Right-wing radio hosts suggested "damn good" Ayers question to Stephanopoulos day before Dem debate

››› ››› SIMON MALOY & BRIAN LEVY

During the April 16 debate, George Stephanopoulos asked Sen. Barack Obama to explain his "relationship" with former Weather Underground Organization member William Ayers and to "explain to Democrats why it won't be a problem." The previous day, Stephanopoulos appeared on The Sean Hannity Show and New York radio station WOR's The Steve Malzberg Show, where both Hannity and Malzberg suggested to Stephanopoulos that he ask Obama about Ayers.

During the April 16 Democratic presidential debate in Philadelphia, ABC News chief Washington correspondent and co-moderator George Stephanopoulos asked Sen. Barack Obama to explain his "relationship" with former Weather Underground Organization member William Ayers and to "explain to Democrats why it won't be a problem." Stephanopoulos stated that Ayers "was part of the Weather Underground in the 1970s. They bombed the Pentagon, the Capitol, and other buildings. He's never apologized for that, and, in fact, on 9-11, he was quoted in The New York Times saying, 'I don't regret setting bombs. I feel we didn't do enough.' " The previous day, Stephanopoulos appeared on ABC Radio Networks' The Sean Hannity Show and New York radio station WOR's The Steve Malzberg Show. Both Hannity and Malzberg suggested to Stephanopoulos that he ask Obama about Ayers. Stephanopoulos responded: "That's a damn good question" and "I'm taking notes right now."

During the April 16 debate, Stephanopoulos asked Obama:

STEPHANOPOULOS: I want to give Senator [Hillary] Clinton a chance to respond, but first a follow-up on this issue, the 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, and, in fact, on 9-11, he was quoted in The New York Times saying, "I don't regret setting bombs. I feel we didn't do enough."

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?

During his appearance on Malzberg's program, Stephanopoulos responded to Malzberg's suggestion that he ask about Ayers by saying: "What do you think the question is on that?" Malzberg said:

MALZBERG: William Ayers is a man who was head of the Weather Underground, a radical group in the 60s and 70s, set bombs at the Capitol, set bombs at the Pentagon, and was quoted in The New York Times oddly enough, ironically enough on September 11 before obviously the events of that day, saying that he didn't go far enough. He doesn't regret it at all, and he wished he could have done more. Your campaign has described your relationship with William Ayers as "friendly." How could a man running for the presidency of the United States possibly have anything to do, or have anything but disdain, for a man who did what he has done to this country?

Stephanopoulos responded to Malzberg: "That's a damn good question."

In his appearance on Hannity's radio program, Hannity suggested Stephanopoulos ask about Obama's "association with Bill Ayers, the unrepentant terrorist from the Weather Underground, who on 9-11, of all days, in The New York Times was saying, 'I don't regret setting bombs. I don't think we did enough.' " (Contrary to Hannity's and Stephanopoulos' suggestion, Ayers' comment had nothing to do with the 9-11 terrorist attacks, but happened to have been published in The New York Times the morning of September 11, 2001.) Hannity continued: "When asked about it by the Politico, [Obama campaign chief strategist] David Axelrod said they have a friendly relationship and that they had done a number of speeches together and that they sat on a board together. Is that a question you might ask?" Stephanopoulos responded: "Well, I'm taking notes right now." Hannity went on to ask if Stephanopoulos "want[ed] any more questions," to which Stephanopoulos responded: "Yeah, keep going."

Following the debate, on the April 16 edition of Fox News' Hannity & Colmes, Hannity credited Stephanopoulos for asking the question: "Now, look, I watched this debate, and, by the way, all credit finally to ABC News and George Stephanopoulos and [co-moderator] Charlie Gibson, 'cause they asked very tough questions. Finally, the media asked him about Bill Ayers, which we have been pointing out."

The Los Angeles Times blog Show Tracker reported on April 17 that 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."

From the April 15 broadcast of WOR's The Steve Malzberg Show:

MALZBERG: All right, now the last time they debated, I believe, if I'm not mistaken, was back in February 26 and that was before the Reverend Jeremiah Wright tapes became public and were broadcast all over television. Is this something that you think ABC -- you and Charlie Gibson will bring up?

