COMMENTS: Making a Show of Unity

A photo-op was Story of the Day. Barack Obama orchestrated a joint appearance with his onetime rival Hillary Rodham Clinton in New Hampshire to dispel lingering notions of disunity. The 4,000-person event was staged at Unity NH. All three newscasts led with campaign correspondents in the Granite State. ABC was anchored by substitute George Stephanopoulos and NBC had Brian Williams anchor from Washington DC. A sardonic Rodham Clinton referred their hard-fought 17-month-long Democratic Presidential primary contest, which she lost, as a "spirited dialogue--that was the nicest way I could think of phrasing it."

On ABC, Jake Tapper called the photo-op "methodically negotiated and carefully staged"CBS' Dean Reynolds saw the pair "trying to wipe the slate clean and hoping their supporters get the message"NBC's Lee Cowan saw stagecraft rather than substance: "It was really the picture of the two of them stranding shoulder to shoulder that may have been worth more than whatever words they had to say to this crowd."

ABC's Tapper cited statistics from his network's latest national opinion poll, conducted with Washington Post, that only 62% of Rodham Clinton's supporters are committed to voting for Obama in the General Election. Of the remainder, 24% said they would vote for Republican John McCain and 14% were undecided. "He cannot win if that does not change," Tapper asserted. CBS anchor Katie Couric asked Jeff Greenfield about the likelihood of such defections. Greenfield was skeptical, since the rivalry in the Democratic race was not ideological and therefore impermanent. "There are very few policy differences here," he pointed out. "Of course, there is one thing that these would-be John McCain supporters say could change their minds," mused CBS' Reynolds, "if Barack Obama picks Hillary Clinton as his running mate."

Whenever Campaign 2008 was the Story of the Day, it had been the habit of NBC anchor Brian Williams to turn to DC bureau chief Tim Russert for analysis, now deceased. Filling in for her late boss, Andrea Mitchell reported on the behind-the-scenes relationship between the key fundraisers for Obama and Rodham Clinton. Things were "going swimmingly" at an inside-the-Beltway dinner party, Mitchell revealed, until the issue of Rodham Clinton's $20m debt from her primary campaign was raised. When Obama's money men dismissed its retirement as "not a top priority" things chilled. There was "almost a food fight," Mitchell told us.


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