During a washingtonpost.com online discussion, Howard Kurtz falsely claimed that Sen. John McCain did not use his military service in television advertising during his failed 2000 presidential campaign. In fact, Kurtz's own reporting during the 2000 Republican presidential primary campaign contradicts his statement.
During a March 31 washingtonpost.com online discussion, in response to a question about whether Sen. John McCain "trots" out his "military service and years as a POW ... a bit too often," Washington Post media critic Howard Kurtz falsely claimed that McCain did not use his military service in television advertising during his failed 2000 presidential campaign. Kurtz wrote: "Unlike in 2000, he's now used it in some of his TV advertising, and obviously it comes up again in his biography tour this week." In fact, Kurtz's own reporting during the 2000 Republican presidential primary campaign contradicts his statement.
In at least six instances, Kurtz reported that the McCain campaign highlighted his experience in Vietnam in campaign advertisements during his 2000 race:
- In an October 28, 1999, Washington Post article, Kurtz and staff writer Dan Balz wrote that McCain "is launching his first television ad today in New Hampshire, a commercial describing him as the presidential candidate with 'more courage.' ... McCain's 60-second ad, opening with vivid footage from his 5 1/2-year captivity in North Vietnam, portrays him as a fighter who stands up to special interests."
- On the December 27, 1999, edition of CNN's Inside Politics, during a segment about campaign advertising, Kurtz stated: "John McCain was a prisoner of war in North Vietnam, and his ads use chilling pictures to convey his harrowing ordeal." CNN then aired a clip from a "McCain campaign ad" in which the narrator states: "He was a young Navy pilot who volunteered for duty in Vietnam and was shot down over Hanoi. Lieutenant Commander John McCain, dragged off by an angry mob. ... His commitment to country is unquestioned, and his commitment to reducing wasteful spending is just as strong." During the segment, Kurtz said: "McCain's challenge is to connect his war-hero past to his candidacy, so he portrays himself as a fighter."
- In a February 12, 2000, Washington Post article, Kurtz wrote: "After an internal debate, McCain yesterday made a great show of announcing that he is withdrawing his negative ads in favor of a new spot that recalls how he 'stood up to his communist captors' in Vietnam."
- In a February 20, 2000, Washington Post article, Kurtz wrote that "[i]n Michigan, McCain has run ads that highlight his background as a Navy pilot shot down in Vietnam. The ads attack the 'special interests' and declare McCain 'ready to lead.' "
- On the February 20, 2000, edition of CNN's Sunday Morning, during a segment on campaign advertising, Kurtz said that after McCain pledged to stop running negative ads against opponent George W. Bush, McCain "went back to his war hero biography." CNN then aired a clip from a McCain campaign ad in which a narrator states: "In Vietnam, John McCain stood up to his Communist captors."
- In a March 12, 2000, Washington Post article, Kurtz reported that McCain advisers Mike "Murphy, [John] Weaver, and [Mark] Salter stayed on the [McCain campaign] bus to look at a positive ad that stressed McCain's Vietnam service. Murphy suggested that McCain ambush Bush at an event, challenging the governor [George W. Bush] to take down his negative ads."
From the March 31 washingtonpost.com online discussion:
Rhode Island: With all due respect to Sen. McCain's military service and years as a POW, is there a danger that he trots this out a bit too often? Nobody doubts his patriotism, but it seems in every news snippet I see, he's managing to work in a reference to his Vietnam-era service in a pseudo-humble way (along the lines of "we need to stand firm in the face of difficult circumstances -- I know a little something about that").
Howard Kurtz: Unlike in 2000, he's now used it in some of his TV advertising, and obviously it comes up again in his biography tour this week. It doesn't hurt McCain to remind people of his military service or his 5-1/2-year captivity in Hanoi, but as John Kerry learned four years ago, past heroism in a war does not necessarily help you get elected. Voters ultimately will make a judgment on what McCain can do over the next four years as opposed to what he did in Vietnam.
