O'Donnell skipped opportunity to challenge McCain over false claim that he doesn't use the words "cut and run"

››› ››› JOE BROWN

MSNBC's Norah O'Donnell accepted as true Sen. John McCain's false assertion that he "refuse[s] to use" the words "cut and run" to describe plans to redeploy U.S. forces out of Iraq. In fact, McCain has repeatedly used those words to describe such plans, and to attack Democrats who support them.

On the June 21 edition of MSNBC's Hardball with Chris Matthews, guest host and MSNBC chief Washington correspondent Norah O'Donnell accepted as true Sen. John McCain's (R-AZ) false assertion that he "refuse[s] to use" the words "cut and run" to describe plans to redeploy U.S. forces out of Iraq. In fact, McCain has repeatedly used those words to describe such plans, and to attack Democrats who support them, raising the question of whether O'Donnell will inform viewers of McCain's falsehood or confront him with the contradiction.

Additionally, in a separate solo interview of Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. (D-DE), O'Donnell echoed Republican attacks on Democrats, suggesting as she had on the previous two editions of Hardball that Democrats' disagreement over how soon to withdraw U.S. troops from Iraq was a political win for Republicans. But as Media Matters for America previously noted, the backers of two Democratic proposals for troop withdrawal -- since voted down in the Senate -- are united in their belief that the U.S. should withdraw from Iraq, a position shared by the majority of Americans. O'Donnell has yet to justify her assertion that unified GOP support for prolonging an unpopular war makes Republicans the current political winners in the Iraq debate.

Interview with McCain

During her solo interview of McCain, O'Donnell uncritically accepted and repeated McCain's assertion that he "refuse[s] to use" the words "cut and run" to describe plans to redeploy U.S. forces out of Iraq. Following McCain's statement, O'Donnell asked him why he "won't ... use those words," given that "a lot of" Republicans "have used the word[s] 'cut and run'" to accuse Sen. John Kerry (D-MA) and Rep. John P. Murtha (D-PA) "of being 'cut and run' Democrats." O'Donnell also asked McCain if "those that are using ... terms like 'cut and run,' or like Sen. Kerry, 'lie and die' ... are doing that for political purposes." She later asked McCain if, given his military background and status as a former prisoner of war, he had "told the president" and White House deputy chief of staff Karl Rove that "cut and run" is "the wrong way" to begin a debate over the Iraq war and that "calling [Democrats] cutters and runners is a bad thing."

In fact, contrary to his claim, McCain has repeatedly used the words "cut and run" to describe plans for the redeployment of U.S. forces from Iraq, and to attack those who support such a plan. A Media Matters for America review of the Nexis database* has revealed the following such statements by McCain during the past year:

  • McCAIN: And maybe some of our friends who want to cut and run out of Iraq maybe can feel a little comforted that our mission is showing some success. [CNN's Anderson Cooper 360 and Paula Zahn Now, June 8]
  • McCAIN: This [the death of terrorist Abu Musab al-Zarqawi] has got to be viewed as a success. It's got to be viewed as perhaps a bit of a rebuke against those who are advocating that we cut and run out of Iraq. [Fox News' Special Report with Brit Hume, June 8]
  • McCAIN: I have yet to see a poll that shows that a majority of Americans favor a cut and run; in fact, just the opposite. [Congressional Quarterly, September 24, 2005]
  • "We can't cut and run," McCain said earlier this week. Still, McCain has said he lacks confidence in Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld." [Associated Press article, September 22, 2005]
  • McCAIN: If we fail in Iraq, it will be cataclysmic. You'll see factionalization and eventual Muslim extremism and terrorist breeding grounds that would, I believe, pose a direct threat to the security of the United States. And I'm very glad that the American people, undertsandably dissatisfied, understandably frustrated, still, the majority of them don't think we ought to cut and run. [CBS' Face the Nation, August 28, 2005]

Additionally, during a June 19, 2005, interview on NBC's Meet the Press, McCain stated: "I don't think Americans believe that we should cut and run out of Iraq by any stretch of the imagination."

Although O'Donnell questioned McCain on whether he had told Bush and Rove that he disapproved of their "cut and run" rhetoric, and later challenged McCain when he refused to answer her question, she did not acknowledge MSNBC's adoption of the same "cut and run" rhetoric on the previous evening's edition of Hardball. As Media Matters noted, during the June 20 edition of the program, an onscreen graphic echoed Republican attacks on Democrats, reading: "'Cut and run' or 'stay the course'?"

From the interview:

O'DONNELL: Well, as a leader in the Senate, as a former military man, a former POW, you say "cut and run" is the wrong way to begin this debate. Have you told the president that? Have you told Karl Rove, "Listen, calling those up here cutters and runners is a bad thing"? Have you told them that?

