Despite McCain's numerous falsehoods, CNN's Blitzer and Borger repeat "maverick" and "straight-talker" characterizations of McCain

››› ››› MARK BOCHKIS

On Late Edition, Wolf Blitzer stated that Sen. John McCain uses "his reputation out there as an independent, sometimes described as a maverick" to woo voters. In response, Gloria Borger said: "I think he's going to do it by saying that 'I'm a straight-talker; I tell the truth. You may not agree with me, but you ought to believe what I say.' " But as Media Matters has documented, contrary to his media-promoted image as a "straight-talker," McCain has promulgated numerous falsehoods in his campaign.

While discussing Sen. John McCain's campaign strategy on the April 20 edition of CNN's Late Edition, host Wolf Blitzer stated that McCain uses "his reputation out there as an independent, sometimes described as a maverick" to woo voters. In response, CNN senior political analyst Gloria Borger said: "I think he's going to do it by saying that 'I'm a straight-talker; I tell the truth. You may not agree with me, but you ought to believe what I say.' And that is, you know, that is one of the keys to his success. And if he remains true to that, he may convince some of those independent voters." But as Media Matters for America has documented, contrary to his media-promoted image as a "straight-talker," McCain has promulgated numerous falsehoods in his campaign.

Indeed, just the day before, The New York Times reported that McCain "went beyond what he usually says and what his foreign policy advisers believe" when he said of Al Qaeda in February, "My friends, if we left, they wouldn't be establishing a base. They'd be taking a country, and I'm not going to allow that to happen." The April 19 Times article, by Michael Cooper and Larry Rohter, noted that McCain made the assertion while commenting on Sen. Barack Obama's statement during the February 26 Democratic presidential debate that "if Al Qaeda is forming a base in Iraq, then we will have to act in a way that secures the American homeland and our interests abroad. So that is true, I think, not just in Iraq, but that's true in other places. That's part of my argument with respect to Pakistan." The Times article reported that "[f]ew, including Mr. McCain, expect Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia, a Sunni group, to take control of Shiite-dominated Iraq in the event of an American withdrawal." Rather, "[t]he situation they fear and which Mr. McCain himself sometimes fleshes out is that an American withdrawal would be celebrated as a triumph by Al Qaeda and create instability that the group could then exploit to become more powerful." The article then quoted both McCain and a senior McCain adviser predicting that Al Qaeda in Iraq would not necessarily "take a country" if the United States pulled out:

"Al Qaeda in Iraq would proclaim victory and increase its efforts to provoke sectarian tensions, pushing for a full-scale civil war that could descend into genocide and destabilize the Middle East," Mr. McCain said this month. "Iraq would become a failed state. It could become a haven for terrorists to train and plan their operations."

Randy Scheunemann, Mr. McCain's senior foreign policy adviser, said during a recent conference call with reporters that in the event of an American pullout, "you might not necessarily see a single entity taking charge." But such a withdrawal could empower Shiite militias in the south and Kurds in the north, leaving Al Qaeda "free to try to impose its will" and lead to increased sectarian violence that "would be very likely to draw neighbors into the conflict," he said.

Additionally, Media Matters noted that in attacking Obama for his debate comments, McCain falsely suggested that Obama had said that Al Qaeda is not currently in Iraq.

Media Matters has previously noted McCain's numerous falsehoods. He made the admittedly false claim that "[i]t's common knowledge and has been reported in the media that Al Qaeda is going back into Iran and is receiving training and are coming back into Iraq from Iran." McCain made the misstatement twice during a press conference on March 18 and also the previous day while being interviewed by nationally syndicated radio host Hugh Hewitt. McCain has also falsely claimed that he called for former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld to be fired -- a false claim that Borger herself has repeated; that Obama "once suggested bombing our ally, Pakistan"; that "the Democrats ... want to raise your taxes"; and that Mitt Romney, his rival in the Republican presidential race at the time, "disparage[d] the service and courage of an American hero" with his statement that former Sen. Bob Dole (R-KS) is "probably the last person I would have wanted to have write a letter for me."

