Media once again uncritically report McCain's criticism of Romney's negative ads without mentioning McCain's numerous ads attacking Romney

››› ››› ERIC HANANOKI

In their coverage of the January 30 Republican presidential debate, the Los Angeles Times, The Wall Street Journal, the Chicago Tribune, ABC, and National Public Radio all reported Sen. John McCain's criticism of Mitt Romney over negative campaign ads. However, none of those media outlets noted that McCain has aired numerous ads attacking Romney, despite having said that "negative campaigns don't work."

In their January 31 coverage of the previous night's Republican presidential debate, several media outlets including the Los Angeles Times, The Wall Street Journal, the Chicago Tribune, ABC, and National Public Radio noted Sen. John McCain's (AZ) criticism of his opponent former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney for running negative ads without mentioning that McCain has aired numerous ads attacking Romney. During the debate McCain said, "[T]he fact is, that your negative ads, my friend, have set the tone, unfortunately, in this campaign." While all the outlets cited above noted McCain's comments, none reported that McCain has been running negative ads against Romney since December 2007, and has done so despite claiming on January 3 that "negative campaigns don't work." Such coverage follows a trend previously documented by Media Matters for America, in which the media routinely report McCain's criticism of Romney for airing attack ads without noting the fact that McCain has released numerous ads attacking Romney.

From the January 30 Republican presidential debate:

McCAIN: ... And as far as Washington politics is concerned, I think my friend [former] Governor [Mike] Huckabee [AR], sir, will attest the millions of dollars of attack ads and negative ads you leveled against him in Iowa, the millions of dollars of attack ads you have -- attacked against me in New Hampshire, and have ever since.

A lot of it is your own money. You're free to do with what you want to. You can spend it all. But the fact is that your negative ads, my friend, have set the tone, unfortunately, in this campaign.

In a December 28 press release, McCain's campaign announced the release of its TV ad "Consider," which includes a quote from a Concord Monitor editorial that read, "If a candidate is a phony ... we'll know it. Mitt Romney is such a candidate." Time magazine senior political analyst Mark Halperin reported on his Time.com blog The Page that the ad was the "first negative ad by any candidate besides Romney." In a December 28 post on ABC News' blog Political Radar, Matt Stuart reported that Romney responded to the ad, saying: "It's an attack ad. It attacks me personally. It's nasty. It's mean spirited. Frankly, it tells you more about Sen. McCain than it does about me that he would run an ad like that."

In a January 29 article about that day's Florida Republican primary, The Washington Post's Michael D. Shear and Perry Bacon Jr. reported that the "angry tone between [Romney and McCain] extended to the airwaves, as McCain launched a new negative radio ad." The Post noted that "McCain's new radio ad mocks Romney's economic record as governor and questions his electability, with an announcer saying, 'The bottom line: Mitt Romney loses to Hillary Clinton. Republicans lose. We can't afford Mitt Romney.' "

McCain has also criticized Romney in numerous Web ads: "Experience," released January 1; "Foreign Policy Alert," released January 2; "Leadership," released January 4; "Mittsurfing," released January 24; and "A Tale of Two Mitts," released January 28. In the two most recent ads, McCain attacks Romney for allegedly "chang[ing] positions" on issues ranging from "the Bush tax cuts," abortion rights, Second Amendment rights, and even "[o]n being a Republican."

The following media outlets reported McCain's criticism of Romney for running negative ads without noting McCain's ads attacking Romney:

  • Los Angeles Times staff writers Cathleen Decker and Seema Mehta, in a January 31 article, wrote that McCain "threw back at Romney one of the sources of the animosity between the two: the millions of dollars in attack ads that the former Massachusetts governor ran against Mike Huckabee in Iowa and McCain in New Hampshire." The Times then quoted McCain asserting: "Your negative ads, my friend, are -- have set the tone, unfortunately, in this campaign."
  • The Wall Street Journal's Elizabeth Holmes and Alex Frangos, in a January 31 article, noted that Romney "adamantly denied the charge" that he "had set a timetable for withdrawal for the troops in Iraq," and asserted that McCain's withdrawal attack is "an attempt to do the Washington-style old politics." Holmes and Frangos then wrote that McCain responded: "Your negative ads, my friend, have set the tone, unfortunately, in this campaign."
  • Chicago Tribune correspondents Jill Zuckman and Jim Tankersley reported in a January 31 article that after Romney accused McCain of a "dirty trick[]" for claiming he supported a timetable to withdraw troops from Iraq, McCain replied by "accusing Romney of spending millions of dollars to attack him and Huckabee in the campaign. 'It's your money,' he told Romney. 'You can spend it all. But the fact is, your negative ads, my friend, have set the tone unfortunately for this campaign.' "
  • ABC News correspondent John Berman, in January 31 report on Good Morning America, said that "[w]hile McCain continued to rip into Romney all night, he said Romney started it." Berman then played a debate clip of McCain attacking Romney for airing negative ads.
  • National Public Radio senior political correspondent Mara Liasson, in a January 31 report on Morning Edition, said that "McCain blamed Romney for the negative tenor of the campaign" and then aired a debate clip of McCain attacking Romney for airing negative ads.

