On MSNBC, Mitchell allowed McCain aide to distance Terry Nelson from controversial RNC ad

NBC News' Andrea Mitchell did not challenge Sen. John McCain aide Rick Davis when he asserted that Terry Nelson was not “behind” a campaign ad attacking Rep. Harold Ford Jr. that was criticized as racist. In fact, Nelson was head of the political unit that paid for the ad and presumably in a position to sign off on its creation and broadcast.

In a December 20 interview with Richard Davis, who managed Sen. John McCain's (R-AZ) 2000 presidential campaign and will reportedly serve as campaign CEO for his presumed 2008 presidential bid, NBC News chief foreign affairs correspondent Andrea Mitchell brought up McCain's recent decision to tap Republican operative Terry Nelson as his 2008 campaign manager. Mitchell noted that Nelson “was behind” a campaign advertisement attacking Tennessee Democratic Senate candidate Rep. Harold Ford Jr. that was criticized as racist, and questioned whether this undermined Davis' claim that McCain “always stands by his principles.” But she then did not challenge Davis' response: “Terry has assured us that he didn't produce that ad.”

In fact, at the time of the ad's production, Nelson was head of the Republican National Committee's (RNC) independent expenditure unit, which paid for the ad. 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.

Nelson also publicly defended the ad, another fact that Mitchell did not bring up. From an October 28 Associated Press article on the controversy:

In an interview, he [Nelson] said of the commercial that critics deemed racist:

“There was no intention to offend anybody and it's unfortunate if people took offense. That was certainly not what people planned for or hoped for.”


“I think that the ad was designed to deal with an issue that Harold Ford had put before the voters of Tennessee, that he was someone they could trust as a moderate or conservative Democrat, both in terms of the policies he put forward and his values,” Nelson said. “We felt Tennessee voters should know both sides of the story.”

Mitchell also allowed Davis to claim that McCain “hasn't changed any of his positions to accommodate any political realities and he probably never will.” But as Media Matters for America has repeatedly noted, McCain has shifted his positions on any number of issues, including tax cuts for the wealthy, abortion, intelligent design, the Confederate flag, Iraq policy, and other issues.

From the December 20 edition of MSNBC News Live:

MITCHELL: McCain has been moving more and more to the right on a lot of issues: the Jerry Falwell moment, a number of other things. Does he risk losing his straight-talk, independent persona with a lot of voters, whom we saw coming out of this midterm election, want someone independent of both political parties?

DAVIS: Andrea, I don't think he's moved anywhere. I think that he was more conservative than he was made out to be in 2000. And now, you know, people want to create a news story where there is none. I mean, when Reverend Falwell came to meet with John McCain, he sat down in his office, he held out his hand, he said, “I want to bury our differences.” Anybody would say that -- that when you are seeing old foes and you want to bury your differences, you take the opportunity to do that. The same speech that he gave to Liberty University, he gave to New School and was summarily booed by the relatively liberal crowd that goes to New School.

MITCHELL: Well, let me ask you why McCain --

DAVIS: John McCain has always spoken from the heart and the head. He always stands by his principles. And --

MITCHELL: Why would he -- if he's standing by his principles, why would he hire Terry Nelson, the man who was behind that dreadful commercial against Harold Ford? This is John McCain, who was the victim of these kinds of attacks in the South Carolina primary and in other primaries back in 2000.

DAVIS: Terry is a very capable operative who came out of building up the political operation within the Bush campaign in 2004. He has a nationwide network of people that will become troops for John McCain if he chooses to run. Terry has assured us that he didn't produce that ad, and I know that John McCain would never allow an ad like that in his own campaign. So I don't think it's a problem, when you look at these kinds of decisions. And really, what the people care about is who John McCain is and what he stands for. He's been clear on his positions. He hasn't changed any of his positions to accommodate any political realities and he probably never will. So I'm not exactly sure where the debate is right now, other than John re-entering a national contest. He'll go off for the holidays, like everybody else does. He'll have, you know, the family get-together and he'll talk about next year. And John McCain will be John McCain when it comes time, if he chooses to run -- to do it again.

MITCHELL: It seems pretty clear he is going to run, Rick. So buckle our seatbelts.

DAVIS: Buckle your seatbelt.

MITCHELL: Thanks very much.

DAVIS: Thank you.