ABC, CBS, and NBC's Friday morning shows all devoted air time to President Obama labeling California Attorney General Kamala Harris "the best-looking attorney general in the country" at a fundraiser on Thursday. Unsurprisingly, a panel on NBC's Today tried to explain away the remark. Willie Geist asserted, "I think he [Obama] was making a joke." CBS This Morning's Norah O'Donnell was tougher on the President: "Maybe, [it] was not the right thing to say."
However, the Big Three newscasts didn't report that Mrs. Obama also got caught in a verbal misstep on Thursday. ABCNews.com's Arlette Saenz devoted a Friday morning item to how Michelle Obama mistakenly referred to herself as a "single mother" during an interview with WCAX, a CBS affiliate in Vermont.
Geist brought up the President's compliment of Harris during a discussion segment with Natalie Morales, Al Roker, and guest Liza Minnelli. The anchor highlighted how the chief executive's comment generated "some outrage, [and] a lot of people thought it was offensive; thought it was objectifying to her, given all her achievements; or objectifying to any woman."
Minelli brushed aside the apparent controversy: "I'm sure she's happy he said it. I'd be happy. I think it was just a normal thing for a man to say....It's amusing, and it's also very nice. I think any woman would like it." Roker that "it's not like he said, 'she's smokin' hot', or anything."
Morales then pointed out that "some people are saying, you know, we're in a day and age where...women, especially of her position, should be...given credit for what she's accomplished....not how they look." Roker also noted how "folks on the other side of the aisle have said had that been a Republican who made that comment, that people would have jumped all over it. So they say what's good for the goose is good for the gander."
The other panelists all replied by acting as apologists for the President:
NATALIE MORALES: ...I think it's an interesting debate. It certainly sparks a lot of talk and...I kind of feel like if, you know, she has accomplished a lot. I don't think the President meant that in any way except for just saying, "oh" – he gave her all the praise ahead of time – and then at the end said, "By the way, she happens to be a very good-looking woman."
GEIST: I think we're all against objectifying women.
MINNELLI: I think all women like that.
GEIST: I think he was making a joke, he was making a joke.
MORALES: He did not mean it in that way.
By contrast, all three CBS This Morning anchors were unwilling to explain away the Democrat's remark. Even open Obama supporter Gayle King didn't run to his defense:
NORAH O'DONNELL: And some critics have called President Obama's administration a boy's club dominated by men. Well now, the President is getting some flak for something he said in California yesterday. It happened at a Democratic National Committee fundraiser, which was closed to cameras. While he praised California's attorney general, Kamala Harris, the President called her – quote, 'By far, the best-looking attorney general in the country'. There was a lot of backlash online – social media, Twitter.
I think we all know, sometimes, you can't put the toothpaste back in the tube.
GAYLE KING: (laughs) No, you can't.
O'DONNELL: Things just come out of your mouth sometimes. (laughs)
KING: Even when you hit the rewind.
CHARLIE ROSE: And even after he said how great she was and how smart she was – I mean, come on.
O'DONNELL: Yeah. He was trying to compliment her, but it, maybe, was not the right thing to say – yeah.
ABC's Good Morning America spent the least amount of time on the issue. News anchor Josh Elliot teased correspondent Jonathan Karl's reporting on the controversy by hyping that President Obama is "feeling the heat...raises eyebrows with surprising comments made at a fundraiser about California's top prosecutor, calling her the best-looking attorney general in the country. His opponents calling him sexist, both sides weighing in all night." Karl merely summarized what had happened:
JONATHAN KARL: Kamala Harris, one of the fastest rising Democratic stars in the country...is even mentioned...as a possible future presidential candidate. But at a fundraiser last night, a closed fundraiser, the President said of Harris – quote, "She is brilliant and she is dedicated and she is tough. She also happens to be, by far, the best-looking attorney general in the country."
Now, some of the President's own allies have taken offense to that. I talked to a senior White House official this morning who would say only that Harris and the President have been friends for a long time and that he went out of his way last night and on many other occasions to talk about her many qualifications, not just the way she looks.