CNN's Foreman touted McCain's “straight talk” in 2000, despite admission of dishonesty on Confederate flag

On The Situation Room, correspondent Tom Foreman reported that Sen. John McCain “became famous for his straight talk during his first run for the White House.” However, Foreman did not report information that undermines the “straight talk” label, including McCain's admission that he “broke [his] promise to always tell the truth” when, in 2000, he declined to call for the removal of the Confederate flag from the South Carolina Statehouse.

On the May 21 edition of CNN's The Situation Room, correspondent Tom Foreman reported that Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) “became famous for his straight talk during his first run for the White House.” But in touting McCain's purported “straight talk” during his unsuccessful 2000 presidential campaign, Foreman ignored McCain's admission that, regarding the issue of the Confederate flag, he had “broke[n] [his] promise to always tell the truth” in order to “win the South Carolina primary.” Foreman left out other McCain inconsistencies, including on abortion rights and on the late Rev. Jerry Falwell.

During the lead-up to the 2000 South Carolina primary, McCain was inconsistent about whether the Confederate flag should fly atop South Carolina's Capitol dome, as an April 20, 2000, New York Times article reported:

In the pivotal primary campaign, Mr. McCain repeatedly was asked his opinion of whether the flag should be removed from atop the Capitol dome. Many liberal and civil rights organizations, led by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, have been pressing to have the flag known as the ''star and bars'' taken down, declaring that it is a symbol of slavery and oppression of African-Americans.

In January [2000], Mr. McCain said he considered the flag a ''symbol of racism and slavery.'' The next day he called it a ''symbol of heritage,'' a phrase used by supporters of the flag. At all times he declared that the issue should be left up to the people of South Carolina to decide without interference from outsiders.

The Times article went on to note that after stepping out of the presidential race that spring, McCain apologized “for not having called for the removal of the Confederate battle flag from the South Carolina Statehouse when he campaigned in the state's Republican presidential primary, saying he had compromised his principles out of political self-interest.” Indeed, in an April 20, 2000, speech, McCain described his equivocal statements on the flag as dishonest:

My ancestors fought for the Confederacy, and I am sure that many, maybe all of them, fought with courage and with faith that they were serving a cause greater than themselves. But I don't believe their service, however distinguished, needs to be commemorated in a way that offends, that deeply hurts, people whose ancestors were once denied their freedom by my ancestors.


As I admitted, I should have done this earlier, when an honest answer could have affected me personally. I did not do so for one reason alone. I feared that if I answered honestly, I could not win the South Carolina primary. So, I chose to compromise my principles. I broke my promise to always tell the truth.

Further, as Media Matters documented, McCain admitted during the October 15, 2002, broadcast of CBS' The Early Show that he believed in 2000 that “the Confederate flag should be taken down,” but that, in an “act of political cowardice,” he “didn't say so” because “everybody said, 'Oh, look out, you can't win in South Carolina if you say that.' ”

There are other examples of an absence of “straight talk” from McCain during the 2000 campaign. In August 1999, McCain reportedly told the San Francisco Chronicle:

“I'd love to see a point where [Roe v. Wade] is irrelevant and could be repealed because abortion is no longer necessary. But certainly in the short term, or even the long term, I would not support repeal of Roe v. Wade, which would then force x number of women in America to [undergo] illegal and dangerous operations.”

But as Media Matters noted, several days later, McCain issued what the Chronicle called a “clarification,” reportedly saying: “I have always believed in the importance of the repeal of Roe vs. Wade, and as president, I would work toward its repeal.” He added: “If Roe v. Wade were repealed tomorrow, it would force thousands of young women to undergo dangerous and illegal operations. I will continue to work with both pro-life and pro-choice Americans so that we can eliminate the need for abortions to be performed in this country.”

During the 2000 presidential race, McCain criticized Falwell, founder and chairman of the Moral Majority Coalition who endorsed Bush in 2000, as an “agent of intolerance.” But as Media Matters noted, McCain expressed a different view on the April 2 broadcast of NBC's Meet the Press. When host and NBC News Washington bureau chief Tim Russert asked McCain: “Do you believe that Jerry Falwell is still an agent of intolerance?” McCain replied: “No, I don't. I think that Jerry Falwell can explain to you his views on this program when you have him on.” McCain gave a commencement speech at Falwell's Liberty University in May 2006.

Media Matters has repeatedly documented the media's tendency to portray McCain as the consummate “straight talker” while overlooking his inconsistencies on issues ranging from the Iraq war and the Bush administration to his opinion of certain conservative Christians.

From the 7 p.m. ET edition of CNN's Situation Room on May 21:

FOREMAN: McCain became famous for his straight talk during his first run for the White House.

McCAIN: Five United States senators -- Vietnam veterans, heroes, some of them really incredible heroes -- wrote George [W. Bush] a letter and said, “Apologize. You should be ashamed. You should be ashamed.”

FOREMAN: But years later, an admission that maybe that kind of language doesn't always work.

McCAIN: My anger did not help my campaign. It didn't help. People don't like angry candidates very much.

FOREMAN: And how is he doing now?

McCAIN: I'm fine. Cindy [his wife] says I'm more ill-tempered than I used to be, but other than that, I'm fine.

[end video clip]

FOREMAN: And take note of the issues that McCain is getting hot on: immigration, funding for the war. These are issues in which his stance may put him at odds with some voters. So the pressures of the campaign, even early on, may be taking a bit of a toll. Wolf.

BLITZER: Tom Foreman reporting.