CBS and CNN reports on Confederate flag issue ignored McCain's "act of cowardice"

››› ››› BRIAN LEVY

The CBS Evening News and CNN's The Situation Room noted Sen. John McCain's opposition to displays of the Confederate flag, but did not report that during the campaign for the South Carolina Republican primary in 2000, McCain had equivocated on whether the flag should fly atop South Carolina's state Capitol. Nor did the reports mention McCain's subsequent admission his equivocation "was an act of cowardice" and that he had "broke[n] [his] promise to always tell the truth" in order to try to "win the South Carolina primary" in 2000.

Reports on the January 17 editions of the CBS Evening News and CNN's The Situation Room about Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee's "spirited defense of the Confederate flag" noted rival candidate John McCain's opposition to the flag, but did not report that during the 2000 primary, McCain had equivocated on whether the flag should fly atop South Carolina's state Capitol. At one point during the 2000 race, McCain called the flag a ''symbol of racism and slavery,'' but the next day described the flag as a ''symbol of heritage." McCain also maintained that the issue should be left up to the people of the state. Nor did the reports mention McCain's subsequent admission that his equivocation on the Confederate flag "was an act of cowardice" and that he had "broke[n] [his] promise to always tell the truth" in order to try to "win the South Carolina primary" in 2000.

Addressing the flag issue on January 17, Huckabee said: "In fact, if somebody came to Arkansas and told us what to do with our flag, we would tell them where to put the pole; that's what we'd do."

In the CBS report, correspondent Nancy Cordes said of the Confederate flag, "It's red meat for many of the state's Republicans, but the flag is considered a symbol of slavery by others, including Huckabee's main rival here, John McCain," without noting that McCain said the flag was a "symbol of heritage" during his 2000 campaign.

On CNN, correspondent Brian Todd said: "With Huckabee closing on John McCain in South Carolina, analysts say this strikes a clear point of difference with McCain, who wanted the Confederate flag removed from the state's Capitol dome," without noting McCain's equivocations in 2000.

During the lead-up to the 2000 South Carolina primary, McCain was inconsistent about whether the Confederate flag should fly atop South Carolina's Capitol dome, as reported in an April 20, 2000, New York Times article headlined "After Campaigning on Candor, McCain Admits He Lacked It on Confederate Flag Issue":

In the pivotal primary campaign, Mr. McCain repeatedly was asked his opinion of whether the flag should be removed from atop the Capitol dome. Many liberal and civil rights organizations, led by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, have been pressing to have the flag known as the ''star and bars'' taken down, declaring that it is a symbol of slavery and oppression of African-Americans.

In January [2000], Mr. McCain said he considered the flag a ''symbol of racism and slavery.'' The next day he called it a ''symbol of heritage,'' a phrase used by supporters of the flag. At all times he declared that the issue should be left up to the people of South Carolina to decide without interference from outsiders.

Further, as Media Matters for America documented, in an April 20, 2000, speech, McCain described his equivocal statements on the flag as dishonest:

My ancestors fought for the Confederacy, and I am sure that many, maybe all of them, fought with courage and with faith that they were serving a cause greater than themselves. But I don't believe their service, however distinguished, needs to be commemorated in a way that offends, that deeply hurts, people whose ancestors were once denied their freedom by my ancestors.

[...]

As I admitted, I should have done this earlier, when an honest answer could have affected me personally. I did not do so for one reason alone. I feared that if I answered honestly, I could not win the South Carolina primary. So, I chose to compromise my principles. I broke my promise to always tell the truth.

More recently, on the January 16 edition of the CBS Evening News, McCain described his 2000 statements on the Confederate flag as "an act of cowardice":

McCAIN: The worst advice that I've given to myself was when the Confederate flag was flying over the state Capitol in South Carolina and I decided that I would say that's not an issue that I should be involved in, that it's -- should be decided by the people of the state of South Carolina. I knew that it was a symbol that was very offensive to many people, and afterwards I went back and apologized. But it was, needless to say, by saying that I wouldn't have anything to do with an issue like that was an act of cowardice.

As Media Matters noted, a report on the January 16 edition of CNN's The Situation Room also discussed McCain's position on the Confederate flag but failed to report that McCain had equivocated on the issue during the 2000 primary. CNN chief national correspondent John King reported that "[b]ack then, John McCain angered many conservatives in this state by opposing the flying of the Confederate flag above the South Carolina State House." King also did not note that McCain had asserted that the flag was a "symbol of heritage."

From the January 17 edition of the CBS Evening News with Katie Couric:

CORDES: Buzzing about the state today, Mike Huckabee stirred up a hornet's nest with a surprisingly spirited defense of the Confederate flag.

HUCKABEE [video clip]: In fact, if somebody came to Arkansas and told us what to do with our flag, we'd tell them where to put the pole. That's what we'd do.

CORDES: It's red meat for many of the state's Republicans, but the flag is considered a symbol of slavery by others, including Huckabee's main rival here, John McCain.

Meantime, the McCain campaign says it's deploying a truth squad to fend off the kind of dirty tricks that sunk the senator here eight years ago. Staffers say they found this pamphlet suggesting the Vietnam war hero sold out his fellow POWs.

From the January 17 edition of CNN's The Situation Room:

TODD: On the trail, he's also weighed in on the Confederate flag, seen by some as racist, by others as an icon of Southern pride. It's still on display on South Carolina's state Capitol grounds. Huckabee's message: The feds should stay out of this flight.

HUCKABEE: You don't like people from outside the state coming down and telling you what to do with your flag. In fact, if somebody came to Arkansas and told us what to do with our flag, we'd tell them where to put the pole.

TODD: With Huckabee closing on John McCain in South Carolina, analysts say this strikes a clear point of difference with McCain, who wanted the Confederate flag removed from the state's Capitol dome.

McCAIN: -- taken that flag off the top of the Capitol, put it into the place where it belongs.

CHRIS FRATES (Politico staff writer): He's appealing to a very specific conservative voter base in South Carolina. He needs to get the folks fired up. He needs to make sure they're coming out in droves, and he needs to knock down some of McCain's momentum in South Carolina.

From the January 16 edition of the CBS Evening News:

KATIE COURIC (anchor): What is the worst piece of advice you've ever given another person?

McCAIN: The worst advice that I've given to myself was when the Confederate flag was flying over the state Capitol in South Carolina and I decided that I would say that's not an issue that I should be involved in, that it's -- should be decided by the people of the state of South Carolina. I knew that it was a symbol that was very offensive to many people, and afterwards I went back and apologized. But it was, needless to say, by saying that I wouldn't have anything to do with an issue like that was an act of cowardice.

COURIC: Did someone advise you, senator, to do that?

McCAIN: Yes. Yes, but that doesn't mean I should have taken it. I should have known better.

Posted In
Diversity & Discrimination, Elections
Network/Outlet
MSNBC, CBS
Person
Brian Todd, Nancy Cordes
Show/Publication
CBS Evening News, The Situation Room
Stories/Interests
John McCain, 2008 Elections
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