On Meet the Press, McCain's statements on Iraq, terrorism, and Lieberman went unchallenged

On Meet the Press, NBC News' David Gregory failed to rebut or question Sen. John McCain on several assertions he made on the show regarding Iraq, terrorism, and the Connecticut Senate race that were either false or open to challenge.

On the August 20 broadcast of NBC's Meet the Press, guest host and NBC News chief White House correspondent David Gregory failed to rebut or question a number of assertions by Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) regarding the Iraq war, terrorism, and the Connecticut senate race that were false or otherwise open to challenge.

McCain: “All along, we have not had enough troops on the ground to control the situation.”

Discussing the Iraq war, McCain stated that more U.S. troops should be sent to Iraq to quell the rising sectarian violence:

GREGORY: The president has said repeatedly that he has a strategy to win, that if his commanders want more forces, they will get them. Should more troops be sent?

McCAIN: Well, I think it's been well documented now that we didn't have enough there from the beginning, that we allowed the looting, that we did not have control, particularly, of areas, such -- in the Sunni Triangle, which led to us paying a very heavy price. We make mistakes in every war, and serious mistakes were made here. The question is: Are we going to be able to bring the situation under control now? I still believe we can. I think part of it has to do with the Mahdi Army and [Muqtada al-] Sadr. Sadr has got to be taken out of this equation and his militia has got to be addressed forcefully.

GREGORY: But to do that, do you need more U.S. soldiers on the ground now?

McCAIN: I think so. I think so. We took troops from places like Ramadi, which are still not under control, to put them into Baghdad. We've had to send in additional troops as they are. All along, we have not had enough troops on the ground to control the situation. Many, many people knew that and it's -- we're paying a very heavy price for it. But I want to emphasize that we cannot lose this. It will cause chaos in Iraq and in the region, and it's -- I still believe that we -- we must prevail.

Gregory failed to challenge McCain's call for an increase in U.S. troop deployment to Iraq with any follow-up questions, including the most basic: Where would these extra U.S. troops come from? As the weblog Think Progress noted, Slate's “War Stories” columnist Fred Kaplan wrote in a June 2005 article that the number of U.S. troops available for combat is so limited that any substantial expansion of U.S. troop presence in Iraq or elsewhere is simply not possible unless a draft were instituted. The San Francisco Chronicle reported on July 11 that the Pentagon acknowledged that the Army has lowered its recruitment standards in order to meet quotas. The Chronicle noted that “some experts worry that the Army, stretched thin by wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and under pressure to fill its ranks, might be signing up soldiers who should not be in the service.”

When Gregory posed the same question to NBC News military analyst retired Gen. Barry McCaffrey, later in the program, McCaffrey noted some of the problems in expanding the U.S. troop presence in Iraq:

McCAFFREY: I'm not sure it's the right question. First of all, they're not available. The National Guard brigades -- you know, we just had [National Guard Bureau chief] Lieutenant General [H. Steven] Blum testifying; we had the chief staff of the Army testifying. The Army is $23 billion short. Our equipment's coming apart. We're drafting 42-year-old grandmothers to be privates in the Army -- I shouldn't say draft -- asking for volunteers. So, I don't think the combat power is there in the Army and the Marine Corps to solve this problem militarily. We are a safety valve, we're a peacekeeping mechanism, but the Iraqi security forces are going to have to pull this one together.

McCain: “Most of the Americans, when you're asked, 'Do you want to set a date for withdrawal?' say no.”

In defending the “public support” for the Iraq war, McCain falsely claimed that most Americans oppose “set[ting] a date for withdrawal.” Once again, Gregory failed to challenge the assertion:

GREGORY: Let me show you something that you said about public support for the war back last year in November. Put it on our screen, quote: “If we can't retain the support of the American people, we will have lost this war as soundly as if our forces were defeated on the battlefield.” As you well know, public opinion has turned sharply against the war. Sixty percent, according to recent polls, say the war in Iraq has not been worth it. Has this government lost the people?

McCAIN: I don't think so, in this respect. Most of the Americans, when you're asked, “Do you want to set a date for withdrawal?” say no. Of course, they're frustrated. All of us are frustrated. I've expressed my frustrations to you this morning, but they are not ready to face the consequences of failure by setting a date certain for withdrawal, and I believe that -- that they are largely, although frustrated, recognize the consequences of failure.

As Think Progress noted, a CNN poll conducted August 2-3 found that 57 percent of respondents favored setting a timetable for withdrawal. The same poll also found that 61 percent of respondents support withdrawing some or all U.S. forces from Iraq by year's end. A CBS News/New York Times poll conducted July 21-25 found that 56 percent favored setting a timetable for withdrawal.

