After NBC political director discredited it, MSNBC uncritically ran McCain campaign ad attacking Obama


After Alex Witt aired a new McCain campaign ad on MSNBC Live that suggests the Obama campaign is being "disrespectful" to Gov. Sarah Palin, neither Witt nor NBC News deputy political director Mark Murray gave any indication that the ad contains several distortions or that, an hour earlier, Chuck Todd had said that the ad "takes some words out of context."

On the September 12 edition of MSNBC Live, anchor Alex Witt aired a new ad by Sen. John McCain's campaign that suggests that Sen. Barack Obama's campaign is being "disrespectful" to Gov. Sarah Palin. Neither Witt nor her guest, NBC News deputy political director Mark Murray, gave any indication that the ad contains several distortions or that, in the previous hour of the program, NBC News political director Chuck Todd said, "The ad that McCain's hitting Obama on takes some words out of context."

In its analysis of the ad, noted that the ad "takes words out of context to make it sound as though the Democratic ticket is belittling Palin," and stated that the McCain campaign ad "distorts" each of the three Obama campaign statements it uses "to make the case" that Obama is "being 'disrespectful' of Palin," as Media Matters for America previously documented.

From's September 11 article:

The ad says Obama and [Sen. Joe] Biden "lashed out at Sarah Palin. Dismissed her as 'good looking.' "

That's misleading. The reference is to a report of Biden joking that one of the differences between Palin and him is that "she's good looking." But the report cited in the ad doesn't characterize Biden's remarks as dismissive. Instead, ABC News' Jake Tapper and Matt Jaffe describe a moment when Biden "ham[s] it up" for the crowd, with one woman telling Biden that he's "gorgeous." The Democratic candidate then says he'd like to end "on a serious note."


Our ears don't hear Biden's "good looking" comment as dismissive. To the contrary, it's clearly a self-deprecating remark made in joking about himself and his looks. And by the way, the ad shows a picture of Obama next to the "good looking" quote, but it was Biden, not Obama, who said that.


The ad continues to imply sexism by claiming that "they said she was doing 'what she was told.' " Presumably "they" are the Democrats. But no one said anything close to that. Rather, the McCain ad took a fragment of an actual statement by an Obama adviser and carefully added language to alter the meaning.

The ad cites a Sept. 4 report from Ben Smith's blog at in which he interviewed Obama adviser David Axelrod about Palin's speech at the Republican National Convention.

The full quote reads:

Axelrod, quoted by Politico, Sept. 4: "She tried to attack Obama by saying he had no significant legislative accomplishments -- maybe that's what she was told -- but she should talk to Sen. Lugar, talk to Sen. Coburn, talk to people across the aisle in Illinois where he passed dozens of major laws to expand health care reform welfare, reduce taxes on working families."

Axelrod's statement, as reported, was about information that Palin was given: "maybe that's what she was told." The McCain-Palin campaign manipulated the phrase to make it sound as though he was alleging that Palin took orders: "doing what she was told."

The rest of the interview actually included some praise from Axelrod for Palin. For instance, he said she is a "skilled politician."

And, again, the quote used in the ad wasn't said by Obama, either - though his photo appears next to it.


The ad wraps up by saying Obama and Biden "desperately called Sarah Palin a liar." And it adds, "How disrespectful."

The reference is to an ad the Obama-Biden campaign released in which it criticizes Palin for saying she was against the infamous Bridge to Nowhere when she had previously been for it. (We called into question Palin's comments on the bridge last week.) The Obama ad says, "Politicians lying about their records. You don't call that maverick, you call it more of the same." It then quotes an item from the liberal magazine The New Republic, which called the claim that Palin stopped the pork-barrel bridge project "a naked lie."

Indeed, as Media Matters has documented, Palin has put forth outright falsehoods about her purported opposition to the "Bridge to Nowhere" project.

Previously on MSNBC Live, anchor Contessa Brewer aired a clip of a different McCain campaign ad, without noting that the clip falsely suggests that Obama was behind "attacks on Governor Palin" that have been called "completely false" and "misleading" by

From the 9 a.m. ET hour of the September 12 edition of MSNBC Live:

TODD: The day is going to be about how the 9-11 truce is over. Both McCain and Obama are up with some pretty negative ads. I think we've got a couple of them that we can take a look at.

[begin video clip]

NARRATOR: He was the world's biggest celebrity --

CROWD: Obama! Obama!

NARRATOR: -- but his star's fading. So they lashed out at Sarah Palin, dismissed her as good looking.

[end video clip]

NARRATOR [video clip]: 1982 -- John McCain goes to Washington. Things have changed in the last 26 years, but McCain hasn't. He admits he still doesn't know how to use a computer, can't send an email, still doesn't understand the economy.

TODD: Well, that was a tough one. The ad that McCain's hitting Obama on takes some words out of context, the one Obama's hitting McCain on obviously hitting on age, Tamron, so --

TAMRON HALL (anchor): Yeah.

TODD: -- it's getting rough and tumble every single day.


WITT: All right, let's get to the ad wars. And I want to play you part of McCain's new ad, in which he once again hits Obama over his treatment of Sarah Palin.

[begin video clip]

NARRATOR: He was the world's biggest celebrity --

CROWD: Obama! Obama!

NARRATOR: -- but his star's fading. So they lashed out at Sarah Palin, dismissed her as good looking -- that backfired. So they said she was doing "what she was told," then, desperately, called Sarah Palin a liar. How disrespectful. And how Governor Sarah Palin proves them wrong every day.

McCAIN: I'm John McCain and I approve this message.

[end video clip]

WITT: All right, here's what the Obama campaign said today, quote, "In recent weeks, John McCain has shown that he is willing to go into the gutter to win this election. His campaign has become nothing but a series of smears, lies, and cynical attempts to distract from the issues that matter to the American people." So, who's winning the ad wars right now, Mark?

MURRAY: Well, I'd say, Alex, that, actually, the ad wars have really just started. I mean, today was just kind of a furious day, a back-and-forth already this morning. I ended up probably getting in my email inbox about 100, 150 emails from the McCain, Obama, DNC, RNC people just, you know, passing around things.

It's worth nothing that Barack Obama's up with two new ads, two really tough ads, one in which -- seems to kinda go after McCain for his age and not being able to use a computer, so I really think the ad wars have just really begun, and we'll have an answer to who's winning in the weeks ahead.

WITT: OK, but the Sarah Palin factor, Mark, does the McCain campaign at all risk overplaying its hand on that front?

MURRAY: No doubt about it Alex. I mean, what is interesting is the McCain campaign is trying to make this presidential election about Sarah Palin and really not about John McCain, just, you know, as that ad that you just played was all about Sarah Palin. Also, you know, Sarah Palin's going to be the McCain campaign person doing most of the campaigning this week, and she has a big event in Nevada on Saturday.

John McCain, however, is down. He's doing interviews on The View, Rachael Ray, going to a NASCAR race on Sunday in New Hampshire, but that's it, and the McCain campaign has made it clear that Sarah Palin, in a way, is the campaigner in chief. And so, there is a certain risk and danger when it's unprecedented that the running mate actually becomes the star attraction for the ticket.

WITT: Yeah, we're going to see how this plays out over the next 53 or so days. Mark Murray, thank you. Appreciate it.

MURRAY: Thank you.

Posted In
Chuck Todd, Alex Witt, Sarah Palin
Joe Biden, Barack Obama, John McCain, 2008 Elections
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