« Previous Post | Show Tracker Home | Next Post »

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)

The Daily Kos, Move-On, and George Soros are not happy. The teflon sprayed on their candidate by the Mainstream Media is wearing off. Real questions about their character and patriotism are being asked.

Let's be honest: ABC, NBC, CBS, and PBS political contributions go entirely to the Democratic Party. At Fox News, only 75 percent of the political contributions go to the Democrats. Nice to see ABC asking some hard questions, which heretofore only Fox has been asking.

Teri B - You say that Obama's problem wasn't the questions, it was his performance; yet, at the same time you say that Hillary's poor performance in the past wasn't due to her, but to the biased questions. How does that line of logic work?

Regarding Ayers: I believe as recently as 9-11-01 Mr. Ayers was not only non-remorseful for his prior bombings, he stated he wished he had done more of them. For B.O. to have ANY affiliation with this man should be vetted completely.

Regarding the press being unfair to B.O. or H.C.: I welcome them both to how the republicans have been treated ever since Ike was in office.

So, the housing market has collapsed, inflation is on the rise, the dollar has lost half its value against the Euro, nothing has been done to deter illegal immigration, fix social security or medicare, jail crooked politicians, stop the earmarking of tax dollars, stem the national debt, stop the loss of jobs to overseas corporations, balance the federal budget, blunt the loss of lives and treasure in Iraq...ad infinitum, and ABC spends most of its time asking questions of the candidates that matter only to Entertainment Tonight.

For whom did George Stephanopoulos work before he became a "journalist"?

When I think of my country I feel nausea in my soul.

This article is garbarge.

First of all, the title is misleading, as supporters of BOTH candidates were angry with the questions, not just Obama's supporters.

Secondly, Clinton NEVER admitted to nor apologized for "MAKING UP HER STORY." She brushed it off to mental fatigue, stressing that she had the facts correct in her book. You are quick to soften Clinton's comments, while using quotation marks to pull Obama's words and phrases out of context!

Forget ABC, what agenda do YOU have, Robin?

Kudos to George and Charlie for FINALLY asking LEGITIMATE questions for which the US citizens want answers!! And thank you for NOT throwing softballs such as those thrown in the past by mediators.

A couple of other things I'd like answers to: Barack's wife's comments, her college essay which was very racist, his dishonesty plagiarizing other people's "words", etc. Seems he is great at deflecting questions and shifting blame but not so talented at answering questions. I am NOT a hillary supporter either but I'd like to know what Hill has to do with Bill's pardons when he was in office? This is a non-issue. Barack did not answer why he continues to befriend a US terrorist. Also, what about Barack's refusal to place his hand over his heart during the pledge? Why is he the only one in the photos who does NOT have his hand over his heart. What about his attendance at Farrakhan's Million Man March? I guess someone forced him into it. What about Rezko? This guy is FINALLY getting the vetting that the other candidates have gotten for years. Unfortunately CNN and MSNBC (especially Nora Odonnell who SWOONS everytime his name is mentioned) cannot seem to report real news but rather, what they want the public to know. Never before have I seen an election covered with such partiality and an agenda by the Press. Again, thank you to Charlie and George for a stellar job.

RIGHT ON! The American voter does have the right to know the candidates. Contrary to conventional media feedback, this was the best debate ever between these two candidates. They were given the opportunity to answer on topics that have surfaced recently - as well as topics that are relevant to the American public, such as the housing crisis and the Iraq War. I was more than satisfied with the questions. Also, pressing the candidates on answering on the "Dream Team" possibility was brilliant and important to the Democratic selection of a candidate. Thank you Mr. Gibson and Mr. Stephanopoulos!

The question about "Ayers', is what Sean hannity of foxy news had always played over and over again. How can Obama be responsible for the man;s crime? For Christ sake he is a Professor of a University. The people at the University HIRED him to lecture to all these students. Hillary and Bill have commited so many sins and her association with whitegate scandals, where someone was forced to kill himself, then Hillary should be guilty by association. SHE IS THE oNE WHO CAUSED THE MAN TO DIE,, OR FORCED HIM TO DO THAT SO THAT HE MAY NOT EXPOSE THEM.
From, her own mouth"there are things that are unexplored, and should be EXPLORED. so it is time to explore her more carefully. Ther are so many baggages. She, had once cursed FOX NEWS, the likes of Hannity and OReilly, wolves in sheep clothing". Now she is EMBRACING them???????This is the lady who has no INTEGRITY and you Hillary supporters think she is the one ....No way....

