CNN and Hotline on McCain: Is the "maverick" back?

››› ››› BRIAN LEVY

During a discussion about Sen. John McCain's (R-AZ) positions on global warming and Iraq on the February 22 edition of CNN's The Situation Room, on-screen graphics repeatedly asked: "McCain: A Maverick Again?" suggesting both that McCain may currently be a "maverick" and that the media had stopped calling him a "maverick" at some point. Similarly, National Journal's The Hotline asked, "The Maverick's Back?" and asserted that "McCain's dustup with [Vice President Dick] Cheney and his beating up of [President] Bush on global warming show he's the same McCain" -- presumably a "maverick." However, CNN and other media outlets have never stopped calling McCain a "maverick."

As Media Matters for America noted, on the February 1 edition of CNN's Lou Dobbs Tonight, CNN senior Pentagon correspondent Jamie McIntyre referred to McCain as "maverick Republican John McCain." Also, a February 4 New York Times headline described McCain and Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-NE) as "Mavericks Both." On the February 13 edition of MSNBC's Hardball, host Chris Matthews said that "there are a lot of people there ... who like the cut of John McCain's jib, his independence, his maverick reputation." Similarly, on the February 20 edition of The Situation Room, CNN political editor Mark Preston asserted without evidence that McCain has an "image as an independent thinker not beholden to any political party."

Media Matters has also noted that Hotline editor-in-chief Chuck Todd, former New York Times reporter Anne E. Kornblut, and Wall Street Journal national political editor John Harwood labeled McCain a "maverick" during 2006, as well as another example of Matthews doing so.

Media Matters has documented numerous instances in which McCain has fallen in line with the Bush administration or the Republican Party establishment on issues large and small.

On the February 22 Situation Room, host Wolf Blitzer said there is "an interesting phenomenon" regarding McCain because McCain is "critical of the vice president [and] the former defense secretary," Donald H. Rumsfeld, and has criticized "the administration's record on global warming." Blitzer then asked former Rep. J.C. Watts (R-OK) and Democratic strategist Donna Brazile to "[e]xplain John McCain and his current stance to our viewers." Later, Blitzer noted that Cheney "did say that when he did run into John McCain, John McCain apologized to him for having" criticized Cheney.

Additionally, Watts said: "I don't necessarily agree with him [McCain] on the global warming issue. I think, you know, you can make arguments on both sides of that debate." Brazile responded that she would "get J.C. Watts a copy of the Inconvenient Truth right after [former Vice President] Al Gore wins the Oscar this weekend because the science is very conclusive on that."

From the 4 p.m. hour of the February 22 edition of CNN's The Situation Room:

BLITZER: John McCain -- it's an interesting phenomenon. I want to start with you, J.C. -- he's critical of the vice president, the former defense secretary. Here's what he said recently on the administration's record on global warming. He says, "I would asses this administration's record on global warming as terrible." He did say it's improving, but it's basically the record has been terrible. Explain John McCain and his current stance to our viewers.

WATTS: You know, the reason I like John McCain is because John McCain's going to be John McCain. I think he calls it the way he sees it, and I kind of like that independence. I -- you know, we talk a lot about saying that we want people that will be independent in Washington. That usually means we want someone that agrees with us. And John McCain, I think, on environmental issues -- I don't necessarily agree with him on the global warming issue. I think, you know, you can make arguments on both sides of that debate. But John is being John.

BLITZER: He's very supportive of the president when it comes to the war in Iraq. The surge -- he supports that. But he also said this a couple of weeks back. He said, "The president listened too much to the vice president. Of course, the president bears the ultimate responsibility, but he was very badly served by both the vice president and, most of all, the secretary of defense." And in response to ABC News, he said this, the vice president, "I think if --" Well, that's another matter. But he did say that when he did run into John McCain, John McCain apologized to him for having said that.

BRAZILE: Well, first of all, looks like I'm going to have to get J.C. Watts a copy of the Inconvenient Truth right after Al Gore wins the Oscar this weekend because the science is very conclusive on that. But look, I think John McCain is trying to regain his title as the maverick, as the straight shooter, the one who could -- can talk directly to the American people. He's lost a lot of credibility over the last couple of months as he's defended the president's position on escalation of the troops in Iraq. And I think what McCain is trying to do is to regain that maverick label where he can go out there, speaks the truth, talk about difficult issues, and try to distinguish himself from the White House. At the same time, he's bending that right knee to the religious right.

WATTS: But, Donna, we can disagree, or you might be able to disagree with Senator McCain on the surge. But people need to know that was John McCain's position from Day One: We needed more troops. So this isn't new. This is actually the administration following John McCain's lead -- following his lead in terms of the troop surge.

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