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During an interview with Barbara Comstock -- an adviser to Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney -- on the August 7 edition of MSNBC Live, congressional correspondent Chip Reid uncritically aired Romney's claim during an August 5 Republican presidential debate that Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL) "went from going to sit down to tea with our enemies, but then he's going to bomb our allies. I mean, he's gone from Jane Fonda to Dr. Strangelove in one week." Romney's reference to Dr. Strangelove was an attack on Obama for saying in an August 1 speech that "[i]f we have actionable intelligence about high-value terrorist targets" in Pakistan, "and [Pakistani] President Musharraf won't act, we will." In fact, as Media Matters for America has noted, Romney and fellow Republican presidential candidate Rudy Giuliani both acknowledged during the course of the August 5 debate that they agree substantively with Obama's remark, that they would retain the option to act against Al Qaeda in Pakistan, even without Musharraf's consent.
Reid introduced the clip of Romney's attack by saying, "Romney also made headlines when he slammed a Democrat, attacking Barack Obama's foreign policy, accusing the Illinois senator of being wildly inconsistent." Reid did not report Obama's actual statement regarding terrorists in Pakistan, nor did he note that during the course of the debate, both Giuliani and Romney acknowledged their agreement with the substance of Obama's "foreign policy."
In the speech to which Romney was referring, Obama said:
OBAMA: I understand that President Musharraf has his own challenges. But let me make this clear. There are terrorists holed up in those mountains who murdered 3,000 Americans. They are plotting to strike again. It was a terrible mistake to fail to act when we had a chance to take out an Al Qaeda leadership meeting in 2005. If we have actionable intelligence about high-value terrorist targets and President Musharraf won't act, we will.
Notwithstanding Romney's claim, Obama did not say he would "bomb our allies."
ABC News' chief Washington correspondent George Stephanopoulos, hosting the August 5 debate, noted that Giuliani -- when asked about Obama's speech on the August 1 edition of PBS' Charlie Rose -- had said that he would go after Osama bin Laden if necessary over Musharraf's objections. During the debate, responding to Giuliani's denial that he had said he would act, Stephanopoulos said: "No, you said, 'If we had a chance to take bin Laden, we've got to do it ourselves, because we're not sure if someone else is going to do it correctly. Yeah, I think I would take that option.' " Giuliani then acknowledged: "Well, I would take that option if I thought there was no other way to crush Al Qaeda, no other way to crush the Taliban, and no other way to be able to capture bin Laden."
When Stephanopoulos asked Romney his position on the issue, Romney stated:
ROMNEY: It's wrong for a person running for the president of the United States to get on TV and say "we're going to go into your country unilaterally." Of course America always maintains our options to do whatever we think is in the best interests of America. But we don't go out and say: "Ladies and gentlemen of Germany, if ever there was a problem in your country, and we didn't think you were doing the right thing, we reserve the right to come in and get them out." We don't say those things. We keep our options quiet.
As Media Matters has also noted, several print media outlets reported Romney's attack -- which the Associated Press' Mike Glover referred to as one of the debate's "brightest moments" -- without noting that Giuliani had previously echoed Obama's position and both Romney and Giuliani affirmed during the debate that they would retain the option of acting against bin Laden over Pakistan's objections, if necessary.
From the August 7 edition of MSNBC Live:
REID: Romney also made headlines when he slammed a Democrat, attacking Barack Obama's foreign policy, accusing the Illinois senator of being wildly inconsistent.
ROMNEY: [video clip] I had to laugh at what I saw Barack Obama do. I mean, in one week, he went from saying he's going to sit down, you know, for tea with our enemies, but then he's going to bomb our allies. I mean, he's gone from Jane Fonda to Dr. Strangelove in one week.
REID: With me now, Barbara Comstock, senior adviser to Mitt Romney. Barbara, did you write that line about Dr. Strangelove?
COMSTOCK: No, the governor came in with that himself, but I think what you saw there was the very good debate performance. But also what -- the reason he is doing well out in Iowa -- and he's leading as you've been pointing out this morning -- is because he has been out doing the work and being in these early states in Iowa and New Hampshire, doing over 60 town halls, going to all these meetings and really getting his vision of, you know, strong new leadership and getting, you know -- understanding that Washington doesn't know everything. Washington doesn't know best.