On Hannity & Colmes, Sean Hannity made misleading assertions about Sen. Barack Obama's positions on civilian deaths in Afghanistan, military spending, and nuclear weapons, and then asked, "[D]oes that sound like a guy that has the experience to be the commander in chief?"
On the September 11 edition of Fox News' Hannity & Colmes, co-host Sean Hannity followed a series of misleading assertions about Sen. Barack Obama by asking Fox News contributor Lanny Davis: "[D]oes that sound like a guy that has the experience to be the commander in chief?"
Specifically, Hannity said:
When Barack Obama said that our troops are air-raiding villages and killing civilians, which is causing major problems there, when he said he could cut military spending, billions of dollars, cut investment in unproven missile defense systems, will not weaponize space, slow development of Future Combat Systems, when he said he would rid the world of nuclear weapons, set a goal of doing that, does that sound like a guy that has the experience to be the commander in chief? And do you think it was wrong when he accused our troops of air-raiding villages and killing civilians?
But Hannity mischaracterized Obama's statement about his plans to “cut military spending, billions of dollars.” And in suggesting Obama was somehow misguided for proposing “slow[ing] development of Future Combat Systems,” Hannity did not mention that the McCain campaign has said that the program “should be ended.” Further, while Hannity suggested that Obama's goal of a world without nuclear weapons indicated he did not have the experience to be commander in chief, a bipartisan group of experts echoed Obama's position. Moreover, in his repeated references to Obama's statement that “we're air-raiding villages and killing civilians” in Afghanistan, Hannity again failed to note that Obama's claim is reportedly accurate.
Airstrikes and civilian deaths in Afghanistan
As Media Matters for America has documented, Hannity has previously attacked and mischaracterized Obama's August 13, 2007, statement that "[w]e've got to get the job done there [in Afghanistan] and that requires us to have enough troops so that we're not just air-raiding villages and killing civilians, which is causing enormous pressure over there." On the August 15, 2007, edition of Hannity & Colmes, Hannity falsely suggested that Obama “attack[ed] our troops as murderers,” and on the August 21, 2007, show, claimed that Obama's comments were “not true.” In fact, U.S. airstrikes in Afghanistan -- and accounts of resulting civilian casualties -- have been widely reported in the media and have reportedly provoked criticism from Afghan President Hamid Karzai and a British commander stationed there. Additionally, the Associated Press reported in a “Fact Check” responding to conservative attacks on Obama: “Western forces have been killing [Afghan] civilians at a faster rate than the insurgents.”
From the August 14, 2007, AP “Fact Check” article:
“We've got to get the job done there and that requires us to have enough troops so that we're not just air-raiding villages and killing civilians, which is causing enormous problems there,” Obama said.
A check of the facts shows that Western forces have been killing civilians at a faster rate than the insurgents have been killing civilians.
The U.S. and NATO say they don't have civilian casualty figures, but The Associated Press has been keeping count based on figures from Afghan and international officials. Tracking civilian deaths is a difficult task because they often occur in remote and dangerous areas that are difficult to reach and verify.
As of Aug. 1, the AP count shows that while militants killed 231 civilians in attacks in 2007, Western forces killed 286. Another 20 were killed in crossfire that can't be attributed to one party.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai expressed his concern about the civilian deaths during a meeting last week with President Bush.
Bush said he understands the agony that Afghans feel over the loss of innocent lives and that he is doing everything he can to protect them. He said the Taliban are using civilians as human shields and have no regard for their lives.
“The president rightly expressed his concerns about civilian casualty,” Bush said of Karzai. “And I assured him that we share those concerns.”
Further, in a July 7, 2007, article on NATO and U.S. airstrikes that reportedly killed more than 100 Afghan civilians, Reuters cited the assessment of military analysts that “a shortage of ground troops means commanders often turn to air power” :
President Hamid Karzai has repeatedly called for the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) and the separate U.S. force in Afghanistan to coordinate more closely with his troops to curb a spate of civilian deaths from airstrikes.
But Western unwillingness to accept casualties among their own soldiers and a shortage of ground troops means commanders often turn to air power to beat the Taliban, and that almost inevitably leads to civilians [sic] deaths, military analysts say.
