On the August 27 Chris Matthews Show, panelists Elisabeth Bumiller, Howard Fineman, and Michael Duffy failed to note Sen. John McCain's history of conflicting statements on President Bush's Iraq policy and on Donald Rumsfeld's performance as secretary of defense.
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On the August 27 edition of the NBC-syndicated Chris Matthews Show, host Chris Matthews led a panel discussion about Sen. John McCain's (R-AZ) support for the Bush administration's Iraq war policies, asserting that McCain "has stuck to his guns and to an increasingly unpopular President Bush" and suggesting that McCain "seem[s] to be more authentic than other politicians." By contrast, New York Times reporter Elisabeth Bumiller asserted that McCain "has been really, really tough on the president." Bumiller cited McCain's push for the "torture amendment," adding that McCain had "really pushed the White House into a corner on that." Newsweek chief political correspondent Howard Fineman agreed that McCain has criticized the administration's treatment of detainees "brilliantly from the base of strong, unshakable conceptual support for the idea." Time magazine assistant managing editor Michael Duffy presented yet another view of McCain's positioning on the war, calling McCain "one of the president's biggest critics on the war even as he has supported him" and claimed that McCain has been "leading the way on saying [Defense Secretary Donald H.] Rumsfeld essentially needs to go." Even while characterizing McCain's public positions on the war very differently, the panelists did not take issue with Matthews's suggestion about McCain's seeming authenticity, and none noted the inconsistent statements McCain himself has made about the war, President Bush, and Rumsfeld.
While McCain has often criticized the White House's handling of the conflict, as he did at an August 22 campaign event for Sen. Mike DeWine (R-OH), McCain has also repeatedly defended the Bush administration's credibility on the Iraq war, as Matthews suggested and as Media Matters for America has noted. For instance, as recently as July 25, McCain said President Bush "has tried to emphasize this [the Iraq war] is very tough." As Media Matters also noted, McCain appeared to backpedal from his August 22 criticism of the overly optimistic portrayal of the war drawn by Bush and senior members of his administration. On August 25, McCain released a statement in which he "commend[ed] the President for his public statements offering Americans an honest assessment of the progress we have made in Iraq and the challenges that still confront us there, and, of course, for his determination to defend American security and international peace and stability by succeeding in this arduous and costly enterprise."
Further, McCain has been inconsistent in his criticism of Rumsfeld. Contrary to Duffy's claim that McCain has been "leading the way" in calling for Rumsfeld's resignation, McCain has repeatedly stopped short of doing so when voicing criticism of Rumsfeld's prosecution of the war. In December 2004, McCain told the Associated Press that he had "no confidence" in Rumsfeld, adding, "I have strenuously argued for larger troop numbers in Iraq, including the right kind of troops -- linguists, special forces, civil affairs, etc. ... There are very strong differences of opinion between myself and Secretary Rumsfeld on that issue." The AP also asked McCain whether Rumsfeld constituted a liability to the administration, to which McCain replied, "The president can decide that, not me." The Hill newspaper reported in April 2006 that McCain, a senior member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, supported the idea of holding hearings concerning Rumsfeld's performance, but only on the condition that testimony be balanced between supporters and detractors. The Hill noted that McCain never recommended that Rumsfeld resign, stating instead that the decision was Bush's.
As Media Matters noted separately, Matthews also asked his panel of guests during the August 27 program, "Why does the media like McCain? What's going on here? Does he seem to be more authentic than other politicians?" In response, MSNBC chief Washington correspondent and NBC Today correspondent Norah O'Donnell said, "[S]ometimes people criticize the media for 'liking' John McCain, but I think, quite frankly, if there's any sort of affection, it's because he actually gives us some access." Later, Bumiller added, "[T]here also is his personality. ... [P]eople seem to like John McCain in sort of the same way they liked [George W.] Bush back in 2000 before everything else happened."
From the August 27 edition of the NBC-syndicated Chris Matthews Show:
MATTHEWS: Welcome back. True believer. As more Americans turn against the war in Iraq, Senator John McCain has stuck to his guns and to an increasingly unpopular President Bush.
McCAIN [video clip]: If we leave there, there's a lot of chaos is going to ensue, and the same people that are doing the bad things in Iraq today will want to continue their terrorist activities. "Stuff happens, mission accomplished, last throes, few dead-enders." I'm as -- more familiar with those statements than anyone else because it grieves me so much that we have not told the American people how tough and difficult this task would be.
MATTHEWS: You know, Mike, so many times in politics, you think one guy's more left than the other, it turns out his voting record doesn't square with that. It's just the way they present themselves. Even though John McCain is as hawkish as Bush, let me be blunt here -- he does come across as more sophisticated, sharper, more aware of what he's talking about, about military issues. Does that protect him?
DUFFY: Sure. He's a Vietnam veteran, he's been one of the president's biggest critics on the war even as he has supported him.
DUFFY: Saying, "You don't have enough troops," and "I don't have any confidence in Rumsfeld." He's been leading the way on saying Rumsfeld essentially needs to go. Plus, he's about to have a son go into the Marine Corps who could be deployed at any minute --
MATTHEWS: As an enlisted guy.
DUFFY: As an enlisted guy, so he's going to have -- he's going to have three layers of credibility on the war going into this race.
MATTHEWS: He's got a son coming out of [the U.S. Naval Academy in] Annapolis [Maryland], too.
MATTHEWS: He's all over the place.
O'DONNELL: Right. And it was so fascinating about learning relatives of members of Congress who have family involved in the Iraq war. Other words, Senator McCain now has two of his boys that will be involved in fighting the war on terror, being in the military. Someone at the White House said they can't think of anybody at senior levels at the White House who has a family member involved in the war.
BUMILLER: And don't forget, when he -- and he has been really, really tough on the president. Don't forget about the torture amendment. He led the way on the --
BUMILLER: -- on, you know, "We don't torture prisoners," and really pushed the White House to into a corner on that.
FINEMAN: And he's done brilliantly -- he's done it brilliantly from the base of strong, unshakable conceptual support for the idea.
MATTHEWS: Why does the media --
FINEMAN: Because he uses his military expertise.
MATTHEWS: Why does the media -- I want to ask a very relevant question --
MATTHEWS: -- after listening to the four of you. Why does the media like McCain? What's going on here? Does he seem to be more authentic than other politicians?
FINEMAN: Well, I think part of it on this -- part of it on this specific thing, he knows what he's talking about. He clearly has a lot of experience, militarily, from the inside out on the Armed Services Committee.