2. Katie Couric Throws a Couple of Hardballs At John Edwards
3. ABC and NBC Feature Anti-Bush, Pro-Kerry Voter Groups
4. CBS's Smith Presents Libertarian Group's Anti-War Views as New
Finding clarity in confusion. During Thursday night's debate, Senator John Kerry derided the war in Iraq as "a colossal error in judgment," even as he explained that he "did vote to give [President Bush] the authority [to go to war] because I thought Saddam Hussein was a threat." Kerry also declared that "the President made a mistake in invading Iraq," but when moderator Jim Lehrer asked, "Are Americans now dying in Iraq for a mistake?" Kerry quickly answered, "No, and they don't have to, providing we have the leadership that we put, that I'm offering. I believe that we have to win this."
Despite all those zigzags, ABC and CBS decided that Kerry had cleaned up all of the inconsistencies and made his position on Iraq perfectly clear. On Good Morning America, ABC's George Stephanopoulos, who lavished praise on Kerry's overall performance, argued: "After last night, if you thought that there was any gray area between the candidates on Iraq, it is gone right now. This is a stark difference."
Co-host Charles Gibson readily agreed: "Yes, and it was a good debate, because the differences were very clearly, I thought, articulated."
Over on The Early Show, CBS's Bob Schieffer -- who moderate the October 13 debate on domestic issues -- declared that Kerry had successfully defused the flip-flopper charge: "Whether you agree with him or disagree with him, you now know where John Kerry stands on what has happened in Iraq." But just yesterday, The Early Show displayed two opposing Kerry stands on Iraq from within the last ten days.
Now, more details on the Friday morning reaction to Thursday night's debate:
# On CBS's Early Show, Schieffer was interviewed by co-host Hannah Storm. As MRC's Brian Boyd noted, Schieffer claimed that Kerry had successfully stated a single position: "I thought that the thing John Kerry had to do was stake out a position on Iraq, give people something to hang their hat on, that they can say this is what John Kerry is for, this is what he is against. And I think really for the first time in this campaign he was able to do that last night.
After showing a clip of Kerry criticizing Bush's "colossal error of judgment," Storm asked: "He has this challenge of convincing voters to unseat the Commander-in-Chief in the middle of a war. Do you think that he succeeded in perhaps doing that?"
Schieffer answered: "Well, at least he staked out a position here. And it's been very difficult, you know the Bush people kept saying that John Kerry has taken 11 separate positions on this war in the campaign leading up to now. Now, part of that is spin, but clearly it has been unclear where he believed this war ought to be fought and how you fight it. Last night what he was saying was, this is not how you fight the war on terrorism. We saw, as you said, Hannah, two very different views on how you go about this. The debate has now been joined."
"Part of that is spin?" Can't any experienced political reporter see the plethora of Kerry's contradictory stands on Iraq and acknowledge that the change in positions is not just spin, but an actual happening, like a tree falling in the woods?
Just yesterday on "The Early Show," CBS aired two clips of opposing Kerry positions:
Storm noted that Schieffer would moderate the third and final presidential debate, and Schieffer actually played down its importance: "Well, then we'll finally talk about Social Security, we'll talk about health care and a lot of very important issues. There are some out there. But clearly, Hannah, this election is about Iraq."
Stephanopoulos found that a winning argument: "This has been the most effective critique of the Kerry-Edwards campaign in the last 10 days or so, this idea that President Bush is out on Fantasy Island, is not acknowledging how tough things are in Iraq. And Charlie, after last night, if you thought that there was any gray area between the candidates on Iraq, it is gone right now. This is a stark difference."
Gibson concurred: "Yes, and it was a good debate, because the differences were very clearly, I thought, articulated."
Stephanopoulos continued to rave: "I think one of the best ever, one of the most substantive 90-minute debates, in part because it was focused on foreign policy and national security -- one broad area, one broad subject area. I think we learned an awful lot about the candidates last night and we can see, Charlie, from the polls, that the viewers certainly learned a lot and they thought John Kerry won."
After Gibson cited ABC's quickie poll numbers, Stephanopoulos continued to promote Kerry: "Almost every national poll, actually every national poll I've seen this morning shows that John Kerry won. What's interesting so far, it still hasn't moved the vote. Everybody is still holding onto their positions, about a four- or five-point lead for President Bush, but John Kerry helped himself on all of the personal qualities."
