CNN asserted McCain has "image as an independent thinker," aired Roe comments without context

››› ››› BRIAN LEVY

On the February 20 edition of The Situation Room, CNN correspondent Brianna Keilar uncritically aired Sen. John McCain's (R-AZ) statement that Roe v. Wade "should be overturned," without noting that McCain has taken a variety of positions on Roe since 1999. Moments later, CNN political editor Mark Preston asserted without evidence that McCain currently has an "image as an independent thinker not beholden to any political party."

Keilar aired McCain's February 18 quote "I do not support Roe v. Wade. It should be overturned," without noting that McCain has previously said he "would not support repeal of Roe vs. Wade." As Media Matters for America noted, on August 25, 1999, the San Francisco Chronicle reported that McCain had told its editorial board:

"I'd love to see a point where it is irrelevant and could be repealed because abortion is no longer necessary. ... But certainly in the short term, or even the long term, I would not support repeal of Roe vs. Wade, which would then force X number of women in America to (undergo) illegal and dangerous operations."

Several days later, he issued what the San Francisco Chronicle called a "clarification," reportedly saying: "I have always believed in the importance of the repeal of Roe vs. Wade, and as president, I would work toward its repeal." He added:

"If Roe v. Wade were repealed tomorrow, it would force thousands of young women to undergo dangerous and illegal operations. I will continue to work with both pro-life and pro-choice Americans so that we can eliminate the need for abortions to be performed in this country."

On the January 21, 2001, edition of NBC's Meet the Press, McCain said "[y]ou can't" overturn Roe v. Wade without "get[ting] a majority of the American citizens to be convinced that there's great validity to your point of view" because "then it goes back to the states and then the debate and discussion would take place in the respective 50 states:"

TIM RUSSERT (host): You heard [first lady] Laura Bush say that Roe v. Wade should not be overturned. [then-Attorney General nominee] John Ashcroft said it's settled law and that the new president would not seek to overturn it. Is that a good result? Should people across the country say, "We're not going to overturn Roe v. Wade"?

McCAIN: Well, I think it's a recognition of reality, number one, and number two is, a lot of us have said for a long time, "We have to change the hearts and minds of the American people. We have to convince them about the sanctity of human life." That's the way you win. You've got to get a majority of the American citizens to be convinced that there's great validity to your point of view.

RUSSERT: If you tried to overturn Roe v. Wade without doing that, it would --

McCAIN: You can't do it. And if you did overturn Roe v. Wade, then it goes back to the states and then the debate and discussion would take place in the respective 50 states.

And as Media Matters noted, according to CNN, when asked in January 2000 what he would do if his daughter became pregnant McCain said: "The final decision would be made by [daughter] Meghan with our advice and counsel."

As the weblog Think Progress noted, on November 19, 2006, McCain told ABC This Week host George Stephanopoulos that he would "support" a Supreme Court decision overruling Roe, saying that "it's very likely or possible that a Supreme Court should -- could overturn Roe v. Wade, which would then return these decisions to the states, which I support. ... [B]ecause I'm a federalist." Further, on February 28, 2006, McCain issued a statement indicating that if he were the governor of South Dakota, he "would have signed" a controversial bill outlawing all abortions except when the life of the woman is threatened, but that he "would also take the appropriate steps under state law -- in whatever state -- to ensure that the exceptions of rape, incest or life of the mother were included." As New York Times columnist Paul Krugman noted: "But that attempt at qualification makes no sense: the South Dakota law has produced national shockwaves precisely because it prohibits abortions even for victims of rape or incest."

Preston asserted that McCain currently has an image "as an independent thinker not beholden to any political party," but did not provide any evidence that McCain actually was an "independent thinker." Nor did he mention polls showing that independent voters have soured on McCain over the last year. In a December 11, 2006, Newsweek article, an anonymous McCain "campaign adviser" was quoted saying: "We lost independents. ... McCain will have to get them back to win, or at least convince them to trust him." Boston Herald columnist Brett Arends reported on January 18 (subscription required) that American Research Group (ARG) president Dick Bennett said McCain "is tanking. ... That's the big thing [we're finding]. In New Hampshire a year ago he got 49 percent among independent voters. That number's way down, to 29 percent now.'' Bennett added that the trend extended to other states that ARG polled: "We're finding this everywhere." Additionally, a January 13-16 Los Angeles Times poll found 43 percent of independent respondents said they were "[l]ess likely" (37 percent "[m]uch less likely") to vote for McCain because of his support for increasing the number of troops in Iraq. By contrast, 13 percent said they were "[m]ore likely" (8 percent "[m]uch more likely"). Preston did note that McCain was on a "tightrope" trying to "appeal to social conservatives" and that support for the war might be McCain's "biggest obstacle," but still asserted McCain's image as an "independent" was notable.

From the 4 p.m. ET hour of the February 20 edition of CNN's The Situation Room:

KEILAR: Both Georgia and South Carolina are Southern states where conservative voters have a big say in the Republican primaries. But John McCain defends his outreach and says he's not pandering to win the GOP nomination.

[begin video clip]

McCAIN: I do not support Roe v. Wade. It should be overturned.

KEILAR: John McCain on the campaign trail in South Carolina, where Christian conservatives are a major force, and meeting with religious broadcasters at their convention in Florida.

McCAIN: I respect the work of the religious broadcasters, and I was glad to have the opportunity to meet with them.

KEILAR: The senator from Arizona seems to be saying the right things to make some social conservatives happy. Today, McCain won the endorsement of a past star on the right, former Texas Senator Phil Gramm [R]. This follows former Oklahoma Governor Frank Keating's [R] endorsement over the weekend.

But many on the right are suspicious of McCain, who had no kind words for the Reverends Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson during his 2000 presidential run. He's trying to extend the olive branch this time around, but when it comes to courting conservatives, McCain's work is far from over.

PATRICK MAHONEY (Christian Defense Coalition director): I think Senator McCain has a long way to go in rebuilding a bridge to the faith community.

PRESTON: Senator McCain is walking a tightrope as he tries to appeal to social conservatives who vote in the Republican primaries. At the same time, he's trying to maintain his image as an independent thinker not beholden to any political party. But perhaps what might be his biggest obstacle in this presidential race is Senator McCain's unabashed support for the Iraq war.

KEILAR: That's the issue that could damage his White House run. McCain's a strong supporter of the president's recent build-up of troops -- necessary, he says, because the war was so poorly managed.

McCAIN: I think that Donald Rumsfeld will go down in history as one of the worst secretaries of defense in history and I --

[end video clip]

Posted In
Health Care, Reproductive Rights
The Situation Room
John McCain, 2008 Elections
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