Media have let McCain falsehoods on aide's role in anti-Ford ad go unchallenged

In the past 24 hours, numerous media outlets have reported on the uproar among conservatives over the past writings of two bloggers recently hired by former Sen. John Edwards' (D-NC) presidential campaign. But the media have given little attention to Sen. John McCain's (R-AZ) recent falsehoods regarding the role of his presidential campaign manager, Terry Nelson, in the production of a controversial 2006 campaign advertisement that many deemed racist. Indeed, since late December 2006, several media figures have allowed McCain or his aides to alternately claim that Nelson “didn't produce” the ad, was “instructed” to approve the ad, or “resigned” from the Republican National Committee (RNC) over the ad -- all assertions contradicted by the facts:

  • On the December 20, 2006, edition of MSNBC News Live, NBC News chief foreign affairs correspondent Andrea Mitchell asked McCain's presidential campaign CEO, Richard Davis, about the senator's decision to tap Nelson as his campaign manager. She noted that Nelson “was behind” the controversial ad attacking Harold Ford Jr., the Democratic candidate for an open Senate seat from Tennessee in 2006. But Mitchell failed to challenge Davis' subsequent claim that “Terry has assured us that he didn't produce that ad.” As Media Matters for America noted, at the time of the ad's production, Nelson was the head of the RNC's independent expenditure unit, which paid for the spot. While Scott Howell reportedly produced the ad, Nelson was presumably in a position to sign off on its creation and broadcast -- and could have ordered its withdrawal.
  • When asked about his hiring of Nelson on the January 4 edition of MSNBC's Imus in the Morning, McCain told host Don Imus that Nelson had “realized it was a mistake” to sign off on the ad and subsequently “resigned from the group of people that approved of it.” In fact, Nelson publicly defended the commercial in late October 2006, as Media Matters noted. Moreover, Media Matters has been unable to find any indication that Nelson ever “resigned” from his RNC position.
  • Most recently, in an interview on the February 4 edition of ABC's This Week, host George Stephanopoulos allowed McCain to claim that Nelson was simply doing as he was “instructed” :

STEPHANOPOULOS: You're hiring the Bush team that wrote the ads against you in 2000, the team that wrote the Swift Boat ads in 2004 that you called “dishonest and dishonorable,” and your campaign manager was responsible for those ads in the Tennessee Senate campaign that many called racist. And as you know, the Democratic National Committee all week long has been pointing attention to this saying that “straight talk” has been replaced by “whatever it takes.” What's your response?

McCAIN: My response is that these are good people who were doing as they were instructed. They are people who shape the message, don't dictate it. But the second thing is, most of them are good people. They are all good people, otherwise I wouldn't hire them. And they have done a good job in the campaigns they've been -- myriad of campaigns they've been involved in.

Stephanopoulos did not challenge McCain on the claim that Nelson was simply doing as “instructed” and did not clarify for viewers that Nelson, in fact, oversaw the RNC unit that produced the ad.