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On Thursday night after the final 2020 presidential debate, CBS News put its thumb on the scale for the Biden campaign in helping to drag him across the finish line, surmising President Trump wasn’t able to jettison himself back into the race due to grim attacks on Hunter Biden, an insensitivity to race issues, and spewing a torrent of lies.

And, despite having spent more time on the Hunter Biden scandals than ABC or NBC, CBS barely covered these seemingly constant revelations about his business dealings in China and Ukraine. In their 24 minutes of post-debate airtime, only 41 seconds concerned allegations of Biden family corruption.

Initially, CBS Evening News anchor Norah O’Donnell and CBS This Morning co-host/Obama family friend Gayle King were tepid with the former calling the debate “substantive and a clash of ideas” with both Trump and Joe Biden possibly “notic[ing] where their standing was in the polls and knew what they needed to do tonight.”

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And as for the latter, King asserted both candidates “can walk out tonight and say ‘I did very well.’”

O’Donnell then changed gears, observing that President Trump would “not answer” the first question about changing the direction of the coronavirus pandemic and instead “said essentially it’s not his fault and that we’re rounding the corner.”

Later in the broadcast, chief Washington correspondent Major Garrett would “fact-check” Trump on that and deemed it as false (and refused to take into account factors like the FDA approval of Remdesivir or improvement in the likelihood contracting coronavirus wouldn’t result in death).

60 Minutes correspondent John Dickerson agreed with the premise that Thursday night “was an actual debate,” but it didn’t move the needle because President Trump failed to be “more than just adequate” and “do something to change the dynamic of the race” despite “interesting exchanges” on a litany of issues.

 

 

On COVID, Dickerson added:

The rebuttal to anything the President says about COVID comes in the next report on the cases in America and the places now struggling are rural areas which have a harder time handling it in the hospitals. We’re going into a very tough period. The President needed some kind of answer to throw into that future. He was talking about the past.

About six minutes into the post-debate coverage, O’Donnell alluded to Hunter in telling White House correspondent Paula Reid that Trump “was on offense” with one example having been how he “made it personal about Biden’s family.”

Reid only went a tick further beyond O’Donnell’s esoteric statement, pointing out the Trump team’s “strategy was to bring up Biden’s son Hunter, put those accusations into the mainstream, [and] get them in front of tens of millions of voters.”

Before O’Donnell quashed the Hunter talk with longtime Obama aide Valerie Jarrett, King wondered to Dickerson: “You have to be on the offense without being offensive. But do you think the voters care about Hunter Biden?”

Once Dickerson said “no,” King interjected: “Joe Biden didn’t take the bait on that at all.”

For a news media that obsesses over the business dealings and movements of the President’s adult children not working in the White House (e.g. Eric Trump and Donald Trump Jr.), they sure have seemed so apprehensive to even a scintilla of scrutiny to one of Biden’s adult children.

After a break (and analysis prior to that from Valerie Jarett and Reince Priebus), Garrett came in with the fact-check and, to the shock of almost no one reading this, he knocked the President while gave Biden a green light.

Having covered his first point on COVID, Garrett commented on Trump’s claim about his 2016 campaign being spied on and a Biden assertion about immigration policy (click “expand”):

GARRETT: President Trump said they spied on my campaign, the implication being President Obama, Vice President Biden, those in the Obama-Biden white House. Both the Senate Committee on Intelligence, and the Department of Justice Inspector General report said that’s not true. That’s why we rate this false. Now, a lot of chapters and verses to this and people will say what about Carter Page? Yes, there was surveillance of Carter Page. That has been roundly criticized, even by the Inspector General. But he was not a significant player at any time in the Trump campaign. The third one deals with former Vice President Biden’s assertion that the Obama-Biden did not have a policy of separating families. We rate that as true. They were separated in rare instances to protect children or if those that their parents were identified to be criminals or threats to the children, but it was not a systemic policy as it was with the Trump administration, an outgrowth of their zero tolerance policy on the border. Norah, you saw some of those facilities the Trump administration contracted with. That’s where we rate the assertion by former Vice President Biden that there was no policy to separate families as true.

O’DONNELL: Very helpful.

Dickerson, King, and O’Donnell returned for a third and final segment to set the stage for Biden. Dickerson praised Welker’s final question about speaking to Americans who didn’t support you because “this is what governing is about in an age of high partisanship” and, in an implicit nod to Biden, “people should go back and look at the answers and see who has the capacity to speak to the part country that isn’t in my base and speak to that part.”