Setting a goal of a world without nuclear weapons
A bipartisan coalition of experts, including former Secretaries of State Henry Kissinger and George Shultz, former Defense Secretary William J. Perry, and former Sen. Sam Nunn (D-GA) offered a proposal for nuclear arms similar to the position Obama has articulated. In an essay headlined “A World Free of Nuclear Weapons” published in the January 4, 2007, Wall Street Journal, the group noted that “Ronald Reagan called for the abolishment of 'all nuclear weapons,' which he considered to be 'totally irrational, totally inhumane, good for nothing but killing, possibly destructive of life on earth and civilization.' ” Further, they wrote:
Reassertion of the vision of a world free of nuclear weapons and practical measures toward achieving that goal would be, and would be perceived as, a bold initiative consistent with America's moral heritage. The effort could have a profoundly positive impact on the security of future generations. Without the bold vision, the actions will not be perceived as fair or urgent. Without the actions, the vision will not be perceived as realistic or possible.
Obama highlighted the proposal by Shultz, Perry, Kissinger, and Nunn in a January 17 press release, in which he asserted:
I welcome the renewed call by Sam Nunn, George Shultz, Henry Kissinger, and William Perry to urge the United States to support a world free of nuclear weapons. These four Americans have shown leadership on this issue for many months, and I have embraced this goal throughout my campaign. As I said in a speech on October 2 : “Here's what I'll say as President: America seeks a world in which there are no nuclear weapons.”
Hannity's assertion that Obama “could cut military spending, billions of dollars” leaves out a key word in Obama's actual statement. As Media Matters has noted, Obama told the group Caucus4Priorities that he would cut “tens of billions of dollars in wasteful spending,” not overall defense spending in general.
Future Combat Systems
Hannity also asserted that Obama would “slow development of Future Combat Systems.” In fact, as Wired blogger Noah Shachtman noted, Future Combat Systems is a specific Army program that the McCain campaign has said “should be ended.” The McCain campaign budget plan that McCain senior economic adviser Douglas Holtz-Eakin provided to The Washington Post editorial board, published July 14, states:
Balance the budget requires slowing outlay growth to 2.4 percent. The roughly $470 billion dollars (by 2013) in slower spending growth come from reduced deployments abroad ($150 billion; consistent with success in Iraq/Afghanistan that permits deployments to be cut by half -- hopefully more), slower discretionary spending in non-defense and Pentagon procurements ($160 billion; there are lots of procurements -- airborne laser, Globemaster, Future Combat System -- that should be ended and the entire Pentagon budget should be scrubbed) and reductions in mandatory spending ($160 billion) from a mix of excessive agricultural and ethanol subsidies, slower health care cost growth, Medicaid savings from the expansion of private insurance, and other reforms.
From the September 11 edition of Fox News' Hannity & Colmes:
HANNITY: All right, here's my final question.
DAVIS: -- and we don't need that kind of provocation.
HANNITY: When Barack Obama said that our troops are air-raiding villages and killing civilians, which is causing major problems there, when he said he could cut military spending, billions of dollars, cut investment in unproven missile defense systems, will not weaponize space, slow development of Future Combat Systems, when he said he would rid the world of nuclear weapons, set a goal of doing that, does that sound like a guy that has the experience to be the commander in chief? And do you think it was wrong when he accused our troops of air-raiding villages and killing civilians?
DAVIS: Well, when you quote things, Sean, I have to believe that you're quoting --
HANNITY: I just played it. I just played it earlier in the show.
DAVIS: I don't know -- I don't know the context, so all I can say is that some of those words sound as if they're taken out of context.
HANNITY: I played the quote exactly, and I was reading verbatim. I just played it earlier in the show.
DAVIS: I'm only protecting the both of us that Senator Obama might say they were taken out of context. But, so, I don't know those quotes.
MICHAEL STEELE (Fox News contributor): Hey, Sean. Hey, Sean. Sean, that's called the backstroke, baby. Let's get out of it as quickly as possible.
HANNITY: Yeah. Thank God the music is playing. Lanny wants to get out of here.
Varun Piplani is an intern at Media Matters for America.