NY Times, AP repeat McCain falsehood that Obama said Ayers was "just" a guy in his neighborhood

››› ››› LAUREN AUERBACH

The New York Times and the AP uncritically reported Sen. John McCain's false claim that Sen. Barack Obama said that William Ayers was "just" a guy in his neighborhood. In fact, when questioned about Ayers in an April Democratic primary debate, Obama did not use the word "just" when describing Ayers as "a guy who lives in my neighborhood."

In October 10 articles, The New York Times and The Associated Press uncritically reported Sen. John McCain saying of Sen. Barack Obama's relationship with William Ayers: "Senator Obama said he was just a guy in the neighborhood." The Times reported that McCain added, "We need to know that's not true," while the AP reported McCain added, "We know that's not true, we need to know the full extent of the relationship." In fact, contrary to McCain's claim, Obama did not use the word "just" when describing Ayers as "a guy who lives in my neighborhood." Indeed, during the April 16 Democratic primary debate, co-moderator George Stephanopoulos said to Obama: "An early organizing meeting for your State Senate campaign was held at his [Ayers'] house, and your campaign has said you are friendly. Can you explain that relationship for the voters and explain to Democrats why it won't be a problem." Obama said of Ayers: "This is a guy who lives in my neighborhood, who's a professor of English in Chicago who I know and who I have not received some official endorsement from." Obama added, "He's not somebody who I exchange ideas from on a regular basis," and went on to say that Ayers' Weather Underground actions were "detestable."

From the April 16 Democratic primary debate:

STEPHANOPOULOS: A gentleman named William Ayers, he was part of the Weather Underground in the 1970s. They bombed the Pentagon, the Capitol and other buildings. He's never apologized for that.

And, in fact, on 9/11 he was quoted in The New York Times saying, "I don't regret setting bombs; I feel we didn't do enough." An early organizing meeting for your State Senate campaign was held at his house and your campaign has said you are "friendly."

Can you explain that relationship for the voters and explain to Democrats why it won't be a problem?

OBAMA: George, but this is an example of what I'm talking about. This is a guy who lives in my neighborhood, who's a professor of English in Chicago who I know and who I have not received some official endorsement from. He's not somebody who I exchange ideas from on a regular basis.

And the notion that somehow as a consequence of me knowing somebody who engaged in detestable acts 40 years ago, when I was 8 years old, somehow reflects on me and my values doesn't make much sense, George.

Additionally, neither the Times nor the AP noted their previous reporting that Obama and Ayers were not close. The Times reported on October 4 that Obama and Ayers "do not appear to have been close. Nor has Mr. Obama ever expressed sympathy for the radical views and actions of Mr. Ayers, whom he has called 'somebody who engaged in detestable acts 40 years ago, when I was 8' "; the AP reported on October 5 that "there is no evidence that they [Obama and Ayers] ever palled around. And it's simply wrong to suggest that they were associated while Ayers was committing terrorist acts."

By contrast, McClatchy reported McCain's quote but added that "Obama has condemned the violent 1960s activities of the Weather Underground. There is no evidence that Ayers is a close friend or an adviser to his campaign."

From the October 10 New York Times article:

Although Mr. McCain did not mention Mr. Ayers, a founder of the radical group the Weather Underground, by name, his intent was clear in his response to a question about Mr. Obama. A man told Mr. McCain that ''we're all wondering why Obama is where he's at'' in the polls and then asked, ''Is there not a way to get around this media and line up the people he has hung with?''

Mr. McCain responded, ''Well, sir, with your help and the people in this room, we will find out.'' He added: ''Look, we don't care about an old washed-up terrorist and his wife, who still, at least on Sept. 11, 2001, said he still wanted to bomb more. You know, but that's not the point here. The point is, Senator Obama said he was just a guy in the neighborhood. We need to know that's not true.''

Although Mr. McCain raised questions about Mr. Obama's ties to Mr. Ayers in a televised interview last spring, he has refrained from attacking Mr. Obama on the trail for his association with Mr. Ayers in the general election campaign. He had left those attacks to his campaign operatives and Ms. Palin.

Mr. McCain's reference to Mr. Ayers's desire to carry out more bombings was from an article in The New York Times, published by chance on Sept. 11, 2001, about Mr. Ayers and his memoir, ''Fugitive Days.'' The article opened with a quotation: ''I don't regret setting bombs. I feel we didn't do enough.'' Three days later, Mr. Ayers wrote on his Web site that the meaning of his remarks had been distorted.

Most of the bombings attributed to the Weathermen were meant to damage only property, but a 1970 pipe bombing in San Francisco attributed to the group killed a police officer and severely hurt another.

Mr. Ayers is now a professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago and lives in Mr. Obama's neighborhood. He was named citizen of the year in Chicago in 1997, has worked with Mr. Obama on a schools project and a charitable board, and gave a house party when Mr. Obama was running for the State Senate.

From the October 10 Associated Press article:

McCain also referenced Obama's connection with 1960s radical William Ayers without mentioning him by name.

"Sen. Obama said he was just a guy in the neighborhood. We know that's not true. We need to know the full extent of the relationship," McCain said.

From the October 10 McClatchy article:

Outspent by Obama on TV ads, McCain launched a new Web ad about his opponent's connections to Bill Ayers, the Chicago professor, in which the announcer describes Ayers as a "domestic terrorist" and concludes, "Barack Obama: Too risky for America."

McCain told the Wisconsin crowd, "Look, we don't care about a washed-up terrorist and his wife who still, after Sept. 11, 2001, said he still wanted to bomb more. But that's not the point here. The point is Sen. Obama said he was just a guy in the neighborhood. We know that's not true, we need to know the full extent of the relationship, because of whether Sen. Obama is telling the truth to the American people or not."

Obama has condemned the violent 1960s activities of the Weather Underground. There is no evidence that Ayers is a close friend or an adviser to his campaign.

Network/Outlet
The New York Times, Associated Press, McClatchy Newspapers
Stories/Interests
Barack Obama, John McCain, 2008 Elections
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