The Democratic donor King replied that Biden spoke to that while “Trump didn’t answer that question,” but she used her time to change gears to furthering the narrative of Trump being a racist (click “expand”):

KING: [A]ctions speak louder than words, and when you look at the President’s actions, the last debate, he — it was a clear dog whistle, many people believe, to the Proud Boys to stand back and stand by. He keeps saying that I denounce these white supremacist group, but denounce them, it says, “I do not want your support.”

O’DONNELL: But the question by — by Kristen Welker was really about what do you tell a family who’s dealing with this? And so it — it invoked an empathetic answer, and instead he said —

KING: And he didn’t really care.

O’DONNELL: — that Black Lives Matter —

KING: Yes.

O’DONNELL: — and then he went about how the chants allegedly said at the protests.

KING: And listen, as someone who’s had that conversation and I thought Kristen pointed out really well, whether your income level here is here or your income level is here, because your skin doesn’t change when you walk out of the house. I thought that she hit that really well and it would have been a great opportunity for him to address that and he did not. He spent a lot of time talking about ‘I’ve done this for HBCUs.’ You know, he and Tim Scott — he always brings up the opportunity zones and empowerment zones, which is a very good program. But when you don’t really figure out a way to unite this community — which is feeling right now under siege, under siege and in a lot of pain, he never seemed to really address that.

DICKERSON: And that’s where the listening and hearing comes in. I think, as the nation’s top birther for five years, President Trump can’t say I’m —

KING: Yeah.

DICKERSON — he has to jump over that and say something else other than pure assertion[.]

With King having made her peace, Dickerson’s final take was to — what else — laud Biden for having “narrow-casted at those voters in those Midwestern states…with those personal appeals” by “talk[ing] about the widow or widower who reaches to the empty space in the bed because of COVID, to talk about the oil slick on his windshield.”

Before signing off, O’Donnell concluded by openly parroting Biden’s closing argument: “Joe Biden said tonight the character of the country is on the ballot. He is trying to make this a referendum, not only about President Trump’s leadership during this pandemic, but also the character of this man and what happens in the next four years.”

CBS’s post-debate analysis was made possible by advertisers such as Ancestry and Volkswagen. Follow the links to the MRC’s Conservatives Fight Back page.

To see the relevant CBS transcript from October 22, click “expand.”

CBS News: The Second Presidential Debate
October 23, 2020
10:36 p.m. Eastern

NORAH O’DONNELL: And an extraordinary final debate between the two candidates, much more substantive and a clash of ideas than we saw in the previous debate between the two candidates. It was as if the muting of the microphones worked, or each of them noticed where their standing was in the polls and knew what they had to do tonight. Gayle, you called it. You said this would be a different President Trump tonight.

GAYLE KING: Because I remember last time, the last 48 hours, we — people were counting, Donald Trump interrupted Joe Biden 73 times. So even his own supporters were saying that was not good. That was not good and they were embarrassed for him. He came across — many thought as obnoxious and a bully and I think, you know, people say Donald Trump doesn’t listen to his advisers. But we kept hearing in the last 48 hours his advisers saying he’s going to tone it down. He knows what he needs to do and this is probably the last time that he has an opportunity to talk to an audience that is not his base, so he knows that people are watching. Joe Biden had to go and do no harm, do no foul, don’t rock the boat. If — I think both of them can walk out tonight and say I did very well.

O’DONNELL: The first question posed to both the candidates is, what would you do in the future to change how the trajectory of the COVID pandemic is going? President Trump did not answer that question. Instead he said essentially it’s not his fault and that we’re rounding the corner.

JOHN DICKERSON: Yeah, this was an actual debate, as opposed to some of the other things we have had. There was a real exchange. This question was one of them. President Trump chose to defend his — his record, which is probably wise for him. This is a referendum on the President. It’s not about 90 minutes of how he behaved tonight. It’s about four years in office and that’s what he’s got to defend, but he didn’t do, on that question, or even this last question, which was teed up nicely for the President and Joe Biden for them to — and the President didn’t take advantage of those questions. Why is that important? Because of the dynamic of the race, the President is behind, and this was the last major opportunity with everybody watching, and he needed more than just adequate. He needed to do something to change the dynamic of the race, and I don’t think there was anything in tonight that changed the dynamic of the race. Although there were really interesting exchanges, both on COVID, the question of what to do, small business, minimum wage, North Korea, health care, the ObamaCare versus the President’s yet to be announced, long-delayed plan on health care. There was quite a lot of substance.

