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Stephanopoulos defends his questions to Obama


Amid a storm of criticism that Wednesday’s Democratic presidential debate focused too heavily on “gotcha” questions and not enough on substance, ABC News’ George Stephanopoulos defended his decision to ask Illinois Sen. Barack Obama about his relationship with former political radical William Ayers. Stephanopoulos denied he’d been spoon-fed the question by Fox News host Sean Hannity.

“We have been researching this for a while,” Stephanopoulos said in a phone interview from New York. ABC News political correspondent Jake Tapper, he said, had blogged about the issue April 10, after it was first reported by Politico, the political news website. “Part of what we discovered is that Sen. Obama had never been asked directly about it, even though it’s being written about and talked about and Republicans are signaling that this is gonna be an issue in the general election.”

(A spokesman for Obama did not immediately respond to a request for a comment.)

On Tuesday, as a guest on Hannity’s radio program, Stephanopoulos said, “Well, I’m taking notes now, Sean” when Hannity suggested he raise the topic of Ayers with Obama.

In Wednesday’s prime-time debate, co-moderated with Charles Gibson, Stephanopoulos asked Obama: “…On this issue, general theme of patriotism, in your relationships. A gentleman named William Ayers. He was part of the Weather Underground in the 1970s. They bombed the Pentagon, the Capitol, and other buildings. He's never apologized for that…. An early organizing meeting for your state Senate campaign was held at his house, and your campaign has said you are ‘friendly.’ Can you explain that relationship for the voters and explain to Democrats why it won't be a problem?”

Obama replied, “This is a guy who lives in my neighborhood, who's a professor of English in Chicago who I know and who I have not received some official endorsement from. He's not somebody who I exchange ideas from on a regular basis. And the notion that somehow as a consequence of me knowing somebody who engaged in detestable acts 40 years ago, when I was 8 years old, somehow reflects on me and my values doesn't make much sense, George.”

Progressives pounced. “The real story of this debate,” said MSNBC’s Keith Olbermann, may be “where one of the moderators found his questions.”

Stephanopoulos dismissed the idea that he was doing Hannity’s bidding.

“The questions we asked were tough and fair and appropriate and relevant and what you would expect to be asked in a presidential debate at this point,” he said. “The questions we asked…are being debated around the political world every day.”

By this morning, more than 14,000 viewer comments had been posted on the ABC News website, the overwhelming majority critical of the debate moderators, who spent most of the first hour on what Stephanopoulous called “electability questions.”

“The way we thought about it was, it made sense to hit the electability questions first, then move on,” he said. “I can see where reasonable people would differ with that.”

The debate, broadcast in prime time, was the 21st and probably final matchup between the two Democratic contenders, Obama and New York Sen. Hillary Clinton. It was, according to ABC News spokesman Jeffrey Schneider, the most watched debate of this campaign cycle, with 10.7 million viewers. The previous record, also held by ABC News, was 9.3 million viewers of the Jan. 5 debate between Democrats in New Hampshire.

As the critical Pennsylvania primary looms on Tuesday, both candidates have been dogged by controversies unrelated to the issues that voters say are topmost on their minds.

Clinton apologized for making up a story that she was under sniper fire on a tarmac while visiting Bosnia in 1996. Obama said he had “mangled up” what he meant to say after implying to supporters at a San Francisco fundraiser that some blue-collar voters are “bitter” and as a result “cling” to religion and guns.

Updated with more after the jump...    

Stephanopoulos asked Obama about his former pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, whose impassioned denunciations of the American government were widely disseminated on the Web last month.

“But do you believe he’s as patriotic as you are?” Stephanopoulos asked.

Obama replied, “This is somebody who's a former Marine. So, I believe that he loves this country. But I also believe that he’s somebody who, because of the experiences he’s had over the course of a lifetime, is also angry about the injustices he’s had.”

Stephanopoulos, who was a senior advisor to Bill Clinton in his first term, also pressed Clinton about her character, telling her that an ABC News poll found that “six in 10 voters that we talk to say they don’t believe you’re honest and trustworthy.”

Washington Post television critic Tom Shales accused Stephanopoulos and Gibson of turning in “shoddy, despicable performances.” They dwelled, he added, “entirely on specious and gossipy trivia that has already been hashed and rehashed, in the hope of getting the candidates to claw at one another over disputes that are no longer news.”

However, New York Times political columnist David Brooks blogged his approval. “I understand the complaints,” he wrote, “but I thought the questions were excellent. The journalist’s job is to make politicians uncomfortable, to explore evasions, contradictions and vulnerabilities. Almost every question tonight did that.”

