AP, CNN, The State reported McCain's Roe comment without noting McCain's history of flip-flopping on overturning Roe

››› ››› BRIAN LEVY

Despite his history of inconsistency on the subject, which Media Matters for America has repeatedly noted (here, here, here, and here), the Associated Press uncritically reported in a February 18 article Sen. John McCain's (R-AZ) statement that "I do not support Roe versus Wade. It should be overturned."

In its February 19 "Political Bulletin," U.S. News & World Report uncritically cited the AP article. Additionally, both a February 19 article in The State (Columbia, South Carolina) and a report by CNN senior political correspondent Candy Crowley, which aired on that day's edition of CNN's Anderson Cooper 360 and on the next day's edition of CNN's American Morning, also uncritically quoted McCain's statement opposing Roe v. Wade.

On August 25, 1999, the San Francisco Chronicle reported that McCain had told its editorial board:

"I'd love to see a point where it is irrelevant and could be repealed because abortion is no longer necessary. ... But certainly in the short term, or even the long term, I would not support repeal of Roe vs. Wade, which would then force X number of women in America to (undergo) illegal and dangerous operations."

The Chronicle added:

But on Sunday [August 22, 1999], in an interview with CNN's Wolf Blitzer, McCain said he favors the ultimate repeal of Roe vs. Wade, "but we all know, and it's obvious, that if we repeal Roe vs. Wade tomorrow, thousands of young American women would be (undergoing) illegal and dangerous operations."

The next day, according to the Chronicle, McCain issued what the Chronicle called a "clarification," which reportedly stated: "I have always believed in the importance of the repeal of Roe vs. Wade, and as president, I would work toward its repeal." On the June 19, 2005, broadcast of NBC's Meet the Press, however, McCain adopted yet another position, saying that he agreed "to some degree" that Roe should be overturned, but adding: "I don't think it is [going to be overturned] at least not any time soon." In 2006, McCain issued a statement indicating that if he were the governor of South Dakota, he "would have signed" a controversial bill outlawing all abortions except in those situations in which the life of the woman is threatened, but that he "would also take the appropriate steps under state law -- in whatever state -- to ensure that the exceptions of rape, incest or life of the mother were included." As New York Times columnist Paul Krugman noted: "But that attempt at qualification makes no sense: the South Dakota law has produced national shockwaves precisely because it prohibits abortions even for victims of rape or incest."

In a February 19 post on his personal weblog, Philadelphia Inquirer political analyst Dick Polman contrasted the AP article -- which, in Polman's words, "dutifully reported the quote -- without providing any of the context" -- with McCain's 1999 statements on abortion and Roe.

By contrast with the AP, CNN, and State articles, Fox News congressional correspondent Major Garrett's report on the February 19 edition of Fox News' Special Report noted McCain's 1999 comment against overturning Roe, adding that several days later "McCain reversed himself" to support overturning Roe. Similarly, on the February 19 edition of MSNBC's Tucker, host Tucker Carlson noted that McCain "said pretty explicitly last time he ran ... that he didn't want [Roe] overturned." Democratic strategist Peter Fenn, who was a guest on the show, later referred to a comment McCain reportedly made on January 26, 2000, when asked what he would do if his daughter became pregnant. According to CNN, McCain answered: "The final decision would be made by [daughter] Meghan with our advice and counsel."

From the February 18 Associated Press article:

Republican presidential candidate John McCain, looking to improve his standing with the party's conservative voters, said Sunday the court decision that legalized abortion should be overturned.

"I do not support Roe versus Wade. It should be overturned," the Arizona senator told about 800 people in South Carolina, one of the early voting states.

McCain also vowed that if elected, he would appoint judges who "strictly interpret the Constitution of the United States and do not legislate from the bench."

The landmark 1973 decision in Roe v. Wade gave women the right to choose an abortion to terminate a pregnancy. The Supreme Court has narrowly upheld the decision, with the presence of an increasing number of more conservative justices on the court raising the possibility that abortion rights would be limited.

Social conservatives are a critical voting bloc in the GOP presidential primaries.

From the February 19 article in The State:

The Arizona senator also said the U.S. Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion should be undone.

"I do not support Roe versus Wade. It should be overturned," McCain said.

[...]

About 1,500 people, most of them teens, had gathered at the auditorium for a religious and abstinence rally, and McCain made it there just as a Christian rap group finished a loud, spirited performance.

"I'm known for straight talk," McCain quipped. "I don't like that music."

The audience laughed, and then McCain told the teens to stand fast for what is right, even when doing so is difficult.

[...]

The senator vigorously campaigned here in 2000 during his unsuccessful push for his party's nomination.

That campaign, which he lost to George W. Bush, was noted for its nastiness, and, later, for McCain's acknowledgment that he had not spoken out for removing the Confederate flag from the State House because he feared doing so would hurt his chances of winning.

