Conservative media figures are echoing discredited journalist Sharyl Attkisson's defense of Donald Trump to claim the media distorted his remark that Sen. John McCain is not a war hero.
Donald Trump Attacks Sen. John McCain For Time As POW: He's “Not A War Hero”
Donald Trump: John McCain Is “Not A War Hero.” Speaking at a July 18 Republican presidential forum in Ames, Iowa, Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump criticized the military service of Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), who suffered years of torture as a prisoner of war in Vietnam, saying, “He's not a war hero. He's a war hero because he was captured. I like people who weren't captured.” [The New York Times, 7/18/15]
Media, GOP Politicians Criticize Trump's McCain Attack
Wash. Post: 2016 GOP Contenders Unleash “Swift And Sharp” Trump Denunciations. Trump's anti-McCain remarks at the Family Leadership Summit, “opened the floodgates, drawing swift and sharp criticisms from other Republicans,” reported The Washington Post. Within hours, nearly every major GOP candidate publicly condemned Trump's comments:
Former Texas governor Rick Perry, himself a subject of recent attacks from Trump, said Trump was “unfit” to serve as president and should “immediately withdraw” from the race.
Jeb Bush, the former Florida governor, also chimed in with a Twitter post calling or an end to such “slanderous attacks”
“He needs to apologize to Senator McCain and all the other men and women who have worn the uniform,” [Scott] Walker told reporters following a campaign stop in Sioux City. “It's just a disgrace.”
Sen. Marco Rubio (Fla.) posted on Twitter: “America's POWs deserve much better than to have their service questioned by the offensive rantings of Donald Trump” [The Washington Post, 7/18/15]
WSJ: If "Trump Becomes The Voice Of Conservatives, Conservatism Will Implode Along With Him." The Wall Street Journal editorial board took on the conservative news outlets defending Trump in a July 19 editorial. Blasting “Trump and his apologists,” the paper wrote that “as for conservative media elites, too many have adopted the view that there can be no adversary to their right”:
The summer Trump polling spurt has nonetheless been instructive in exposing a growing problem on the political right. All too many conservatives, including some magazine editors, have been willing to overlook his hucksterism as he's risen in the polls. They pretend that he deserves respect because he's giving voice to some deep disquiet or anger in the American electorate.
As for conservative media elites, too many have adopted the view that there can be no adversary to their right. This was mainly a left-wing affliction in the last century as many liberals refused to condemn Communists. But today many on the right seem willing to indulge any populist outburst no matter how divorced from reality or insulting to most Americans. If Donald Trump becomes the voice of conservatives, conservatism will implode along with him. [The Wall Street Journal, 7/19/15]
Rupert Murdoch: Trump Is Embarrassing “The Whole Country.” After Trump's attack on McCain, Rupert Murdoch, executive co-chairman of 21st Century Fox, which operates the Fox News Channel, tweeted:
When is Donald Trump going to stop embarrassing his friends, let alone the whole country?
-- Rupert Murdoch (@rupertmurdoch) July 19, 2015
Attkisson Defends Trump From Firestorm, Claims He Said “Four Times” McCain Was A War Hero
Sharyl Attkisson: Trump “Said The Opposite” Of What Media Is Reporting. Sharyl Attkisson defended Trump's comments about McCain in a July 18 post on her website, asserting she was “fact check” the Washington Post's reporting on the topic. Attkisson argued that Trump “modified his statement saying -- four times -- McCain is a war hero,” concluded, “Trump actually said the opposite” of what has been reported. [sharylattkisson.com, 7/18/15]
Trump Echoes Attkisson To Defend His Attack Against McCain
Trump Cites Attkisson's Defense To Accuse Media Of “Distorting” His Words. Trump continued to attack McCain in a USA Today op-ed, citing Attkisson's defense to accuse the media of “distorting” his words:
Now, as respected reporter Sharyl Attkisson has proved point by point, the news media are also distorting my words. But that is not my point. McCain the politician has failed the state of Arizona and the country. [USA Today, 7/19/15]
Trump Reiterated Attkisson's Defense On NBC's Today Show. When asked about his comments by host Matt Lauer on NBC's Today, Trump argued the “media just has done such a false number,” and continued to defend his comments noting “Sharyl Attkisson said I said four times that McCain is a war hero.” [NBC, Today, 7/20/15]
Right-Wing Media Parrot Attkisson To Defend Trump
Fox's Doocy: Trump "Says He Was A War Hero Four Times." During the July 20 edition of Fox & Friends, host Steve Doocyargued mainstream media neglected to report that Trump only said McCain wasn't a hero “one time, then immediately corrects himself, and says he was a war hero four times.” [Fox News, Fox & Friends, 7/20/15]