From the October 28, 1999, Washington Post article:
Arizona Sen. John McCain, determined to keep pace with his better-financed Republican rivals, is launching his first television ad today in New Hampshire, a commercial describing him as the presidential candidate with "more courage."
The move follows a decision by McCain, who has about $ 2 million in the bank, a fraction of the sums available to Texas Gov. George W. Bush and Steve Forbes, to speed up his advertising timetable by two weeks. Aides say he is trying to capitalize on his recent gains in New Hampshire polls and avoid being drowned out by Bush's commercials, which began Monday, and Forbes's next wave of spots.
McCain's 60-second ad, opening with vivid footage from his 5 1/2-year captivity in North Vietnam, portrays him as a fighter who stands up to special interests.
Greg Stevens, the senator's media adviser, said the commercial shows how McCain's saga "connects with the qualities people are looking for in a president. People know he's a former POW; they know he's a maverick; they know he has taken on the establishment. What the advertising does is put it all together."
McCain, who has been promoting his best-selling autobiography, in recent weeks has appeared on "Meet the Press," "This Week," "Good Morning America," "Hardball," "Equal Time" and a host of other shows. Ed Gillespie, a GOP strategist, said McCain is adept at drawing media attention but also needs to join the air wars. "He can't match Bush or Forbes point for point, but you have to get up with whatever you can because it does help to define you," Gillespie said, adding that such ads in turn attract free media coverage.
From the December 27, 1999, edition of CNN's Inside Politics:
BERNARD SHAW, HOST: Most of the current White House hopefuls have been running campaign ads for weeks or even months. By way of contrast, in the final week of 1995, the '96 campaign ad war was, for the most part, just getting under way. Then and now candidates have often used commercials to try to improve their image or undermine their opponents.
Howard Kurtz of CNN's "RELIABLE SOURCES" takes a look at some defining moments on the airwaves in recent weeks.
FORBES: I propose removing all the taxes and penalties from Social Security benefits because you've already paid the tax during your working life.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: John McCain was a prisoner of war in North Vietnam, and his ads use chilling pictures to convey his harrowing ordeal.
NARRATOR: He was a young Navy pilot who volunteered for duty in Vietnam and was shot down over Hanoi. Lieutenant Commander John McCain, dragged off by an angry mob.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
NARRATOR: His commitment to country is unquestioned, and his commitment to reducing wasteful spending is just as strong.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: Many candidates complain about having to raise huge sums to pay for these commercials. But nobody can afford not to play the game, which is why these images are blanketing Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina. What's not so clear is whether the messages will turn negative as the race heats up -- Bernie.
From the February 12, 2000, Washington Post article:
While the Arizona senator has aired only negative ads this week, says McCain strategist Mike Murphy, "the wider story is what the fight's about, and that resonates. It's about whether the Bush machine can stop the reformer, and that is not a bad narrative for us. Everyone knows that the Bush negative ads and trash-talk assault are a result of his drubbing in the New Hampshire primary."
Bush, like McCain, says he's merely defending his honor. "This is never the preferred approach," says Ari Fleischer, a spokesman for the Texas governor. "But you cannot let somebody misrepresent your position to voters and walk away. Otherwise, what happened to Bill Bradley will happen to Governor Bush."
After an internal debate, McCain yesterday made a great show of announcing that he is withdrawing his negative ads in favor of a new spot that recalls how he "stood up to his communist captors" in Vietnam.
The descent into insults and invective has been all the more dramatic because it followed months of gentle jousting in which McCain and Bush referred to each other as good friends (though they had met only a few times before the campaign). Then came New Hampshire, and the charges and countercharges became one great blur.