McCain was the anti-establishment candidate then, running against a party that strongly backed Bush.

From the February 19 U.S. News & World Report's "Political Bulletin:"

The AP is reporting that Sen. John McCain told a crowd in South Carolina Sunday: "I do not support Roe versus Wade. It should be overturned." McCain "also vowed that if elected, he would appoint judges who 'strictly interpret the Constitution of the United States and do not legislate from the bench.' "

From the February 19 edition of MSNBC's Tucker:

CARLSON: John McCain says he wants Roe v. Wade overturned. He said pretty explicitly last time he ran -- I think it was '99 -- that he didn't want it overturned. Social conservatives don't trust him. I think part of that is a little bit unfair, personally. Will this help him at all with the evangelicals he needs, do you think?

PAT BUCHANAN (MSNBC political analyst): Sure it will, because it's -- the evangelicals and the social conservatives don't trust Romney. They don't trust Giuliani for good reason and for good -- Romney for good reason, and they don't trust McCain for good reason. McCain -- McCain overall is not as bad as Giuliani on this, and what he's doing, he's trying to get -- well, he says, "Look, I'm -- in effect, fellas, I'm going to get the nomination, and you got some deep concerns, and I'm going to appoint justices like [Antonin] Scalia, who will overturn Roe v. Wade, and I'd like to see it overturned -- and so, you're going to get what you want. And you and I know we can't do a great deal about abortion up there in the Congress of the United States."

CARLSON: Right.

BUCHANAN: So, I think it's going to help him. He's -- again, he's de-demonizing himself. He's making himself acceptable, you know, not embraceable.

[...]

FENN: Let me just run -- make one quick point on McCain, though.

BUCHANAN: It's the Rockefeller syndrome: the further he was away from things the higher he went, but he got back in -- right back down.

FENN: Thee guys -- these guys -- I tell you, these guys are doing more flip-flops, on the Republican side, than anything I've ever seen. You might remember that in New Hampshire there was a little problem with McCain when he was asked by a reporter about what he would do if his daughter got pregnant.

CARLSON: I was sitting literally next to him when he said that.

FENN: And he said, "Well, it's up to her" and, you know, "I'd have to look at it" and the -- boy, everybody went crazy. The social conservatives went crazy. He had to try to explain it. And that was -- that was leading into South Carolina, which I think hurt him greatly. And you're right, he's changing his views.

From the February 19 edition of Fox News' Special Report with Brit Hume:

GARRETT: This weekend, another crucial issue for McCain and conservatives, abortion.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How do you feel about overturning Roe versus Wade?

McCAIN: I do not support Roe v. Wade. It should be overturned.

GARRETT: McCain lost South Carolina to [President] George W. Bush in 2000, in part because pro-life voters considered Bush more reliably anti-abortion. Though McCain then and now maintains a pro-life voting record, he gave pro-life voters doubt when he said this to the San Francisco Chronicle in August of 1999: "In the short term, or even in the long term, I would not support repeal of Roe versus Wade, which would force X number of women in America to (undergo) illegal and dangerous operations."

The quote created an immediate pro-life backlash. McCain said he misspoke. Five days later, McCain reversed himself, telling the Des Moines Register: "I have always believed in the importance of the repeal of Roe versus Wade, and as president, I would work toward its repeal."

McCain's maintained the same anti-Roe stance ever since, but questions persist.

From the Februrary 19 edition of CNN's Anderson Cooper 360:

CROWLEY: If you want to be the Republican nominee for president, a convention of religious broadcasters is close to must-do politics.

McCAIN: I respect the work of the religious broadcasters, and I was glad to have the opportunity to meet with them.

CROWLEY: In the 2000 election season, 16 percent of New Hampshire Republican primary voters identified themselves as part of the Christian conservative political movement. A third of South Carolina's Republican primary vote was conservative Christian, and more than a third of caucus-goers in Iowa said they were part of the religious right.

SUZANNE TABOR (Revival co-founder): I think the Christian conservatives are a force to be reckoned with and could put anyone in office they wanted, if they would get out and vote.

CROWLEY: You hear the echo of their influence down the campaign trail. It is in the announcement speech of [former Massachusetts Gov.] Mitt Romney.

ROMNEY: I believe in God, and I believe that every person in this great country and every person on this great planet is a child of God.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: One, two, three.

CROWLEY: It is in John McCain's journey through the town halls of South Carolina.

McCAIN: I do not support Roe v. Wade. It should be overturned.

CROWLEY: It is even in the interviews of the pro-gay-rights, pro-abortion-rights [former New York City Mayor] Rudy Giuliani.

Posted In
Health Care, Reproductive Rights
Network/Outlet
CNN, Associated Press
Person
Candy Crowley
Show/Publication
Anderson Cooper 360, American Morning
Stories/Interests
John McCain, 2008 Elections
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