McCain also repeatedly asserted on the campaign trail that he originally voted against the Bush tax cuts because they were not paired with spending cuts. But that was not the reason he gave on the Senate floor in 2001 for his opposition. Additionally, having told The Wall Street Journal in late 2005 that he knows "a lot less about economics" than "military and foreign policy issues," McCain then suggested he had not said this when confronted with the quote in a debate question about that discussion: "I don't know where you got that quote from. I'm very well-versed in economics." McCain later acknowledged to NBC's Tim Russert, "Now I know where you got that quote from."

Media Matters has also documented that while numerous media figures in the broadcast and print media, including Blitzer, have described McCain as a maverick, McCain has shifted and reversed his positions on the issues of immigration and taxes as well as his views of the religious right to align himself more closely with the base of the Republican Party.

From the April 20 edition of CNN's Late Edition with Wolf Blitzer:

BLITZER: Listen to this, Gloria. Congressman John Murtha going after John McCain and the issue of his age. Murtha being a Clinton supporter.

[begin video clip]

REP. JOHN MURTHA (D-PA): I've served with seven presidents. When they come in, they all make mistakes. And they all get older. And this one guy running's about as old as me. And let me tell you something, it's no old man's job.

McCAIN: All I can say is that I admire and respect Jack Murtha. Speak for yourself, Jack. I'm doing fine.

[end video clip]

BLITZER: Is this a legitimate issue --

BORGER: Yeah.

BLITZER: -- John McCain's age?

BORGER: I think age is a legitimate issue. And I think that the voters are going to have to decide whether they think that John McCain has the stamina and the brain power to be president of the United States. It is a job that ages you tremendously. And John McCain is going to have to make that case to the American people.

I think you can kind of laugh about it, but I think they're going to have to see how he campaigns. You know, if he's energetic in his campaigning -- which, so far he's been quite energetic -- they may decide, look, he's a very, very young 71-year-old fellow.

BLITZER: What do you think?

FAREED ZAKARIA (Newsweek International editor): I think it's -- look, of course, any issue is legitimate. McCain looks good. He has run a very energetic campaign, as Gloria says. He sounds very sharp when you talk to him. He's often at his best when he's unscripted. He's able to --

BLITZER: Even when he had that blunder on Shia versus Sunni, and Al Qaeda and Iran, Iraq?

ZAKARIA: I think the problem there honestly is that McCain has adopted a kind of world view on Iraq that all the bad guys are linked up.

BORGER: Right.

ZAKARIA: And they're all -- you know, I don't think that was a slip in the sense that he's losing, you know, some of his marbles. I think the problem is he's embraced a fundamentally incorrect view of what is going on in Iraq. That's why he keeps making the same mistake, even after you correct him.

MARK HALPERIN (Time senior political analyst): He's never been a detail guy on any policy -- even ones he cares passionately about. If it's Obama versus McCain, age and inexperience will both be issues. If either of them makes a mistake that plays into Obama inexperience, McCain age, it will be a big problem. No way you can win a referendum up or down, do we want a 72- year-old president? But that's not what it's going to be. It will be factored in with everything else, and if it's against Obama, he'll have to argue that being 72 is better than being, from his point of view, someone without the requisite experience.

BLITZER: He's going after -- and we're going to see it this week, Gloria -- he's going to try to make some inroads using his reputation out there as an independent, sometimes described as a maverick. He's going after some groups that are normally pretty solidly Democratic.

BORGER: Yeah. He's going after -- he's going after the old Reagan Democrats, the disaffected Democrats. And I think he's going to do it by saying that "I'm a straight-talker; I tell the truth. You may not agree with me, but you ought to believe what I say." And that is, you know, that is one of the keys to his success. And if he remains true to that, he may convince some of those independent voters. If, for example, they believe that either of those Democratic candidates are too liberal, then he's got a better shot than any of those other Republican candidates had at attracting those independents.

