MANCHESTER, New Hampshire — Mitt Romney, the Republican nominee for president in 2012 and a supporter of former Sen. Scott Brown’s campaign, decried an effort by the liberal media to falsely smear Brown during last night’s final New Hampshire Senate debate against incumbent Democratic Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH).
“You know I think it’s unfortunate but in some cases moderators hope to become part of the story,” Romney said on Laura Ingraham’s radio program. “Obviously that furthers their career and makes a lot of people talk about them. And people who are on their side are very pleased about it and give them a lot of kudos. Look, the debate commissioners are going to have to do a better job to make sure moderators follow the rules and don’t themselves become part of the debates. But in the final analysis I think people vote based on who they think is going to help them and their family and their country in the best way, so I don’t give too much weight to these kinds of snafus in debates but nonetheless it’s already been cleared up.”
Ingraham compared the mistaken question–where WMUR’s James Pindell falsely told Brown that New Hampshire’s Sullivan County is not north of the state’s capitol Concord–to CNN’s Candy Crowley false assertion to Romney during a debate between him and President Barack Obama in the 2012 presidential race about the Benghazi terrorist attack.
“Well of course the moderator James Pindell from local WMUR had to apologize,” Ingraham said. “But it reminded me of the Candy Crowley moment in your debate, where it’s like is she actually part of the Obama re-election team or what? I mean she had a transcript ready and going right to that deal is just ridiculous.”
While CNN has defended Crowley, and she has defended herself, for that episode, she has somewhat admitted since then that she was wrong. But the damage was done after the debate.
Romney’s criticism of the way the Brown-Shaheen debate was handled comes as everyone who helped in the false attack on Brown–with the exception of ABC News’ George Stephanopoulos, the debate’s chief moderator–has apologized to Sen. Brown.
“ABC is declining to comment,” ABC News spokeswoman Heather Riley told Breitbart News.
Pindell apologized to Brown on Twitter and on statewide television on his network on Thursday night. The Huffington Post, which originally backed the false attack through a hit piece from reporter Sabrina Siddiqui, has also apologized to Brown and the public for getting its facts wrong as well. Huffington Post politics editor Sam Stein issued that outlet’s apology in a statement to Breitbart News.
Stephanopoulos, the chief moderator of the debate, has not however said anything about this–and has not, as the senior most newsman on the panel, apologized for the false attack on Brown. By not saying anything, Stephanopoulos is refusing to back the public apologies of all the others who mishandled the debate and post-debate coverage.
And while Stephanopoulos and ABC News are refusing to comment or publicly back the apologies to Brown and New Hampshire voters, National Public Radio’s Cokie Roberts–a longtime regular panelist to Stephanopoulos’ This Week ABC News Sunday show–has criticized the moderators of the debate for their handling of this.
Roberts said on MSNBC–after Morning Joe hosts Mika Brzezinski and Joe Scarborough roundly criticized the moderators–that “this is why people hate the press.”
“Having that little guy just sort of ask that same little question over and over again like that and he was just trying to be so smart, and I think he [Scott Brown] handled very it well,” Roberts said. “He didn’t go the Christie route and say ‘enough with Sullivan County.’ He said ‘no, with all due respect,’ and he didn’t get flustered by it. That was the point–the point was to fluster him and show him as a carpetbagger. I think that is the biggest strike against him [Brown]. But it ended up being a much bigger strike against the member of my trade.”
Stephanopoulos failed to disclose to the public before or during the debate that he has several personal conflicts of interest because of his longtime personal and political ties to both Shaheen herself and to Shaheen’s top campaign adviser Mandy Grunwald.
Stephanopoulos personally worked with Grunwald to get Bill Clinton elected to the presidency in 1992 as part of a close-knit group of Democratic operatives.
In addition to that, in 1996–video captured by C-SPAN shows–President Clinton sent Stephanopoulos, then a “senior adviser” to the White House, to New Hampshire to accept the endorsement of Clinton’s re-election campaign by then state Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, among others.
“What a way to return to New Hampshire surrounded by all these women, I’m only sorry I couldn’t come on Valentine’s Day,” a smiling Stephanopoulos said as he accepted emissary Shaheen’s and others’ endorsement for Clinton’s re-election.
Riley, ABC News’ spokeswoman, and Stephanopoulos himself have not responded to multiple requests for comment and several specific questions from Breitbart News about those conflicts of interest over the past several days and in the wake of the debate. But Riley did acknowledge that Stephanopoulos himself received Breitbart News’ press requests before the debate, saying in an email that she handles press requests for Stephanopoulos and that “George just sent me an email you sent him.”
That email had questions for Stephanopoulos about both the 1996 video and his connections to Shaheen’s operative Grunwald.
This mishandling of the Brown-Shaheen debate and the post-debate refusal by Stephanopoulos to back the apologies by his co-moderator could have massive ramifications heading into 2016’s presidential cycle as the Republican National Committee (RNC) and the various GOP presidential candidates start setting debate schedules. Stephanopoulos is widely viewed as having created the “war on women” attack that helped the incumbent Democrat Obama beat Republican Romney by inserting contraception–an issue no one in politics was discussing at the time–into a GOP primary debate.
Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY), a likely 2016 GOP candidate who’s been at the top of many polls for the race, criticized Stephanopoulos in an interview with Breitbart News before the Brown-Shaheen debate.
“I don’t think this would be the first time his [Stephanopoulos’] impartiality has been questioned,” Paul said in the interview. “If you go back to the previous presidential debates, many people have brought up that the whole questioning about birth control was originated as a campaign theme by Stephanopoulos and there’s questions about whether that was done in coordination with Democrats. It’s always hard to have someone be perceived as an objective arbiter on a debate if they spent most of their life as a partisan.”
Before the debate, Brown told Fox News he had “concerns” about Stephanopoulos’ political ties to Shaheen through his Clinton operation days. Shaheen, when asked by Breitbart News to comment on that, refused to do so. “No, no comment,” she said.
Brown on Friday morning accepted the apology of WMUR’s Pindell and said that Shaheen using this issue is an effort to distract voters from the issues of important.
“Well first of all, the panelist apologized,” Brown said at a press conference at the Country Kitchen in Newport, which is in Sullivan County. “He said I was right and he was wrong. I accept his apology and it’s interesting how Senator Shaheen is trying to distract from her record of voting 99 percent of the time with the President. And here is the biggest issues affecting every business, not only in Sullivan County but throughout the entire state. Obamacare with business mandate coming in after the election. The President apologized because he said–he apologized to the people who weren’t able to keep their plans and the like. She has yet to apologize on that very issue. Then we are talking about electric rates. Everything I said was 100 percent accurate. I was encouraged by the fact that he apologized and I certainly accept his apology.”
Shaheen is scheduled to appear in Sullivan County over in the town of Claremont this afternoon, at an event at which she is expected to attempt to capitalize on this.