NBC's Mitchell aired Swift's accusation that Obama compared Palin to a pig, but not her backtrack the next day
On NBC's Nightly News, Andrea Mitchell reported former acting Massachusetts Gov. Jane Swift's assertion on September 9 that when Sen. Barack Obama said at a rally that "[y]ou can put lipstick on a pig; it's still a pig," he made "disgraceful comments comparing our vice-presidential nominee, Governor [Sarah] Palin, to a pig." However, Mitchell did not report that on September 10 on NBC's sister channel, MSNBC, Swift admitted, "I can't know if it was aimed at Governor Palin."
On the September 10 broadcast of NBC's Nightly News, chief foreign affairs correspondent Andrea Mitchell reported the assertion the day before by former acting Massachusetts Gov. Jane Swift that when Sen. Barack Obama said at a rally that "[y]ou can put lipstick on a pig; it's still a pig," he made "disgraceful comments comparing our vice-presidential nominee, Governor [Sarah] Palin, to a pig." However, Mitchell did not report that earlier on September 10 on NBC's sister channel, when MSNBC host Norah O'Donnell asked Swift why she was "so sure that [Obama's "lipstick on a pig" remark] was aimed at Governor Palin," Swift admitted, "I can't know if it was aimed at Governor Palin."
Later in the MSNBC interview, O'Donnell asked Swift, a national member  of McCain's recently announced "Palin Truth Squad," to explain the apparent contradiction between her admission that she "can't know" whether Obama's remark was about Palin and her demand that Obama apologize. Swift replied, "[W]hat I am saying is that I took offense. I think people in the crowd took offense, and, listen, I used to be in -- running in politics, and often times, you're responsible for your words even if they're misconstrued. And so I'm not sure what's difficult about saying, you know, 'Maybe I didn't choose my words closely enough there.' " She continued, "I understand -- I think it's reasonable for people to have made the assumption that he was directing those comments at Governor Palin, and that -- it's just -- there's no place for that."
From the 3 p.m. ET hour of MSNBC Live on September 10:
O'DONNELL: You were the first out of the box last night from the McCain campaign to say that Obama should apologize to Governor Palin. Why are you demanding an apology?
SWIFT: Well, I thought it was a remark that I took offense at. I think it was clear that the folks in the audience, the partisan crowd that Senator Obama was talking to, thought it was a nice dig at our vice-presidential candidate. And the truth is, if we want to raise the level of discourse that I take Senator Obama at his word and get back to talking about issues, then there's no place for these kinds of things to be said.
You know, his first comment was about lipstick, and his second comment was about a rotting, old fish, and so, you know, he certainly for someone with a strong grasp of the English language -- it would be remarkable that he chose so badly anecdotes that people like me could take offense at and could misconstrue.
O'DONNELL: Governor, as you know, that phrase, "lipstick on a pig," is a common expression. Why are you so sure that it was aimed at Governor Palin?
SWIFT: Well, listen, I can't know if it was aimed at Governor Palin, although I think that Senator Obama has a great grasp of the English language. But I think that everybody in that crowd, certainly the press that was there and the reporting, all very quickly realized that in the last two weeks, we've heard way too much about lipstick and issues having to do with Governor Palin's gender, and so I am surprised that Senator Obama wouldn't understand why many people would think that was where he was directing his remarks.
And really, there's a very easy way to make it go away: to just say, "That's not what I intended, and I'm sorry if I offended some people," which I think he did.
O'DONNELL: I mean, as you know, John McCain used that phrase himself -- "lipstick on a pig" -- during the primaries to describe Hillary Clinton's health-care plan. So at that time, was McCain -- if you take the way you're interpreting it, was McCain calling Hillary Clinton a pig?
SWIFT: No. I think that the difference is, he was very clearly talking about a policy proposal, and I just listened again to the clip that I think instructively you played. And while Barack Obama began talking about policy, he was very clearly talking about the people who are running for president and vice president on the Republican ticket.
He had a "but," which is a clause, in there, and I -- you know, I think it was different, and I think more importantly, a lot of people who heard it took it differently.
O'DONNELL: I just want to challenge you on this, because you, am I correct, are not willing to say that this was a sexist remark, even though you're calling on Obama to apologize. And when I just asked you --
SWIFT: I -- I'm --
O'DONNELL: -- how did you know for sure she was -- that he was referring to Governor Palin, you said, "I can't know for sure." So if you can't know for sure, how then can you demand someone apologize? And I raise those questions because I wonder, is the McCain campaign just playing politics?
SWIFT: Well, first of all, we're in a political campaign, so I'm not sure I completely understand the point that Senator Obama is making that we shouldn't play politics. That's the business that they're in.
But, you know, what I am saying is that I took offense. I think people in the crowd took offense, and, listen, I used to be in -- running in politics, and often times, you're responsible for your words even if they're misconstrued. And so I'm not sure what's difficult about saying, you know, "Maybe I didn't choose my words closely enough there." I understand -- I think it's reasonable for people to have made the assumption that he was directing those comments at Governor Palin, and that -- it's just -- there's no place for that.
O'DONNELL: Governor Swift, good to see you. Thank you so much for joining us. We appreciate it.
From the September 10 broadcast of NBC's Nightly News with Brian Williams:
MITCHELL: Barack Obama today tried to reclaim the right to his own words, after being slammed by the McCain campaign for using a commonplace expression.
OBAMA: Enough. I don't care what they say about me. But I love this country too much to let them take over another election with lies and phony outrage and Swift Boat politics. Enough is enough.
MITCHELL: What sidetracked Obama from a planned speech on education? Republican accusations of sexism, for saying this last night, about the idea that John McCain represents change.
OBAMA: That's just calling some -- the same thing, something different. But you know, you can't -- you know, you can put lipstick on a pig; it's still a pig.
MITCHELL: Obama was talking about McCain and the Republican change argument. But it took less than an hour for a McCain surrogate to accuse him of a slur against Sarah Palin.
SWIFT: Disgraceful comments comparing our vice-presidential nominee, Governor Palin, to a pig.
MITCHELL: By this morning, they had produced a Web ad to drive the connection home.
PALIN: Do you know they say the difference between a hockey mom and a pit bull? Lipstick.
MITCHELL: Their claim: Obama must have been talking about Palin because she joked about lipstick in her convention speech.
It's a common phrase. Last year, John McCain used it to describe Hillary Clinton's health-care plan.
McCAIN: I think they put some lipstick on the pig, but it's still a pig.
MITCHELL: Dick Cheney used it four years ago against John Kerry.
CHENEY: You can put all the lipstick you want on a pig, but at the end of the day, it's still a pig.
MITCHELL: From talk radio to conference calls, McCain supporters and surrogates hammered Obama for alleged sexism, some say to create sympathy for Palin and appeal to undecided women voters.
DAVID GERGEN (former presidential adviser): What the Republicans have proven themselves very adept at is, is creating campaign stories that have very little to do with the issues.
MITCHELL: It even came up when Obama taped David Letterman's show earlier today to air tonight.
[begin video clip]
OBAMA: This is sort of silly season in politics.
OBAMA: Not that there's a non-silly season in politics.
LETTERMAN: That's right.
OBAMA: But it gets sillier. And, you know, it's a common expression in -- at least Illinois. I don't know about New York City.
[end video clip]
McCAIN: Probably the negativism, those negative ads and personal attacks, Senator Obama's recent comments about "lipstick on a pig."
MITCHELL: So, despite Obama's denials and McCain's own history of using that phrase, tonight Republicans are refusing to back off. Andrea Mitchell, NBC News, Washington.