Fox & Friends baselessly claimed Bill Clinton took "a swipe at John McCain," falsely suggested his and Clark's comments part of Obama attack strategy

››› ››› JEREMY HOLDEN & MATT GERTZ

Three Fox & Friends co-hosts repeatedly asserted that former President Bill Clinton recently "attack[ed]" Sen. John McCain's "selfless heroism at the Hanoi Hilton," in Andrew Napolitano's words, and two of the hosts -- Napolitano and Gretchen Carlson -- falsely suggested that Clinton's statement and recent comments by retired Gen. Wesley Clark were part of a coordinated effort by Sen. Barack Obama's campaign to "attack" McCain's service. But the Fox & Friends co-hosts provided no evidence that Clinton's comments were intended to refer to McCain; nor did they provide the context of those remarks.

On the July 8 edition of Fox News' Fox & Friends, co-hosts Steve Doocy, Gretchen Carlson, and Andrew Napolitano repeatedly asserted that former President Bill Clinton recently "attack[ed]" Sen. John McCain's "selfless heroism at the Hanoi Hilton," in Napolitano's words, and Napolitano and Carlson also falsely suggested that Clinton's statement and recent comments by retired Gen. Wesley Clark were part of a coordinated effort by Sen. Barack Obama's campaign to "attack" McCain's service. Clinton made the remarks in question on July 5 at the Aspen Ideas Festival while discussing what former South African President Nelson Mandela means to him. But the Fox & Friends co-hosts provided no evidence that Clinton's comments were intended to refer to McCain; nor did they provide the context of those remarks. Moreover, as Media Matters for America has repeatedly noted, Clark did not attack McCain's Vietnam War record during his June 29 interview on CBS' Face the Nation. Further undermining the suggestion by Napolitano and Carlson that Clark's remarks were evidence of, in Carlson's words, "a strategy by the Barack Obama campaign," Clark has been saying for months that McCain's military service does not necessarily make him qualified to be president, including while he was speaking on behalf of Sen. Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign.

During two segments and an interview with McCain, Carlson read only the portion of Clinton's comments in which he said, "[I]f you know anybody that was ever a POW for any length of time, you will see that you go along for months or maybe even years, and then something will happen, it'll trigger all those bad dreams, and they'll come back." During Clinton's Aspen "conversation," moderator Jane Wales said to Clinton, "Nelson Mandela turns 90 in a couple of weeks. He is someone with whom you've been extremely close over the years. I wanted you to say a word about what he has meant, not only to South Africa, to Africa, to the world, but also to say something about what he's meant to you personally." During his five minute and 30 second response -- in which McCain was never mentioned -- Clinton asserted that Mandela "show[ed] us all how to live, that's the thing he meant the most to me about." He compared Mandela's experience -- as a prisoner for 27 years after leading a resistance movement against the South African apartheid government -- to that of a POW, and after making the statement Carlson read, said of Mandela: "That's the thing that makes his life so monumental. It's not like all that stuff went away, but he disciplined himself, and his mind and his heart and his spirit, to always work to constantly overcome it every day."

From Clinton's July 5 remarks at the Aspen Ideas Festival [portion Carlson read bolded]:

WALES: Nelson Mandela turns 90 in a couple of weeks. He is someone with whom you've been extremely close over the years. I wanted you to say a word about what he has meant, not only to South Africa, to Africa, to the world, but also to say something about what he's meant to you personally.

CLINTON: Well, I think the importance of his life for all of us is that first of all, he proved that -- he really did give up his freedom, almost a full third of his life, so that everybody could be free, including his oppressors. He paid as high a price as you can pay without getting killed for it to prove that freedom has to be a universal commodity. And then he governed in a way that was consistent with what he said.

Everybody knows, for example, that he invited his jailers to his inauguration. Not as many people know that he put the leaders of all the groups that oppressed him into his cabinet. And keep in mind, he was elected with two-thirds of the vote, so he did not have to do that. There is no constitutional system in the world that would have required him to do it. He did it because he knew that the country could not govern without the skills and knowledge and the psychological balance that would be provided by doing that. So he did that. That's the first thing he did.

