CNN's Josh Levs reported on "rumors" about Sen. Barack Obama's "patriotism" that the Obama campaign "say[s] are lies," adding, "[T]hey're not sure where these rumors come from." Levs did not note that Republicans have begun using patriotism as an issue with which to attack Obama, even though a CNN.com article that same day reported that Obama "defended himself and his wife" when asked to respond to what was described as "an attempt by conservatives and Republicans to paint you as unpatriotic."
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On the February 24 edition of CNN's Ballot Bowl '08 coverage of the presidential campaign, CNN correspondent Josh Levs reported on "rumors" about Sen. Barack Obama's "patriotism" that the Obama campaign "say[s] are lies." Levs stated, "What's going on is that there are some rumors out there about him, just in general in America, getting sent out by email. And he has been trying to fight those off." He later added, "Some are concerned they're not sure where these rumors come from." However, at no point did Levs note that Republicans have begun using patriotism as an issue with which to attack Obama. Levs' report contrasts with a February 24 article on CNN.com reporting that Obama "defended himself and his wife" when asked by a reporter to respond to what the reporter called "an attempt by conservatives and Republicans to paint you as unpatriotic."
The Associated Press reported on February 23 that "[c]onservative consultants" have said that patriotism "could be an issue for Obama in the general election." The article quoted "Republican consultant" Roger Stone saying that Americans will find "offensive" the photo of him "not putting his hand over his heart during the National Anthem." Stone added, "Barack Obama is out of the McGovern wing of the party, and he is part of the blame America first crowd." The AP also quoted Republican operative Keith Appell saying that McCain should "play up" that he "loves his country" when comparing himself to "Obama and his role in the anti-war movement." From the AP article:
Sen. Barack Obama's refusal to wear an American flag lapel pin along with a photo of him not putting his hand over his heart during the National Anthem led conservatives on Internet and in the media to question his patriotism.
Now Obama's wife, Michelle, has drawn their ire, too, for saying recently that she's really proud of her country for the first time in her adult life.
Conservative consultants say that combined, the cases could be an issue for Obama in the general election if he wins the nomination, especially as he runs against Vietnam war hero Sen. John McCain.
"The reason it hasn't been an issue so far is that we're still in the microcosm of the Democratic primary," said Republican consultant Roger Stone. "Many Americans will find the three things offensive. Barack Obama is out of the McGovern wing of the party, and he is part of the blame America first crowd."
Officials with the McCain campaign and the Republican Party say they won't be suggesting Obama is less than patriotic, and instead plan to focus their criticisms on his record and inexperience if he wins the nomination. Well-funded outside groups, however, consider anything fair game.
Conservative Republican consultant Keith Appell, who worked with the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, said Obama's opposition to the war will create a "striking contrast between McCain the war hero and Obama the poster child for the anti-war movement."
"If you are McCain, you want to play up the decorated war hero, loves his country, served his country," Appell said. "You want to play those themes up as much as possible, especially in comparison to Obama and his role in the anti-war movement."
Further, as TPM Media editor and publisher Josh Marshall noted, on the February 22 edition of HBO's Real Time with Bill Maher, Rep. Jack Kingston (R-GA) also raised the issue of Obama's patriotism, saying that Obama "won't put an American flag lapel pin on his coat" and falsely claiming that Obama "would not say the Pledge of Allegiance." Kingston went on to assert that we need to know where Obama "stand[s] on America."
Also during the February 22 Real Time segment, Kingston falsely claimed that Michelle Obama "hasn't said anything" about her remark, "For the first time in my adult life, I am really proud of my country. Not just because Barack is doing well, but I think people are hungry for change." In fact, as the AP reported on February 20, Mrs. Obama said of those remarks: "What I was clearly talking about was that I'm proud in how Americans are engaging in the political process. ... For the first time in my lifetime, I'm seeing people rolling up their sleeves in a way that I haven't seen and really trying to figure this out -- and that's the source of pride that I was talking about."
From the 5 p.m. ET hour of the February 24 edition of CNN's Ballot Bowl '08:
LEVS: Barack Obama, meanwhile, is fighting something else. Not just something from -- from -- not in this case, something from the Clinton campaign, but an email rumor that's out there about him. Look at what he said today.
OBAMA [video clip]: First it was my name. Right? That was a problem. And then there was the Muslim email thing. And that's not -- hasn't worked out so well. And now it's the patriotism thing.
