In describing as a “flip-flop” Sen. Barack Obama's decision to forgo public financing in the general election, Fox News' chief political correspondent Carl Cameron truncated two of Obama's statements and failed to note the Obama campaign's assertion that representatives met with Sen. John McCain in an attempt to pursue an agreement on public financing for the election.
During a report on the June 19 edition of Fox News' Special Report, Cameron falsely claimed that in response to a questionnaire, which asked Obama if he would forgo private funding and rely on public financing if his opponent did so as well, Obama “answered simply 'Yes. I have been a long-time advocate for public financing of campaigns.' ” (Fox also portrayed Obama's statement with on-screen text that read: "'Yes. I have been a long-time advocate for public financing of campaigns ...") In fact, what Cameron quoted was only the beginning of Obama's answer, which concluded with: “If I am the Democratic nominee, I will aggressively pursue an agreement with the Republican nominee to preserve a publicly financed general election.”
Obama's full response to the Midwest Democracy Network's question -- “If you are nominated for President in 2008 and your major opponents agree to forgo private funding in the general election campaign, will you participate in the presidential public financing system?” -- was as follows:
Yes. I have been a long-time advocate for public financing of campaigns combined with free television and radio time as a way to reduce the influence of moneyed special interests. I introduced public financing legislation in the Illinois State Senate, and am the only 2008 candidate to have sponsored Senator Russ Feingold's (D-WI) bill to reform the presidential public financing system. In February 2007, I proposed a novel way to preserve the strength of the public financing system in the 2008 election. My plan requires both major party candidates to agree on a fundraising truce, return excess money from donors, and stay within the public financing system for the general election. My proposal followed announcements by some presidential candidates that they would forgo public financing so they could raise unlimited funds in the general election. The Federal Election Commission ruled the proposal legal, and Senator John McCain (r-AZ) has already pledged to accept this fundraising pledge. If I am the Democratic nominee, I will aggressively pursue an agreement with the Republican nominee to preserve a publicly financed general election.
Immediately after cropping Obama's answer on the questionnaire, Cameron aired a truncated statement from Obama's April 27 interview with Fox News Sunday host Chris Wallace, quoting only the part in which Obama said, “I would be very interested in pursuing public financing.” In fact, during Obama's April 27 appearance, he set forth conditions under which he would consider an agreement to accept public financing, stating: “I have promised that I will sit down with John McCain and talk about can we preserve a public system as long as we are taking into account third-party independent expenditures, because what I don't intend to do ... is to allow huge amounts of money to be spent by the RNC, the Republican National Committee, or by, you know, organizations like the Swift Boat organization and just stand there without those attacks being addressed.” When pressed by Wallace, who asked: “But if you get that agreement?” Obama replied: “I would be very interested in pursuing public financing, because I think not every candidate is going to be able to do what I've done in this campaign, and I think it's important to think about future campaigns.”
From Obama's April 27 interview on Fox Broadcasting Co.'s Fox News Sunday:
WALLACE: The Wall Street Journal says that you are prepared to run the first privately financed campaign -- presidential campaign since Watergate. True?
OBAMA: Well, look. We've done a wonderful job raising money from the grassroots. I'm very proud of the fact that in March -- or in February, for example, 90 percent of our donations came over the Internet. Our average donation is $96.
And we've done an amazing job, I think, of mobilizing people to finance our campaigns in small increments. I have promised that I will sit down with John McCain and talk about can we preserve a public system as long as we are taking into account third-party independent expenditures, because what I don't intend to do --
WALLACE: If you can get that agreement, you would go for a publicly financed campaign?
OBAMA: What I don't intend to do is to allow huge amounts of money to be spent by the RNC, the Republican National Committee, or by organizations like the swift boat organization and just stand there without those attacks being addressed.
WALLACE: But if you get that agreement?
OBAMA: I would be very interested in pursuing public financing, because I think not every candidate is going to be able to do what I've done in this campaign, and I think it's important to think about future campaigns.
Moreover, in a June 19 blog post, TPM Media's Greg Sargent reported that campaign advisers for Obama said they met with McCain advisers to pursue an agreement on public financing but were unable to reach such an agreement. Sargent quoted a statement from Obama spokesman Bill Burton:
In the past couple of weeks, our campaign counsels met and it was immediately clear that McCain's campaign had no interest in the possibility of an agreement. When asked about the RNC's months of raising and spending for the general election, McCain's campaign could only offer its expectation that the Obama campaign would probably, sooner or later, catch up. And shortly thereafter, Senator McCain signaled to the 527s that they were free to run wild, without objection.