The second thing he did, which is very important in the [Robert] Mugabe case, is to show us that you don't have to be in office to do public service. You can do much public good as a private citizen. And your ability to do it is enhanced if you leave office as required by the laws of your country with good grace, and then you use the stature you acquired from having held the job to try to continue to be of public service. And he did it in his later years, when no one would have blamed him if he had retreated to that amazing game preserve he has up -- that a friend of his built him a house in in northern South Africa.

And the third thing he did was to show us all how to live, that's the thing he meant the most to me about. I mean, he just -- you know, he really did realize that -- if you read his memoirs -- I wrote about this in my book, but he said -- I ask him -- I told him that the day he was released for the last time, and you may all remember they -- it was beautifully staged for television, they way it was on an early Sunday morning in the United States. And he walked -- he took last -- one long last walk down a dusty road, went through a gate, and then got in the car and rode away.

I said to him, "Now, tell me the truth." I said, "I know you're a great man, but you're also a great politician. And you did the right thing getting all those people in your government, but when you were taking those last steps, didn't you really relive those 27 years, and didn't you hate them again?" He said, "Sure, I did." It's great, you know, you reach a certain age and you're not running for anything, you can pretty well say what you want.

And he said, "Sure, I did. For a moment, I did." He said, "I felt anger and hatred and fear. And I realized that if I kept hating them once I got in that car and got through the gate, I would still be in prison. So, I let it go, 'cause I wanted to be free." There is a --

[applause]

Every living soul on the planet has some often highly justified anger. Everybody. And just learning that you have to practice -- and by the way, I said this at his birthday. I'm probably one of the few people who's actually seen him mad on more than one occasion. You know, it's just like, if you know anybody that was ever a POW for any length of time, you will see that you go along for months or maybe even years, and then something will happen, it'll trigger all those bad dreams, and they'll come back, and it may not last 30 seconds. That's the thing that makes his life so monumental. It's not like all that stuff went away, but he disciplined himself, and his mind and his heart and his spirit, to always work to constantly overcome it every day.

And I think, in some ways, when you look at how we're gonna -- what will happen in the aftermath of Mugabe's going? There will be an enormous -- let's suppose the best of all worlds happened, and he woke up tomorrow and he says, "I've had a terrible attack of conscience. I'm tired of this general running me. I don't care how old I am. I have some good sense left. I'm out of here. Goodbye. I love my country. I wish you well." Think of all the people on the other side who would be tempted to go kill other people. I mean, this is a universal lesson that all of us have to keep struggling with in our lives.

So I think he proved freedom has to be a universal commodity, he served with enormous distinction out of office as well as in, and he taught us a lot about how all of us should be trying to live. And that's -- those three things are why I think he's -- he, along with [former Israeli prime minister] Yitzhak Rabin, are the two most remarkable people I ever knew.

During her interview with McCain, Carlson again quoted Clinton as saying only, "It's like you know anyone who's ever been a POW for any length of time, you will see that they go along for months or even years, and then something will happen that will trigger all those bad dreams," and did not note that his statement came during a discussion of Mandela. Carlson later asked McCain: "[D]oes it appear that this is a strategy by the Barack Obama campaign? Last week, it was Wesley Clark, and there were others before that as well. This week, it's Bill Clinton. They seem to be attacking your strongest point."

During the first Fox & Friends segment, Doocy asserted that Clinton "was trying to make a compliment about Nelson Mandela. He was talking about Nelson Mandela, and suddenly -- kind of in the middle, in an awkward spot, it does appear that he was taking a swipe at John McCain." Carlson said that "I don't know if he's an expert on that necessarily, because he was not a POW, and I'm not sure if he has any close friends who were." Later, Napolitano asked, "Is this the beginning or is this the continuation? It started a week ago with Wes Clark, of the Democrats, going at John McCain's strongest and most heroic moments and saying, 'Big deal.' " In response, Carlson asserted that "they're saying it's dangerous, that that anger -- because keep in mind that also the rumors about John McCain is that this deep-seated anger can percolate from time to time -- and then it comes to the surface."

Doocy went on to say of Clinton, "I'll tell you one thing that he's done is he's smeared a whole generation of heroes -- people who spent time -- he's not just talking -- he didn't say John McCain per se, he said POWs. There were a lot of guys who were locked up over there." He added: "And you know, the thing about it is, what he's saying is, 'Be careful with these guys, because you never know when they're going to snap.' That's exactly what he said."

