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NBC and CBS Pounce on Romney’s Birth Certificate ‘Swipe’ at Obama: ‘Was It a Joke?’

Last week when President Barack Obama raised the old tale of how Mitt Romney once put his dog in a car top carrier, the NBC Nightly News gave a sentence to how Obama “took a dig at Romney” and the CBS Evening News didn’t mention it, but on Friday night both newscasts pounced on Romney for daring to make a birth certificate joke.

Was it a joke?” fill-in NBC anchor David Gregory demanded, teasing a full story: “What Mitt Romney said on the campaign trail today that immediately erupted in controversy.” Reporter Peter Alexander recalled Donald Trump’s tie to Romney and highlighted how “the Obama campaign quickly cried foul, insisting ‘Romney’s decision to directly enlist himself in the birther movement should give pause to any rational voter across America.’”

Alexander tried to suggest Romney hypocrisy, pointing out: “In recent weeks Romney promised to elevate the tone of this bitter campaign, deriding the President and his team for its negative attacks.”

Audio: MP3 clip

CBS anchor Scott Pelley charged Romney “seemed to go out of his way to bring up a discredited charge against President Obama.” Interviewing Romney, Pelley scolded Romney for “a swipe at the President” and pressed: “I wonder why you took it?” Pelley charged “you threw a little red meat at the conservative wing of the party there” before insisting Romney affirm “for the record, you believe that Barack Obama is the legitimate President of the United States?”

Back on Tuesday, August 14, however, when Obama cited Romney’s treatment of his pet dog decades earlier, the CBS Evening News ran a full story on Obama’s energy policy speech in which the remark was made, but didn’t utter a syllable about the shot at Romney.

The NBC Nightly News carried this short reference:

PETER ALEXANDER: Today he took a dig at Romney, who once took a family vacation with his dog riding on the roof of the car.

OBAMA: You can’t drive the car with a windmill on it. Now I don’t know if he’s tried that -- I know he’s had other things on his car.

(Friday night on PBS’s Washington Week, the Washington Post’s Dan Balz also chastised Romney: “It’s baffling. The birther issue, of course, has been out there among a number of Republicans and for Mitt Romney, on the Friday before his convention is open, to make any kind of reference to it is shocking, frankly. I don’t know what possessed him.”)

NBC Nightly News, August 24:

DAVID GREGORY: To politics now, and the campaign trail. Mitt Romney was in his boyhood home state of Michigan and stirred up a controversy with a remark about birth certificates the Democrats called a low blow. Here now, NBC’s Peter Alexander.

PETER ALEXANDER: Returning to his native state with his wife and running mate by his side, Mitt Romney proudly touted his Michigan roots.

MITT ROMNEY: What an opportunity for us to be back home.

ALEXANDER: But then, in a seemingly off-the-cuff moment, instantaneously revived a highly charged and long-settled issue about the President’s birthplace.

ROMNEY: No one’s ever asked to see my birth certificate, they know that this is the place that we were born and raised.

ALEXANDER: The Obama campaign quickly cried foul, insisting “Romney’s decision to directly enlist himself in the birther movement should give pause to any rational voter across America.” It’s the first time in 14 months of campaigning Romney has directly referenced the birther movement, but earlier this year, he enlisted as a surrogate Donald Trump, one of the President’s loudest critics, who has frequently questioned whether President Obama was born in the U.S.

DONALD TRUMP, FEBRUARY 2: It’s my honor, real honor and privilege to endorse Mitt Romney.

ALEXANDER: Team Romney immediately tried to defuse the situation. Senior adviser Kevin Madden told NBC News: “The governor has always and repeatedly said he believes the President was born here in the United States.” While many in today’s rally didn’t make much of the remark-

MAN: I just think it’s a little bit political rhetoric right now. It’s just a little going back and forth on some small issues.

-It’s an issue that still resonates amongst some on the fringe of the Republican Party.

WOMAN: No, that’s a phony birth certificate.

ALEXANDER: In recent weeks Romney promised to elevate the tone of this bitter campaign, deriding the President and his team for its negative attacks.

ROMNEY: Mr. President, take your campaign of division, and anger and hate back to Chicago and let us get about rebuilding and reuniting America.

ALEXANDER: Now the Romney campaign is looking ahead to next week’s Republican convention with its theme of a better future, where it hopes to redirect the political debate back to its central argument, Romney’s private sector experience, which they say will help turn around the American economy.

Late this evening, in a network television interview, Mitt Romney said his birth certificate comment was not a swipe at the President, that there is no question that President Obama was born here in the United States, adding, David, that it was intended as a joke, saying we’ve got to have a little humor in a campaign.

From the CBS Evening News:

SCOTT PELLEY: Now to the presidential campaign. As we mentioned, we came to Birmingham, Michigan, today for an interview with Mitt Romney and his wife Anne. On Monday, at the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Florida, Governor Romney will become the party’s presidential nominee. Just before our interview today, though, he seemed to go out of his way to bring up a discredited charge against President Obama, the old allegation that the President was not born in the United States.

MITT ROMNEY BEFORE CROWD: Now, I love being home in this place where Anne and I were raised, where both of us were born. Anne was born in Henry Ford Hospital, I was born at Harper hospital. No one’s ever asked to see my birth certificate. They know that this is the place that we were born and raised.

PELLEY: Why did you say that?

ROMNEY: We here in Michigan, Anne and I were both born in Detroit, and a little humor goes a long way. So it was great to be home, to be in a place where Anne and I had grown up and the crowd loved it and got a good laugh.

PELLEY: But this was a swipe at the President and I wonder why you took it?

ROMNEY: No, no, not a swipe. I said throughout the campaign and before there’s no question about where he was born. He was born in the U.S. This was fun about us and coming home and humor, you know, we’ve got to have a little humor in a campaign as well.

PELLEY: You threw a little red meat at the conservative wing of the party there.

ROMNEY: No, this was all about being home in Michigan, the place we were born and raised.

PELLEY: But once and for all, for the record, you believe that Barack Obama is the legitimate President of the United States?

ROMNEY: I’ve said that probably thirty times now, and thirty-one won’t hurt.

-- Brent Baker is Vice President for Research and Publications at the Media Research Center. Click here to follow Brent Baker on Twitter.