PHILADELPHIA, Pa. — ABC News has produced some of the toughest reporting on Barack Obama and at the Thursday debate ABC moderators Charlie Gibson and George Stephanopoulos gave Obama the full front-runner treatment: a rare going over with questions about Rev. Jeremiah Wright, William Ayers, wearing flag pins, those “bitter” comments and gun control views Obama held as a 1996 Illinois state Senate candidate.
Hillary Rodham Clinton had her own explaining to do — over her wrong claim she landed in Bosnia under sniper fire. But for a good chunk of the debate Obama was on the defensive. If Clinton complained that in prior debates she got all the hard questions, Obama got his share and more at the debate.
This was the first debate in seven weeks, and the first since two damaging events hit the Obama campaign, the surfacing of comments by Wright, the ex-pastor of Obama’s church, and Obama’s remarks at a San Francisco fund-raiser about “bitter” down-and-out Pennsylvanians who cling to God and guns.
If Obama does become the Democratic nominee—highly likely, even if he does not do well in the April 22 Democratic primary — Thursday’s debate could be seen as a preview of what Obama will be hit with by the Republicans.
That Obama would be grilled about Wright, wearing a flag pin and the “bitter” controversy was predictable.
What was unanticipated was how Gibson and Stephanopoulous pressed Obama over his association with William Ayers and that they would press Obama about his support for gun control in a questionnaire filled out for the Independent Voters of Illinois-Independent Precinct Organization in 1996.
Though there had been a few stories about Ayers and a perceived change on guns — a big issue for Pennsylvania with its large NRA membership — the Clinton campaign had been frustrated that more of the mainstream press was not covering these two matters.
Ayers is a former member of the Weather Underground — as was his wife, Bernardine Dohrn. After years on the lam from the authorities, they returned to Chicago years ago, settled in Hyde Park, and went on to become members of high standing in certain civic circles in town.
Ayers is a noted education specialist at the University of Illinois at Chicago. But to Fox News — which has relentlessly been playing up Obama’s associations with Ayers — Ayers is an unrepentant terrorist. Obama made it seem like he barely knew him, though they bother served on Chicago's Woods Fund board.
Obama did well in defending himself. It’s just that he’ll have to be doing it now again and again.