While all three network morning shows on Thursday covered President Obama defending his refusal to label terrorism as Islamic extremism during a Wednesday speech, only CBS This Morning actually pushed back on the President's argument.
Co-host Norah O'Donnell asked former deputy CIA director Michael Morell: "You heard people faulting President Obama for failing to identify this as Islamic extremism. Do you think this is a pseudo-controversy over semantics or is this a failure to properly identify the enemy?"
I understand what the President is saying and I agree with it. We do not want to create the perception that we are at war with a religion. But the reality is that Al Qaeda and ISIS believe they are religious warriors. They believe that they are fighting on behalf of their religion, for their religion. It's not rhetoric on their part, they really believe it.
During a news brief on NBC's Today, anchor Natalie Morales simply quoted Obama: "The President again defending his refusal to call terrorists 'Muslim extremists,' saying the U.S. has one thing going for it that Europe doesn't, a long tradition of embracing immigrants, including Muslims."
ABC's Good Morning America did the same, with anchor Amy Robach noting: "President Obama addressing criticism for not using the term 'Islamic extremists.' At a White House meeting the President insisted ISIS fighters are not religious leaders, but rather terrorists who have perverted Islam."
On Wednesday night, the CBS Evening News and NBC Nightly News barely touched the controversy.
ABC's World News Tonight ignored it altogether.
Here is a full transcript of the February 19 CBS This Morning segment:
7:11 AM ET
GAYLE KING: This morning a White House summit on fighting violent extremism enters its third and final day. Yesterday President Obama addressed dignitaries from sixty countries. He called on Muslim leaders in particular to confront twisted ideologies that groups like ISIS use to radicalize young people.
[ON-SCREEN HEADLINE: Confronting Terror; Obama: "We Are Not At War With Islam"]
BARACK OBAMA: We are not at war with Islam. We are at war with people who have perverted Islam. No religion is responsible for terrorism. People are responsible for violence and terrorism.
NORAH O'DONNELL: A new CBS News poll shows a growing number of Americans see ISIS as a major threat. 65% now compared to 58% in October. And for the first time, most Americans favor sending grown troops to Iraq and Syria to fight ISIS. That number is now at 57% versus 47% just four months ago.
CBS news senior security contributor Michael Morell is in Washington. He's a former CIA deputy director. Michael, good morning.
MICHAEL MORELL: Good morning, Norah.
O'DONNELL: You heard people faulting President Obama for failing to identify this as Islamic extremism. Do you think this is a pseudo-controversy over semantics or is this a failure to properly identify the enemy?
MORELL: Norah, I understand what the President is saying and I agree with it. We do not want to create the perception that we are at war with a religion. But the reality is that Al Qaeda and ISIS believe they are religious warriors. They believe that they are fighting on behalf of their religion, for their religion. It's not rhetoric on their part, they really believe it.
KING: For the first time, as Norah just pointed out, the poll says that the majority of Americans are now in favor of ground troops. You have said that we really can't succeed without them. How likely do you think that is to happen?
MORELL: I think we need ground troops fighting ISIS in both Iraq and Syria. The best outcome would be that the Iraqi military would be that ground force. The second best outcome would be that it would be a regional force of Arab countries. And only as a last resort, I think, should we put American ground troops in, but we need ground troops.
CHARLIE ROSE: In the meantime, how significant are ISIS gains in solidifying their position?
MORELL: So they've solidified, Charlie, their position, Charlie, in two places. One is in Iraq and Syria. Their spread has been stopped but they've solidified their position in the areas that they control. There were some cities that they did not control early on, they control them now. And the second is spread of their brand across a number of countries now, Algeria, Egypt, Yemen, Afghanistan, and that's scary because it makes those groups more dangerous. The group we saw in Tripoli that killed an American, the group we saw in eastern Libya that did those terrible beheadings, it makes those groups more dangerous.
ROSE: Is it possible that they could win the allegiance of all of these groups and therefore they'll have a united front?
MORELL: I think that's one of the things we have to worry about and I think that's why we have to do two things here. We've done a very, very good job at defending ourselves against terrorists who are trying to kill us. We have not done a good job, as the President's talked about, not done a good job at stopping the creation of new terrorists. We have to deal with that much bigger problem.
ROSE: Michael Morell, thank you so much.