Broadcast networks falsely suggested that Clark criticized McCain's service

››› ››› RAPHAEL SCHWEBER-KOREN, JEREMY SCHULMAN, MATT GERTZ & DIANNA PARKER

All three network evening newscasts misrepresented retired Gen. Wesley Clark's comments about Sen. John McCain on Face The Nation, with none noting that Clark praised McCain as a "hero" for his Vietnam war service. ABC's David Wright asserted that McCain's experience as a POW made Clark's comments "especially provocative." CBS' Dean Reynolds falsely suggested that Clark had questioned McCain's patriotism and had "critici[zed]" McCain's "service, including five years as a POW." And NBC's Brian Williams falsely suggested that Clark had impugned McCain's "war record."

In their June 30 evening news programs, all three broadcast networks misrepresented comments retired Gen. Wesley Clark made about Sen. John McCain on the June 29 broadcast of CBS' Face The Nation. ABC News correspondent David Wright asserted that McCain's experience as a prisoner of war made Clark's comments "especially provocative" without telling viewers that Clark had said -- just moments prior to the comments Wright aired -- that "I certainly honor his [McCain's] service as a prisoner of war. He was a hero to me and to hundreds of thousands of millions of others in the Armed Forces as a prisoner of war." While also ignoring Clark's praise of McCain's POW record, CBS News correspondent Dean Reynolds falsely suggested that Clark had questioned McCain's patriotism and had "critici[zed]" McCain's "service, including five years as a POW." And Brian Williams, anchor of NBC's Nightly News, falsely suggested that Clark had impugned McCain's "war record" and that Clark's comments contrasted with Williams' own account of McCain's heroic service, when, in fact, in the very comments that Williams, too, left out, Clark praised McCain's heroism.

In delivering their reports, all three networks also deceptively cropped Clark's comments, each airing a video clip of Clark saying, "Well, I don't think riding in a fighter plane and getting shot down is a qualification to be president." But as in reports on cable news channels, neither Wright nor Reynolds nor Williams reported or in any way indicated that in making that remark, Clark was repeating Face the Nation host Bob Schieffer's words. Indeed, Clark's assertion came in response to Schieffer's statement that unlike McCain, Sen. Barack Obama has not "ridden in a fighter plane and gotten shot down."

The reports followed a day of distortions of Clark's comments on cable news, including MSNBC anchor Monica Novotny's false claim that Clark had "blasted McCain's military record."

From Clark's June 29 interview on CBS' Face the Nation:

SCHIEFFER: Well, you -- you went so far as to say that you thought John McCain was, quote -- and these are your words -- "untested and untried." And I must say, I had to read that twice, because you're talking about somebody who was a prisoner of war. He was a squadron commander of the largest squadron in the Navy. He's been on the Senate Armed Services Committee for lo these many years -- how can you say that John McCain is untested and untried, General?

CLARK: Because in the matters of national security policy-making, it's a matter of understanding risk. It's a matter of gauging your opponents, and it's a matter of being held accountable. John McCain's never done any of that in his official positions. I certainly honor his service as a prisoner of war. He was a hero to me and to hundreds of thousands of millions of others in the Armed Forces as a prisoner of war. He has been a voice on the Senate Armed Services Committee, and he has traveled all over the world. But he hasn't held executive responsibility. That large squadron in the Air -- in the Navy that he commanded, it wasn't a wartime squadron. He hasn't been there and ordered the bombs to fall. He hasn't seen what it's like when diplomats come in and say, "I don't know whether we're going to be able to get this point through or not. Do you want to take the risk? What about your reputation? How do we handle it" --

SCHIEFFER: Well --

CLARK: -- "publicly?" He hasn't made those calls, Bob.

SCHIEFFER: Well -- well, General, maybe he --

CLARK: So --

SCHIEFFER: Could I just interrupt you? If --

CLARK: Sure.

SCHIEFFER: I have to say, Barack Obama has not had any of those experiences either, nor has he ridden in a fighter plane and gotten shot down. I mean --

CLARK: Well, I don't think riding in a fighter plane and getting shot down is a qualification to be president.

SCHIEFFER: Really?

On the CBS Evening News, Reynolds aired video of Obama saying in a June 30 speech: "No party or political philosophy has a monopoly on patriotism. And surely we can arrive at a definition of patriotism that, however rough and imperfect, captures the best of America's common spirit." Reynolds then claimed, "And yet, that lofty sentiment contrasted with statements made Sunday by one of his more high-profile supporters, retired General Wesley Clark, who dismissed John McCain's military record as an irrelevance." Reynolds then aired -- with no additional context -- video of Clark saying on Face the Nation: "Well, I don't think riding in a fighter plane and getting shot down is a qualification to be president. [video break] He has traveled all over the world, but he hasn't held executive responsibility." In fact, at no point during his Face the Nation interview did Clark question McCain's patriotism, as Reynolds had falsely suggested by claiming that Clark's comments "contrasted" with Obama's "lofty sentiments."

Immediately after airing the cropped footage of the Clark interview, Reynolds said: "McCain's service, including five years as a POW, is a central part of his biography. Today, he called Clark's criticism unnecessary." Reynolds' suggestion that Clark criticized McCain's service is false. Indeed, Reynolds chose not to air Clark's statement on Face the Nation that "I certainly honor his service as a prisoner of war. He was a hero to me and to hundreds of thousands of millions of others in the Armed Forces as a prisoner of war."

