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President Obama Rejects Brian Williams' Dig at Bush

In an interview excerpt aired on Tuesday's NBC Nightly News, from the NBC News special, 'Inside the Obama White House,' set to air at 9 PM EDT/PDT tonight (Tuesday) and Wednesday, Brian Williams used President Barack Obama's upcoming speech to Muslims in Cairo to take a dig at former President George Bush, as he contended: "It's a speech that your predecessor perhaps could not have given constitutionally, given who he is, and could not have given because the attack came on his watch." Obama rejected Williams' premise: "I'm not sure that it's true that President Bush couldn't have given a speech in the Muslim world."

That interview was conducted earlier Tuesday at the White House after Williams had a long sit-down with Obama on Friday, a session excerpted on Friday's NBC Nightly News which showed Williams cuing up the President to rebuff critics of his Supreme Court nominee. The BiasAlert post, "Williams Cues Up Obama to Agree: 'That's One of Those She'd Rather Have Back,'" recounted:

NBC provided a platform Friday for President Obama to fire back at conservative critics of his Supreme Court nominee, Sonia Sotomayor, as Brian Williams cued him up to agree her comment that a Latina judge would make better decisions than a white male one, is "one of those she'd rather have back." Obama naturally agreed as NBC Nightly News aired his response for an uninterrupted two-plus minutes - an eternity on TV news.

The Tuesday, June 2 NBC Nightly News aired this exchange:

BRIAN WILLIAMS: You're about to give a speech to the Muslim world, really, the tent pole of this big trip you're embarking on. It's been said it's a speech that your predecessor perhaps could not have given constitutionally, given who he is, and could not have given because the attack came on his watch. Other than your personal style, what has changed to enable you to give this address? PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Well, you know, I'm not sure that it's true that President Bush couldn't have given a speech in the Muslim world. A U.S. President, even where there's a lot of tension in various parts of the world, is always, is always received as a critical figure in world economics and politics, and people want to know what they have to say. So I wouldn't suggest that somehow I'm uniquely positioned to deliver this speech...

The full segment on the newscast which, like on Friday night, showcased one question from Williams and the answer from Obama:

BRIAN WILLIAMS: And back here at the White House, the President's helicopter lifting off from here tonight on the first leg of the most important trip of his presidency thus far. He will mark the D-Day anniversary, among other things, and he will fulfill a promise to make a speech to the Muslim world. The President flies from Washington to Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, then on to the speech at Cairo university. He makes two more stops, in Germany and France, for the D-Day events before returning to the U.S. on Sunday. When I spoke to him today, I asked him about the importance of this particular speech. WILLIAMS TO PRESIDENT OBAMA: You're about to give a speech to the Muslim world, really, the tent pole of this big trip you're embarking on. It's been said it's a speech that your predecessor perhaps could not have given constitutionally, given who he is, and could not have given because the attack came on his watch. Other than your personal style, what has changed to enable you to give this address?

OBAMA: Well, you know, I'm not sure that it's true that President Bush couldn't have given a speech in the Muslim world. A U.S. President, even where there's a lot of tension in various parts of the world, is always, is always received as a critical figure in world economics and politics, and people want to know what they have to say. So I wouldn't suggest that somehow I'm uniquely positioned to deliver this speech.

And I also don't want to, you know, load up too many expectations on this speech. After all, one speech is not going to transform very real policy differences and some very difficult issues surrounding the Middle East and the relationship between Islam and the west. But I am confident that we're in a moment where in Islamic countries, I think there is a recognition that the path of extremism is not actually going to deliver a better life for people. I think there's a recognition that simply being anti-American is not going to solve their problems. The steps we're taking now to leave Iraq takes that issue and defuses it a little bit. And the question then is how do we now go forward with a honest, serious relationship based on mutual respect and mutual interest? And so what I hope will happen as a consequence of this speech is people will have a better sense of how America views its relationship to the broader world and to Islam. I do hope that we can start opening a dialogue that will be more constructive moving forward.

WILLIAMS: A part of our conversation with the President here at the White House earlier today.

- Brent Baker is Vice President for Research and Publications at the Media Research Center