Bush ran an ad saying McCain would tax $ 40 billion in employee fringe benefits. McCain ran an ad accusing Bush of breaking a handshake agreement not to run negative ads. Bush ran a negative ad accusing McCain of violating the pledge. McCain ran an ad saying that Bush twists the truth like President Clinton. (Wait, there's more.) Bush ran an ad saying that McCain's tax plan would hurt churches. McCain denied that he would hurt churches and called Bush the unwitting pawn of special interests. Bush called McCain a liar. McCain said they should both yank their negative ads. Bush said he wouldn't because McCain's were worse. Bush stood beside a renegade veteran who accused McCain of abandoning veterans. McCain said that was just sad.
From the February 20, 2000, Washington Post article:
Well before the South Carolina votes were cast, Texas Gov. George W. Bush and Arizona Sen. John McCain were advertising heavily in Michigan and other key states that hold primaries over the next 2 1/2 weeks.
The $ 70 million Bush campaign has aired commercials in California, Arizona, Washington, North Dakota and Virginia, including stations in the District. McCain, while running no television ads in his home state of Arizona, where he is ahead in the polls, is on the airwaves in California, Washington and Virginia.
In Michigan, McCain has run ads that highlight his background as a Navy pilot shot down in Vietnam. The ads attack the "special interests" and declare McCain "ready to lead." Bush recently switched to a spot accusing McCain of opposing "real reform" on campaign financing and calling it "disappointing" that McCain is running a negative campaign.
In a sign of Michigan's importance, both campaigns have been running ads there since late December. The Bush camp says it expects to spend as much as $ 2.6 million on advertising in Michigan, with McCain at close to $ 2 million. This would be a larger spending gap than in South Carolina, where the Bush camp says it spent $ 3.1 million on the airwaves, compared with $ 2.8 million for McCain.
From the February 20, 2000, edition of CNN's Sunday Morning:
MILES O'BRIEN, HOST: George W. Bush and John McCain aren't wasting any time. After Bush's big South Carolina victory over McCain, both flew to Michigan, which holds its primary Tuesday. Bush started campaigning immediately, complaining about some radio ads that criticize him.
On the matter of campaign ads, South Carolina voters told exit pollsters they regarded McCain as more negative than Bush.
Howard Kurtz of CNN's "RELIABLE SOURCES" takes a look.
KURTZ: Last week, McCain declared that he was getting off the low road.
McCAIN: We will run no attack, response, or any other kind of negative advertising.
KURTZ: Instead, the Arizona senator went back to his war hero biography.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, McCAIN CAMPAIGN AD)
UNIDENTIFIED NARRATOR: In Vietnam, John McCain stood up to his Communist captors.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: Bush, meanwhile, has stayed on the offensive.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, BUSH CAMPAIGN AD)
UNIDENTIFIED NARRATOR: Senator McCain, five times he voted to use your taxes to pay for political campaigns. That's not real reform.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
From the March 12, 2000, Washington Post article:
But as Bush seized on Murphy's spot to launch a new round of attack ads, the press began covering them like two squabbling politicians. Schnur thought the Clinton ad was a mistake. McInturff had them sinking in the polls, and Davis and Stevens were extremely concerned. Their reform message was being drowned out.
On Thursday, Feb. 10, while McCain was holding a town meeting, Murphy, Weaver and Salter stayed on the bus to look at a positive ad that stressed McCain's Vietnam service. Murphy suggested that McCain ambush Bush at an event, challenging the governor to take down his negative ads.
But when McCain got back on the bus, he was visibly upset. A woman in the audience had told him that her Boy Scout son had received a call in which McCain was described as a liar and a fraud. He decided to announce that he was yanking his negative spots for good.
On Friday, Murphy was stunned to discover that the Pentagon had slashed the air time for his Clinton ad the previous Tuesday without telling him. Rick Davis said everyone had known the ad schedule and perhaps Murph was out of the loop. But Murphy felt saddled with the worst of both worlds: Bush was pummeling them over an attack ad that almost no one had seen.
Murphy, meanwhile, peeled off in New York to sign a deal to sell his consulting firm to Interpublic Group. He was now worth millions of dollars. But he had no time to savor the moment.