Couric, Letterman too much for McCain and Palin

It was a bad day at CBS for Republican candidates John McCain and Sarah Palin. It started with CBS News anchorwoman Katie Couric and ended with late night host David Letterman, and between the two, it looks like some serious damage might have been done to the GOP ticket.

In a particularly wild day on the campaign trail, TV news was at the center of events -- mostly in the person of Couric. Beyond getting two exclusive interviews with John McCain and Sarah Palin, the veteran newswoman served viewers extremely well in her superb handling of the Republican candidates.


The headlines: Palin told Couric she thinks "America may find itself on" the road to "another Great Depression."

Then in a separate interview, when Couric repeated Palin's answer to McCain, he had to try and do damage control saying: "I, I don't know if, if, if it's exactly the depression..."


The campaign trail tumult started when McCain announced that he wanted to delay Friday's debate with Democratic opponent Barack Obama so that the two candidates could help resolve the country's economic crisis. Obama responded by saying the debate should go on as planned: "This is exactly the time when the American people need to hear from the person who, in approximately 40 days, will be responsible for dealing with this mess," Obama said.

Couric's newscast skillfully included Obama's remarks on the campaign trail and contextualized all the news being made in the Couric interviews with a series of correspondents' reports on the nation's financial crisis. Executive producer Rick Kaplan and Couric, who also serves as managing editor, delivered one of the strongest and most informative half hours of news that I have seen in the two years of Couric's tenure. If this is a dinosaur, it was having one great last roar -- and mostly at the expense of a couple of candidates who at times seemed overwhelmed by the intensely focused anchorwoman.

Here's Couric pressing McCain on Palin's talk of American being on the road to another Great Depression:

Couric: "But isn't much of this, Senator McCain about consumer confidence?"

McCain: "Sure."

Couric: "And using rhetoric like the Great Depression, is that the kind of language Americans need to hear right now?"

McCain: "Well, listen, I've heard language from respected people who are staring at the abyss. I've, I've heard all kinds of, of things from people. I don't think we need to scare people. …"

And here's Couric pressing Palin on a claim that McCain is the right man to "reform government" and Wall Street.

Couric: "But he's been in Congress for 26 years. He's been chairman of the powerful Commerce Committee. And he has almost always sided with less regulation -- not more."

Palin: "He's also known as a maverick though. Taking shots from his own party, and certainly taking shots from the other party. …"

Couric: "I'm just going to ask one more time, not to belabor the point -- specific example in his 26 years of pushing for more regulation."

Palin: "I'll try to find you some, and I'll bring them to you."

If ABC anchorman Charles Gibson showed Palin's limitations, Couric revealed the near-total lack of evidence behind the talking-point bromides and clichés Palin rattles off in TV interviews.

But it was prelude to the wrath of Letterman after McCain canceled an appearance on his show -- especially when Letterman found out that McCain was still doing an interview with Couric at CBS News.

"I'm more than a little disappointed by his behavior," Letterman said of McCain's decision to cancel his appearance on the show and suspend his campaign until Congress passes a bailout plan.

"We're suspending the campaign -- suspending it because there's an economic crisis, or because the poll numbers are sliding?"

"You don't suspend your campaign -- something about this stinks," Letterman continued, using a phrase he would repeat over and over throughout the show. "Do you suspend your campaign? No, because that makes me think maybe there will be other things down the road, like if he's in the White House, he might just suspend being president. I mean, we've got a guy like that now!"

Adding insult to injury, Letterman brought on MSNBC host and left-wing attack dog Keith Olbermann as the substitute guest for McCain.

During his chat with Olbermann, Letterman used the in-house CBS cameras and monitors to show McCain being readied for his interview with Couric on the set of the CBS Evening News.

"He doesn't seem to be racing to the airport, does he?" Letterman said referring to McCain's call earlier in the day when he told Letterman he was canceling because "the economy is cratering" and he has to rush back to Washington to work on a Wall Street bailout plan.

"Hey John, I got a question! You need a ride to the airport?" Letterman yelled at the TV monitor as the in-house camera showed McCain talking to Couric.

The audience howled in delight at the merciless edge of Letterman's anti-McCain barbs. The comedian also repeatedly asked why McCain didn't send Palin in his place -- suggesting the GOP handlers were afraid that she couldn't handle it.

Meanwhile, most of the networks and cable channels said last night that their correspondents and crews were already in place in Oxford, Miss., for Friday night's scheduled debate, and they were going to stay put. In addition to Obama saying he wanted to have the debate, the chancellor at the University of Mississippi where the debate is to be held, said his institution is proceeding as if there will be debate.

McCain and Palin were not looking too good Wednesday under the unforgiving lights of TV news. But thanks mainly to Couric and Kaplan, it was a day when the industry did its job well and served the voters of a troubled nation with a revealing look at two if its candidates.

And then, Letterman piled on with the kind of non-stop, nasty, comedic needling no one can deliver quite like him.

(Photo courtesy of CBS Evening News with Katie Couric)

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