From the January 31 Los Angeles Times article:

McCain attempted to link Romney's comments on timetables to his unrelated refusal, before his presidential campaign began, to state a position on the troop surge.

"It's simply wrong," Romney said. "And the senator knows it."

McCain then threw back at Romney one of the sources of the animosity between the two: the millions of dollars in attack ads that the former Massachusetts governor ran against Mike Huckabee in Iowa and McCain in New Hampshire.

"Your negative ads, my friend, are -- have set the tone, unfortunately, in this campaign," McCain said.

Each declared the other unfit to assume the presidency.

"I know how to lead," McCain said at one point, sharpening a distinction between himself and Romney, a longtime businessman who never served in the military. "I led the largest squadron in the United States Navy, and I did it out of patriotism, not for profit. ... I don't need any on-the-job training."

From the January 31 Wall Street Journal article:

At the debate, the senator from Arizona and former prisoner of war repeated his assertion that Mr. Romney had set a timetable for withdrawal for the troops in Iraq. The remarks, which Mr. McCain extrapolated from an interview the former governor of Massachusetts gave nine months ago, visibly angered Mr. Romney, who adamantly denied the charge.

"It's an attempt to do the Washington-style old politics, which is lay a charge out there, regardless of whether it's true or not. Don't check it, don't talk to the other candidate," he said. "Just throw it out there, get it in the media and the stream."

"Your negative ads, my friend, have set the tone, unfortunately, in this campaign," Mr. McCain responded.

In Florida, Mr. McCain successfully shifted the focus from the economy to the war in Iraq to win the battleground primary state Tuesday, and he moved the focus from the economy to Iraq again last night. Last night's debate was the last meeting of the candidates before this Tuesday, known as Super Tuesday, when 21 Republican contests take place, including in California.

From the January 31 Chicago Tribune article:

Repeatedly, the debate returned to the bitter disagreements between McCain and Romney, who clashed anew over the Iraq war following their argument in Florida.

McCain accused Romney of supporting a timetable to withdraw troops, of failing to weigh in on the need for a troop "surge" when governor, and of lacking the judgment to lead the war on terrorism.

Romney denied supporting a withdrawal timeline and accused McCain of misquoting him: "How is it that you're the expert on my position?" He said McCain's decision to level the accusation a few days before the Florida vote "sort of falls in the kind of dirty tricks that I think Ronald Reagan would have found reprehensible."

McCain responded by accusing Romney of spending millions of dollars to attack him and Huckabee in the campaign. "It's your money," he told Romney. "You can spend it all. But the fact is, your negative ads, my friend, have set the tone unfortunately for this campaign."

The sustained back and forth prompted Huckabee to protest repeatedly, and at one point, throw his hands up in frustration.

From the January 31 edition of ABC's Good Morning America:

BERMAN: While McCain continued to rip into Romney all night, he said Romney started it.

McCAIN: Millions of dollars of attack ads you have -- attacked against me in New Hampshire, and have ever since. A lot of it's your own money. You're free to do with what you want to. You can spend it all.

BERMAN: After picking up endorsement from former candidate Rudy Giuliani, McCain is getting another today from California's governor, though last night Arnold Schwarzenegger was being coy.

SCHWARZENEGGER: I'm sorry, I have nothing really to announce today.

WOLF BLITZER (CNN anchor): Today. I guess the operative word is "today." I'm not going to press you.

SCHWARZENEGGER: I will let you know, you know, after tonight's debate, you know, if I'm going in one way or another.

BERMAN: This may very well have been the final debate in the Republican primary, and it's safe to say Mitt Romney and John McCain are two men who will not miss each other. [Co-host] Diane [Sawyer].

From the January 31 edition of National Public Radio's Morning Edition:

LIASSON: McCain didn't back off; he merely switched to a broader attack, saying that while he was staking his political career on Iraq, Romney was hedging his bets. And McCain blamed Romney for the negative tenor of the campaign.

McCAIN: And as far as Washington politics is concerned, I think my friend Governor Huckabee, sir, will attest the millions of dollars of attack ads and negative ads you leveled against him in Iowa, the millions of dollars of attack ads you have -- attacked against me in New Hampshire, and have ever since. A lot of it's your own money. You're free to do with what you want to. You can spend it all. But the fact is that --

[laughter]

-- your negative ads, my friend, have set the tone, unfortunately, in this campaign.

LIASSON: Ron Paul also participated in last night's debate, but Rudy Giuliani did not.

Network/Outlet
Wall Street Journal, ABC, Los Angeles Times, NPR, Chicago Tribune
Person
Mara Liasson, John Berman
Show/Publication
Good Morning America, Morning Edition
Stories/Interests
John McCain, 2008 Elections
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