An outtake from the end of the debate, which appeared instantly on the Huffington Post, showed Gibson being heckled by audience members as he introduced a final commercial break. “The crowd is turning on me,” he said with a thin smile.

Some who watched thought the anger stemmed from the caliber of the debate. But Schneider, the ABC News spokesman, was in the hall and said he believed some in the audience were angry that they had to sit through yet more commercials before being allowed to leave the venue.

“I have no doubt other people may wish to spin that,” he said. 

-- Robin Abcarian

Photo: ABC News moderators George Stephanopoulos, right, and Charles Gibson, left, are seen before the start of the Democratic Party debate at the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia on Wednesday. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

Comments () | Archives (419)

Joseph Goebbels would be proud of his prize pupil, Stephanopoulis.

If Mr. Stephanopoulos had any decency, he would apologize to the American public for his despicable and biased performance.

We all know the reason Obama's organized fan base let loose instructions to overload ABC's servers is to obscure the fact that Obama did very poorly in the debate - especially in the last half, where he didn't know what he was saying about the issues. Shame on you for playing along with such a transparent, biased narrative. Everyone knows Clinton got it worse when it was her turn to be the "frontfunner", but unscrupulous journalists are as eager to defend Obama's poor performance as his fans. What you are selling off is our ability to believe in you. You're unethical.

There are so many people in America that are hypocrites! These lame journalists need to stick to the issues. How many of us associate with people (be it our Ministers, mentors or our own family members) that have said or done things that we don't agree with but we love them! The important thing is to discuss the issues. Gas prices are out of control. Everything is costing more money but we are not getting any salary increases at work. The Iraq war was based on a lie yet we are continuing to send troops to an almost certain death! I am so tired of hearing about Reverend Wright! What does that issue have to do with this economy? Barack Obama is a class act and I pray that he is elected president. The same old stuff will not do anymore. The time has come to turn this nation around and I believe that Barack Obama is the person to do it! I was thinking about voting for Hilary in the early stages of the campaign but now that I see she is more of the same old stuff I decline! Barack Obama is a Godsend!

CONGRATS TO ABC! This is the first Debate where the tables have been turned and for the FIRST time Sen. Obama had to face some tough questioning which he was obviously at a loss to answer or explain. He was ill prepared, hesitated and he looked as if he was saying: "hey, I'm not used to this kind of questioning from the media. Don't you know I don't get asked tough questioning!"

It was clear that Obama was a hypocrite. While condemning the questions as "distractions not concentrating on real issues", his campaign arranged for a Press Conference on the Bosnia sniper gaffe!!! His thin and sensitive political skin does not fare well in the rought weather of Washington and he should have listened to his own words when he was asked in 2004 when elected to senate and asked if he'd run for president in '08:

"Well, I don't think my resume is substnative enough..now...I don't think that my judgment is formed..." Right on! Maybe he should listen to someone who may be in the White in November unless the Democratic Party (which obviously does not screen applicants' resumes for the top Job) recovers its sanity after Pennsylvania:

"I am sure. I have no doubt that Sen. Hillary Clinton will be a good President"---Sen. John McCain, in Baghdad '05 answering Meet the Press interviewers.

This obviously inexperienced, ill-tempered and whiny candidate should perhaps revise his resume in order to apply for the Chief Speechwriter's job. References on demand.

CONGRATS TO STEPHANOPOULOS AND GIBSON for a great job. This is the first debate where the media darling was asked some real questions. And it showed!

Sen. Obama should quit whining and huffing and puffing and flipping off Hillary as he disgustingly did in S.C., and revise his resume for the Chief Speechwriter's job. He clearly showed in this Debate he cannot handle the heat and his responses were horribly hesitant and devious. His hypocrisy is palpable when he wants to stay 'above it all' saying that the two journalists were engaged in "distractions" and not real issues. That very same day his own Campaign had arranged for a Press Conference to discuss the Bosnia sniper gaffe!!

His questionable associations with a racist church in which his faulty parental judgment allows him to permit his 2 little girls to attend pornographic performances by his mentor-racist preacher ("Bill's riding us dirty, like Monica!" gyrating on pulpit!) and his purchase of a house with assistance from a convicted felon who was his political mentor should give everyone pause. His disgusting 'flip off' gesture with his index finger in S.C. while engaged in sexist polemic against his female opponent should give everyone pause. This man is an immature frat-boy not presidential material!

Obama's advised to redraft his resume and apply for the Chief Speechwriter's position, not the top job for which he is obviously phenomenally ill-prepared. And the Demcrat party should start screening applicants' resume for the presidential candidacy race. This is a shame for Obama to get as far as he has gotten and with favourable, pre-ABC debate, coverage.

And he should listen to someone with considerable more experience:

"I have no doubt that Sen. Hillary Clinton will make a good president"---Sen. John McCain in Baghdad answering questions from Meet the Press in 2005.

Obama's finger-flip-off after the ABC debate was aimed at Hillary and this 'teenager' wants to occupy the White house??? A cheap sexist gesture like this matches his throwing his 'typical old white woman' grandma under the bus of his political expediency!

The man has no moral code and is so arrogantly contemptuous to every who does not follow his kool-aid gang of punks who intimidated older people in caucuses and demeaned young women who went to vote for Hillary, including the Kennedy flakes...

Obama is so clearly out of his element, to nominate him would be the equivalent of giving your new SUV's keys to an unpredictable, bullying, whiny 15-year-old boy out on a first date!

I had just read George's book and been impressed enough to start watching his Sunday show and ABC news. However after the debate I removed all ABC news shows from my TIVO recording. This seemed to be all about "gotcha's" for the moderators at a time when the country needs substance. Shame on you!


my email in box has been flooded with lists of companies and products that advertise on ABC we are no supposed to boycott. It's frustrating because about 50% of the products in the list I buy regularly. I will be carrying this list with me everywhere and will do my best to avoid these corporations and their products. I only wish information like this was used when Fox News started broadcasting their lies before and after 9/11. I believe when they (Disney) get down to it and quantify the financial impact Stephonopolous and Gibson have had on their subsidiary they will be fired. Either way -- Disney and it's shareholders will end up paying for their horrible broadcast regardless of how Stephonopolous/Gibson justify their actions.

George Stephanopoulos should be ashamed. Most people are interested in learning something about the substantive positions these candidates have. There are lots of reasons not to like either candidate, focusing on accessories and rhetoric doesn't help us figure out anything about what the candidates are likely to do after getting elected. Absolutely pathetic, and worse that Stephanopoulos is trying to defend his fascination with meaningless character traits.

You people who are bashing Obama will not vote for him anyhow. Bashing Obama on Farrakhan, William Ayers, And Rev Wright. There is a video on YouTube with Govenor Rendell praising Farrakhan. Why doesn't MSM speak of that? Why haven't we heard anything about Peter Paul and the Clinton's? They are going to court on April 25, 2008 on fraud charges against them. This is so one sided. If you are going to be fair then be fair. Obama's a black man and a lot of white folk are afraid of him. All the gentleman want to do is change what the previous administration has done to done to us all.

We need hard questions to all candidates. The public is not served by softball questions that support platform platitudes but don't get at policy substance. Gibson's hard question about raising the capital gains tax when history shows the a higher tax rate actually results in less tax revenue was super. I am a Rebublican, but I would prefer hard questions of both sides generated by liberal and conservative think tanks. In this debate, the PA public actually seemed to appreciate the tough questions. I'd like to see the George and Charlie show for the main event and let the chips fall where they may.

George, Hillary and Gibson- you went to WAR but you LOST the Battle! You must prepare for War before you start..

As Frank Rich pointed out in Sunday’s New York Times, the past six weeks has been a case study in the traditional media’s growing disconnection from political reality. But despite the media’s obsession with Reverend Wright, flag pins, a “bitter” working class, etc, Hillary Clinton has failed to convince either voters or superdelegates that Obama is “unelectable.”

Obama for President !!

“OBAMA WON A BIG VICTORY IN NORTH CAROLINA,” the biggest state left with 115 delegates! ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

“UNDER CRIMINAL INVESTIGATION:” ~~~ Rush Limbaugh’s Operation Chaos where urged his listeners to “bloody up” Obama by voting for Clinton in the primaries – is under criminal investigation in Ohio for violating that state’s election law. ~~~~~~

With Rush Limbaugh’s Operation Chaos – where the right-wing talk show host urged his listeners to “bloody up” Obama by voting for Clinton in the primaries – is under criminal investigation in Ohio for violating that state’s election law. With Clinton winning Indiana by a mere 22,000 votes (which had an open primary and she was the overwhelming choice of Republicans), she can thank Rush for giving her that margin of victory – hardly a comforting thought. ~~~~~~

“OBAMA RECEIVED A HUGH BLACK TURNOUT”: ~~~ Despite talk of a “polarized” Democratic electorate along racial or class lines. ~~~~~~

“OBAMA RECEIVED A 14 POINT VICTORY”: ~~~ Obama made in-roads last night with Hillary Clinton’s base that will help him win the general election. With his 14-point victory in the last primary state that had over 100 delegates. ~~~~~~

