Citing his experience, This Week, Fox News Sunday panelists excuse McCain's Al Qaeda-Iran gaffe

››› ››› JEREMY HOLDEN

The Washington Post's George Will asserted that Sen. John McCain's admittedly false claim that Iran is training Al Qaeda is "[n]ot damaging at all" to McCain, "because people say it's a given that this man knows what he's talking about." Similarly, The Chicago Tribune's Jill Zuckman asserted that "I don't think many people believe" "the argument that McCain doesn't know what he's talking about when it comes to foreign policy." But neither Will nor Zuckman noted that McCain has made that error more than once.

During the March 23 edition of ABC's This Week, while discussing Sen. John McCain's admittedly false claim that "Al Qaeda is going back into Iran and receiving training and are coming back into Iraq from Iran," Washington Post columnist George Will asserted that McCain's error was "[n]ot damaging at all, really, because people say it's a given that this man knows what he's talking about." Additionally, during the March 23 edition of Fox Broadcasting Co.'s Fox News Sunday, Chicago Tribune reporter Jill Zuckman asserted: "I thought the most revealing thing that happened with that comment was the Democratic National Committee jumping all over it, making the argument that McCain doesn't know what he's talking about when it comes to foreign policy. And like [Fox News Washington managing editor] Brit [Hume] said, I don't think many people believe that. I mean, the man has traveled all over the world and really prides himself on his relationships with foreign leaders." Neither Will nor Zuckman noted that -- as Media Matters for America has repeatedly documented -- McCain made the claim more than once during the March 18 press conference in Amman, Jordan, and indeed, had made the same misstatement on Hugh Hewitt's nationally syndicated radio show the previous day.

On This Week, after airing a clip of McCain's claim, host George Stephanopoulos asserted: "[H]ad Barack Obama made that error, it would have been a -- not a game-ender, but it would have been very, very damaging." Stephanopoulos then asked Will: "How damaging is it to John McCain?" After Will responded that it is "[n]ot damaging at all," Time's Washington bureau chief Jay Carney said that McCain "had a bad week because of his error, but I think that he'll survive. ... [H]e will be the expert on Iraq in this election, I believe, and that may be a benefit or a detriment."

Likewise, after airing McCain's false claim, Fox News Sunday host Chris Wallace asked Hume whether McCain's gaffe was a "big deal or just a blip." Hume replied: "I think it's probably just a blip, but it was a bigger blip than he wanted or needed at the time." Hume went on to state that "the mistake, nonetheless, raises, not the question about his knowledgeability -- we all kind of believe that he has that -- the question perhaps about his age, which is an issue. ... I mean, the feeling was not that he's a dope, didn't know his way around, that he might have had kind of a senior moment there, and I think that's unfortunate for him." Hume concluded, "But I think probably the trip was in that plus." Zuckman then stated that she doesn't "think many people believe" "the argument that McCain doesn't know what he's talking about when it comes to foreign policy." Wallace then asked her: "But do you think, Jill, there's a danger that if ... certainly not one by itself isn't going to do it -- but if he had two or three of these, that people might begin to have doubts, and the polls indicate there is some who already do, about the idea of a then-72-year-old man taking the oath of office?" Zuckman did not note that McCain had already made this claim three times, but rather said: "My guess is we're never going to see that happen again after this, I'm sure. I saw him do an interview when he was asked about it, and he looked really irritated that it was being brought up. That's a danger. I mean, anything can be used to show, hey, he's 71 years old."

By contrast, later during the Fox News Sunday panel, Fox News contributor and National Public Radio senior correspondent Juan Williams noted, "[O]n the McCain thing, by the way, it's not his age; it's that he ... continues to conflate Al Qaeda and what's going on in Iraq."

From the March 23 edition of ABC's This Week With George Stephanopoulos:

STEPHANOPOULOS: Meanwhile, John McCain, while this was all going on, went overseas. This is supposed to be his big selling point: national security experience. Here's an incident in Jordan, though.

[begin video clip]

McCAIN: Al Qaeda is going back into Iran and receiving training and are coming back into Iraq from Iran. That's well known, and it's unfortunate.

[...]

SEN. JOE LIEBERMAN (I-CT): You said that the Iranians were training Al Qaeda.

McCAIN: I'm sorry.

LIEBERMAN: You meant to say they were training extremists, terrorists.

McCAIN: I'm sorry. The Iranians are training extremists, not Al Qaeda, not Al Qaeda. I'm sorry.

[end video clip]

STEPHANOPOULOS: George Will, had Barack Obama made that error, it would have been a -- not a game-ender, but it would have been very, very damaging. How damaging is it to John McCain?

WILL: Not damaging at all, really, because people say it's a given that this man knows what he's talking about. The problem is, he's not talking about things that people care about right now.