During the second Fox & Friends segment, Doocy asserted of Clinton, "[I]n the midst of a speech out in Aspen, he was talking about Nelson Mandela -- who was of course imprisoned for many, many years, and out of nowhere, he said this quote -- and see if you think this looks like a swipe against John McCain." Napolitano asserted that Clinton was "obviously talking about John McCain, and he's suggesting, 'Hey, before you vote for John McCain, consider this is why he has a temper.' This is Doctor Clinton's analysis -- I'm kidding of course, calling him Doctor Clinton -- of John McCain's psyche. That anger builds up within people who are ex-POWs and it can come out at a time that they least expect it." Napolitano continued: "This is yet again an attack by a major Democrat on the perceived strongest part of John McCain's background, his utter selfless heroism at the Hanoi Hilton." Carlson responded, "And the amazing thing is that John McCain rarely speaks about it." In fact, as Media Matters for America has documented, McCain has repeatedly highlighted his experience as a POW, even as he and the media have promoted the notion that he is reluctant to do so. Indeed, on the morning of July 8, the McCain campaign released a new television ad, "Love," in which a narrator says: "John McCain: Shot down. Bayoneted. Tortured. Offered early release, he said, 'No.' He'd sworn an oath." The ad features footage from McCain's time as a POW.

From the July 8 edition of Fox News' Fox & Friends:

CARLSON: All right, we want to talk to you about Bill Clinton, because he's back in political action.

NAPOLITANO: He sure is.

CARLSON: I kind of missed Bubba for a while.

NAPOLITANO: Right.

CARLSON: He was over in Europe, you know, when Hillary, his wife, and Barack Obama had that whole unity thing, and we didn't see very much of him. And now he was out in Aspen, Colorado, giving a speech there. Now, we don't know exactly what predicated these comments, but he had some severe comments about POWs.

DOOCY: Well, we know he was talking -- he was trying to make a compliment about Nelson Mandela.

CARLSON: Oh, OK.

DOOCY: He was talking about Nelson Mandela, and suddenly -- kind of in the middle, in an awkward spot, it does appear that he was taking a swipe at John McCain. And keep in mind, he has said, "Look, I'm not running for anything. So I can say pretty much anything I want to." And he said something that, today, people are saying he really should not have said that.

NAPOLITANO: Well, Nelson Mandela was locked up for 20 years. John McCain was locked up for five years. And Bill Clinton says, "You know what happens to these people when they're locked up like that, when they're prisoners? Suddenly, years later, the anger comes out of them. And you've got to watch for that." So, who was he talking about?

DOOCY: Yeah. Exactly right.

CARLSON: Well, I don't know if he's an expert on that necessarily, because he was not a POW, and I'm not sure if he has any close friends who were.

However, this is the direct quote. Clinton said: "If you know anybody who was a POW for any length of time, you will see, you go along for months or maybe even years, and then something will happen and it will trigger all those bad dreams and it will come back."

NAPOLITANO: Is this the beginning or is this the continuation? It started a week ago with Wes Clark, of the Democrats, going at John McCain's strongest and most heroic moments and saying, "Big deal."

DOOCY: Yeah.

NAPOLITANO: Is that what they're up to here?

CARLSON: Well, they're saying more than big deal here, Judge.

NAPOLITANO: They're saying it's dangerous.

CARLSON: They're -- they're saying it's dangerous, that that anger -- because keep in mind that also the rumors about John McCain is that this deep-seated anger can percolate from time to time --

DOOCY: Hmm-mm.

NAPOLITANO: Right.

CARLSON: -- and then it comes to the surface. The interesting thing is, a lot of Republicans are waiting for some of that anger to come to the surface to actually see --

NAPOLITANO: Sure.

CARLSON: -- that he's in this for a fight.

DOOCY: So, he has very -- was it an accident? Was it intentional? Did he intentionally plant the little seed right out there? I'll tell you one thing that he's done is he's smeared a whole generation of heroes -- people who spent time -- he's not just talking -- he didn't say John McCain per se, he said POWs. There were a lot of guys who were locked up over there.

