On Friday's broadcast network evening newscasts, the CBS Evening
News uniquely noted that Democrats in Montana had "orchestrated" a
friendly environment for President Obama at a Montana town hall event
as many Democrats arrived early to secure tickets. After CBS
correspondent Chip Reid filed a report in which he relayed that "this
crowd was on [Obama's] side," and that "the questions were mostly
softballs," Reid brought up "orchestration" as one of the reasons for a
friendly crowd: "So why wasn't there more anger in here? For one thing,
after accusing Republicans of orchestrating their protests, Democrats
did some orchestrating of their own, getting in line early in large
numbers and snatching up most of the tickets."
On the NBC Nightly News, substitute anchor Ann Curry led with the story:
The President was to squarely take on the anger we've seen in recent weeks over health care reform, flying to a town hall in a conservative part of Montana. The audience, we were told, was not pre-screened. But the meeting was more like a campaign rally than a debate over health care. The President even getting a standing ovation.
NBC's Chuck Todd passed on President Obama's criticism of media
attention given to angry critics at other events, and related that the
President tried to get audience members to ask contrarian questions:
CHUCK TODD: The President did take questions from a mostly supportive audience, but not before offering his own media critique of how town halls have been covered this week.
BARACK OBAMA: TV loves a ruckus. What you haven't seen on TV and what makes me proud are the many constructive meetings going on all over the country.
TODD: Mindful of Tuesday's relatively tame New Hampshire town hall, the President avoided calling on anyone who could easily be viewed as a supporter. So he found Randy Rathie, who was wearing a National Rifle Association shirt.
RANDY RATHIE, AUDIENCE MEMBER: -and we keep getting the bull. That's all we get is bull. You can't tell us how you're going to pay for this.
After Todd's report, David Gregory appeared and also passed on
Obama's complaint about television news focus on the "ruckus" because
the President "wants to separate what he would call extremism from the
core of the debate" and focus on "more constructive engagement."
You heard what he said during Chuck's reporting, that, in his estimation, cable TV, TV in general, likes the ruckus, just likes the conflict and is overlooking some of the more constructive engagement, constructive debate going on around the country. The President wants to separate what he would call extremism from the core of the debate, regain control, reassure Americans about what he is trying to do and keep health care reform on track.
On ABC's World News, anchor Charles Gibson more briefly recounted
Obama's experience in Montana in front of a "friendly audience," before
showing a clip of the exchange with audience member Randy Rathie
challenging Obama, before moving on to a report by correspondent David
Wright, who also referenced the town hall event, which focused on the
efforts by health care-related businesses to influence members of
Here's how the August 14 CBS Evening News covered the town hall event:
KATIE COURIC: Turning to the continuing battle over health care reform now, President Obama headed West today to big sky country to once again moderate his own town meeting. One of his goals, to win over some Blue Dog or conservative Democrats skeptical of his plans. Chip Reid is traveling with the President tonight in Belgrade, Montana.
CHIP REID: The President's critics predicted that at today's town hall in conservative Montana he would finally see face to face the rage over health care reform.
BARACK OBAMA: Hello, Montana!
REID: It was clear right from the start, though, this crowd was on his side.
OBAMA: And if we can get it done this year, the American people are going to be better off. Thank you, Montana.
REID: The questions were mostly softballs.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1, IN AUDIENCE: Welcome and thank you, and I believe in reform as well.
REID: The President even tried some humor.
OBAMA: Here in Montana, you've got bears and moose and elk, and in Washington you just have mostly bull.
REID: Then, finally, some anger from a man who turned the President's humor against him.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2, IN AUDIENCE: And we keep getting the bull. That's all we get is bull. You can't tell us how you're going to pay for this.
REID: It's unlikely the questioner was as pleased with the answer as the crowd was.
OBAMA: Two-thirds of the money we can obtain just from eliminating waste and inefficiencies.
REID: At one point, the President even asked for a tougher question.
OBAMA: And I want somebody who, who's got a concern or is skeptical about health care.
REID: And he got an upset insurance salesman who wanted to know why the President changed his strategy-
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #3, IN AUDIENCE: -and decided to vilify the insurance companies.
REID: Half a mile away, at the designated protest site, there was vocal opposition.
CLIP OF PROTESTERS CHANTING: Kill Obama health care, kill Obama health care!
REID: So why wasn't there more anger in here? For one thing, after accusing Republicans of orchestrating their protests, Democrats did some orchestrating of their own, getting in line early in large numbers and snatching up most of the tickets. Some here said they wanted to ask tougher questions, but didn't even raise their hands. They were intimidated, they said, by the fact that this is the President of the United States, not to mention the fact that he's surrounded by an adoring crowd and the Secret Service.
- Brad Wilmouth is a news analyst at the Media Research Center.