LEVS: OK. The patriotism thing. What's going on is that there are some rumors out there about him, just in general in America, getting sent out by email. And he has been trying to fight those off. So, you know, thinking behind Ballot Bowl -- unfiltered, right? So one thing that we get to do is show you how the candidates reach out to people -- to potential supporters, to potential voters -- partly on the stump, but also through their websites. And what I'm going to show you right now is how each is using a website to try to fight some of what they say are lies out there about them.
I'm going to start off right here, this computer behind me, with Barack Obama, with what calls his fact check. This is right here. This is him focusing on patriotism. If you look right here, Barack Obama's fact check website, he lists over here: focus on religion, focus on patriotism. I've pull up the patriotism page just to show you how far this has gone. He lists some of his experience, his grandfather teaching him the Pledge of Allegiance, because there was a rumor out there about him not putting his hand on his heart during the Pledge of Allegiance.
So look at this: He actually put up YouTube videos of him saying the Pledge of Allegiance. That's how far they're going to try to fight off some of these rumors.
LEVS: And, Jim, you know, we've been talking a lot about these complaints, about the back-and-forth, about how many things they have to face. And it's interesting to note that not only are they facing, you know, these challenges from each other, but also these broader rumors out there that aren't necessarily coming from the opposite campaign. Like what Obama's dealing with today with this patriotism issue.
Some are concerned it could affect either of them in the general election. Some are concerned they're not sure where these rumors come from. But not only do they have to battle what they feel are unfair attacks from each other, but they have to constantly be battling what they feel are unfair attacks in general out there in America.
So I know you're seeing that from the campaigns right there in person. I'm seeing how they're using their websites to do it. And I'll tell you, they update those things sometimes every hour because it's that critical to them at this stage -- Jim.
JIM ACOSTA (anchor): Absolutely, Josh. Thanks for keeping an eye on that. We appreciate it very much.
From the February 22 edition of HBO's Real Time with Bill Maher:
KINGSTON: But what she was saying in terms of, "the first time in my adult life, I'm proud of my country" --
KINGSTON: Here's a woman who's, what, Harvard-educated, Yale, married to a U.S. senator, she's done real well, and now she's proud of her country?
MAHER: Well, I --
KINGSTON: She's proud of it because they're voting for him. That's just, I think, a careless statement to say. But, you know, she could have jumped up and said, "You know, that's not what I meant to say, and I'm sorry people are twisting it, and this is politics." But she hasn't said anything.
MAHER: But she -- but -- you're right. If she had said, "You know what, I'm prouder than ever in my country," it would have been better. But then -- see, I have a little experience with this because I once got thrown off network TV for saying something, and then -- wait a second -- and then the other guy, Ari Fleischer -- you were probably in the White House when he was the press secretary for Bush -- he said something just as stupid, you know, just as careless. The words weren't exactly right. He said, "Americans need to watch what they say," which sounded like Stalin had taken over our government. You know, Bill O'Reilly reacted to this by saying, "I'm not going to lynch her unless the evidence gives that -- ." You know, when are we going to --
KINGSTON: Bill, Bill, I agree. Listen, I'm in Washington, D.C., and I'll tell you, it is paranoid. You are -- you have -- anything you say --
MAHER: So let it go.
KINGSTON: -- can be used against you, but the thing that she did not do and still has not done now for three days is to explain what she meant. And it would have been that simple just to say, "You know what, this is a great country and I'm just proud that people really are getting involved in this election." That would have been the end of it. Instead, through [David] Axelrod, the campaign manager, to let him be her spokesman, they've let this thing grow. And when you combine that with the fact that the guy would not say the Pledge of Allegiance and won't put an American lapel pin on his coat, that's things voters are watching --
MAHER: Well --
KINGSTON: -- and it's because this Democrat primary --
MAHER: Wait. Wait a second. He won't say the Pledge of Allegiance?
KINGSTON: Well, the famous picture of him standing while Bill Richardson, Hillary Clinton have their hand over their heart, saluting the flag during the Pledge and Obama has his hands deliberately down -- that is disturbing to Americans.
MAHER: Deliberately down? He's not like this, is he? [grasps crotch]
KINGSTON: Uh --
MAHER: He's not doing, like, a Michael Jackson?
KINGSTON: Bill, you know my mama watches this show --
MAHER: All right. Sorry.
KINGSTON: -- but -- but you know, the concern is -- is -- you know, this guy is applying for the number-one cheerleading slot for the United States of America. Where do they stand on America? What is their relationship?
MAHER: Well, that's the question I was originally asking: Is America the greatest country in the world, bar none? Do we have to think that way? Or is it enough to just think it's the greatest for us? We live here. I'm not asking to leave. I don't want to go anywhere else. But why can't America be the greatest country for Americans and Denmark be the greatest country for the Danes?