CBS characterized "attack" as "unusual position" for McCain -- but it's not, even as he has denounced negative campaigning

››› ››› JULIE MILLICAN

Reporting on Republican presidential candidates' final days of campaigning before the Florida primary, Kelly Cobiella of CBS and John Berman of ABC both noted that John McCain criticized Mitt Romney for attacking opponents who "are moving up and succeeding." Neither, however, reported that McCain has been airing attack ads against Romney even while denouncing negative campaigning.

On the January 29 edition of the CBS Evening News, correspondent Kelly Cobiella reported that Republican presidential candidate Sen. John McCain (AZ) "spent the final days of this race" in the Florida primaries "in an unusual position for the straight talker -- on the attack." In fact, McCain has been launching attacks against Republican rival Mitt Romney since December 2007 -- even while denouncing negative campaigning. Moreover, the evidence Cobiella cited of McCain's being "on the attack" was his criticism of Romney for launching, in McCain's words, "attack ads against me in New Hampshire and in South Carolina." Cobiella went on to report that "McCain says that Romney attacks whichever candidate he sees moving up and succeeding." At no point, however, did Cobiella report that McCain has also been airing attack ads against Romney.

During the same evening's broadcast of ABC's World News with Charles Gibson, in a report about the Florida primaries being held that day, ABC news correspondent John Berman reported that "[w]ith so much on the line here, the leading candidates were getting in their last licks, up until the last minutes." Berman then aired a video clip of Romney attacking McCain and noted, "Mitt Romney implying John McCain is weak on the economy and John McCain implying Mitt Romney is weak on character." He then aired a clip of McCain saying: "It's only been Governor Romney who decides to attack opponents when he thinks that they are moving up and succeeding." At no point did Berman report that McCain was also airing ads that attacked Romney.

On December 28, the McCain campaign announced the release of its TV ad "Consider," which uses a quote from a Concord Monitor editorial that stated, "If a candidate is a phony ... we'll know it. Mitt Romney is such a candidate." Time magazine senior political analyst Mark Halperin reported on his Time.com blog The Page that the ad was the "first negative ad by any candidate besides Romney." In a December 28 post on ABC News' blog Political Radar, Matt Stuart reported that Romney responded to the ad, saying: "It's an attack ad. It attacks me personally. It's nasty. It's mean spirited. Frankly, it tells you more about Sen. McCain than it does about me that he would run an ad like that."

McCain has also criticized Romney in Web ads: "Experience," released January 1; "Foreign Policy Alert," released January 2; "Leadership," released January 4; "Mittsurfing," released January 24; and "A Tale of Two Mitts," released January 28. In the two most recent ads, McCain attacks Romney for allegedly "chang[ing] positions" on issues ranging from his position on "the Bush tax cuts," abortion rights, Second Amendment rights, and even "[o]n being a Republican."

Additionally, the Nashua Telegraph reported on December 18 that McCain "launched an attack -- a direct mail campaign labeling New Hampshire primary front-runner Mitt Romney as a serial flip-flopper that 'voters can't trust.' " The Telegraph added that the "mailing is believed to be the first, campaign-paid flier in New Hampshire by any candidate critical of former Massachusetts Gov. Romney, who holds onto a solid lead in GOP primary polls here."

From the January 29 edition of the CBS Evening News with Katie Couric:

COURIC: Now, Kelly Cobiella with the McCain campaign. And, Kelly, the senator got momentum after winning South Carolina. Now, Florida, though, may be his biggest test to date.

COBIELLA: It really is, Katie, and this is the nation's first closed primary, which means voters have to pick a candidate within their own party. So, for John McCain, it offers not only the chance to claim the title of Republican front-runner, but to prove he can win without the help of independents.

[begin video clip]

COBIELLA: John McCain banked on the backing of military veterans and Cuban-Americans like Alfredo Perez to lift him to the top in Florida.

ALFREDO PEREZ (voter): My choice is basically McCain. To me, he sounds like the most authentic of them all.

COBIELLA: Exit polls show a strong turnout among both groups. Twenty-eight percent of Republican voters were veterans, 13 percent were Hispanic, double the turnout from 2000. Even with last-minute endorsements from a popular governor and Cuban-American senator, McCain couldn't break away from his rival, Mitt Romney. So he spent the final days of this race in an unusual position for the straight talker -- on the attack.

McCAIN: He's spent millions of dollars in attack ads against Governor Huckabee in Iowa. He spent millions of dollars in attack ads against me in New Hampshire and in South Carolina. I mean, that's just the way he campaigns, so we have to respond.

[end video clip]

COBIELLA: And McCain says that Romney attacks whichever candidate he sees moving up and succeeding. Katie.

COURIC: All right, Kelly Cobiella. Kelly, thank you.

From the January 29 edition of ABC's World News with Charles Gibson:

GIBSON: Good evening. Another Tuesday, another critical primary: This time, it's Florida, critical this time for Republicans. Polls throughout the week have indicated it would be won by either John McCain or Mitt Romney, and they have certainly focused their fire on one another. But the outcome is also critical for Rudy Giuliani, who staked the fortunes of his entire campaign on Florida. John Berman is in St. Petersburg tonight -- John.

BERMAN: Charlie, Florida is the biggest state to vote yet. It has the most delegates at stake yet, and it's probably the best predictor yet of who goes on and who goes home.

[begin video clip]

BERMAN: With so much on the line here, the leading candidates were getting in their last licks, up until the last minute.

ROMNEY: One of the candidates out there running for president said that the economy is not his strong suit. Well, it's my strong suit.

BERMAN: Mitt Romney implying John McCain is weak on the economy and John McCain implying Mitt Romney is weak on character.

McCAIN: It's only been Governor Romney who decides to attack opponents when he thinks that they are moving up and succeeding.

BERMAN: There is a lot of empty space at Mitt Romney's one campaign rally today, but the campaign staff is hoping that all the money they spent on ads and organization will get turnout where it counts -- at the polls.

ANNOUNCER [TV ad]: Mitt Romney, business legend --

BERMAN: Just like Iowa, New Hampshire, and Michigan, Mitt Romney spent more money on ads here than his opponents combined. How big is Florida?

ROMNEY: I think there'll probably be two that come out of Florida with the momentum they need to go on and run a campaign on February 5th.

BERMAN: Romney hit on the key reasons Florida is so crucial. First, it may winnow the field. Rudy Giuliani bet his entire campaign on a victory here. With polls showing him a distant third, this might be his last pitch.

GIULIANI: Do not listen to the polls. Look at what happened in New Hampshire. In New Hampshire, Hillary Clinton was supposed to lose by seven or eight points.

BERMAN: The other reason Florida is so big? Super Tuesday is just one week away. Republicans vote in 21 states at once. No candidate has enough money to advertise everywhere. No candidate has enough time to travel everywhere, but a win in Florida gives them momentum.

Network/Outlet
CBS, ABC
Person
Kelly Cobiella, John Berman
Show/Publication
ABC World News Tonight, CBS Evening News
Stories/Interests
John McCain, 2008 Elections
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