CNN's Blitzer and Todd falsely present August 2007 Michelle Obama comment as current attack on Clintons

››› ››› BRIAN LEVY

On CNN's The Situation Room, Wolf Blitzer and correspondent Brian Todd aired a video clip of Michelle Obama's August 16, 2007, comment, "So our view is that if you can't run your own house, you certainly can't run the White House," falsely suggesting that she had recently made the comment in the context of exchanges between the presidential campaigns of Sen. Barack Obama and Sen. Hillary Clinton. The remark, Blitzer suggested, showed Michelle Obama going "[t]oe to toe with the former President Bill Clinton."

On the January 24 edition of CNN's The Situation Room, host Wolf Blitzer and correspondent Brian Todd each played a video clip of Sen. Barack Obama's (D-IL) wife, Michelle, saying, "So our view is that if you can't run your own house, you certainly can't run the White House," a remark that, Blitzer suggested, showed her going "[t]oe to toe with the former President Bill Clinton." And in his report, Todd said that the remark "was seen by some as a dig at the Clintons." By airing the video and in their commentary, both Blitzer and Todd suggested that Michelle Obama's comment was recent and made in the context of exchanges between the Democratic presidential campaigns of Obama and Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (NY). In fact, that comment is from August 16, 2007, months before the primaries and the current candidates' back-and-forth to which Blitzer and Todd referred. Moreover, Michelle Obama's full August, 16, 2007, remarks and comments -- which CNN did not air -- as well as comments made shortly thereafter by Sen. Obama made it clear that she was not attacking the Clintons.

While CNN flashed the date of the video clip during Todd's report, it did not indicate the date during Blitzer's teaser and introduction of Todd's report. And neither Blitzer nor Todd noted that the video was not current.

Blitzer teased the report by saying, "Michelle Obama, out on the campaign trail," then aired the clip of Michelle Obama's comment from a campaign event in Atlantic, Iowa, on August 16, 2007, before adding, "Toe to toe with the former President Bill Clinton -- this potential first lady holds her own to back her husband." Later, in his report, referring to Michelle Obama, Todd asked: "[W]ill she go on the offensive if her husband keeps taking body blows?" After airing a clip of Valerie Jarrett, identified as an "Obama family friend," saying that she has never seen Michelle Obama "in attack-mode or anything like that," Todd said: "But this remark was seen by some as a dig at the Clintons." The clip of Michelle Obama's comment then aired, after which Todd said: "Michelle Obama's chief aide says she was only talking about her own family, about the partnership between she and her husband, not insinuating anything about the Clintons. Analysts say it's crucial now that she not go negative."

Aside from falsely suggesting that Michelle Obama's comments were made during the current back-and-forth between the campaigns, neither Blitzer nor Todd provided the complete quote. As Media Matters for America has repeatedly documented, immediately following her comment about "run[ning] your own house," Michelle Obama went on to discuss how she and her husband were making an effort to keep their children "grounded" and to ensure that their children will continue to "come first." In addition, neither noted, as CNN's website did at the time, that shortly after Michelle Obama's speech, Barack Obama "emphatically denied the comments were aimed at his rival and asserted, 'There was no reference beyond her point that we have had an administration that talks a lot about family values but doesn't follow through.' "

From Michelle Obama's August 16 remarks in Atlantic, Iowa:

MICHELLE OBAMA: [O]ne of the most important things that we need to know about the next president of the United States is, is he somebody that shares our values? Is he somebody that respects family? Is a good and decent person? So our view was that, if you can't run your own house, you certainly can't run the White House. So, so we've adjusted our schedules to make sure that our girls are first, so while he's traveling around, I do day trips. That means I get up in the morning, I get the girls ready, I get them off, I go and do trips, I'm home before bedtime. So the girls know that I was gone somewhere, but they don't care. They just know that I was at home to tuck them in at night, and it keeps them grounded, and, and children, the children in our country have to know that they come first. And our girls do and that's why we're doing this. We're in this race for not just our children, but all of our children.

Blitzer also discussed Michelle Obama's August 2007 remarks with strategists Donna Brazile and John Feehery on the August 21, 2007, edition of The Situation Room, but failed to provide the full context of her remarks. And on the August 21, 2007, edition of CNN's Lou Dobbs Tonight, guest host Lisa Sylvester teased a segment on the "run your own house" comments, claiming that Michelle Obama "apparently blast[ed] Senator Hillary Clinton." Sylvester later aired the clip without showing Michelle Obama's full quote.

From the January 24 edition of CNN's The Situation Room:

BLITZER: Michelle Obama, out on the campaign trail.

MICHELLE OBAMA [video clip]: So our view is that if you can't run your own house, you certainly can't run the White House.

BLITZER: Toe to toe with the former President Bill Clinton -- this potential first lady holds her own to back her husband.

Plus, conservative talk show hosts targeting John McCain. They're sparing no criticism of the Republican -- arguably, he's the Republican front-runner right now.

[...]

BLITZER: You won't see her on the bitter battlefield between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, but Michelle Obama is becoming increasingly important to her husband's presidential campaign and offering a stark contrast to the other leading candidate's spouse -- that would be Bill Clinton.

Let's go to Brian Todd; he's watching this story for us.

All right, tell us a little bit about Michelle Obama, what she is doing for her husband.

TODD: Well, Wolf, by many accounts, she was reluctant to get into this race at first, but is now seen as a campaign asset that her husband seems to need now more than ever.

[begin video clip]

MICHELLE OBAMA: Are you all hungry for some change?

TODD: In a campaign getting nastier by the sound bite, she strikes a tone of civility.

MICHELLE OBAMA: My deep hope is that people will base their decision on who they think they can trust, who's got a vision for the country, who's bringing a different, you know, tone to politics, and who's going to really take this country in a different direction. And, quite frankly, I think the only person that comes close to that is Barack.

TODD: Seen as inherently decent, down to earth, straightforward and tough, Michelle Obama says she can talk about her husband in a way he never would. It's certainly not how Bill Clinton's talking about her husband.

BILL CLINTON: When he put out a hit job on me.

TODD: Analysts say Michelle Obama's striking contrast to that kind of attack is a huge boost to her husband. And with Barack Obama getting drawn deeper into verbal combat with both Clintons, they say she's crucial to keeping his message in play.

ROLAND MARTIN (CNN contributor): To be able to have somebody on the campaign trail who is consistently emphasizing unity, emphasizing one nation, one voice, one agenda, that is critical.

TODD: Harvard Law grad, successful attorney in her own right, Michelle Obama was reluctant to get into the race, friends and aides tell us. At first, didn't want her husband to run. She's fiercely protective of their young daughters back in Chicago.

MICHELLE OBAMA: Our kids are hilarious, just like many people's kids. They keep us grounded.

TODD: Her platform: helping people balance family and work. Aides say she won't delve into policy if she becomes first lady.

But will she go on the offensive if her husband keeps taking body blows?

VALERIE JARRETT (family friend): I've never seen her in a -- in attack-mode or anything like that.

TODD: But this remark was seen by some as a dig at the Clintons.

MICHELLE OBAMA: If you can't run your own house, you certainly can't run the White House.

[end video clip]

TODD: Michelle Obama's chief aide says she was only talking about her own family, about the partnership between she and her husband, not insinuating anything about the Clintons. Analysts say it's crucial now that she not go negative. It'll not only make the campaign look bad, but the Clintons will likely counter her very directly -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Brian, thanks very much. Brian Todd, reporting.

Network/Outlet
CNN
Person
Wolf Blitzer, Brian Todd
Show/Publication
The Situation Room
Stories/Interests
Barack Obama, 2008 Elections
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