O’DONNELL: But John, do you think either one of them changed the dynamic of the race? If I was — for both Biden supporters and Trump supporters I would think my candidate did very well tonight in terms of addressing — I know there were times Donald Trump did not answer the question. The last one was so off the rails, the fact that it was civil I think it was a win, a win.

DICKERSON: Well, but what the political scientists will say, unless there’s a major, major gaffe — or for example, the way the President behaved in the first one, the polls don’t change. If the polls don’t change, Joe Biden is in better shape because if this race is a referendum on the President’s handling of COVID — which a lot of people think it is — the President gets very low marks on that, he did nothing tonight to —

KING: No, to change that. Yeah.

DICKERSON: — to argue about the future because this future is going well into next year and has issues that are health related but also the economy doesn’t get fixed until COVID gets fixed.

KING He’s still saying he did a good job on COVID.

DICKERSON: But the numbers are rising.

KING: Yes.

DICKERSON: The rebuttal to anything the President says about COVID comes in the next report on the cases in America and the places now struggling are rural areas which have a harder time handling it in the hospitals. We’re going into a very tough period. The President needed some kind of answer to throw into that future. He was talking about the past.

O’DONNELL: And I think we all know tracking the President’s rhetoric, he had been promising the vaccine would come before the election day.

KING: Election Day.

O’DONNELL: The science didn’t bear that out and the companies didn’t like the political pressure. They wanted to make sure they had all the safety protocols in place, and as we heard from the head of Pfizer, it won’t be until late November, early December, before they submit approval for a potential vaccine, and that’s why all government officials said for all of us, the widespread public to get it, it would be April of next year at the earliest. I want to bring in CBS’s Nikole Killion. She is standing by in the debate hall, in Nashville. And Nikole, your impressions of this debate.

NIKOLE KILLION: Well I can tell you the Biden campaign is very pleased with the former Vice President’s performance. They feel they put the President on the defensive, particularly in the instance where he brought up the President’s attacks as one aide telling me that he flipped the script on the President. The campaign also doesn’t feel that the President’s performance tonight changes the trajectory of this race, even if it did take on a softer tone. A few other key takeaways: The Vice President — former Vice President clearly trying to make the argument that the President failed the American public on the pandemic. He also didn’t take the bait when the President tried to challenge him, and then lastly, making that quintessential argument at the end that he would be an American president for all, trying to appeal to a broad swath of voters. Norah.

O’DONNELL: Nikole Killion, thank you. CBS’s Paula Reid is at the White House. And we saw the President tonight, while he did not interrupt as much as he did in the previous debate, he was on the offense. He was and we will fact check him later in this broadcast, and he also made it personal about Biden’s family.

PAULA REID: He did and that was part of the strategy tonight. I’ve been texting with some of the President’s advisers, and one just texted me back saying the man stuck to the plan. And part of that plan was not to interrupt, to allow his opponent to speak, potentially make a mistake. The other part of the strategy was to bring up Biden’s son Hunter, put those accusations into the mainstream, get them in front of tens of millions of voters. It appears on those two points, he succeeded.

O’DONNELL: Paula Reid, thank you. John, you were going to comment on that.

DICKERSON: Well, it’s a very low bar when you say the goal tonight is to not do the disastrous thing you did last time. That is a bar that — you’ve got to do better than that when the race is not going your way.

KING: You have to be on the offense without being offensive. But do you think the voters care about Hunter Biden?

DICKERSON: No, but this is —

KING: Joe Biden didn’t take the bait on that at all.

O’DONNELL: [INTRODUCES PANEL] Valerie, let me start with you. We knew the attacks on Biden’s family were coming, you saw Biden respond by saying I’ve released all 22 years of my tax returns. Where are your tax returns? It’s all out there.

VALERIE JARRETT: Well that’s right, Norah and I think tonight the winners were the American people, particularly the undecided. They had an opportunity to see both men, their competency, their track records, their temperament. And I think that Vice President Biden did a very good speaking to the American people and framing all of their answers in the context of what it would mean to your life. And I don’t think the American people are interested in his son or any of those ancillary issues. They’re interested in what’s happening around their kitchen table and that’s where I think Joe Biden is at his strongest from health care to COVID-19 to the race relations in our country to our stature around the world.

(….)

10:50 p.m. Eastern

O’DONNELL: Time for the fact check. Let’s bring in CBS News chief Washington correspondent Major Garrett. Major.

