions about the tax cuts across the board. Which deductions would he eliminate? He's been practicing with that question. They also said, they would be surprised, stunned, in fact, if the 47 percent comments did not come up during this debate. He has been practicing on that, as well. And lastly, this is their words, they say he doesn't have to win a charm contest, a charm offensive on this stage. But he does tonight have to connect with Americans and the problems felt by average, middle-class families across this country. That, perhaps, is the biggest hurdle tonight, George.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Jake, one thing Mitt Romney is likely to bring up tonight: Another, what you call, a gaffe from Joe Biden, Vice President Joe Biden yesterday, where he said the middle class has been buried for the last four years.
TAPPER: That's right. Vice President Biden tried to clean up those remarks later in the day, saying he was referring to the middle-class being buried by tax policies and economic policies put in by Republicans. Ones that Romney and Ryan want to go back to. But criticism of what has happened to the middle-class, specifically over the last four years is one that Ryan and Romney jumped on. And you should be able to expect that again tonight, George.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Okay, so Matthew Dowd, what is a win for each candidate tonight? Let's start with Mitt Romney.
DOWD: Well, I think Mitt Romney has to show up and he has to be confident, compassionate and connect with the audience. But, I think, really, he has to put the President on the defensive. He has got to return this race into a referendum on the President and not a referendum on himself. He's behind because this has become a referendum on Mitt Romney and he's got to make that shift.
STEPHANOPOULOS: And the President?
DOWD: I think the President's all about his mannerisms and his style at this point. I think he can't come across as irritable. He can't come across as impatient. He has got to act that he wants to be there, maybe with a lot of smiles. He can't come across as sort of, breathing and all those things that make him seem out of touch. .
STEPHANOPOULOS: And what's your guess? Does this tape we saw tonight come up? Do you think the moderator, Jim Lehrer, brings it up?
DOWD: I would be shocked if this tape comes up tonight. I just don't think people think it's that big of a deal. And I think Mitt Romney would make a mistake if he brought it up.