According to ABC News senior national correspondent Jake Tapper, McCain counsel Trevor Potter stated that he did have a meeting with Obama counsel Bob Bauer but that Potter said "[t]here was absolutely NO discussion of 'negotiations' about participating -- the word was never mentioned." In a June 19 entry on his Politico blog, senior political writer Ben Smith wrote: “Obama counsel Bob Bauer e-mails that, contrary to McCain counsel Trevor Potter's account, he and Potter had an extended discussion of public financing options, which he left convinced that they left 'no basis for further exchange.' "
In his report, Cameron went on to air a clip from Obama's June 19 announcement regarding his funding decision, in which Obama said of McCain: “We've already seen that he's not going to stop the smears and attacks from his allies running so-called 527 groups, who will spend millions and millions of dollars in unlimited donations.” Cameron added: “But McCain has denounced attack ads from outside groups and insisted they stop.” However, Cameron did not note that, while McCain spoke out against an ad by the North Carolina Republican Party attacking Obama in April, a May 1 FoxNews.com article reported that “McCain told Fox News on Thursday that he wouldn't have run the GOP ad, 'but I am not going to referee, I am just going to run my own campaign.' ” Further, in a June 12 article in The Boston Herald, Hillary Chabot quoted McCain saying, “I can't be a referee of every spot run on television” and described his comments as “a softening of his view on the negative campaign tactic” that “opens the door to a no-holds-barred five-month scramble.”
From the June 19 edition of Fox News' Special Report with Brit Hume:
JIM ANGLE (guest host): Welcome to Washington. I'm Jim Angle, in for Brit Hume.
Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama today reversed course and said he will not take public funds to pay for his presidential campaign. That sparked howls of criticism, but as chief political correspondent Carl Cameron reports, it was not a surprise.
[begin video clip]
CAMERON: Having shattered all fundraising records, Barack Obama's announcement was widely expected. He'll raise his own general election money and therefore have no spending limitations.
OBAMA: We've made the decision not to participate in the public financing system for the general election. This means we'll be forgoing more than $80 million in public funds during the final months of this election.
CAMERON: On a tour of the flood-ravaged Midwest, John McCain called it a flip-flop.
McCAIN: He has completely reversed himself and gone back, not on his word to me, but the commitment that he made to the American people. That's disturbing.
CAMERON: Obama was asked in a November 2007 Midwest Democracy Network questionnaire if he'd forgo private funding in the general election and accept public financing. He answered simply, “Yes. I've been a long-time advocate for public financing of campaigns.” And this was Obama just two months ago on Fox News Sunday.
OBAMA: I would be very interested in pursuing public financing.
CAMERON: Obama becomes the first presidential candidate since the 1970s Watergate era, when the new rules were created, to opt out of the public finance system. McCain attacked the heart of Obama's claim to be a new kind of politician.
McCAIN: This election is about a lot of things, but it's also about trust, and it's also whether you can take people's word.
CAMERON: Obama's raised more than twice what McCain has during the primaries and has nearly twice the cash on hand, which, by law, may not be spent after the candidates' nominating conventions. Obama's got another $10 million banked for his campaign after the convention and is expected to raise at least $200 million more, which would more than double the $84.1 million dollars that McCain will receive in public funds.
It's a 2-to-1 Obama advantage and a flip-flop Obama tries to justify by arguing he'll need it to counter what he predicts will be millions in attack ads by independent GOP groups trying to help McCain.
OBAMA: We've already seen that he's not going to stop the smears and attacks from his allies running so-called 527 groups, who will spend millions and millions of dollars in unlimited donations.
CAMERON: But McCain's denounced attack ads from outside groups and insisted they stop. Right now, it's Obama who's getting the most outside help. He met with AFL-CIO leaders today who pledged more than $50 million to defeat McCain, and the anti-war group MoveOn.org is running this attack ad nationally.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: John McCain, when you say you would stay in Iraq for 100 years, were you counting on Alex? Because if you were, you can't have him.
CAMERON: McCain knows Obama will be able to vastly outspend him, but still put on a brave face.
McCAIN: That doesn't worry me. I frankly haven't thought much about it.