After showing a video clip of Senator John Kerry (D-MA) making a comment, on the eve of the Iowa caucuses, about Senator John Edwards's age -- a comment Kerry characterized minutes later as “not meant to be negative” -- on July 6, CNN anchor Daryn Kagan and CNN senior political analyst Bill Schneider portrayed the comments as a “classic” example of Kerry being a “flip-flopper.”
From the July 6 edition of CNN's CNN Live Today:
KERRY (video clip of January 18 speech): When I came back from Vietnam in 1969, ladies and gentlemen, I'm not sure if John Edwards was out of diapers then yet or not. I'm truly not sure. I don't know.
KAGAN: All right, that's from the primaries. Now, the Republicans are making even more of this because they do try to paint John Kerry as someone who flip-flops on issues. So, here is a later comment on that previous comment from John Kerry. Listen to that, and then, Bill, we'll hear from you.
KERRY (video clip of January 18 speech): I truly don't want to be negative, but what that comment I made was not meant to be negative. You know, I don't want to -- I just -- you know, I don't want to go that road. I think that what is appropriate to recognize is he's a very talented person. I like him a great deal. He's running a great campaign. I respect that. And you have to decide.
KAGAN: Is that a classic John Kerry moment, where one second he's making fun of John Edwards as someone who is in diapers, and then he says, well, no, I don't want to be that, I don't want to be a negative campaigner?
SCHNEIDER: I'm afraid it is, and that is exactly what the Republicans are trying to get across, that he's a flip-flopper, he can't make up his mind, he says a negative thing then immediately he takes it back. That's a problem for John Kerry.
While CNN considered these relatively innocuous comments a “classic” flip-flop, the network has ignored much more significant “flip-flops” by President George W. Bush. As just one example, in a June 22 article about the Supreme Court's rejection of state laws that give patients in managed care the right to sue insurance companies for damages, The New York Times noted:
The decision came in a pair of closely watched cases from Texas, where a strong patients' rights bill became law in 1997 without the signature of George W. Bush, who was then governor. During his campaign for the presidency four years ago, Governor Bush embraced the state law ... [but] [b]efore the Supreme Court, the Bush administration opposed the Texas law.
Although Bush's flip-flop on the Texas patients' rights law was undoubtedly more significant than the “classic” Kerry flip-flop about Edwards's age, CNN didn't report it at all (much less characterize it as a “flip-flop” ); nor has the network characterized other significant Bush flip-flops as such.