McCAIN: It's not that, and it's not that phrase. It's the whole tenor of our disagreement with one another, not only on this issue, but other issues. We need --

O'DONNELL: But Senator, you know full well that this started with Karl Rove last week in New Hampshire, kicked this off by calling Democrats the party of "cut and run," and then it's like every senator up there in your party got the talking points and continued with that line of rhetoric.

In concluding the interview, O'Donnell also touted McCain as "the maverick McCain," a characterization of McCain that Hardball host Chris Matthews has also used (here and here).

Interview with Biden

O'Donnell also echoed Republican attacks on Democrats during her interview with Biden, adopting the premise -- as she had on the June 19 and 20 editions of Hardball -- that Democrats' disagreement over how soon to withdraw U.S. troops from Iraq was a political win for Republicans. As Media Matters previously noted, O'Donnell suggested that Democratic divisions on Iraq "reinforce the idea that Democrats are weak on national security," and "hand[] the Republicans a political weapon" to use against them.

But as Media Matters also noted, the backers of two Democratic amendments to a defense bill for troop withdrawal (which were rejected in the Senate on June 22 by votes of 86-13 and 60-39) are united in their belief that the U.S. should withdraw from Iraq, a position shared by the majority of Americans. O'Donnell has yet to justify her assertion that Republicans benefit from their unified position on the Iraq war, given that the war in Iraq is deeply unpopular, and the GOP plan appears to involve remaining in Iraq indefinitely, but no less than three years.

O'Donnell began her interview of Biden by asking him if he was "embarrassed" that Democrats are "so divided on this issue of the war in Iraq." She then asked him to comment on Kerry's amendment, which she characterized as calling for "an arbitrary timeline for troop withdrawal." O'Donnell also asked Biden if "having a debate" on a timeline for troop withdrawal is "in some ways distracting from the real issue" and "setting the Democrats up for the Republicans to make this argument that you guys are divided." Later, she asked Biden: "[W]hat is it about the Democratic Party ... [w]hat's wrong with the Democratic Party that they can't ... lay out something cohesive ... in order to stand up against what you say is the Republicans' failed policy?" Despite her criticism of the Democrats' lack of a unified plan to deal with the Iraq issue, O'Donnell subsequently criticized Biden for not offering his own plan, in addition to Kerry's amendment.

From the interview:

BIDEN: People say well, why did you put out a plan? People will just shoot at it. I think I have an obligation to lay out what I think has to be done. You've got to purge the existing Iraqi army and police of the --

O'DONNELL: Well then, with all due respect, Senator, why aren't you offering an amendment on that plan, and why isn't your party backing you? Instead, we've got, on the Senate floor, Republicans accusing Democrats of being cut and run Democrats. You have Democratic Senator John Kerry accusing Republicans of wanting to lie and die. Isn't this more important than a bunch of slinging slogans on this issue?

From the June 21 edition of MSNBC's Hardball with Chris Matthews:

O'DONNELL: Senator, let me begin by asking you -- we learned that two U.S. soldiers were mutilated, brutally killed, possibly even beheaded. With news like that, how do you keep a country behind this war?

McCAIN: Well, I think it angers Americans, Norah, that -- and it reveals the face of the enemy and the kind of people we're dealing with. I think it angers Americans, as well as saddens us deeply. And so, perhaps, in some kind of perverse way, it helps us a little bit, but it sure brings home the face of this war.

I think Americans are really divided in their own opinions. Some of them, many of them want us out of Iraq, but most of them don't want us to leave immediately -- and I refuse to use "cut and run" -- but they don't want us to leave immediately, because they understand what would happen if we left immediately. So you've got kind of a schizophrenic attitude here.

[...]

O'DONNELL: You know, Senator, I have to ask you, because as this debate rages, there are a lot of people in your party -- in the Republican Party, who have used the word "cut and run" liberally, accusing Vietnam -- former Vietnam veterans Jack Murtha and John Kerry of being "cut and run" Democrats. Even the president has said that he doesn't need people who would wave the white flag of surrender. Why won't you also use those words?

McCAIN: Because I think the American people are better off with a dignified debate. We should passionately debate this war. American lives are at stake, there's nothing more important to the American people in this country. But we're not enemies. We are not enemies. The enemies are those people that did such a terrible thing to those two young soldiers the day before yesterday. That's what -- that's the enemy, and we should have a respectful debate.

O'DONNELL: So you think those that are using those terms like "cut and run" or like Senator Kerry, "lie and die," those -- they are doing that for political purposes and for November, the election?

McCAIN: No, I just don't think it helps the level of debate. I'm not sure what it contributes. Everybody's free to use whatever language they want to, but I think the American people deserve a debate that's based on our beliefs and our convictions, and I respect their convictions.

O'DONNELL: Well, as a leader in the Senate, as a former military man, a former POW, you say "cut and run" is the wrong way to begin this debate. Have you told the president that? Have you told Karl Rove, "Listen, calling those up here cutters and runners is a bad thing"? Have you told them that?