NAPOLITANO: Oh, absolutely.

DOOCY: And you know, the thing about it is, what he's saying is, "Be careful with these guys, because you never know when they're going to snap."

CARLSON: Yeah. As opposed --

DOOCY: That's exactly what he said.

CARLSON: As opposed to people who have never served in the military.

NAPOLITANO: Like him.

CARLSON: You know -- right. And I think it's very interesting to be an expert about something that you were never a part of.

NAPOLITANO: It's an odd thing for them to say, unless, each week, they're going to come out with something attacking John McCain's military career and sufferings for the country and, this week, it's Bill.

CARLSON: We will have to stay tuned, Judge.

[...]

DOOCY: Did you just mention Bill Clinton?

NAPOLITANO: Yes, I did mention Bill Clinton, because I knew what you wanted to talk about, Steve.

DOOCY: Well, he's back at it again. He was out in Colorado, and in the midst of a speech out in Aspen, he was talking about Nelson Mandela --

NAPOLITANO: Right.

DOOCY: -- who was of course imprisoned for many, many years, and out of nowhere, he said this quote -- and see if you think this looks like a swipe against John McCain.

CARLSON: Well, Steve, he says, "It's like if you know someone who's ever a POW for any length of time" -- there it is -- "you will see you go along for months or maybe even years, and then something will happen and it will trigger all those bad dreams and it will all come back." So, who is he talking about?

NAPOLITANO: Well, he's obviously talking about John McCain, and he's suggesting, "Hey, before you vote for John McCain, consider this is why he has a temper." This is Doctor Clinton's analysis -- I'm kidding of course, calling him Doctor Clinton -- of John McCain's psyche. That anger builds up within people who are ex-POWs and it can come out at a time that they least expect it.

CARLSON: Well, a couple of points.

NAPOLITANO: This is yet again an attack by a major Democrat on the perceived strongest part of John McCain's background, his utter selfless heroism at the Hanoi Hilton.

DOOCY: Hmm-mm.

CARLSON: And the amazing thing is that John McCain rarely speaks about it.

NAPOLITANO: Right.

CARLSON: It's not like he's out there bragging about his five-year stay at the Hilton there. In fact, I think a lot of Republicans would like him to talk about it a little bit more. A lot of Republicans would probably like him to get a little bit more anger -- angry and show a little bit more of that temper because they seem to be -- some -- frustrated that he's not willing to take on Barack Obama as some would like him to do.

DOOCY: Well, we asked you an hour ago whether or not you thought this was an intentional swipe or whether it was accidental. You know, did he just want to plant the seed so people would start talking about it?

Overwhelmingly, the emails say it was no accident. This is typical. One guy writes, "I believe that Bill Clinton said was intentional and completely un-American. No one who served in any military service should be criticized or attacked. I think because John McCain was a POW proves that he would be a great president for the U.S. of A."

[...]

CARLSON: I am going to get to that question in a moment, but I do want to get to what appears to be one of the headlines of the day, with regard to something that President Bill Clinton said while he was in Aspen. Here's what he said, Senator. He said: "It's like you know anyone who's ever been a POW for any length of time, you will see that they go along for months or even years, and then something will happen that will trigger all those bad dreams." Your response to that?

McCAIN: [laughs] I don't know where he gets his expertise. Look, that's -- I don't know how to respond to that, except to say that some of the greatest moments of my life was, I had the great honor of serving in the company of heroes and observing a thousand acts of courage and compassion and love, and those that I know best and love most are those I had the honor of being led by and served with, who inspired me to do things I never would have been capable of.

CARLSON: But Senator, does it appear that this is a strategy by the Barack Obama campaign? Last week, it was Wesley Clark, and there were others before that as well. This week, it's Bill Clinton. They seem to be attacking your strongest point.

McCAIN: Well, you know, they can -- whatever they want to do is fine. I think what Americans care about today is keeping their jobs, better life, educating their kids, staying in their homes. Americans are hurting right now. We're talking about the economy this week, and we're going to create jobs. We're going to keep taxes low, and -- difference is Senator Obama wants to raise taxes, I want to keep them low. That's really what the American people are worried about, and that's what we're talking about at the town hall meetings across the country.

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