After citing “illegal immigration” as “the issue with which John McCain is weakest among conservatives,” CNN's John King said that members of McCain's presidential campaign “say they will not pander to the talk radio community and that if there is there's backlash from that community, maybe independents will say this guy truly is a maverick, he truly is independent.” But King did not note that McCain has reversed his position on immigration to more closely conform to the views of the GOP base.
During the February 27 edition of CNN's The Situation Room, chief national correspondent John King responded to a video clip of conservative radio host Bill Cunningham by stating, “You heard Bill Cunningham. He says he will do this every day between now and the election -- criticize John McCain on issues like illegal immigration -- the issue with which John McCain is weakest among conservatives.” Moments later, King said that members of the McCain campaign “say they will not pander to the talk radio community and that if there is there's backlash from that community, maybe independents will say this guy truly is a maverick, he truly is independent.” But King did not note, as Media Matters for America has repeatedly documented, that McCain has reversed his position on immigration -- more closely conforming to the views of the GOP base -- in at least two ways. While McCain now says that border security must be addressed before any other reforms can be made, he previously said that border security could not be disaggregated from other provisions in legislation on comprehensive immigration reform. A November 4, 2007, Associated Press article about McCain's change in position reported that his prior support for comprehensive immigration reform “hurt him politically” and quoted McCain stating: “I understand why you would call it a, quote, shift. ... I say it is a lesson learned about what the American people's priorities are. And their priority is to secure the borders.” Additionally, during CNN's January 30 Republican presidential debate, McCain asserted that he “would not” support his own comprehensive immigration proposal if it came to a vote on the Senate floor.
King also said that the McCain campaign “say[s] they will not pander to the talk radio community and if there's a backlash from that community, maybe independents will say this guy truly is a maverick.” CNN personalities have repeatedly called McCain a “maverick” despite his reversals on high-profile issues such as immigration and taxes, resulting in positions more in line with those of the base of his party, as Media Matters has documented. Media Matters has also documented numerous instances of CNN personalities uncritically referring to McCain's "straight talk" despite McCain's flip-flops and growing list of false assertions.
From the February 27 edition of CNN's The Situation Room:
WOLF BLITZER (host): The truce between Republican John McCain and some conservative radio talk-show hosts is off. The candidate is under fire for repudiating comments by an Ohio radio talk-show host at a rally yesterday attacking Barack Obama.
Listen to what that host is saying now.
BILL CUNNINGHAM [video clip]: And I'm saying now to John McCain, I'm done with you. I may not vote for Hillary, but I'm sure as hell not going to vote for Juan Pablo McCain, who wants to give amnesty to millions of illegals.
BLITZER: Let's bring in our chief national correspondent, John King. He's covering this story for us out in Cincinnati.
Is this likely to hurt John McCain -- this latest feud he's getting with this one radio talk show host in Cincinnati that may be spilling over?
KING: No question, Wolf. It's already hurting John McCain. We don't know the long-term impact. Two hundred and fifty days until the election in November. But John McCain was here yesterday. He wanted to talk about his view about the war in Iraq. He wanted to talk about his promise to keep taxes low. He wanted to criticize Obama and [Sen. Hillary Rodham] Clinton.
Instead, all the local media coverage was about this dustup. All the national media coverage was about this dustup with the talk-show host Bill Cunningham. And we went to that talk show today. You heard Bill Cunningham. He says he will do this every day between now and the election -- criticize John McCain on issues like illegal immigration, the issue with which John McCain is weakest among conservatives.
Rush Limbaugh mocking John McCain today for being involved in this controversy. So already, short-term damage. We'll see how it plays out in the long term. But Republicans in Cincinnati say they need to find a way to at least bring about detente, if not peace.
BLITZER: So I guess you could say he might lose some conservative support, but might that be offset by some moderates and independents and maybe some Democrats who might be encouraged by what McCain did yesterday?
KING: That certainly is the calculation in the McCain campaign. They say they will not pander to the talk radio community, and that if there is backlash from that community, maybe independents will say this guy truly is a maverick; he truly is independent. But if you talk to Republicans across the river in Cincinnati, Ohio, they say right now it's a dead heat.
And if you're going to win a 50/50 race in Ohio, you need to have a heavy turnout in Hamilton County, Southwest Ohio, in the Cincinnati area. And they say what you don't want when you're trying to get that turnout is a prominent radio talk show host -- even a guy who is considered a little wacky by many of his own listeners -- criticizing McCain on the very issues that could get some conservatives to sit out.
So, we'll have to watch this, Wolf, in the months between now and Election Day. But it's not helpful in the short term. We'll see how it plays out. The McCain camp is hoping that it proves him to be someone who's willing to buck the establishment. And maybe -- maybe that helps with independents.
BLITZER: All right, John. Thank you. John's going to be back later with the best political team on television.