McCAIN: It's not that, and it's not that phrase. It's the whole tenor of our disagreement with one another, not only on this issue, but other issues. We need --

O'DONNELL: But Senator, you know full well that this started with Karl Rove last week in New Hampshire, kicked this off by calling Democrats the party of "cut and run," and then it's like every senator up there in your party got the talking points and continued with that line of rhetoric.

McCAIN: Norah, there has been this heated debate about Iraq for a long time now and a lot of language used on both sides that I just don't think helps the American people understand our viewpoints. I think that we lose sight of what we should be doing for the American people. But there should be passion. And if they want to be passionate that way, that's their privilege to do so. I prefer not to do so, and I think that's my right to do so, and I do respect those who disagree. I think we can win this argument on the grounds of its merits, and I believe the American people would not support an immediate withdrawal or a timetable for withdrawal.

O'DONNELL: Let's talk about Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton. As you well know, many people think that you could be the Republican nominee in 2008 and that she could be the Democratic nominee in 2008. She was on the Senate floor today also talking about Iraq. Here's what she had to say.

CLINTON [video clip]: They may not have a war strategy, but they do have an election strategy. This is the road they took America down in 2002. It was a dead end for our country then, and it's a dead end now.

O'DONNELL: Does it sound like to you that the senator is saying that the war is not winnable?

McCAIN: Hmmm, nah, I don't -- it's not clear. It's not --

O'DONNELL: You don't want to go there?

McCAIN: -- it's not clear to me what -- I think she is supporting this resolution that calls for a, quote, "timetable for withdrawal," which means that we would be announcing to the world that we are withdrawing. I think that sends the wrong message to our friends and to our enemies, and so I just disagree with it and, again, I think we need the debate. And do we cross the line from time to time? Yes. Do I regret it? Yes, but I also understand the passion.

[...]

O'DONNELL: All right, Senator John McCain, the maverick McCain. Up in the Senate, I know it's been a lot of tough issues you're debating up there, Iraq and North Korea, and the headlines of certainly what's going in Iraq. Thank you very much for your time, we appreciate it.

McCAIN: Thank you, Norah.

[...]

O'DONNELL: Senator, thank you for joining us.

BIDEN: Happy to be with you.

O'DONNELL: Are you embarrassed that your party is so divided on this issue of the war in Iraq and how to move forward?

BIDEN: No, I'm not embarrassed by my party, I'm embarrassed by the policies of this administration, that they have squandered every opportunity since we went into Iraq to get it right. And although there is division -- and I'd rather there be no division -- I don't think we should set a firm timetable to leave. I think we should set a plan that would allow us to leave. I am more embarrassed by the continued incompetence of the civilians in this administration to get it right.

O'DONNELL: But given that, Senator Kerry's amendment that would essentially call for an arbitrary timeline for troop withdrawal --

BIDEN: I disagree with that.

O'DONNELL: -- do you think that that -- yeah, and do you think that that -- having a debate on that is in some ways distracting from the real issue and, in fact, setting the Democrats up for the Republicans to make this argument that you guys are divided?

BIDEN: Well, yeah, it does. It does, but you can't blame John. I mean, John is frustrated as can be. A lot of people are, and John's, I guess, reached the conclusion that they're never going to get it right, so we might as well set a timetable and get out. I'm not there, but it is -- it does give the Republicans an opportunity not to speak to where they are.

You know, when people ask me about us divided, I say, yeah, but the Republicans are totally united, united in a policy thus far that's been a failed policy. We've got to be -- there's got to be a change in policy, Norah, like there was a change in policy on Iran. There's got to be the same thing happening on Iraq. I see no indication the president is prepared to do that.

O'DONNELL: If you feel so strongly, and you say other Democrats in your party feel so strongly there has got to be a change in strategy, then what is it about the Democratic Party? What's wrong with the Democratic Party that they can't put that forward and lay out something cohesive, unified, in order to stand up against what you say is the Republicans' failed policy?

BIDEN: Well, I have done that, as you know. It got a lot of wide publicity. I called for a specific, detailed plan as to how to proceed in Iraq. And there is -- there's a lot of Democrats who support it, some who don't.

[...]

BIDEN: People say well, why did you put out a plan? People will just shoot at it. I think I have an obligation to lay out what I think has to be done. You've got to purge the existing Iraqi army and police of the --

O'DONNELL: Well then, with all due respect, Senator, why aren't you offering an amendment on that plan, and why isn't your party backing you? Instead, we've got, on the Senate floor, Republicans accusing Democrats of being "cut and run" Democrats. You have Republican -- Democratic Senator John Kerry accusing Republicans of wanting to "lie and die." Isn't this more important than a bunch of slinging slogans on this issue?

*Search terms: McCain pre/20 "cut and run"

Network/Outlet
MSNBC
Person
Norah O'Donnell
Show/Publication
Hardball
Stories/Interests
Propaganda/Noise Machine, Joe Biden, John McCain, 2008 Elections
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