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While CBS's Couric Gets Ferocious, ABC's Sawyer Lobs Softballs to Rahm Emanuel

Both ABC's Diane Sawyer and CBS's Katie Couric interviewed White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel as part of their networks' run-up to Wednesday's State of the Union address, but the contrast was stark. While Sawyer attempted to feel Emanuel's pain over the setbacks for health care legislation ("Two times you have rolled the health care rock up the hill....and two times you have seen it crash back down"), a much feistier Couric interrogated Emanuel over the White House's political failings.

"As you know, people were pretty disgusted by deals that were made up on Capitol Hill like the one given to Ben Nelson to win his support. If the White House was so involved, was this done with your blessing?" Couric demanded. Moments later, she hit Emanuel with this zinger: "You are considered a master political operative, you were the guy four years ago, of course, who orchestrated the Democratic takeover of the House. Where were you when Massachusetts was going down in flames for the Democrats?"

Back on ABC, Sawyer and George Stephanopoulos laughed about how at a lunch with the press today, Obama seemed tickled by a New Yorker cartoon that showed him walking on water, walking on water, walking on water, and then slipping and getting one of his feet wet. "He said he wants to get a giant one of these and put it in his office," a laughing Sawyer giddily relayed.

Stephanopoulos used it as a moment to empathize with Obama: "It also gets to a serious point. One of the things that frustrates the White House and the President the most is this whole idea that the man who last year was seen by the press and a lot of the country as cool, confident, in command, is now being portrayed as cold, remote and out of touch and I think what he feels is that he's been the same guy all along."

Sawyer also weirdly asked Rahm Emanuel how he felt about being branded "the Dick Cheney of [Obama's] White House." Emanuel shot back: "That's an insult to Dick Cheney."

Here's how both network anchors handled Emanuel in interviews shown on their January 27 pre-State of the Union newscasts, starting with Sawyer's softballs:

# This afternoon I sat down with Rahm Emanuel, the legendarily high-octane White House chief of staff, who spent the first year of the Obama administration trying to drive all that legislation through. [to Emanuael] The President wants his jobs bill by when, and how many jobs will it create?

# What's realistically the earliest you think you could get that through?

# Two times you have rolled the health care rock up the hill - [back in] the Clinton administration [as a young White House aide], and now. And two times you have seen it crash back down. What do you say to yourself about this one? [Noticing Emanuel is smiling] Are you that zen? To have come this close, and for the second time have it -

[RAHM EMANUEL: No, I'm not. But I have exercised this morning so I'm a little calmer. I'm not zen about it....]

# But does he give some sense of when he thinks this must happen?

# Are you here until the end of 2010 for sure?

[EMANUEL: Yes.]

# And beyond?

[EMANUEL: Do you mind if I talk to my wife first about it? But yeah.]

# But the critics from your own party have said you have become the Dick Cheney of the President's White House.

[EMANUEL: That's kind of - the Dick Cheney of the President's White House? That's an insult to Dick Cheney.]

Now, Couric's questions to Emanuel as shown on the CBS Evening News:

# Earlier today at the White House I got a preview of the President's address from his chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel. I began by asking him what mistakes the President will acknowledge tonight.

[EMANUEL: He is not gonna sit there and kinda list a set of mistakes and then - in his view. What he will do is in a couple places in speech talk take responsibility where he coulda done things different or better.]

# Like what?

# Will you scale back and compromise some of your goals, or will you try to keep basically the same legislation in place?

# The President says he wants to work with the Republicans, but that really hasn't happened so far, so what makes you think it will now?

# As you know, people were pretty disgusted by deals that were made up on Capitol Hill like the one given to Ben Nelson to win his support. If the White House was so involved, was this done with your blessing?

[EMANUEL: Look, we were involved in the legislation all the way through.]

# Were you involved in that?

[EMANUEL: Yeah. I'm not gonna go through all of it - ]

# But in the Ben Nelson deal?

[EMANUEL: We were helpful in getting the bill off the Senate floor. And in retrospect the things - as I said to you just earlier - things you would have done different.]

# You are considered a master political operative, you were the guy four years ago, of course, who orchestrated the Democratic takeover of the House. Where were you when Massachusetts was going down in flames for the Democrats?

# Would you say you dropped the ball?

[EMANUEL, taken aback: That I, Rahm Emmanuel, dropped the ball?]

# The White House. The Democrats.

[EMANUEL: Look I - you know, I don't wanna re-litigate this, but it is no doubt in my mind we could have won that race.]

# Meanwhile, I asked Emanuel if his job is secure. He said, "As long as the President wants me, I'm here."

-Rich Noyes is Research Director at the Media Research Center.