On ABC's World News, Wright said: "John McCain campaigned in Pipersville, Pennsylvania, where, to this day, he can't raise his arms above his shoulders because of injuries he suffered in Vietnam. Shot down in combat and tortured relentlessly for five and a half years as a POW, the experience shaped the core of his character. And that makes this comment by Obama supporter Wesley Clark especially provocative." Wright then proceeded to air -- with no additional context -- Clark's statement that "I don't think riding in a fighter plane and getting shot down is a qualification to be president." Wright's suggestion that Clark in any way diminished or disputed what McCain endured in Vietnam is false; Clark did the opposite, praising McCain as a "hero," in comments that, again, Wright did not air.

Wright's report also contained video of Larry J. Sabato, director of the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia, who said of Clark's comment: "This is almost the equivalent for them of an attack on Obama's race by the McCain side. It's just something you don't do." Neither Sabato nor Wright explained during the report how Clark's praise of McCain's heroism and assertion that it does not qualify McCain to be president "is almost the equivalent" of "an attack on Obama's race."

On Nightly News, Williams said: "[S]uddenly John McCain's war record is an issue in the campaign. Not that there are any questions about his war record, mind you: Annapolis graduate, Naval aviator, shot down over Hanoi during the Vietnam War, captured, tortured, held as a POW for five years." Williams continued, "But yesterday on Face the Nation, retired General Wesley Clark, who also has a stellar military record, was speaking as a surrogate for Barack Obama when he said this"; Williams then showed video of Clark saying, "Well, I don't think riding in a fighter plane and getting shot down is a qualification to be president." But as Clark's complete comments make clear, Clark was not in any way impugning McCain's war record, as Williams' comments suggested he was doing. Indeed, Clark did the opposite, praising McCain as a hero in comments that, again, Williams did not air.

From the June 30 broadcast of NBC's Nightly News with Brian Williams:

WILLIAMS: Now to the presidential campaign, where suddenly John McCain's war record is an issue in the campaign. Not that there are any questions about his war record, mind you: Annapolis graduate, Naval aviator, shot down over Hanoi during the Vietnam War, captured, tortured, held as a POW for five years. But yesterday on Face the Nation, retired General Wesley Clark, who also has a stellar military record, was speaking as a surrogate for Barack Obama when he said this:

CLARK [video clip]: Well, I don't think riding in a fighter plane and getting shot down is a qualification to be president.

WILLIAMS: The Obama campaign said today, quote, they reject Clark's statement, but not before John McCain himself weighed in.

McCAIN [video clip]: I know that many -- that General Clark is not an isolated incident, but I have no way of knowing how much involvement Senator Obama has in that issue. I know he has mischaracterized some of my statements in the past, including our involvement in Iraq.

OBAMA [video clip]: I will never question the patriotism of others in this campaign. [video break] And I will not stand idly by when I hear others question mine.

WILLIAMS: So we've heard from Clark, McCain, and Obama.

From the June 30 broadcast of ABC's World News with Charles Gibson:

WRIGHT: I'm David Wright. John McCain campaigned in Pipersville, Pennsylvania, where, to this day, he can't raise his arms above his shoulders because of injuries he suffered in Vietnam. Shot down in combat and tortured relentlessly for five and a half years as a POW, the experience shaped the core of his character. And that makes this comment by Obama supporter Wesley Clark especially provocative.

CLARK: Well, I don't think riding in a fighter plane and getting shot down is a qualification to be president.

McCAIN: And if that's the kind of campaign that Senator Obama and his surrogates and his supporters want to engage, I understand that. But it doesn't reduce the price of a gallon of gas by one penny.

SABATO: This is almost the equivalent for them of an attack on Obama's race by the McCain side. It's just something you don't do.

From the June 30 broadcast of the CBS Evening News with Katie Couric:

[begin video clip]

REYNOLDS: Obama now wears an American flag pin in his lapel and is often at events where Old Glory is prominent. He clearly believes patriotism should be off the table.

OBAMA: No party or political philosophy has a monopoly on patriotism. [video break] And surely we can arrive at a definition of patriotism that, however rough and imperfect, captures the best of America's common spirit.

REYNOLDS: And yet, that lofty sentiment contrasted with statements made Sunday by one of his more high-profile supporters, retired General Wesley Clark, who dismissed John McCain's military record as an irrelevance.

CLARK: Well, I don't think riding in a fighter plane and getting shot down is a qualification to be president. [video break] He has traveled all over the world, but he hasn't held executive responsibility.

REYNOLDS: McCain's service, including five years as a POW, is a central part of his biography. Today, he called Clark's criticism unnecessary, but then added this:

McCAIN: And if that's the kind of campaign that Senator Obama and his surrogates and his supporters want to engage, I understand that. But it doesn't reduce the price of a gallon of gas by one penny.

[end video clip]

REYNOLDS: Now, Obama later rejected Clark's comments about McCain, but they certainly got a lot of attention. Katie [Couric, anchor]?

COURIC: And Dean, we heard that today, Barack Obama and Bill Clinton actually had a phone conversation. Do you know anything about that conversation? What was said and the tone of it?

Network/Outlet
CBS, NBC, ABC
Person
Brian Williams, Dean Reynolds, David Wright
Show/Publication
ABC World News Tonight, CBS Evening News, NBC Nightly News
Stories/Interests
John McCain, 2008 Elections
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