Sounding as if he was working for Kerry instead of ABC News, Stephanopoulos went on: "I think the most important thing that Senator Kerry did stylistically last night is he showed strength in his demeanor. I guarantee you that if you didn't speak English, you walked in and watched the debate last night without the sound on, you would have believed that John Kerry was the incumbent, was the President. He seemed cooler, more in command. President Bush, by contrast, seemed a little agitated last night at various times and he scowled at various times, and I think that hurt him a bit."
Gibson inquired, "So where do we go from here?"
Stephanopoulos saw a bright future for Kerry: "I think John Kerry has the momentum coming out of here. I just spoke with one of his aides early this morning and they say they're now going to make the move toward domestic issues, and the debate line-up helps them because that's what the next debates are on."
Any doubt that Stephanopoulos will lavish praise on Kerry after those next debates, too?
Democratic vice presidential nominee John Edwards drew a few tough questions this morning on CBS, FNC, and NBC this morning about Iraq. CBS's The Early Show and FNC's Fox & Friends both asked about the potential behavior of "Old Europe" toward Iraq under a Kerry Administration. Citing a Wall Street Journal editorial from Thursday, NBC's Katie Couric asked about Kerry's selective death toll statistics: "How can John Kerry leave the Iraqis out when it comes to talking about the costs of this war so far?"
On The Early Show, CBS co-host Harry Smith did not suggest to Edwards that the Democrats are having trouble acknowledging facts on the ground, as he did to Dan Bartlett (see item #4 below). But he did press Edwards on what a President Kerry would do, including this gibe: "You don't really think that if in fact he's elected other countries are suddenly going to show up and say, the French and the Germans aren't going to sit there and say 'Hey, we're ready to fight, too.'"
In a fairly easygoing interview on Fox & Friends this morning, co-host Brian Kilmeade was a little more pointed to Edwards on this subject: "Do you think, Senator, from what you know -- because you're not new to this game, you've been talking to leaders too as well as Senator Kerry. Do you think in many ways France and Germany let America down more than international diplomacy was inadequate?"
On NBC's Today show, Couric raised the appearance of a Kerry dismissal of Iraqi casualties: "Twice during the debate Senator Kerry said, quote, 'we're now 90 percent of the casualties in Iraq and 90 percent of the costs.' The Wall Street Journal has taken issue with that statement, however, noting that even though the U.S. has lost over 1,000 lives, quote, 'our uniformed Iraqi allies have already suffered at least 750 combat deaths and that doesn't include the recruits who have been killed by car bombs as they have waited to enlist.' How can John Kerry leave the Iraqis out when it comes to talking about the costs of this war so far?"
Couric did leave out the Journal's next line about leaving out Iraqi casualties from the "90 percent" number: "Even using, er, liberal math, this would put U.S. killed-in-action at about 50 percent of the total."
Edwards tried to change the subject in his answer: "Well, first of all, what John Kerry said is correct. What he said is accurate. The American people and the American troops are carrying the vast majority of the burden in Iraq. And he's right about the cost and he's right about the casualties. And we -- if the Iraqi people continue to see this Katie as an American occupation, and particularly given the deteriorating situation we have in Iraq right now, this dynamic is not going to change."
Usually, the Today show enjoys quoting from news stories or editorials from the New York Times, so the Wall Street Journal editorial page citation was a surprise. The Journal article was called "Our Kerry Iraq Guide," and began with the thought: "We'd like to warn him to stay away from some of the lines he's been using on the stump. They could get him into trouble." See the whole thing at www.opinionjournal.com 
- "Is it appropriate, Senator, in wartime when U.S. troops are in fact risking their lives, to say you support them and yet they shouldn't be there in the first place?"
- "Well, other than getting other nations involved, and some people believe that's easier said than done, at this point in time. How do Senator Kerry and President Bush differ when it comes to restoring order and extricating U.S. troops from Iraq?"
- And this Couric setup: "Out on the campaign trail, Howard Dean warns that if President Bush is reelected the draft will be reinstated. In the debate, Senator Kerry said U.S. troops are in fact, spread too thin. Let's listen."
