On last Sunday's Meet The Press, Tom Brokaw closed down the show's Battle of the Campaign Flacks by deflecting the crux of David Axelrod's Iraq-judgement argument with poll numbers that he had at the ready:
MR. AXELROD: What has happened is, as Senator Obama predicted from the beginning, that we got distracted in Iraq and now Osama bin Laden, who was the person who attacked the United States, killed 3,000 American citizens, is now resurgent. He is stronger. And that's the result of the misbegotten decision of John McCain. And he stubbornly wants to continue, even as the Iraqis won't take responsibility, sitting on $79 billion of their own surplus while we spend $10 billion a month. It doesn't make sense. We can't take more of the same, Steve.
MR. BROKAW: In fairness to everybody here, I'm just going to end on one note, and that is that we continue to poll on who's best equipped to be commander in chief, and John McCain continues to lead in that category despite the criticism from Barack Obama by a factor of 53 to 42 percent in our latest NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll.
These numbers sure seemed to blunt Axelrod's argument, but they also seemed to run counter to the polling taken immediately following the "foreign policy debate," in which result after result - in a manner confounding to the press, who initially had settled into the stance that the debate was a "tie" or a slight edge to Senator John McCain (not without exceptions) - indicated that the viewing public favored Senator Barack Obama's performance in the debate. As it turns out, those numbers weren't made up out of whole cloth, but they were certainly out of date.
MoveOn.org researched the matter, and found the polling numbers Brokaw was citing. They weren't in any recent poll conducted by NBC/WSJ. In fact, the recent NBC News/WSJ poll does not even include a question on "who's best equipped to be commander-in-chief." To get those 53-42 numbers, you have got to dial it back to the poll taken September 6-8 - significantly, the poll done after the Republican National Convention - to find those numbers sitting at question 14. The larger picture, of course, is that in head-to-head matchups - in NBC/WSJ now, NBC/WSJ then, all these polls from Sunday - is that those polled prefer Obama.
MoveOn has, naturally, asked Brokaw to apologize.
Brokaw's citation of those "commander-in-chief" numbers thus amount to something more akin to archaeology than reporting, so why'd he do it? Why is he tempting a gotcha-on-video moment from the poltergeist of Tim Russert this Christmas, as the ghosts of Brokaw's past, present, and future parade through his Yuletide nightmares? Maybe it was just an error, or some poor work by a researcher. Or maybe Brokaw was trying to be even-handed since he's appointed himself the personal NBC News handmaiden to the McCain campaign:
Brokaw said he has also conducted some "shuttle diplomacy in recent weeks" between NBC and the McCain campaign.
His mission, he said, was to assure the candidate's aides that -- despite some negative on-air commentary by Mr. Olbermann in particular -- Mr. McCain could still get a fair shake from NBC News. Mr. Brokaw said he had been told by a senior McCain aide, whom he did not name, that the campaign had been reluctant to accept an NBC representative as one of the moderators of the three presidential debates -- until his name was invoked.
"One of the things I was told by this person was that they were so irritated, they said, 'If it's an NBC moderator, for any of these debates, we won't go,' " Mr. Brokaw said. "My name came up, and they said, 'Oh, hell, we have to do it, because it's going to be Brokaw.' "
Shouldn't NBC News' consumers be the ones getting "a fair shake?" Just saying.