MAJOR GARRETT: We have three for you, Norah. Let’s start with the first one. President Trump said “it will go away,” referring to coronavirus. “We’re rounding the corner. It’s going away.” We rate that as false and here is why. Coronavirus cases are currently increasing in 34 states, hospitalizations rising in 37 states. And here’s a key statistic that backs us up on that false assertion. The U.S. is averaging 59,000 new cases per day, according to The New York Times database. That is the most on a daily average since August. The next one. President Trump said they spied on my campaign, the implication being President Obama, Vice President Biden, those in the Obama-Biden white House. Both the Senate Committee on Intelligence, and the Department of Justice Inspector General report said that’s not true. That’s why we rate this false. Now, a lot of chapters and verses to this and people will say what about Carter Page? Yes, there was surveillance of Carter Page. That has been roundly criticized, even by the Inspector General. But he was not a significant player at any time in the Trump campaign. The third one deals with former Vice President Biden’s assertion that the Obama-Biden did not have a policy of separating families. We rate that as true. They were separated in rare instances to protect children or if those that their parents were identified to be criminals or threats to the children, but it was not a systemic policy as it was with the Trump administration, an outgrowth of their zero tolerance policy on the border. Norah, you saw some of those facilities the Trump administration contracted with. That’s where we rate the assertion by former Vice President Biden that there was no policy to separate families as true.

O’DONNELL: Very helpful.

(….)

10:55 p.m. Eastern

O’DONNELL: The final debate and quite a lot to talk about. That final question, “what would you say to the people who didn’t vote for you?” That’s this question who can be moved? Well, there are small amounts of people that may make a difference in a close contest.

DICKERSON: And it’s a great question because this is what governing is about in an age of high partisanship. When you’ve to convince the country to do something on a pandemic, you have to convince the whole country. You can’t just talk to your base, because the other half of the country is the one staying at home, being afraid, and not going out and participating in the economy. You have to have the language to talk to the whole country. It’s one of the ways we should test candidates for what the job is like and question teed that up and people should go back and look at the answers and see who has the capacity to speak to the part country that isn’t in my base and speak to that part.

KING: President Trump didn’t answer that question, Joe Biden did.

O’DONNELL: Mmhmm. How did you see this contest?

KING: I was struck by the statement, “I’m the least racist person in the room.” Well, first, I lost my hearing, and then I wondered who else was in the room. You know, when you’re a little kid, your mom always tells you actions speak louder than words, and when you look at the President’s actions, the last debate, he — it was a clear dog whistle, many people believe, to the Proud Boys to stand back and stand by. He keeps saying that I denounce these white supremacist group, but denounce them, it says, “I do not want your support.”

O’DONNELL: But the question by — by Kristen Welker was really about what do you tell a family who’s dealing with this? And so it — it invoked an empathetic answer, and instead he said —

KING: And he didn’t really care.

O’DONNELL: — that Black Lives Matter

KING: Yes.

O’DONNELL: — and then he went about how the chants allegedly said at the protests.

KING: And listen, as someone who’s had that conversation and I thought Kristen pointed out really well, whether your income level here is here or your income level is here, because your skin doesn’t change when you walk out of the house. I thought that she hit that really well and it would have been a great opportunity for him to address that and he did not. He spent a lot of time talking about ‘I’ve done this for HBCUs.’ You know, he and Tim Scott — he always brings up the opportunity zones and empowerment zones, which is a very good program. But when you don’t really figure out a way to unite this community — which is feeling right now under siege, under siege and in a lot of pain, he never seems to really address that.

DICKERSON: And that’s where the listening and hearing comes in. I think, as the nation’s top birther for five years, President Trump can’t say I’m —

KING: Yeah.

DICKERSON — he has to jump over that and say something else other than pure assertion and it was interesting tonight to hear the President speak, as he does in rallies, in shorthand — I don’t know if anybody knows what an AOC + 3 is.

KING: Outside of Washington, maybe not.

DICKERSON: And even so, he spoke very much in the staccato terms in his rally. Joe Biden was at pains — so much so that President Trump made fun of him, to talk about the widow or widower who reaches to the empty space in the bed because of COVID, to talk about the oil slick on his windshield. You can see him narrow-casting at those voters in those Midwestern states that he’s trying to reach who are — with those personal appeals.

O’DONNELL: Joe Biden said tonight the character of the country is on the ballot.

[INAUDIBLE KING]

O’DONNELL: He is trying to make this a referendum, not only about President Trump’s leadership during this pandemic, but also the character of this man and what happens in the next four years.


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