During an interview with Michael Steele, CNN's Wolf Blitzer did not ask Steele to reconcile his conflicting positions on the war in Iraq. He also failed to challenge Steele's assertion that he is "not running away from President Bush" and that he has "never run away from" being a Republican, despite his having been exposed as the "candidate" who reportedly told The Washington Post that he "probably" did not want President Bush to campaign with him.
On the November 2 edition of CNN's The Situation Room, host Wolf Blitzer failed to ask Maryland Lt. Gov. Michael Steele, the Republican Senate candidate in that state, to clarify his conflicting positions on the war in Iraq. As Media Matters for America noted, on the October 29 edition of NBC's Meet the Press, host and NBC News Washington bureau chief Tim Russert led into a debate between the Maryland Senate candidates by reciting Steele's seemingly contradictory positions on the war. Instead of asking for clarification during Steele's appearance on The Situation Room, Blitzer asked Steele only two questions on Iraq: "Do you disagree at all with the president of the United States when it comes to his strategy in trying to win the war in Iraq?" and "Would you agree with the president" that Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld is "doing a, quote, 'fantastic job' when it comes to Iraq?" To the first question, Steele replied in part: "We're trying to win this thing. I'd like to see them correct the course immediately because the course we're on right now is not achieving the objective." Blitzer did not follow up by asking Steele to reconcile that statement with his view, articulated as recently as August, that the Iraq war has been successful, and, in June, his statement that he believes in "staying the course."
Blitzer also failed to challenge Steele's assertion that he is "not running away from President Bush" and that he has "never run away from" being a Republican. In a July 25 Washington Post column by Dana Milbank, a candidate speaking "under the condition that he be identified only as a GOP Senate candidate," spoke "critically, if anonymously, about the party he will represent on Election Day." Milbank wrote that the candidate "spoke of his party affiliation as though it were a congenital defect rather than a choice." And when asked if he wanted Bush to campaign for him, the candidate responded, "To be honest with you, probably not." Later that day, ABCNews.com reported that "[t]he GOP Senate candidate who anonymously described his Republican affiliation as an 'impediment' to his electoral prospects while speaking with the Washington Post's Dana Milbank and others ... is none other than Maryland Lt. Gov. Michael Steele."
Additionally, on CNN, Blitzer remarked to Steele, "You never see the fact that you're a Republican in [your] signs and in [your] commercials," but then failed to challenge Steele's assertion that "I'm the only candidate that's required in this race to put his party affiliation ... on the placard." Blitzer did not mention that Steele actually put a different party affiliation on some of his paraphernalia. As the Post reported on September 24, at a rally in Baltimore, "Steele supporters waved signs and grabbed bumper stickers that said 'Steele Democrat.' " The signs and bumper stickers are, like Steele's website and other campaign gear, blue -- the color that came to represent the Democratic Party in the 2004 election -- and the word "Democrat" appears in smaller type beneath the word "Steele." The Post article quoted "Steele supporters" as saying that the "Steele Democrat signs should be read as if they said 'Reagan Democrat.' " Terry Lierman, chairman of the Maryland Democratic Party was also quoted in the article, as saying: "Steele's new logo is the biggest election fraud perpetrated on the voters of Maryland in this campaign to date -- and proves that Steele thinks his only chance is political identity theft."
As noted by the weblog Crooks and Liars, onscreen text briefly identified Steele as a Democrat:
From the 4 p.m. ET hour of the November 2 edition of CNN's The Situation Room:
BLITZER: But a lot of people are saying that you're doing well in part because you're running away from President Bush. Is that true?
STEELE: Look -- no, I'm not running away from the president. I'm not running towards the president. I'm running for the United States Senate, and I'll keep saying it over and over again. This election is about my state. It's about the people in the state. I've had a conversation with them now for over a year and they're responding to the conversation. This is not about Ben Cardin. I could care less about Ben Cardin. This is about my putting myself out here before the public and having them evaluate me, the qualifications that I bring to the job, and the kind of senator I'm going to be. And as of, at least the [Baltimore] Sun poll, I'm down by six with a plus or minus three. Our internal polls have us much closer. This race -- I'm going to follow all the way through to the end, buddy.
