NBC's Gregory spread McCain's false claim that Romney "disparage[d] the service and courage" of WWII vet Bob Dole

››› ››› JULIE MILLICAN

NBC News' David Gregory let Sen. John McCain claim that Mitt Romney "disparage[d] the service and courage of an American hero" when he stated that Bob Dole is "probably the last person I would have wanted to have write a letter for me," a reference to a letter Dole wrote to Rush Limbaugh defending McCain. That night, Gregory also uncritically aired McCain's attack on Romney on NBC's Nightly News. But Romney made no comments disparaging Dole's military "service and courage" in his response to Dole's letter, as the full context of Romney's remarks make clear.

During an interview that aired on the February 5 edition of MSNBC Live, NBC News chief White House correspondent David Gregory left unchallenged Sen. John McCain's (R-AZ) false claim that his rival in the Republican presidential race, Mitt Romney, "disparage[d] the service and courage of an American hero" with his statement that former Sen. Bob Dole (R-KS) is "probably the last person I would have wanted to have write a letter for me." Romney was referring to a letter Dole wrote in defense of McCain to conservative radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh. During the interview with Gregory, McCain made the remark unprompted, while responding to a question about whether he believed he could deliver a "decisive win" in the February 5 Republican presidential primaries and caucuses. That night, Gregory also uncritically aired McCain's attack on Romney during a report on NBC's Nightly News. But Romney made no comments disparaging Dole's military "service and courage" in his response to Dole's letter, as the full context of Romney's remarks make clear.

During a February 5 appearance on Fox News' Fox & Friends, Romney was asked to respond to Dole's letter. Romney stated:

ROMNEY: Well, it's probably the last person I would have wanted to have write a letter for me. I think there are a lot of folks that tend to think that maybe John McCain's race is a bit like Bob Dole's race -- that it's the guy who's the next in line; he's the inevitable choice and we'll give it to him, and then, it won't work. I think that the right course for a winning campaign against someone like Barack Obama is going to have to be somebody who can speak with energy and passion about the future of America, not another senator who can say, "Well, here's what I did on bill H. 1234. Here's what I did on my committee assignment."

The American people are so tired ... of listening to senators talk about, you know, their bills and their committees. They want to know how somebody has accomplished something for the people of their state or their city; somebody who's built a business; who ran the Olympics. They want somebody who's been in the real economy to fix our national economy.

In the interview with Gregory, portions of which aired during the 2 p.m. ET hour of MSNBC Live, McCain called Romney's response "disgraceful" and falsely accused him of "disparag[ing] the service and courage of an American hero." From the interview:

GREGORY: Well, earlier I spoke to Senator John McCain, who came right back at Romney. I began by asking him what he expected to be the headline tomorrow.

[begin video clip]

McCAIN: I hope that it's McCain wins.

GREGORY: Do you think it's decisive?

McCAIN: I hope so.

GREGORY: You think you have a chance for it to be a decisive win?

McCAIN: I don't know. You know, it's still is -- no matter if we won everything -- there would still be some leftover. David, could I just mention? Someone just showed me, a second ago, the fact that someone asked Governor Romney about the letter that Bob Dole wrote on my behalf to Rush Limbaugh, and he said that would be the last person he would want writing a letter on his behalf. Governor Romney, disparaging an American hero, our leader, our nominee for president of the United States? That's disgraceful. I think Governor Romney should apologize to Bob Dole for that comment. He's a great American, and for Governor Romney, who has never had any military experience, to disparage the service and courage of an American hero, I think is disgraceful.

GREGORY: This is part of a contrast that Governor Romney is trying to make in voters' minds between him and you and about who's the most conservative.

McCAIN: And, you know, he can do that, but to disparage a great American hero like Senator Bob Dole, who led our Republicans in the Senate? I mean, that's -- an apology is in order. But, you know, Governor Romney is doing -- he's had two sides of every issue. He raised taxes by $730 million as governor. He saddled them with a debt of a quarter of a billion dollars, which, according to The Boston Globe, was just doubled because of his government-mandated health-care system. Jobs fled his state, and now he's trying to portray himself as a conservative. How remarkable.

That evening on the Nightly News, Gregory reported on a "flare-up between McCain and Romney over Bob Dole" and noted that Dole "defended McCain's conservative credentials" in his letter to Limbaugh. Gregory then aired Romney's response to Dole's letter, "It's probably the last person I would have wanted to have write a letter for me," followed by a clip of McCain stating: "He's a great American, and for Governor Romney, who has never had any military experience, to disparage the service and courage of an American hero, I think is disgraceful."

From the February 5 broadcast of NBC's Nightly News with Brian Williams:

GREGORY: The fight for the GOP nomination has become an ideological war. Today, another flare-up between McCain and Romney over Bob Dole: The former GOP Senate leader and presidential candidate defended McCain's conservative credentials.

ROMNEY: It's probably the last person I would have wanted to have write a letter for me.

GREGORY: McCain reacted during an interview on MSNBC.

McCAIN: He's a great American, and for Governor Romney, who has never had any military experience, to disparage the service and courage of an American hero, I think is disgraceful.

GREGORY: The right's rebellion over McCain again played out on talk radio -- the loudest critic: Rush Limbaugh.

LIMBAUGH: He's asking us to do what he has refused to do for the last 10 years. He's asking us to put aside our differences and support the Republican Party.

GREGORY: Today, leading social conservative James Dobson said in a statement he won't. "McCain is not a conservative," he wrote, adding, "If he's the nominee, I simply will not cast a ballot for president for the first time in my life" -- a warning shot that may hurt McCain in November.