STEPHANOPOULOS: You know, I'm not going to talk about my questions specifically, but I think, you know, the -- there's a lot that's happened since the last debate, and you can bet we're going to cover the waterfront and get the right mix of questions that deal with sort of the personal character, the campaign controversies, and the issues that are on top of people's minds as well.

MALZBERG: All right, George. Let me ask you this -- and I'm not going to ask you then to answer -- I won't ask you if you can ask this -- but do you think between now -- I remember the panel you moderated that I was on at D.C. a couple of weeks ago. You asked, you know, what's going to be big, and I said it's basically up to guys like you as to what's going to be big for the general public and the mainstream media. Do you think the William Ayers story will --

STEPHANOPOULOS: What do you think the question is on that?

MALZBERG: What do I think the question is? William Ayers is a man who was head of the Weather Underground, a radical group in the 60s and 70s, set bombs at the Capitol, set bombs at the Pentagon, and was quoted in The New York Times oddly enough, ironically enough on September 11 before obviously the events of that day, saying that he didn't go far enough. He doesn't regret it at all, and he wished he could have done more. Your campaign has described your relationship with William Ayers as "friendly." How could a man running for the presidency of the United States possibly have anything to do, or have anything but disdain, for a man who did what he has done to this country?

STEPHANOPOULOS: That's a damn good question.

MALZBERG: Well, thank you. I hope you ask it. I mean, I'll be watching anyway.

From the April 15 broadcast of The Sean Hannity Show:

HANNITY There are two questions that I don't think anybody has asked Barack Obama and I don't know if this is going to be on your list tomorrow. One is his -- the only time he's ever been asked about his association with Bill Ayers, the unrepentant terrorist from the Weather Underground, who on 9-11, of all days, in The New York Times was saying, "I don't regret setting bombs. I don't think we did enough." When asked about it by the Politico, David Axelrod said they have a friendly relationship and that they had done a number of speeches together and that they sat on a board together. Is that a question you might ask?

STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, I'm taking notes right now.

HANNITY: September 11, 2001, of all days, there was an article in The New York Times and there are a number of quotes about Bill Ayers and the Politico had in there the comments about -- from David Axelrod. I think that's an interesting question that nobody in the media has really brought up. We've highlighted it a little bit more here on this program but -- let me see if I can help you. Do you want any more questions?

STEPHANOPOULOS: Yeah, keep going.

HANNITY: The Chicago Reader talked about and commented -- has comments of Barack Obama -- why he attended the Million Man March.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Hmm-mm.

HANNITY: And most people don't know that, I don't think.

STEPHANOPOULOS: That's been pretty -- didn't he write about that in his book?

HANNITY: I don't remember that in particular, but I know that he was quoted extensively in the Chicago Reader December 8. I forget the year. We're going back a couple of years. My memory is not that good, George.

From the April 16 edition of Fox News' Hannity & Colmes:

HANNITY: I spent a lot of time talking with pollster Scott Rasmussen who is very clear that the impact in the Democratic primary is insignificant --

KATE OBENSHAIN (Clare Boothe Luce Policy Institute advisory board member): Yeah.

HANNITY: -- but it is major as we head toward the general election as a new narrative, [Fox News contributor] Pat Caddell, has emerged. Now, look, I watched this debate, and, by the way, all credit finally to ABC News and George Stephanopoulos and Charlie Gibson, 'cause they asked very tough questions.

CADDELL: Really?

HANNITY: Finally, the media asked him about Bill Ayers, which we have been pointing out. He gave a pathetically weak answer. They finally asked him about Reverend Wright and some of the inconsistencies here. A new narrative has emerged. I mean, he was once hopeful, optimistic, likeable, and now people are questioning a lot of issues about him. This has changed dramatically for him, hasn't it?

[...]

HANNITY: Here, Kate, let me go back to you. This is -- and I don't want to reiterate too many points here, but most of the country, until tonight -- you know, we have been all over the Ayers issue both on radio and television. We've pointed it out. The new media's been on it. But now, other people are going to become aware of that issue. They asked him about the flag lapel. You know, we add to that Reverend Wright. We add to that Michelle Obama's comments, and we add to that --

OBENSHAIN: Yeah.

HANNITY: -- what he said -- what he never thought would be heard in front of a bunch of, you know, rich San Francisco liberals about people in Pennsylvania, who are the heart and soul of this great country.

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