BLITZER: Have you asked the president to stay away from Maryland?
STEELE: No, I have not. No. The president came in for me in the early phases of the campaign back in November. He did a great event for me. I've had his father and his mother. We've had the vice president in. We have had a great deal of support from Republicans around the country, but I've also had a great deal of support and endorsements from the likes of [entrepreneur and recording music executive] Russell Simmons, [Radio One and TVOne founder] Cathy Hughes, [actor/director] Charles Dutton, and a host of other folks who --
BLITZER: You know --
STEELE: -- who see the value of this campaign and want to be a part of it.
BLITZER: Lieutenant Governor, I have a suspicion that if you were to call the White House or the Republican National Committee in the next few hours and say, "Can the president or the vice president drop by" --
STEELE: "Ya'll come."
BLITZER: -- "the state of Maryland?" I'm sure they'd be happy to come in and try to help you. But you're not going to make that call between now and Tuesday?
STEELE: Absolutely. No, no, look, the president's got enough to do. My focus right now in the next five days is going to be on this state and on the people of this state to have a conversation about the things that are important to them.
BLITZER: A lot of signs behind you -- "Michael Steele, U.S. Senate." I've been watching a lot of the commercials. You never see the fact that you're a Republican in those signs, in those commercials. Are you running away from that? That's the criticism you've heard that's been leveled against you.
STEELE: No, look. Hey, Wolf, I've -- I've been Lieutenant Governor of the state of Maryland for four years, elected as a Republican. I was state party chairman. That's Republican. I was a county chairman. That's Republican. I've been a Republican for 30 years of my life, and I've never hid -- hid it. I've never run away from it. I'm a Lincoln Republican. I'm very proud of that. I'm proud of the history of my party and its relation to African-Americans. We walked away from that relationship over the years. I've been trying to rebuild it, and we've had some success. And so, you know, I'm the only candidate that's required in this race to put his party affiliation on the -- on the placard. I don't see why, but, you know, in case your viewers don't know, "Hi, I'm Michael Steele, and I'm a Republican." I mean, so --
BLITZER: I think they --
STEELE: -- beyond that --
BLITZER: I think they know by now. I want you to listen to what the Reverend Al Sharpton --
BLITZER: A final question because we're all -- because we're all --
STEELE: -- because I believe fundamentally -- I believe -- a fundamental match between a man and a woman.
BLIZTER: A fundamental -- a final question. Do you disagree at all with the president of the United States when it comes to his strategy in trying to win the war in Iraq?
STEELE: I do. I have some real concerns there. I noted that in the piece before, the comments about the Defense Department -- I think the Defense Department, Secretary Rumsfeld, have an obligation to step up and put the proper strategy on the ground and listen to the generals. They will tell you the strategy that should be in place. This should not be emanating out of the Pentagon. This should be emanating from the generals on the ground. And I think it's important that this administration in partnership with the White House -- with the Pentagon, the State Department, and the Senate, and the House leadership put the onus on the Iraqi government to step up and take control of the insurgency, take control of building out the democracy that they voted three times for. The strategy of using a conventional means against an insurgency is incorrect. It's out of step and out of tune. We're trying to win this thing. I'd like to see them correct the course immediately because the course we're on right now is not achieving the objective, and that is stabilizing an Iraq that will be an ally for the United States, not an enemy.
BLITZER: Would you agree with the president -- what he said yesterday -- that Donald Rumsfeld is doing a, quote, "fantastic job" when it comes to Iraq?
STEELE: Let's put it this way: He wouldn't be my secretary of defense.
BLITZER: All right, we'll leave it right there.