According to a February 5 Associated Press report, Romney "declined McCain's invitation to apologize because he said his remark was being misconstrued as an attack on Dole's heroism when it was focused on the history of the 1996 presidential race." The article added: "Referring to Dole as 'an American hero, a war hero, a fine man and a great leader of our party,' Romney told reporters: 'I do not think highly of the mental set that says we should choose our nominee based on how many years they've served and how long they've waited in line.' "

From the 2 p.m. ET hour of the February 5 edition of MSNBC Live:

GREGORY: Up front this hour, the fight on the right: John McCain taking flack from conservative radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh. Former Senator Bob Dole wrote Rush yesterday to defend McCain. Well, today, it was Mitt Romney, who stepped into the debate.

[...]

GREGORY: Well, earlier I spoke to Senator John McCain, who came right back at Romney. I began by asking him what he expected to be the headline tomorrow.

[begin video clip]

McCAIN: I hope that it's McCain wins.

GREGORY: Do you think it's decisive?

McCAIN: I hope so.

GREGORY: You think you have a chance for it to be a decisive win?

McCAIN: I don't know. You know, it's still is -- no matter if we won everything -- there would still be some leftover. David, could I just mention? Someone just showed me, a second ago, the fact that someone asked Governor Romney about the letter that Bob Dole wrote on my behalf to Rush Limbaugh, and he said that would be the last person he would want writing a letter on his behalf. Governor Romney, disparaging an American hero, our leader, our nominee for president of the United States? That's disgraceful. I think Governor Romney should apologize to Bob Dole for that comment. He's a great American, and for Governor Romney, who has never had any military experience, to disparage the service and courage of an American hero, I think is disgraceful.

GREGORY: This is part of a contrast that Governor Romney is trying to make in voters' minds between him and you and about who's the most conservative.

McCAIN: And, you know, he can do that, but to disparage a great American hero like Senator Bob Dole, who led our Republicans in the Senate? I mean, that's -- an apology is in order. But, you know, Governor Romney is doing -- he's had two sides of every issue. He raised taxes by $730 million as governor. He saddled them with a debt of a quarter of a billion dollars, which, according to The Boston Globe, was just doubled because of his government-mandated health-care system. Jobs fled his state, and now he's trying to portray himself as a conservative. How remarkable.

GREGORY: Talk about conservative credentials, though, because the reason Bob Dole wrote that letter --

McCAIN: Yeah.

GREGORY: -- to Rush Limbaugh --

McCAIN: Yeah.

GREGORY: -- who has said in recent days that you winning the nomination would destroy the party. He said that you have stabbed the Republican Party in the back over the years. He does reflect these angry conservatives who argue that you are not one of them. How do you unite conservatives behind you?

McCAIN: Well, a lot of them are coming our way. I'm very proud to have people like Jack Kemp and Phil Gramm and Steve Forbes and the list goes on and on of very respected conservatives. My colleagues in the Senate, like -- ranging from Howard Baker to Tom Colburn. But the important thing is that most conservatives care about who can win this transcendent challenge against radical Islamic extremism. That's why we did so well with conservatives in Florida and South Carolina and New Hampshire, and I believe we can do that today. And, as by any poll, I'm by far the most electable. Governor Romney is way down there in the electability issue.

From the February 5 broadcast of NBC's Nightly News with Brian Williams:

GREGORY: The fight for the GOP nomination has become an ideological war. Today, another flare-up between McCain and Romney over Bob Dole: The former GOP Senate leader and presidential candidate defended McCain's conservative credentials.

ROMNEY: It's probably the last person I would have wanted to have write a letter for me.

GREGORY: McCain reacted during an interview on MSNBC.

McCAIN: He's a great American, and for Governor Romney, who has never had any military experience, to disparage the service and courage of an American hero, I think is disgraceful.

GREGORY: The right's rebellion over McCain again played out on talk radio -- the loudest critic: Rush Limbaugh.

LIMBAUGH: He's asking us to do what he has refused to do for the last 10 years. He's asking us to put aside our differences and support the Republican Party.

GREGORY: Today, leading social conservative James Dobson said in a statement he won't. "McCain is not a conservative," he wrote, adding, "If he's the nominee, I simply will not cast a ballot for president for the first time in my life" -- a warning shot that may hurt McCain in November.

From the February 5 edition of Fox News' Fox & Friends:

DOOCY: Governor, what do you make of the letter that Bob Dole wrote to Rush Limbaugh to say, "Hey, lay off of John McCain. He's conservative enough." Do you buy that from Bob?

ROMNEY: Well, it's probably the last person I would have wanted to have write a letter for me. I think there are a lot of folks that tend to think that maybe John McCain's race is a bit like Bob Dole's race -- that it's the guy who's the next in line; he's the inevitable choice and we'll give it to him, and then, it won't work. I think that the right course for a winning campaign against someone like Barack Obama is going to have to be somebody who can speak with energy and passion about the future of America, not another senator who can say, "Well, here's what I did on bill H. 1234. Here's what I did on my committee assignment." The American people are so tired --

DOOCY: Sure.

ROMNEY: -- of listening to senators talk about, you know, their bills and their committees. They want to know how somebody has accomplished something for the people of their state or their city; somebody who's built a business; who ran the Olympics. They want somebody who's been in the real economy to fix our national economy.

DOOCY: All right. Well, Mitt Romney, we thank you very much for joining us today. Good luck to you today, governor.

ROMNEY: Thanks, Steve. Good to be with you.

Network/Outlet
MSNBC
Person
David Gregory
Show/Publication
MSNBC Live
Stories/Interests
Mitt Romney, John McCain, 2008 Elections
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