Limbaugh Cites Attkisson To Claim “Trump Did Not Say What He Is Being Reputed To Have Said.” On the July 20 edition of Premiere Radio Networks' The Rush Limbaugh Show, Limbaugh cited Attkisson's defense of Trump claiming “Sharyl Attkisson has written a great analysis of this, and it is a fact that Trump did not say what he's being reputed to have said.” [Premiere Radio Networks, The Rush Limbaugh Show, 7/20/15]
Hannity: As Attkisson Pointed Out, Trump Was Taken Out Of Context. During the July 20 edition of Premiere Radio Networks' The Sean Hannity Show, Hannity cited Attkisson and to claim that although Trump “did blurt out McCain was not a war hero ... a second later, and Trump's people will point this out accurately, and Sharyl Attkisson who left CBS because of their pro-Democratic bias, pointed out the same thing on her website, using the Washington Post's dishonest coverage of Trump, because he said it four times 'he is a war hero.'” [Premiere Radio Networks, The Sean Hannity Show, 7/20/15]
Attkisson's Defense Requires Ignoring Trump's Sarcasm
Wash Po.'s Erik Wemple: Attkisson “Failed To Take Into Account Trump's Sarcasm.” As the Post's Erik Wemple pointed out, Attkisson's defense of Trump failed to account for Trump's sarcasm:
In what can only be an innocent oversight, Attkisson failed to take into account Trump's sarcasm -- which undermined nearly all statements he made in favor of McCain's war-hero standing. [Washington Post, Erik Wemple Blog, 7/20/15]
Attkisson's Shoddy Reporting Has Been Repeatedly Discredited
Politico: CBS Executives Saw Attkisson As “Wading Dangerously Close To Advocacy” In Benghazi “Campaign.” In May 2013, Politico reported that CBS News “has grown increasingly frustrated with Attkisson's Benghazi campaign.” According to Politico, “CBS News executives see Attkisson wading dangerously close to advocacy on the issue, network sources have told POLITICO. Attkisson can't get some of her stories on the air, and is thus left feeling marginalized and underutilized.” [Politico, 5/8/13]
Attkisson Pushed Error-Ridden Report On “New Solyndras.” In a CBS' This Morning exclusive investigative report, Attkisson purported to “have found a pattern of the government pouring your tax dollars into clean energy.” Attkisson claimed to have identified 12 clean energy companies, including Solyndra, that were “having trouble” or had “filed for bankruptcy” after receiving a total of $6.5 billion in federal assistance. But Attkisson's flawed report failed to name 4 of the 11 “new Solyndras,” and some of the clean energy companies Attkisson mentioned never received federal funding or were incorrectly linked to the assistance in question. [Media Matters, 1/13/12; Media Matters,1/18/12]
Attkisson Pushed Inaccurate Healthcare.gov Claims Based On “Partial” Information Leaked By House Republicans. Attkisson aired an “exclusive” report in November 2013 based on what she acknowledged were selectively leaked partial transcripts that claimed the “project manager in charge of building the federal health care website was apparently kept in the dark about serious failures in the website's security. However, contrary to Attkisson's misleading report, the memo discussed a part of the website not in use and that does not deal with personally identifiable information. Attkisson likely obtained her selectively leaked ”exclusive" information from Republicans on the House Oversight Committee. [Media Matters, 11/13/13; Media Matters, 11/12/13]
Attkisson Rehashed Debunked Benghazi Myth That Obama Administration May Have Changed Benghazi Talking Points For Political Reasons. In May 2013, after former head of the CIA Gen. David Petraeus had already testified that the intelligence community had signed off on the final draft of the talking points used by Susan Rice in the immediate aftermath of the Benghazi attack, Attkisson followed the conservative media's lead in asking if edits to the talking points revealed an emerging pattern of the Obama administration “wanting to avoid the terrorism narrative.” [Media Matters, 5/12/13]
Attkisson Continuously Changed Story About Her Purported Computer Hack. In 2014, Attkisson claimed that her personal computer was hacked as part of a federal effort to monitor her because her reporting was critical of the Obama administration. Attkisson repeatedly changed her initial claims that she knew the name of the allege hacker and experienced various technological problems in 2012 and 2013 tied to the cyberattack. Computer security experts explained Attkisson's purported hack was more likely a malfunction due to a stuck backspace key, and a federal investigation later found no evidence that Attkisson's personal computer had ever been hacked. [Media Matters, 1/29/15; Media Matters, 11/5/14]
Note: This post has been updated for clarity.