I thought Charles Gibson made a stupid opening of the debate when he ask about Clinton and Obama posssibly becoming running mates. That was enough of Charles Gibson for me, I mmediately turned off the debate. He could have opened the debate with
more intellegent question for the two to get started on. If he just had to ask that question, he should have asked that question at the closing of the debate.

Before everyone goes knocking George too much, remember: his wife gave us the Schmoopie character on Seinfeld. Conversely, Obama's wife gave us her version of Angela Davis hating America.

George's wife made much of America laugh. Obama's wife made much of America sick. If you can measure a man by the woman he chooses, I think George is a mucher bigger man that Obama will ever be.

What is all this hoopla about. Obama supporters need to relax. I watched the entire debate and I think they asked really relevent questions. I agree they could have started with the economy, Iraq, housing crisis, etc....but all the questions asked were relevant. Obama was always searching for a answer regardless of what was asked of him. Can you all really see him as the president of the US? On the other hand Clinton was elequent, poised and calm in answering everything. It's about time the media asked Mr. Obama the tough questions and as you saw he can't answer them expect stutter...

People with real sense...please vote for Hillary!!!

The American people should be ashamed because they arethe ones who continue to digest the media fed craziness that was evident in ABC's "debate."

Ask Stephanopoulos about his recent meeting with the Clinton's regarding debate content. Force him to deny outright that there was cooperation between ABC and the Clinton Campaign. Specifically, ask questions about Harold Ickes and Bill and discussion about "a real electronic lynching this week." THEN do a voice stress analysis on the recorded answers. Hell, do stress analysis on the stuff Stephanopoulos has said so far. Sooner or later the truth about this week will come out.

MEANWHILE - JOIN US IN BOYCOTTING ALL ABC/DISNEY CONTENT AND PRODUCTS until there is an investigation AND a public apology from Stephanopoulos and friends.

I really regret to say the debate made a mockery of fairness and impartial media moderation. I am 53 years of age, and I've watched a fair number of these debates --but nothing that compares to last night's travesty. For 50+ minutes we heard nothing of substance. Sen. Obama's relationship as an 8 year old with Williams Ayers was brought up and we got to hear about Reverend Wright just one more time (can we all say amen and move on?). And whether wearing a flag lapel pin or not wearing one is evidence of one's patriotism. Or perhaps bad fashion sense. Impartial? Hardly. Decorum? There was little to none. Charlie Gibson -- who I liked while he was on GMA, but who is not a real journalist -- was debating with Sen. Obama at one point and -- it seemed to me -- constantly interrupting the Senator's answers. From George Stephanopoulos, I expected bias -- he owes his career to the Clintons. So it was not surprising that his "poisoning voters viewpoints" questions to Sen. Obama came right out of Sean Hannity's playbook. And the bias did not stop with the moderators. ABC's coverage was clearly slanted against Sen. Obama. The director cut several times to reaction shots of such Clinton supporters as her daughter, Chelsea. Obama supporters did not get equal screen time, giving the impression that there weren't any in the hall. Clinton's closing had the camera tight on her the whole way, while Obama's closing featured camera shots of a disapproving Clinton. I really wish ABC was running for something, so I could vote against them. I suggest that a total protest boycott is in order. Nightline and This Week? I will never watch them again.

That was barely a "debate", and if it were a debate, Clinton + Obama were on one side and the moderators were on the other.

Stephanopoulos says that he thought his line of questioning was relevant to what Americans care about and what people are discussing across the political world. The first 40 minutes of that was about what the media cares about, and maybe what the parties care about in trying to drown the other in he-said/she-said. The American people care about the following 15 minute segment on the war, 15 minute on the economy, and 15 minutes on affirmative action / gun control / misc. Let's not forget the wrap up on what would you say to the super delegates, which is a regurgitation of what they've been spitting for the past 15 months.

