Tuesday David Letterman had Brian Williams on his talk show to discuss his "Rock Center" episode devoted to the raid of Osama bin Laden's compound in Pakistan.
Whether talking about Bush/Cheney vs. Obama/Biden foreign policy, the probable reasons we invaded Iraq or the outrageous reaction to the current White House marking the one year anniversary of the capture of Osama bin Laden, Letterman commits more acts of journalism in a single episode than most of the White House Press corps has during their entire careers.
Brian Williams' dramatic and compelling telling of the Osama bin Laden raid story may be found here:
Beneath the orange flourish you can watch the "Late Show with David Letterman" segment and beneath that follows my transcription.
David Letterman: I watched your program on 30 Rock, about the day a year ago, based on the famous photo taken in the Situation Room--
Brian Williams: How about that?
Letterman: Yes, I was... You know and I'll tell you frankly and try not to get me sideways on this. The day after the 9/11 attacks, the number one priority in America if not the world was 'we gotta get bin Laden, we gotta get bin Laden.'
Letterman: So eight years go by. We still haven't gotten bin Laden. George W. Bush says at one point well he doesn't really think too much about bin Laden. In the interim, we invaded Afghanistan and then we invaded Iraq because Cheney wanted to help out his buddies at Brown & Root and Halliburton.
Williams: You're getting a little sideways here.
Letterman: Yeah. (Audience laughter) Okay and grab up all the oil.
Letterman: I think that they went soft on the project because they were worried about worrying their Saudi Arabian royalty buddies there.
Williams: Easy there. (Audience laughter)
Letterman: So now Osama bin Laden is finally gunned down by Barack Obama displaying great courage and great intelligence. What more do you want to lead your country than that kind of courage and that kind of intelligence? (Audience applause.)
Williams: While it's true that two wars post-9/11 had our attention occupied elsewhere and while it's true in every interview I ever conducted with military officers, whether they had stars or a colonel's insignia on their uniforms, they would all say officially 'you know what? We would like to kill him. We would like to find him but it's not our priority right now. What you now find out interviewing everyone in that picture, is that of course it was a priority but it was a renewed priority--
Williams: When President Obama came into office because he inherited a different set of circumstances. Combat was winding down arguably in at least the first, if not the second count.
Letterman: Yes but I think that an argument could be made safely that things in the first term for President Obama are much worse and far more distracting or equally distracting as they were for George W. Bush in terms, so why didn't he go after him?
Williams: And as I put it to the President it was a River Boat Gamble. He had one committee working on bin Laden that gave him no more than a 40% chance that he was home in Abottobad or Abottabing as we refer to it in New Jersey (Audience laughter)--
Letterman: (Laughter) Really? It's Abbotabing?
Williams: And another committee gave it a 60 percent chance that he was home. Now they had satellites parked above and they had a pretty good idea.
Letterman: Even Joe Biden said 'I would not have gone in there.'
Williams: Biden voted against as did others in the--
Letterman: And reasonable people. That's a reasonable position honestly because historically we had hostages in the American uh thing the Embassy--
Williams: That's right in Iran
Letterman: In Iran and the helicopters colliding in the desert.
Williams: It was a terrible, terrible failure.
Williams: Eight killed as a result.
Letterman: So tell me this, how can people--now I know it's all politics--how can people, Republicans and others say 'oh well he's using this as a campaign tool'? He's using this... He's celebrating. And how can they rightly say that, I mean if it had been their guy, you don't think that we would have seen that in campaign ads somewhere?
Williams: It was useful to go back in time to that night a year ago and remember that half of the campuses in the colleges in Washington spontaneously emptied into the streets. We were happy. It was news out of nowhere. When I got the call at home from the White House press office saying 'you should be in the chair.' I though it was Quadaffi.
Williams: We all kind of guessed that the breaking news that would cause the President to go on the air on a Sunday night was Quadaffi. No one was thinking bin Laden.
Letterman: So that's my point. The American public and eight years of Republican Presidency it had gotten to be a fairly faint interest, the pursuit of Osama bin Laden.
Williams: I think we was out there. We'd known what great, terrible harm he brought to us.
Letterman: Remember the Iranian--the Iraqi war? Mission Accomplished. Well holy (expletive delete) the mission was not accomplished. (Audience laughter, applause) It was far from accomplished. They put up a banner on the SS Lincoln aircraft carrier. George flies in a thing. He's got his little flight jacket on. He was very cute. (Audience laughter.)
Williams: Again... (Audience applause)
Letterman: But, you know what I mean? It makes me angry that we can't give this President anything.
Williams: Sideways there a little bit but let's bring it on home now.
Williams: What people saw was the White House marking the first anniversary. What people saw on our part was we had put in a request 'let us recreate that picture.' Let us into that room for the first time ever.
Williams: Let me talk to everybody in that picture. They said yes.
Letterman: And you did and it was fascinating.
Williams: Thank you
Letterman: I'm telling you watch that show and don't get angry at the situation as it stands right now and give me a call because what more do we want this man to do for us, honest to God? (Audience applause)
Williams: And there you have it.