In reporting on recent speeches by Sen. John McCain, National Public Radio's Mara Liasson uncritically reported his argument that "his brand of maverick conservatism ... is what voters are looking for now" and asserted that the "role of independent and moderate voters" in the midterm elections "reinforces McCain's appeal as a general election candidate." She did not mention that McCain is at odds with a majority of voters on Iraq -- including most independents -- who disapprove of the war and favor some type of U.S. troop withdrawal.
On the November 17 broadcast of National Public Radio's Morning Edition, national political correspondent Mara Liasson reported that Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), in two speeches a day earlier, had made "the implicit argument that his brand of maverick conservatism and his history of working across party lines is just what voters are looking for now." Liasson went on to assert that the outcome of the midterm elections -- particularly "the role of independent and moderate voters" -- "reinforces McCain's appeal as a general election candidate." But Liasson's report ignored one of the key differences between McCain and most voters -- his continued support for the Iraq war -- a difference that undermines her assertion that the election "reinforces McCain's appeal." Independent voters cited their opposition to the war as one of their top reasons for voting Democratic this year.
In a November 17 New York Times article on the speeches, chief political reporter Adam Nagourney noted without challenge that McCain "used the talks to reiterate his position on Iraq, urging Washington not to take the wrong lesson from the election, and arguing that the way to success was through increased troop strength." Like Liasson, Nagourney failed to mention that exit polls from the midterms showed that a majority of American voters -- including most independents -- disagree with McCain's position on Iraq.
As Media Matters for America noted in response to a November 9 Washington Post article, the assertion that independents' role in returning control of Congress to the Democrats bodes well for McCain is contradicted by polling that shows that, while McCain continues to support the war, independent voters increasingly do not. Indeed, polls conducted in the weeks prior to November 7 and on Election Day show that independents' growing support for Democrats was largely a function of the Iraq war:
- An October 19-22 Washington Post/ABC News poll found that independent voters favored Democratic candidates over Republicans by a margin of "roughly 2 to 1 -- 59 percent to 31 percent." The poll further found that the largest share of voters -- 27 percent -- cited Iraq as the "most important issue determining their vote in November" and that "[i]ndependents are almost as likely as Democrats to cite Iraq as the single most important issue in the campaign."
- A November 9 New York Times article reported that approximately 60 percent of independents -- "driven by their distress over the Iraq war, disapproval of Congressional leadership and concern about the direction President Bush was leading America" -- voted for Democrats on Election Day, according to exit polls.
Nonetheless, in her report on McCain's November 16 speeches to the Federalist Society and GOPAC, Liasson uncritically reported McCain's "implicit argument" that "his brand of maverick conservatism ... is what voters are looking for now" and asserted that the "role of independent and moderate voters ... reinforces McCain's appeal as a general election candidate." From the November 17 broadcast of NPR's Morning Edition:
LIASSON: The speeches were McCain's attempt to lay claim to the message of last Tuesday's elections and to make the implicit argument that his brand of maverick conservatism and his history of working across party lines is just what voters are looking for now.
He urged Republicans to return to what he called common sense conservatism.
McCAIN: We were elected to reduce the size of government and enlarge the sphere of free and private enterprise. We increased the size of government in the false hope that we could bribe the public into keeping us in office, and the people punished us. We lost our principles and our majority, and there is no way to recover our majority without recovering our principles first.
LIASSON: What happened last Tuesday -- in particular, the role of independent and moderate voters -- reinforces McCain's appeal as a general election candidate. But he's still left with his vulnerabilities as a Republican primary candidate. David Kean, the chairman of the American Conservative Union, says the midterms elections should leave McCain feeling both elated and nervous.
In her report, Liasson never once mentioned the Iraq war or McCain's position on the issue.
But McCain did discuss Iraq during the speeches, as Washington Post staff writer Dan Balz reported in his November 17 article:
McCain said public frustration with the war contributed to the GOP's losses. "We're in one heck of a mess in Iraq," he said, "and the American people told us loud and clear last week that they are not happy with the course of this war. Neither am I. But let's be clear: That's the limit of what they told us about Iraq and the war on terrorism."
He said the United States has made "a great many mistakes in this war, and history will hold us to account for them just as the voters did last week." Defeat would be "a catastrophe," he said.
Earlier in the article, Balz had made clear that McCain's position on the issue of Iraq was at odds with the White House, the military, and the public at large:
McCain also defended his call for sending more troops to Iraq, a position that puts him at odds with the public and, so far, with President Bush and Army Gen. John P. Abizaid, the head of the U.S. Central Command and the overall commander of U.S. forces in Iraq. "Without additional combat forces, we will not win this war," McCain said.
In contrast, Nagourney noted McCain's insistence that Republicans not "take the wrong lesson from" the impact of Iraq on the election but ignored the results of exit polls from November 7 showing that a majority of voters supported withdrawing some or all troops from Iraq, while only 17 percent backed McCain's proposal to send more troops. From Nagourney's November 17 article:
But Mr. McCain also used the talks to reiterate his position on Iraq, urging Washington not to take the wrong lesson from the election, and arguing that the way to success was through increased troop strength.
"In no other time are we more morally obliged to speak the truth to our country, as we best see it, than in a time of war," he said. "So let me say this, without additional combat forces we will not win this war."
"As troubling as it is, I can ask a young marine to go back to Iraq," he said. "What I cannot do is ask him to return to Iraq, to risk life and limb, so that we might delay our defeat for a few months or a year. That is more to ask than patriotism requires."