You have educated viewers watching here, and we care for depth and substance, to understand these candidates beyond their talking points and the 30 seconds the media regurgitates to us on a daily basis. This was more your show than our show, elaboration of issues you think we care about.

Instead, you ask questions that you care about, to pigeonhole Obama into saying that yes his reverand says inappropriate things but is patriotic, and to have Hillary caught in acknowledgeing Obama is electable when we know her push is that he's not and she is more electable. That Obama doesn't wear a flag pin, you think we need to know that a man running for president is patriotic? Yes, Hillary is sorry about the inaccurate comments that she made, and let's bring it up again. Who needs this? You do.

I don't. I don't have ratings to uphold. I need economic viability, better education for our youth, heathcare for our country, a response to global warming, respectable and responsible international policy, and yes, some sort of sensible approach to two wars.

No, you haven't done a very good job of helping the American people truly understand the differences between these two beyond "electability." I'm an educated woman and I can get there on my own, but as you know, our country's not doing so hot on education, so there are a lot of people out there that only know what you spit them.

What you're spitting them is a hot mess that gets them nowhere closer to understanding the true ramifications of electing Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, and of course, John McCain to office as President in November 2008. Let's have the option of doing a general election debate on the radio, please. Maybe if we take away the hot lights, you won't care so much about "entertaining" us.

Kudos to our candidates, citizens of our nation fighting the exhausting battle of becoming president because they believe we can do better for ourselves, our country and our future.

OMG, it's so funny reading all these posts from people who seem to think that questions about who wears a flag lapel pin is one of the most pressing issues we as Americans have to face. LOLOLOLOL. Where do these people come from that the recession, housing and health care crisis, the 2 wars, the deficits we face are less important than discussion 60's radicals. I mean really, are we that stupid as a nation that this is what we're gonna elect a President over? Shall we debate Cindy McCain's cookie recipes? Hello is there any intelligent life out there?

Let me add to the chorus of those complaining about the miserable job that ABC and its commentators provided for last night's debate. I still have not decided which of these two candidates will get my vote in the Oregon Primary. I had hoped that the forum would help me decide. Instead, I got two hours of questions and GOP talking points that sounded as if they were scripted by Karl Rove.

The media have become a conspirator with the cleptocracy which has its firm control on our once-great nation. ABC is less interested in public enlightenment than it is in stirring up meaningless traps to distract and confuse voters for the benefit of the ruling class Republicans. Charles Gibson demostrated less knowledge about the critital issues of the day than he does about the impact if captial gains tax rates. That does not seem to stop him from lying about either.

History will not look upon you kindly.

The truth is Barrack could not answer the tough questions well and now his supporters are up in arms and now Barrack is even chiming in on the "lack of issues" - weak! Actually, whether some want to admit it or not -- the first 45 minutes was about issues. The issue of who you surround yourself with. Since we still are learning about Barrack his choice of friends/colleagues are fair game especially when they tend to spew leftist ideology -- birds of a feather flock together. I thought ABC commentators finally asked questions I wanted to know about. Barrack has had an easy, free ride from the press for the last year. Notwithstanding Hillary's lack of honesty and win-at-all-cost mentality - but we already know that. And lastly on "issues" -- both candidates are virtually identical in their stands so how do you have a debate when they speak the same language.

- 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, contraditions and vulnerabilities. Almost every question tonight did that.”

Maybe journalists shouldn't host debates. I didn't know much more after the "debate" than I did before. I attribute that to the largely inconsequential questions asked of the candidates.

LOL. The first questions that were not a total softball for Obama and they made him look like the ill prepared person he is. If he is not capable of answering question about his poor judgement with the people he looks up to and socalizes with then he should get out!

All of you yes people for Obama do not want him to show his true ideology or how dangerous his Marxist agenda is!

« | 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 ... 20 21 | »


Recommended on Facebook

In Case You Missed It...


Tweets and retweets from L.A. Times staff writers.




Get Alerts on Your Mobile Phone

Sign me up for the following lists: