Following other media outlets, NBC, CBS both uncritically air McCain's false, misleading attacks on Obama

››› ››› JULIE MILLICAN

Both the CBS Evening News and NBC's Nightly News repeated accusations by Sen. John McCain regarding Sen. Barack Obama's statements on Pakistan and his commitment to use public financing in the general election, without offering a response from Obama or assessing the accuracy of McCain's allegations.

Following other media outlets that have uncritically reported Sen. John McCain's recent false and misleading attacks on Sen. Barack Obama, on February 20, both NBC's and CBS' evening news broadcasts aired reports in which the reporter simply introduced McCain's attack; aired a clip of McCain making the attack; then characterized that attack or previewed the next attack for the viewers, without offering a response from Obama or assessing the accuracy of McCain's allegations.

On the CBS Evening News, correspondent Nancy Cordes introduced her report by stating: "There may be two Democrats left in this race, but you wouldn't know it by listening to Senator McCain, who's taking withering aim at Barack Obama and his oratory." Cordes then aired a clip of McCain saying: "It's no more than an eloquent but empty call for change that promises no more than a holiday from history and return to the false promises and failed policies of a tired philosophy that trusts in government more than the people." Next, Cordes aired footage of McCain campaign strategist Charles Black explaining the campaign's decision to, in Cordes' words, "singl[e] out Obama" for attack. Continuing, Cordes detailed McCain's "preview of his campaign playbook in an Obama match-up," and went on to note that McCain's strategy was to "point out Obama's relative inexperience, especially in foreign policy"; "highlight Obama's record as the most liberal voter in the Senate"; and "portray the first-term senator as just another politician, not a sensation" by "accus[ing] Obama of backing away from a written pledge to take public financing in the general election."

On NBC's Nightly News, Capitol Hill correspondent Kelly O'Donnell similarly reported that McCain was "turn[ing] up the pressure" on Obama, "accus[ing] Obama of backing away from his pledge to cap campaign spending" and "ma[king] a stinging judgment, saying Obama doesn't grasp the fundamentals [of foreign policy] after Obama talked publicly about his willingness as president to strike terror targets inside Pakistan without telling that government."

However, neither report noted that McCain had distorted Obama's statements regarding Pakistan, or mentioned reports that the United States recently struck at terrorist targets inside Pakistan without seeking approval from that country's government. Further, neither report noted that McCain's campaign had waffled on McCain's own pledge to use public financing in the general election and had obtained a loan in late 2007 under which McCain could be required under certain circumstances to remain an active candidate and apply for federal matching funds in order to repay the loan.

Regarding McCain's attack on Obama for his purported comments about Pakistan: Cordes aired a clip of McCain asserting that Obama said that he was "going to bomb a country without their permission or without consulting them," and O'Donnell reported that McCain offered the "stinging judgment" that "Obama doesn't grasp the fundamentals [of foreign policy]" over what she characterized as Obama's "willingness as president to strike terror targets inside Pakistan without telling that government." However, neither report noted what Obama actually said in an August 1, 2007, foreign policy speech: "If we have actionable intelligence about high-value terrorist targets and [Pakistani] President [Pervez] Musharraf won't act, we will." Contrary to McCain's assertion that Obama said that he was "going to bomb a country without their permission or without consulting them," Obama did not say he would take action against Pakistan -- a fact missing from both reports. He said he would take action against "high-value terrorist targets" inside Pakistan, and only if "President Musharraf won't act." Nor did Obama mention "bombing" or specify what action he would take in that event. Further, Obama did not state that he would take action "without telling" the Pakistani government, as O'Donnell claimed in her report. Indeed, Obama made clear that action would occur only "if we have actionable intelligence about high-value terrorist targets and President Musharraf won't act." Additionally, neither Cordes nor O'Donnell mentioned reports, including one in The Washington Post on February 19, that the United States recently used a CIA Predator aircraft to launch missile strikes inside Pakistan and that "the U.S. spy agency did not seek approval" from the Pakistani government.

Regarding McCain's attack on Obama over public campaign financing, neither report noted that the McCain campaign recently reportedly waffled on his reported commitment to accepting public financing in the general election.

In addition, neither Cordes nor O'Donnell reported that McCain's campaign obtained a loan in late 2007 that could have required McCain to remain an active candidate and apply for federal matching funds in order to repay the loan. In other words, while O'Donnell and Cordes, respectively, reported that McCain used the public funding issue as "a way to challenge Barack Obama's credibility" and to "portray the first-term senator as just another politician, not a sensation," they did not mention that McCain had entered into a loan contract in which he was agreeing to remain a candidate under certain circumstances, even if he had no chance of winning, to qualify for public money to pay back the loan.

Finally, Cordes simply asserted in her report that Obama had a "record as the most liberal voter in the Senate." She did not cite a source for this claim, which was presumably the National Journal's 2007 vote ratings. In addition, Cordes did not note that among the votes that purportedly earned Obama the Journal's "most liberal senator" label included his votes to implement the bipartisan 9-11 Commission's homeland security recommendations, provide more children with health insurance, expand federal funding for embryonic stem-cell research, and maintain a federal minimum wage. Nor did Cordes mention that a highly respected study by political science professors Keith Poole and Jeff Lewis ranked Obama as tied with Sen. Joe Biden (D-DE) as the 10th most liberal senator in 2007.

From the February 20 broadcast of the CBS Evening News with Katie Couric:

COURIC: Tonight, McCain's the presumptive GOP nominee, and he's focusing his fire on Barack Obama. Nancy Cordes now with that story.

[begin video clip]

CORDES: There may be two Democrats left in this race, but you wouldn't know it by listening to Senator McCain, who's taking withering aim at Barack Obama and his oratory.

McCAIN: It's no more than an eloquent but empty call for change that promises no more than a holiday from history and return to the false promises and failed policies of a tired philosophy that trusts in government more than the people.

CORDES: That's pretty harsh criticism.

BLACK: Well, it's not harsh. I thought it was actually pretty polite.

CORDES: Charlie Black is a senior aide to McCain. He says there's a very simple reason why they're singling out Obama.

BLACK: But we'll be prepared to run against either. Since Senator Obama has been on a winning streak and has been dominating the news, we have decided to address our differences with him.

CORDES: And so, McCain today gave a preview of his campaign playbook in an Obama match-up.

McCAIN: You don't broadcast and say that you're going to bomb a country without their permission or without consulting them.

CORDES: First, point out Obama's relative inexperience, especially in foreign policy. Second, highlight Obama's record as the most liberal voter in the Senate. Third, portray the first-term senator as just another politician, not a sensation.

Today, McCain accused Obama of backing away from a written pledge to take public financing in the general election.

McCAIN: I'll keep my word. I want him to keep his.

CORDES: On Monday, Michelle Obama said she was feeling pride in her country for the first time in her adult life. Cindy McCain responded sharply.

CINDY McCAIN (John McCain's wife): I'm proud of my country. I don't know about you.

CORDES: That criticism from McCain's corner and elsewhere compelled Mrs. Obama to clarify today.

MICHELLE OBAMA (Barack Obama's wife): So let me tell you something: I am proud. I'm proud of this country and I'm proud of the fact that people are ready to roll up their sleeves and do something phenomenal.

[end video clip]

CORDES: The McCain campaign says it isn't counting [Sen. Hillary] Clinton out, not by a long shot. If she wins in Texas and Ohio, Katie, they say they'll reassess their strategy.

COURIC: All right, Nancy Cordes in snowy Washington. Thank you, Nancy.

From the February 20 broadcast of NBC's Nightly News with Brian Williams:

O'DONNELL: Hello to you, Brian. And as the Democrats are still sorting things out, John McCain really saw an opening today to turn up the pressure on Barack Obama by using an Obama campaign theme against him.

[begin video clip]

O'DONNELL: Before John McCain visited voters at an Ohio dairy farm today, he found a way to challenge Barack Obama's credibility with a very familiar word.

OBAMA: Something has to change.

O'DONNELL: McCain played off that idea to accuse Obama of backing away from his pledge to cap campaign spending by using only a set amount of taxpayer financing if he's the nominee.

McCAIN: And I think the American people would expect him to hold to that commitment, especially if we want to bring about change.

O'DONNELL: McCain was riled by a piece Obama wrote for USA Today where Obama did not say he would take the taxpayer financing, but suggested starting negotiations to figure out a limit on private fundraising.

McCAIN: And that's Washington doublespeak. I committed to public financing. He committed to public financing.

O'DONNELL: McCain turned to foreign policy and made a stinging judgment, saying Obama doesn't grasp the fundamentals after Obama talked publicly about his willingness as president to strike terror targets inside Pakistan without telling that government.

McCAIN: Well, the best idea is to not broadcast what you're going to do. That's naïve.

[end video clip]

O'DONNELL: And, of course, Senator Obama is still involved in the contest with Senator Clinton, but we've already seen signs that he's willing to talk about what John McCain thinks on issues ranging from the war, health care, and the economy. So, clearly, Obama and McCain are ready to engage each other -- Brian.

Network/Outlet
CBS, NBC
Person
Kelly O'Donnell, Nancy Cordes
Show/Publication
CBS Evening News, NBC Nightly News
Stories/Interests
Barack Obama, John McCain, 2008 Elections
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