NBC's Matt Lauer assured viewers Friday morning that his Today show would refrain from using words like "win" or "lose" in the aftermath of the presidential debate, but both NBC and ABC brought on small panels of supposedly undecided voters to praise Kerry's performance and condemn Bush, a backdoor way of doing the same thing.
"We know from past elections that viewers tend to make up their minds about who won or lost a presidential debate not from the debate itself, but from the news coverage that follows," Lauer explained at the start of Friday's Today. "So with that in mind, we're not going to use words like 'win' or 'lose' this morning. Instead, we're going to give equal time to both sides and let you decide for yourself."
NBC questioned four voters in Florida while ABC talked to six voters in Ohio, for a total of ten between the two networks. Eight of them declared Kerry the winner, an 80 percent show of support for the Democrat that was even greater than that found by CBS's not-very-scientific poll of 200 "uncommitted" voters announced within minutes of the debate Thursday night. But CNN's panel of 22 voters split, with most saying they thought the debate was a tie.
Some of what morning show viewers heard about the candidates Friday morning:
Another woman on ABC, Yvonne, complained, "Bush just looked so nervous, very unsure of himself, and it led me to believe that he was unsure of what he's doing."
Cherry, on NBC, focused on Bush's facial expressions: "To me, he looked mad, like he was fuming at what he was hearing. That's just the way it looked to me." As for Kerry, she thought his performance was much improved: "When I've heard him speak in the past, it's mainly negative things, and I got so tired of hearing that. Tonight, it seemed that he really addressed some things."
"I think Kerry did a better job of addressing those issues than Bush did," a law student named Ari commented on NBC. "Bush just spoke in generalizations of liberty and the war on terrorism."
Paul, a Korean war veteran, said he was "put off by Bush. I voted for Bush, but he seems to be a little stubborn about this Iraq thing and making a mistake and not correcting it."
On ABC, Tom, who was identified by reporter Kate Snow as "a Bush supporter, sort of," praised Kerry's performance: "I saw a totally different John Kerry last night than I've seen in the past. I saw a John Kerry who I thought was very composed, very eloquent. I saw a President that was not, and frankly, for George Bush, I was very disappointed because I wanted to vote for George Bush."
But while ABC and NBC featured voters favoring Kerry and hostile to Bush, over on CNN's American Morning, Bill Hemmer reviewed the results of a focus group conducted in Ohio last night, as CNN asked a cross-section of 22 "mostly undecided" voters to register approval and disapproval as the debate unfolded.
"Reaction from our focus group was generally mixed," Hemmer related, with most participants saying the event was a tie. "There was not a whole lot of negative reaction to what either man talked about last night."
News flash: War opponents suddenly against war! Interviewing White House Communications Director Dan Bartlett on CBS's The Early Show, co-host Harry Smith underlined a gloomy view on Iraq. He suggested: "Even among conservative defense analysts, there's a piece out of the Cato Institute today says 'I think we're losing slowly but steadily. I think we're sinking deeper into the sand in Iraq.'"
But the libertarian Cato foreign policy experts have been opposed to war in Iraq from the beginning, a fact Smith was either completely unaware of, or chose to ignore to make it seem as if the President's position was being undermined by a previous ally.
Smith pressed Bartlett: "Fact is, is the violence has increased there over the last three months. Does the President have an exit strategy? Is there, in fact, a strategy for victory? The deaths keep going up, the violence keeps getting worse, in fact, the number of attacks are at record levels."
Bartlett recycled the Bush points about being realistic, yet optimistic, and insisting on elections as a "serious blow to the terrorist ideology of hate."
MRC analyst Brian Boyd called Cato this morning to find the source of this quote, and Cato identified the quote from their expert Ted Galen Carpenter in a Reuters article by Will Dunham. Dunham did not identify Cato as a "conservative" group on defense. New MRC Communications Director Michael Chapman, newly arrived in our offices from Cato, reports that Cato supported the war in Afghanistan to uproot al-Qaeda, but opposed the war in Iraq, as well as the first war against Saddam Hussein in 1991.
To see an example of Carpenter's skepticism about intervention in Iraq, see www.cato.org 
To see the Reuters article quoting Carpenter, see www.reuters.com 
-- Brent Baker