In a special report on Sen. Barack Obama, referring to Obama's challenges to signatures on his opponents' nominating petitions during his 1996 run for the Illinois state Senate, CNN's Suzanne Malveaux described Obama as “an avid student of Chicago-style politics” and aired remarks by a Chicago reporter calling the practice “cutthroat.” But CNN's special on Sen. John McCain made no mention of McCain's reported petition challenges in at least two U.S. Senate races, aired no one labeling McCain “cutthroat” for those challenges, or at any point pronounced McCain an avid student of Arizona-style politics for those challenges.
During CNN's August 20 election special report Obama Revealed, host Suzanne Malveaux said of Barack Obama's 1996 run for the Illinois state Senate: “Successfully challenging her signatures, Obama knocked Alice Palmer, a revered political figure, off the ballot, as well as all three other candidates. While Obama's campaign today promotes him as a different kind of politician, back then he was an avid student of Chicago-style politics.” The program included remarks from Chicago Tribune reporter David Mendell, author of Obama: From Promise to Power (Amistad, 2007), who said, “In the end, what happened is we saw the first real example of Barack Obama's cutthroat nature when it came to advancing his own career in politics.” But challenging a potential opponent's eligibility is not just “Chicago-style” politics; it is everywhere-style politics -- including Arizona. And yet, while in its back-to-back specials on the parties' presumptive presidential nominees, CNN highlighted allegations by Mendell and others that Obama engaged in “cutthroat” politics, which Malveux suggested were endemic to Chicago, CNN made no mention of Sen. John McCain's reported petition challenges in at least two U.S. Senate races, aired no one labeling McCain “cutthroat” for those challenges, or at any point pronounced McCain an avid student of Arizona-style politics for those challenges -- even though host John King, like Malveaux with Obama, reported on McCain's prior races.
Recounting McCain's 1992 re-election to the U.S. Senate, King reported that McCain “saw his re-election as vindication and believed the dark days of the Keating Five scandal were over,” and asserted, “McCain wanted a fresh start.” But unlike CNN's discussion of Obama's state Senate race, King did not point out that, after former Arizona Gov. Evan Mecham filed a petition with 16,085 signatures to appear on the Arizona ballot, according to a September 1992 Los Angeles Times article, “McCain filed a challenge to the petitions.” In addition, a July 20, 1998, Roll Call article (accessed through the Nexis news database) reported, “McCain will run unopposed in his Sept. 8 primary following the capitulation of his lone GOP opponent, Phoenix businessman Bert Tollefson,” and that “McCain's campaign checked Tollefson's signatures and found 1,453 that came from Democrats, members of other parties or people who were not registered to vote.”
But although McCain has challenged opponents' ballot petitions in at least two races, CNN did not characterize this as “cutthroat,” or indeed present it in any way.
From CNN's Obama Revealed:
MALVEAUX: When state Senator Alice Palmer tapped Obama to run for her seat, he jumped at the chance. State Senator Rickey Hendon was Palmer's friend.
HENDON: Her and Barack had a discussion about him replacing her for the Senate when she went to Congress. So, there was an agreement between them.
MALVEAUX: But then something unexpected happened.
EMIL JONES (Illinois senate president): She lost the race. Then she decided to come -- that she wanted to come back.
HENDON: She said, well, I'm going to run for re-election.
MALVEAUX: Palmer asked Obama to withdraw.
JONES: But he refused to step down.
HENDON: There's no way Barack could have beat Alice Palmer in that seat. It just wasn't going to happen. Alice was extremely popular.
MALVEAUX: Obama played hardball. He challenged Palmer's right to be on the ballot.
DAVID MENDELL (Chicago Tribune reporter): He looked at her nominating petitions that she had to submit to the Board of Elections and could see that they were put together in a real hurry.
HENDON: And the people who she had depended on to do her petitions really did not do a good job.
WILL BURNS (former Obama campaign volunteer): The rules are there for a reason.
MALVEAUX: Will Burns was part of an Obama team that found a number of Palmer's signatures were not valid.
BURNS: One of the first things you do whenever you're in the middle of a primary race or any race, especially in primaries in Chicago, you look at the signatures.
MALVEAUX: Successfully challenging her signatures, Obama knocked Alice Palmer, a revered political figure, off the ballot, as well as all three other candidates. While Obama's campaign today promotes him as a different kind of politician, back then he was an avid student of Chicago-style politics.
MENDELL: Morally, he had some complications with whether he should knock this woman out of the way.
MALVEAUX: David Mendell is a Chicago reporter who wrote Obama's biography.
MENDELL: In the end, what happened is we saw the first real example of Barack Obama's cutthroat nature when it came to advancing his own career in politics.
From CNN's McCain Revealed:
KING: Election night 1992.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE [video clip]: Republican incumbent John McCain is wining a second term in the Senate.
KING: Winning 56 percent of the vote meant more to John McCain than a second term in the Senate.
[begin video clip]
McCAIN SUPPORTERS: Six more years.
McCAIN: Thank you. Thank you very much.
[begin video clip]
KING: He saw his re-election as vindication and believed the dark days of the Keating Five scandal were over.
McCAIN [video clip]: We will do everything we can to break the gridlock in Washington.
KING: McCain wanted a fresh start.