“OBAMA ERASED Hillary’s POPULAR VOTE!” ~~~ Obama sealed the nomination and erased the “popular vote” gains that Clinton had achieved in Pennsylvania. Clinton’s two-point victory in Indiana – only made possible by Rush Limbaugh urging his listeners to vote for her – did not offset her inevitable loss, as the mainstream media proclaimed it a “momentum-killer” for her campaign. ~~~~~~

“CLINTON Cancelled” PUBLIC APPEARANCES”: ~~~ Clinton has cancelled all of her public appearances today, giving Democrats the chance to rally around Obama – who is now the presumptive nominee. ~~~~~~

THE “PRESS / MEDIA:” ~~~~: While anyone who did the math could have told you in early March that Obama had an insurmountable delegate lead, the press kept insisting that Clinton could still win the nomination because some states had yet to vote.

But last night, nearly half of the remaining pledged delegates were allocated – and Obama won a big victory in North Carolina, the biggest state left with 115 delegates.

According to blogger Chris Bowers, Obama won 63 delegates in the Tar Heel State to Clinton’s 52 ~~~~~Indiana gave Clinton 38 to Obama’s 34. ~~~~~~~~~~~~~

In other words, Clinton fell even further behind in a race where the states are quickly running out. She may still win smaller states like West Virginia, Kentucky and Puerto Rico – but they will be offset by Obama victories in Oregon, Montana and South Dakota. ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

San Francisco was my home for 35 yrs. “San Francisco is Still Beautiful with Beautiful People! ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Please read the “EDITOR’S NOTE” of Paul Hogarth volunteered on Obama’s field operation in San Francisco. For more information visit ~~~ beyondchron.org ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Obama for President!

Why not just ask Obama about Marxist Communism?

Letter to George Stephanopoulos: We (my family & I) just watched your YouTube condemnation of Bill Clinton, and words can’t express how disappointed we are in you. You’ve pretty much ignored all the good that Clinton achieved during his presidency and instead concentrated on an escapade with Lewinski, though as a reporter you know Lewinski disclosed that from the very beginning she set out to entrap Clinton and had constant opportunities to pursue him. Your condemnation is excessive to the extreme. Many respected presidents have had extramarital affairs with no repercussions or delving by the media and public into what should remain a matter between husband and wife.

One doesn’t need to know Bill Clinton personally nor care whether he’s unselfish or selfish to appreciate what he accomplished for America. We live in a Latino neighborhood and almost without exception when our talk turns to Clinton, we’re agreed that he was arguably the greatest president we’ve had during our lifetime. When he took office, our country was in shambles--a record-breaking national debt, rampant unemployment, small companies forced into bankruptcy, a failed equal opportunity program, dismal foreign relations, endangered Social Security system--all collapsed or on the brink.

Mr. Clinton turned all of that around completely. When he left office we had a healthy budget with a surplus, no national debt, thriving employment, small businesses flourishing, a vigorous Social Security system also with a surplus, friendship & respect by foreign nations for our country & its policies, huge strides taken in equal opportunity, an income tax system fair to all, etc., etc.

Clinton’s accomplishments are even more impressive because he achieved all this despite a Congress that fought him at every turn. Mr. Clinton was truly a great president who remained always in close touch with the needs of the working class & those less fortunate. You of all people should know and acknowledge his achievements. Sad but true, the so-called “ignorant” man on the street shows more maturity, knowledge and loyalty than you, an alleged “expert.”

Obama just needs to keep his cool and do what he does best, lie.

After that debate, I think that ABC has lost the meaning of seriousness and professionalism. Give me a break! Flag pin wearing and do you love your country is 5th grade playground stuff. So ABC, if you are listening, stick to soap operas and fuzzy wuzzy feely weely shows because anything serious and professional is not your strong suit.

"This is a guy who lives in my neighborhood, who's a professor of English in Chicago who I know and who I have not received some official endorsement from. He's not somebody who I exchange ideas from on a regular basis. And the notion that somehow as a consequence of me knowing somebody who engaged in detestable acts 40 years ago, when I was 8 years old, somehow reflects on me and my values doesn't make much sense" THIS IS A CANNED ANSWER THAT OBAMA HAS USED SEVERAL TIMES EXACTLY THE SAME WORDS IN THE SAME ORDER! OBAMA IS JUST DIGGING HIS OWN GRAVE BECAUSE THE TRUTH IS SPREADING THAT HE WAS ON COMMITTEES WITH MR. AYERS AND HE WAS CERTAINLY NOT 8 YEARS OLD. A VERY CAREFULLY CALCULATED RESPONSE ----- why waste more time on this issue.

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