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Obama vs. Watson: The unabridged WFAA8 video tells a fuller, different story

WFAA8's Brad Watson introduces story on Monday's 10 p.m. news. Photo: Ed Bark

The on-air edited versions of "reality" series -- or in this case a sit-down interview with a U.S. president -- can often create quite a different perception than the untouched raw footage.

Such is the case with WFAA8 Brad Watson's one-on-one-interview Monday with President Obama, which has received wide exposure and reaction nationally after the station billed it as "tense" at times.

An earlier post in these spaces mostly sided with Watson's comportment. National outlets, ranging from Fox News Channel's The O'Reilly Factor to The Drudge Report to The Huffington Post, have seized on the reporter's observation (during Monday's 10 p.m. newscast) that "after the interview, Mr. Obama pointed out that he doesn't like an interviewer challenging his comments."

As evidence, WFAA8 rolled post-interview footage of Obama saying, "Let me finish my answers next time we're doing an interview."

Raw video of the entire interview, later posted on wfaa.com, shows that Watson was hardly a provocateur. In fact, if anything he stifled himself, as an "alternate angle" with the camera on Watson clearly shows. The entire nine minute, 10 second interview also is shown with the camera on the president.

Watson and WFAA8 news director Michael Valentine both declined to talk further about the interview Wednesday.

"Thanks for the offer, but not doing interviews at this time," Watson said in an email reply.

"I am going to pass," Valentine said, also via email. "We posted the raw footage so people would have the full context of the interview. I will let our work speak for itself."

In this view, that's an ill-considered position for a media company to take on a story that's created such a national stir. But it's all too typical, too, so let's just go to the full videotape.

Watson did err in telling viewers on camera that he had just seven minutes with Obama, who also did one-on-ones Monday with three other local TV stations from around the country. In fact he had just over nine minutes. But the president consumed two minutes with his first answer after Watson asked how he plans to sell his administration's "deficit reduction" plan to Texans.

Obama basically gave an all-purpose, rote answer, without any interruptions by Watson. He once started to interject, but didn't. After Obama had finished, Watson noted that the "political backdrop is very difficult" in Texas before pointedly asking, "Why do you think you're so unpopular in Texas?"

This eventually led to the president contending that he had lost the presidential contest in Texas by just a "few percentage points" before Watson bluntly but correctly told him, "Well, you lost by about 10."

Obama then continued at length while Watson duly listened. Then came the nationally seized upon question about the space shuttle orbiters and how both Democrats and Republicans, in Watson's view, suspected that Obama had awarded them to "states that would help in the president's reelection." Houston, rich in NASA history, thus was left out. (Sources say that this question was asked in deference to Houston's KHOU-TV, which like WFAA8 is owned by Belo Corp.).

"That's wrong," the president said, cutting into Watson's question before it was fully asked.

"No, that's wrong," Obama repeated, again before Watson had finished.

"I just said that was wrong," the president said for a third time after Watson had completed his query. A commission made the decisions, and the White House had nothing to do with it, Obama added.

"And you weren't personally involved in the decision," Watson rejoined.

"I just said that wasn't true," the president said.

"All right," Watson said before moving on to some of Texas Gov. Rick Perry's criticisms of the Obama administration.

WFAA8's edited presentation of space shuttle orbiter-gate perhaps did Watson a disservice by making him appear to be more contentious than he in fact was. Obama did the interrupting, not Watson. And the reporter quickly moved on, even if his station might well have provided viewers with a different impression.

Obama was allowed to rebut Perry at length when he chose to do so. Watson sat and listened to the point where there was just one minute, 43 seconds remaining of his sit-down with the president.

"In our time left," he said, "Is a bill (on immigration reform) dead for the rest of your term?"

No, it isn't Obama said, before starting to recite his administration's accomplishments regarding "border enforcement."

"Will you actively push a bill in the next year and a half?" Watson interjected.

This is where Obama clearly took offense, pausing for effect before resuming with his answer. He continued until Watson had just 33 seconds left in his tank. The president then was asked if he would actively campaign in Texas for reelection or whether he had written the state off.

"I never write off any states," Obama began.

"You're not going to write off . . .?" Watson asked.

"I never write off states, and I love Texas," the president reiterated. "Every time I go down there I have a great time."

"You have big crowds," Watson told him.

"Absolutely," Obama agreed.

"But you'll come to campaign, or just fund-raise?" Watson asked.

"I'm going to have a great time in Texas," the president assured him before each thanked the other.

It was then that Obama initially whispered, "Let me finish my questions" before correcting himself and saying in a fuller voice, "Let me finish my answers next time we do an interview."

"All right, sir. Thank you," Watson said as the video ended.

Numerous news outlets have seized on Obama's closing rebuke to Watson, which WFAA8 also milked. But in reality, Watson asked concise and sometimes pointed questions with the full realization that his time was precious and that allowing the president to simply run out the shot clock would not justify the expense of his station sending him to Washington.

But nowhere, as this raw tape shows, did Watson misbehave or grandstand. Unfortunately for him, WFAA8 created something of a mis-impression with the edited version of the interview that aired on the 10 p.m. newscast. In defense of the editors, which may well have included Watson, you underscore the flashpoints of any interview in order to pique viewer interest. So that's what happened -- before various national outlets pounced, dissected and came down either for Obama or against Watson. Unfortunately, but not surprisingly, their own political biases tended to heavily influence where they stood.

Here's the full video. The version that aired on Monday's 10 p.m. newscast was earlier posted here.