Imus sat by as McCain said Nelson resigned RNC over Ford ad

››› ››› JOSH KALVEN

Don Imus didn't challenge John McCain's claim that his 2008 presidential campaign manager, Terry Nelson, while serving as head of the independent expenditure unit of the Republican National Committee, "realized it was a mistake" to sign off on an ad attacking Tennessee Democratic Senate candidate Harold Ford Jr. and that Nelson subsequently "resigned from the group of people who approved of it." In fact, Nelson has publicly defended the ad, and there is no apparent evidence that Nelson "resigned" from his RNC position in protest over the ad.

In an interview on the January 4 edition of MSNBC's Imus in the Morning, host Don Imus asked Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) about his decision to hire Republican operative Terry Nelson as his 2008 campaign manager, despite Nelson's approval of a television advertisement -- described by Imus as "racist" -- attacking Tennessee Democratic Senate candidate Harold Ford Jr. In response, McCain stated that Nelson had "realized it was a mistake" to sign off on the ad and subsequently "resigned from the group of people who approved of it," apparently referring to the the Republican National Committee's (RNC) independent expenditure unit, which Nelson headed at the time and which paid for the ad. In fact, Nelson publicly defended the commercial in late October. Further, Media Matters for America could find no indication that Nelson "resigned" from his RNC position -- let alone in protest over the ad. But rather than challenge McCain on either of these points, Imus went on to change the subject.

Early in the January 4 broadcast, Congressional Quarterly columnist Craig Crawford urged Imus to press McCain "about hiring that fellow that made that Harold Ford ad you hated so much." During his subsequent interview with McCain, Imus did bring up the matter, asking, "Did you hire the guy who made that racist 'Call me, Harold' Super Bowl ad?" Following is McCain's response:

McCAIN: He did not make the -- the spot. He approved of it, and then he resigned from the group that -- he realized it was a mistake, he resigned from the group of people that approved of it. He did not design it, but he made a mistake in approving it. He recognized that mistake, and he resigned from that group.

But as Imus failed to point out, Nelson responded to the uproar over the ad by defending it. From an October 28 Associated Press article on the controversy:

In an interview, he [Nelson] said of the commercial that critics deemed racist:

"There was no intention to offend anybody and it's unfortunate if people took offense. That was certainly not what people planned for or hoped for."

[...]

"I think that the ad was designed to deal with an issue that Harold Ford had put before the voters of Tennessee, that he was someone they could trust as a moderate or conservative Democrat, both in terms of the policies he put forward and his values," Nelson said. "We felt Tennessee voters should know both sides of the story."

Furthermore, a Media Matters for America survey* of mentions of Terry Nelson in the media found no evidence that Nelson left the RNC independent expenditures unit before the election, and certainly no indication that he took any such action as a result of the ad. The uproar surrounding the ad did lead to the severing of ties between Wal-Mart Stores Inc. and Nelson. Wal-Mart had hired Nelson's consulting firm, Crosslink Strategy Group, in 2005 and came under fire for this relationship after the ad aired in Tennessee. On October 26, 2006, The New York Times reported that Wal-Mart had released a statement announcing that Crosslink Strategy Group had "end[ed] its working relationship with our company," which the corporation described as "the right course of action."

From the January 4 edition of MSNBC's Imus in the Morning:

CRAWFORD: We haven't really gotten his response to all these attacks he's been getting either. I mean, [Mitt] Romney attacked him for waffling on gay marriage. [John] Edwards and a bunch of the Democrats have been after him. You -- you can tell he's the frontrunner now. He's taking all the hits.

IMUS: Well, I think he's been through the fire when -- after what Bush and all of them did to him in South Carolina, so --

CRAWFORD: Yup.

IMUS: -- back in 2000. So he understands -- he knows how it works.

CRAWFORD: You better -- you better beat him up about hiring that fellow that made that Harold Ford ad you hated so much.

IMUS: Well, here's the thing I didn't understand -- that I would intend to ask him about, is why -- did he actually think Bob Corker -- is that the guy's name? -- was a better man than Harold Ford?

CRAWFORD: Well, that's one way to put it.

IMUS: Or was it politics?

[...]

IMUS: Did you hire the guy who made that racist "Call me, Harold" Super Bowl ad?

McCAIN: He did not make the -- the spot. He approved of it, and then he resigned from the group that -- he realized it was a mistake, he resigned from the group of people that approved of it. He did not design it, but he made a mistake in approving it. He recognized that mistake, and he resigned from that group.

IMUS: 'Cause that was -- as you obviously -- everybody, I would think, agrees that was awful. And considering --

McCAIN: I condemned it at the time.

IMUS: -- considering what President Bush did to you in South Carolina, which I've never been able to get you to get pissed off about.

McCAIN: Look, I was really angry for a period of time. And then, you know, life -- you've got to move on in life. You cannot hold grudges. You've got to move on. You've got to do what is right for the country. And it took me a long time to figure that out, Don, but the fact is I've got to look forward and not look back.

* Lexis/Nexis database search: "(Terry w/2 Nelson) and (Republican National Committee or RNC)" in "News (All)" between 10/20/06 and 01/04/07

Posted In
Government, The Presidency & White House
Network/Outlet
MSNBC
Person
Don Imus
Show/Publication
Imus in the Morning
Stories/Interests
John McCain, 2006 Elections, 2008 Elections
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