McCain: “Joe Lieberman ... is a close friend of mine, and I would not campaign against him.”

Gregory also asked McCain about the Connecticut Senate race between Democratic nominee Ned Lamont, Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman, and Republican nominee Alan Schlesinger:

GREGORY: Do you think that Alan Schlesinger, who is the Republican opponent in Connecticut, should win? Do you support him?

McCAIN: I support him. I support the Republican nominee.

GREGORY: Will you campaign for him?

McCAIN: I don't think that probably is in the calendar.

GREGORY: Why not?

McCAIN: We have -- I have -- my priorities generally are set by the -- our folks at the RNC [Republican National Committee] and the campaign committees, and they have a pretty clear lineup of people that I'm going to be campaign for.


McCAIN: And I -- look --

GREGORY: The party has made a judgment at this point to stay out of this race, not support Schlesinger?

McCAIN: I don't know what -- what decision they've made. All I know is that, look, Joe Lieberman is -- is a close friend of mine, and I would not campaign against him. I'll just be very -- I'll straight talk.

GREGORY: Would you like to see him win?

McCAIN: Well, I wouldn't be disappointed, but I am a Republican and I support the nominees of my party.

Gregory might have noted that in the 2000 presidential race, after his own candidacy failed, McCain supported President Bush's campaign against then-Vice President Al Gore and his running mate, Lieberman. Gregory might have also noted that during the 2004 presidential race, McCain campaigned against another man he referred to as a “good friend” -- fellow Vietnam veteran Sen. John Kerry (D-MA). Though McCain denounced the Swift Vets and POWs for Truth's smear campaign (then known as the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth) against Kerry's military service, McCain was also one of the featured speakers at the 2004 Republican National Convention in New York City and was a vocal supporter of Bush's re-election campaign.

McCain on NSA ruling: "[T]o just declare all of them ... to be ... unconstitutional, I think, is a drastic overreach"

Gregory also asked McCain about district court judge Anna Diggs Taylor's August 17 ruling striking down the Bush administration's warrantless domestic surveillance program:

GREGORY: Let me turn to the issue of the NSA domestic surveillance program, and a ruling this past Friday from a district court in -- a district court judge, I should say, in Detroit, effectively saying that this is an unconstitutional program and comparing at one point the -- the president to a king, saying there are no hereditary kings in America and there's no powers granted to him by the Constitution. Do you agree or disagree with that ruling?

McCAIN: I disagree with both the rhetoric and the reasoning, and so do most constitutional scholars. It's a -- very much of an overreach. Look, I think that, you know, [Senate Judiciary Committee chairman] Senator [Arlen] Specter [R-PA] and others have had questions about the broad aspects of this [sic] surveillance programs, but nobody believes that we shouldn't have these, and to just declare all of them to -- to be eliminated or unconstitutional, I think, is a drastic overreach. We need to have surveillance. We all know that, from the events of -- that just took place a few day ago in London. So, I disagree with it. I think that that ruling will be stayed. Do we have to make sure that there's not executive branch overreach and that rights of citizens are not violated? Of course. And that's why we have hearings in -- in the Congress, and I think we'll continue to discuss that. But this decision I think will be rejected.

GREGORY: But do you think the law should be changed?

McCAIN: I think that we ought to probably look at Senator Specter's agreement that he made with the administration as far as more careful circumspection of the -- of the programs, but overall, we need to be able to listen to people's phone calls who want to do bad things to the -- America and the world. I mean, it's that simple.

Gregory failed to challenge McCain's suggestion that Taylor's ruling declared “all” surveillance unconstitutional. In fact, the ruling dealt specifically with the question of whether the president has the authority to intercept and monitor the telephone and internet communications of people within the United States without a warrant, in apparent violation of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA). Taylor's ruling in no way declared that the United States cannot conduct domestic electronic surveillance if it obtains a warrant. McCain then referred unprompted to the process for obtaining electronic surveillance warrants under FISA, saying: “We need more than FISA right now, and the court -- going to court for each one,” but did not revise his statement that the court struck down “all” surveillance programs.

The McCain interview marked the second week in a row that Gregory, as guest host of Meet the Press, has allowed a prominent Republican to spew misinformation unchallenged. As Media Matters for America documented, on the August 13 broadcast of Meet the Press, Gregory virtually gave Republican National Committee chairman Ken Mehlman carte blanche to smear Democrats.