NBC News Washington bureau chief Mark Whitaker said that the controversy over Sen. Barack Obama's "lipstick on a pig" comment "seems like a frivolous story" but it is "important to watch" because it's an example of "how good the McCain campaign is at ... driving the news cycle day after day." He did not acknowledge the media's responsibility in choosing what they cover.*
Commenting on what NBC News chief foreign affairs correspondent Andrea Mitchell described -- on the September 10 edition of MSNBC Live -- as the "latest controversy over [Sen.] Barack Obama's use of a common expression about putting lipstick on a pig," NBC News Washington bureau chief Mark Whitaker said that "on one level, this seems like a frivolous story" but it is "important to watch" because it's an example of "how good the [Sen. John] McCain campaign is at ... driving the news cycle day after day." But while Whitaker did not acknowledge media responsibility in determining what they cover*, NBC News political director Chuck Todd said earlier the same day on MSNBC's Morning Joe that the story was "a faux controversy" and that the media had "taken the bait on this lipstick thing" which he called "a joke" and "laughable."
From the 1 p.m. ET hour of the September 10 edition of MSNBC Live:
MITCHELL: With less than two months before the election, there are plenty of personal and political attacks, accusations, negative political ads out there, on the web, on television, and especially this latest controversy over Barack Obama's use of a common expression about putting lipstick on a pig. How did we get here? How effective is negative campaigning, and how risky is it? What about the backlash?
I'm joined now by Mark Whitaker, NBC's Washington bureau chief. Mark, let's take it back and try to put this into some context. It all started with Barack Obama making a comment he did or did not think is innocuous, he's said it before, but immediately, the response -- and I was watching it happen, live, on television, and then within 15 minutes we were called to a conference call by the McCain camp.
WHITAKER: I keep waiting to see what animal we're going to find -- put lipstick on tomorrow. You know, we've had pit bulls, we've had pigs. It's turning into a very campy version of Noah's Ark. But, yeah -- look, I think, on one level, this seems like a frivolous story, but I think it does tell us two things that I think are important to watch. One is how good the McCain campaign is at hand-to-hand combat, at basically driving the news cycle day after day. Obviously, it's true that they don't really want to talk about the state of the economy, they don't want to talk about George Bush's record, so they've got to get other things to talk about, and they're very good at that. But, I think it's also -- people are looking to see how Obama is going to respond, you know. And, the fact is that, as we discovered in '04 with Kerry, people take how a candidate responds to these kinds of attacks, and whether they're willing to fight for themselves, as a proxy for whether they're going to be fighters for the American people on other issues.
MITCHELL: Now, the Obama campaign responded very quickly, because 10 minutes after we got off this conference call with the McCain people, the Obama people already had all of these citations of how often John McCain had used "lipstick on a pig." In fact, it is the title of the book written by his former press secretary, Torie Clarke. That said, they didn't put anyone out immediately. Did Obama show his toughness today when he said, "I may not throw the first punch, but I will throw the last punch?"