ABC on Thursday and Friday either downplayed or outright ignored the "bruising day" Defense Secretary nominee Chuck Hagel endured in Washington. Friday's Good Morning America skipped the topic entirely, thus avoiding the tough questions by Senators Lindsey Graham and John McCain. Nightline, which now airs after midnight, didn't get to the story until 1:05am.
Thursday's World News did cover the contentious hearings, but Diane Sawyer minimized Hagel's poor performance, which even liberal writer Peter Beinart mocked as "making Biden look rhetorically sure-footed." Sawyer solemnly opened the show: "...One man entered the arena. Chuck Hagel, the purple heart recipient from the Vietnam War, the former senator nominated to be Secretary of Defense. His former colleagues met him with a fuselage of critical questions..." [See video below. MP3 audio here.]
It wasn't until the end of the segment that reporter Jon Karl highlighted the awkward moments. He allowed, "Hagel is likely to be confirmed, but even his supporters acknowledge he didn't have a particularly strong performance today."
Karl recounted another gaffe, noting that Hagel admitted "that he still needs to learn more about the Pentagon, telling the committee, quote, 'If confirmed, I intend to know a lot more than I do.'"
At 1:05am on Nightline, following a story on cheating spouses and another on the singer Beyonce, co-anchor Cynthia McFadden finally got to Hagel. She insisted that the nominee "faced a barrage of combative questions" from Republicans. The segment lasted less than a minute.
By Friday, the network had lost all interest in Hagel.
In contrast, NBC's Nightly News directly hit Hagel's performance. Correspondent Kelly O'Donnell asserted that Hagel " at times appear[ed] unprepared or off his game." Unlike ABC's coverage, NBC highlighted the grilling he endured over comments about the "Jewish lobby" intimidating Congress.
ABC's downplaying and silence on Hagel stands in contrast to the network's reporting on Obama's first term cabinet. On November 24, 2008, ABC's George Stephanopoulos rhapsodized, "We have not seen this kind of combination of star power and brain power and political muscle this early in a cabinet in our lifetimes."
A transcript of the January 31 World News segment is below.
DIANE SAWYER: On defense. The President's pick for Defense Secretary faces a blistering attack. Will he get the job?
SAWYER: And now in Washington today, one man entered the arena. Chuck Hagel, the purple heart recipient from the Vietnam War, the former senator, nominated to be Secretary of Defense. His former colleagues met him with a fuselage of critical questions today, and ABC's chief Washington correspondent Jonathan Karl tells us about the fiery day.
JON KARL: He's a Vietnam veteran and former Republican senator, but today Chuck Hagel found himself and his judgment under attack by a fellow Republican and Vietnam vet.
JOHN MCCAIN: Were you correct or incorrect when you said that the surge would be the--
CHUCK HAGEL [file footage from 2007]: The most dangerous foreign policy blunder in this country since--
MCCAIN [present day]: since Vietnam. Were you correct or incorrect?
HAGEL: Well, I'm not going to give you a yes or no answer on a lot of things today.
MCCAIN: Well, let the record show that you refused to answer that question.
KARL: Hagel eventually did answer, standing by his words on the Iraq War and revealing something about the kind of Defense Secretary he hopes to be.
HAGEL: I saw the consequences and the suffering and the horror of war. So, I did question a surge. This going to be worth the sacrifice? We lost almost 1,200 dead Americans during that surge. Now, was it required? Was it necessary?
KARL: Hagel would be the first Defense Secretary who saw combat as an enlisted soldier. As a poor kid from Nebraska, he and his brother Tom volunteered to serve in Vietnam. The brothers served in the same infantry unit in 1968, both getting wounded, each crediting the other with saving their lives.
HAGEL: I don't see the lens of every world event and whether we should use American power through the lens of Vietnam. But it's part of me.
KARL: Hagel's service was praised.
JEFF SESSION: I admire your service to your country.
KARL: But he was criticized for being soft on Iran and too tough on Israel. At one point, criticizing what he called the Jewish lobby. Today, he took that comment back.
HAGEL: I should have used another term and I'm sorry. And I regret it.
KARL: And Hagel seemed to get confused about Iran, which he called an elected, legitimate government, misstating president Obama's position on pursuit of nuclear weapons. Hagel is likely to be confirmed, but even his supporters acknowledge he didn't have a particularly strong performance today, at one point acknowledging that he still needs to learn more about the Pentagon, telling the committee, quote, "If confirmed, I intend to know a lot more than I do." Those were his exact words, Diane.
SAWYER: It was a bruising day.