BLITZER: All right, guys, we're going to leave it right there, but continue this discussion down the road. Remember, only two days until the Pennsylvania primary. Gloria Borger, Mark Halperin, Fareed Zakaria, thanks to all of you for coming in.

From the April 19 New York Times article, headlined "McCain, Iraq War and the Threat of 'Al Qaeda' ":

As he campaigns with the weight of a deeply unpopular war on his shoulders, Senator John McCain of Arizona frequently uses the shorthand "Al Qaeda" to describe the enemy in Iraq in pressing to stay the course in the war there.

"Al Qaeda is on the run, but they're not defeated" is his standard line on how things are going in Iraq. When chiding the Democrats for wanting to withdraw troops, he has been known to warn that "Al Qaeda will then have won." In an attack this winter on Senator Barack Obama of Illinois, the Democratic front-runner, Mr. McCain went further, warning that if American forces withdrew, Al Qaeda would be "taking a country."

[...]

The entity Mr. McCain was referring to -- Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia, also known as Al Qaeda in Iraq -- did not exist until after the United States invaded Iraq in 2003. The most recent National Intelligence Estimates consider it the most potent offshoot of Al Qaeda proper, the group led by Osama bin Laden that is now believed to be based on the Pakistan-Afghanistan border.

It is a largely homegrown and loosely organized group of Sunni Arabs that, according to the official American military view that Mr. McCain endorses, is led at least in part by foreign operatives and receives fighters, financing and direction from senior Qaeda leaders.

[...]

And Mr. McCain went beyond what he usually says and what his foreign policy advisers believe during a back-and-forth with Mr. Obama at the end of February. It began when Mr. Obama said at a Democratic debate that while he intended to withdraw American forces from Iraq as rapidly as possible, he reserved the right to send troops back in "if Al Qaeda is forming a base in Iraq."

Mr. McCain seized on the remark. "I have some news," he said at a town-hall-style meeting in Tyler, Tex. "Al Qaeda is in Iraq. It's called 'Al Qaeda in Iraq.' My friends, if we left, they wouldn't be establishing a base. They'd be taking a country, and I'm not going to allow that to happen."

In general, Mr. Obama's views track with those of many independent analysts. In a speech last August, he criticized President Bush by saying: "The president would have us believe that every bomb in Baghdad is part of Al Qaeda's war against us, not an Iraqi civil war. He elevates Al Qaeda in Iraq -- which didn't exist before our invasion -- and overlooks the people who hit us on 9/11, who are training new recruits in Pakistan."

Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton, who wants to begin withdrawing troops, has spoken of leaving some troops behind to fight Al Qaeda, deal with Sunni insurgents, deter Iranian aggression, protect the Kurds and possibly help the Iraqi military. She warned last year of the dangers if Iraq turned into a failed state "that serves as a petri dish for insurgents and Al Qaeda."

Few, including Mr. McCain, expect Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia, a Sunni group, to take control of Shiite-dominated Iraq in the event of an American withdrawal. The situation they fear and which Mr. McCain himself sometimes fleshes out is that an American withdrawal would be celebrated as a triumph by Al Qaeda and create instability that the group could then exploit to become more powerful.

"Al Qaeda in Iraq would proclaim victory and increase its efforts to provoke sectarian tensions, pushing for a full-scale civil war that could descend into genocide and destabilize the Middle East," Mr. McCain said this month. "Iraq would become a failed state. It could become a haven for terrorists to train and plan their operations."

Randy Scheunemann, Mr. McCain's senior foreign policy adviser, said during a recent conference call with reporters that in the event of an American pullout, "you might not necessarily see a single entity taking charge." But such a withdrawal could empower Shiite militias in the south and Kurds in the north, leaving Al Qaeda "free to try to impose its will" and lead to increased sectarian violence that "would be very likely to draw neighbors into the conflict," he said.

Network/Outlet
CNN
Person
Wolf Blitzer, Gloria Borger
Show/Publication
Late Edition
Stories/Interests
John McCain, 2008 Elections
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