On CBS, Norah O'Donnell Grills GOP Strategist; Takes Romney's Abortion Quote Out of Context

Norah O'Donnell hounded Republican strategist Mike Murphy on Wednesday's CBS This Morning, repeatedly hinting that Mitt Romney flip-flopped on the issue of abortion during his Tuesday interview with The Des Moines Register. O'Donnell conspicuously failed to mention that during the same interview, Romney promised to "reinstate the Mexico City policy....that foreign aid dollars...would not be used to carry out abortion in other countries." [audio clips available here; video below]

By contrast, the anchor's former employer, NBC, pointed out on Wednesday's Today show that "Romney did say he would instead use an executive order to reinstate a ban on using American foreign aid to fund abortions."

O'Donnell raised her select quote from the Register's editorial board's interview of the Republican presidential nominee in the last minute and a half of the segment with Murphy:

O'DONNELL: ...He [Romney] was talking about abortion rights. And he said this – quote, 'There's no legislation, with regards to abortion, that I'm familiar with that would be part of my agenda.' Then, several hours later, his spokesperson said, 'Governor Romney would, of course, support legislation aimed at providing greater protections for life.' What's with the Mitt Romney positions going back and forth on different issues? He's not on the same page with his own campaign.

Moments before Romney gave this quote, an unknown female member of the newspaper's board asked him about his recent bump in the polls among women voters and what he attributed this to [about 12 minutes, 25 seconds into the full interview]. The former Massachusetts governor not only cited the debate in his answer, but went on the offensive against the Obama campaign's ads, especially one on the issue of abortion:

ROMNEY: ...Over the last several months, he [Obama]...has grossly distorted my views on almost every issue. I mean, there's an ad...being shown in Virginia...which says that I'm opposed to abortion, even in cases of rape and incest, and when the life of the mother is at risk. Well, that's not true. That's not my position. But – but they continue to – to run that and to send mailers out. And so, I think part of the improvement I've seen in support with women has been that I've been able to address women directly - in the debates, in more ads of our own...in telephone town – town hall conferences we have, and describe my actual views, and that – that, I think, is earning me more support.

A member of the board, possibly the same one, followed up by asking, "Do you intend to pursue any legislation, specifically, regarding abortion?" Romney then gave the reply that O'Donnell spotlighted, and continued with his plan to reinstate the Mexico City policy:

ROMNEY: I don't – there's no legislation with regarding – with regards to abortion that I'm familiar with that – that would become part of my agenda. One thing I would change, however, which would be done by executive order - not by legislation - is that I would reinstate the Mexico City policy, which is, that foreign aid dollars from the United States would not be used to carry out abortion in other countries. It's long been our practice here that taxpayer dollars are not to be used to fund abortion in this country. President Obama, on the tenth day of his administration, changed the Mexico City policy to say that abortion services were not prohibited in our foreign aid dollars. I would go back to the original, so-called Mexico City policy.

The board then moved on to the related topic of health insurance coverage of birth control. Note that the Republican didn't say anything about Supreme Court nominees (which would be needed to overturn Roe v. Wade), nor did he give an answer as to whether he would sign pro-life legislation if it reached his desk as president.

But O'Donnell glossed this over completely, and badgered her guest about Romney's supposed flip-flop in giving that answer:

MURPHY: Well, hopefully, the campaign will get on page with him, because I think he's doing great. Here's – here's – this reminds me of back when he was governor-

O'DONNELL: He said, during the Republican primary debates, that he would work to overturn Roe versus Wade, and he would defund Planned Parenthood. Now, he says there's no legislation on abortion rights. Which one is it?

MURPHY: Well, he's pro-life - no doubt about it. I'm sure he would support pro-life legislation. But when he was governor – and he ran as a pro-lifer. People, kind of, forget this. I mean, we did a poll on it. People knew he was pro-life. But what he said to the people in Massachusetts was, look, my focus is going to be the economy. I'm not going to be changing those laws-

O'DONNELL: But Mike, isn't this another one of those issues where Mitt Romney says something, and then, he says something different? What does he truly believe?

MURPHY: Well, I think he-

O'DONNELL: Is he going to go – is he going to be someone who gets into office and supports anti-abortion legislation - yes or no?

MURPHY: Well, you can ask Mitt Romney. What I believe as an analyst- I'm not a campaign-

O'DONNELL: Someone asked him, and he said, no, and then, his spokesperson said –  I mean, I just think it's one of these examples where it's not clear what his position is.

MURPHY: Well, look, the President changes his position on Guantanamo Bay. Politicians all change their position. But I think Romney is - and he would tell you, if he were here - he's pro-life. Does that mean it's the number-one priority of his administration during a time of fiscal crisis? Probably not. You'll have to ask him.

It should be pointed out that the CBS on-air personality took this same tack in her September 13, 2012 interview of Senator Rob Portman, where she insisted that "Republicans...are saying that Governor Romney stepped in it" in his attack over a statement issued by the U.S. embassy in Cairo, Egypt which condemned an anti-Muhammad video that sparked unrest throughout the Islamic world. Before the debate, she repeatedly sounded the death knell for the Romney campaign. Hours after Obama's lackluster performance, O'Donnell latched onto the left's attack on the Republican nominee's Big Bird line, labeling it a "silly thing to bring up." With this kind of a record, the CBS anchor has all the marks of an Obama campaign stenographer. 

— Matthew Balan is a news analyst at the Media Research Center. You can follow him on Twitter here.