On the war, the country has decided it was a mistake, and they want to get out of it. And -- you know, Eisenhower said in '52, "I will go to Korea to liquidate a bad war." People want John McCain to say, "I will go to Wall Street and pound the table," or do whatever people want to be done, because, right now, they are not concerned with Iraq. They're concerned with other things.

CARNEY: I have to agree with George. He needs to -- like so many Republicans, he loves Teddy Roosevelt -- and he needs emulate Teddy Roosevelt in the malefactors of great wealth and go after Wall Street, make a strong speech on the economy, distinguish himself from this administration, stir things up. He's not done that. And, you know, it -- he had a bad week because of his error, but I think that he'll survive. He is -- he will be the expert on Iraq in this election, I believe, and that may be a benefit or a detriment.

CLAIRE SHIPMAN (ABC News senior national correspondent): I disagree. I think this was an important trip for him in terms of taking his case to the rest of the world and to people here who are watching him on foreign policy, because, obviously, everybody knows where he stands on the war, and that's going to be a problem for a lot of people. But in terms of other issues, and whether he's going to be able to repair our relationships with other countries, I think he was trying to make that case, and in a lot of ways, he didn't.

STEPHANOPOULOS: I agree. He wanted to emphasize, Cynthia, global warming when he went to Great Britain. He -- in all of his stops -- said that he would close down Guantánamo and emphasize his differences with President Bush on torture. But I wonder if that gaffe makes him seem more, in a way, Bush-like, because he's so got Al Qaeda on the brain. It just sort of comes out there and just convinces people, wait, this isn't going to be a change.

CYNTHIA TUCKER (Atlanta Journal-Constitution editorial page editor): Indeed, it does seem to amplify his connections to Bush and Cheney. It was especially the vice president who has, even now, insisted on claiming that Al Qaeda has been in Iraq all along. But it's also true he made the statements about climate change and Guantánamo abroad. He talked about the fact that he doesn't condone torture, but what our allies in Western Europe are looking for is us to say we're getting out of Iraq. They still don't like that. The current British government isn't supportive of our being in Iraq, and the French certainly are not, and he's still there. So, I don't know how that helps him much with those allies.

From the March 23 edition of Fox Broadcasting Co.'s Fox News Sunday:

[begin video clip]

McCAIN: Al Qaeda is going back into Iran and receiving training and are coming back into Iraq from Iran.

[...]

LIEBERMAN: [T]he Iranians were training Al Qaeda.

McCAIN: I'm sorry.

LIEBERMAN: You meant to say they were training extremists, terrorists.

McCAIN: I'm sorry. The Iranians are training extremists, not Al Qaeda.

[end video clip]

WALLACE: That was John McCain with a little help from his friends correcting a mistake he made while visiting the Middle East this week. And we're back now with Brit, Jill, Bill, and Juan. So, a funny thing happened on John McCain's trip to the -- overseas. While he was busy polishing his foreign policy credentials, he made a mistake about Al Qaeda and Iran and had to be corrected by his friend, Joe Lieberman, who was along on the trip with him. Brit: big deal or just a blip?

HUME: I think it's probably just a blip, but it was a bigger blip than he wanted or needed at the time. I think the overall impression of the trip was: This is a man welcomed by, knowledgeable of, and comfortable with, foreign leaders across a big part of the globe. But the mistake, nonetheless, raises, not the question about his knowledgeability -- we all kind of believe that he has that -- the question perhaps about his age, which is an issue, you know, he might -- I mean, the feeling was not that he's a dope, didn't know his way around, that he might have had kind of a senior moment there, and I think that's unfortunate for him. But I think probably the trip was in that plus.

ZUCKMAN: I thought the most revealing thing that happened with that comment was the Democratic National Committee jumping all over it, making the argument that McCain doesn't know what he's talking about when it comes to foreign policy. And like Brit said, I don't think many people believe that. I mean, the man has traveled all over the world and really prides himself on his relationships with foreign leaders.

WALLACE: But do you think, Jill, there's a danger that if -- and I -- certainly not one by itself isn't going to do it -- but if he had two or three of these, that people might begin to have doubts, and the polls indicate there is some who already do, about the idea of a then-72-year-old man taking the oath of office?

ZUCKMAN: My guess is we're never going to see that happen again after this, I'm sure. I saw him do an interview when he was asked about it, and he looked really irritated that it was being brought up. That's a danger. I mean, anything can be used to show, hey, he's 71 years old.

[...]

WILLIAMS: And on the McCain thing, by the way, it's not his age; it's that he keep -- continues to conflate Al Qaeda and what's going on in Iraq.

Posted In
Elections, National Security & Foreign Policy
Network/Outlet
Fox News Channel, ABC
Person
George F. Will, Brit Hume, Jill Zuckerman, Jay Carney
Show/Publication
FOX News Sunday, This Week
Stories/Interests
John McCain, 2008 Elections
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