Blitzer said McCain "knows what negative campaigning is" because "he was the victim" of it -- but he was also the perpetrator

››› ››› RYAN CHIACHIERE

CNN's Wolf Blitzer asserted that Sen. John McCain "knows what negative campaigning is ... 'cause he goes back to 2000 ... when he was the victim of a lot of negative campaigning." Blitzer didn't note that in both his 2000 and 2008 presidential campaigns, McCain himself has engaged in negative campaigning against his opponents.

On the March 6 edition of CNN's The Situation Room, host Wolf Blitzer asserted that Sen. John McCain "knows what negative campaigning is ... 'cause he goes back to 2000 ... when he was the victim of a lot of negative campaigning." However, in suggesting that McCain's only experience with negative campaigning is the attacks that have been leveled against him, Blitzer ignored not only the negative ads that McCain ran against former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney (R) and Sen. Hillary Clinton during the 2008 campaign, but also McCain's extensive negative campaigning during the 2000 Republican presidential primary. During that race, McCain admitted to using negative advertisements against then-Gov. George W. Bush and his campaign admitted to making phone calls that were perceived as negative against Bush.

A January 29, 2000, New York Times article on the 2000 Republican primaries reported, "At a town hall meeting in Nashua on Thursday, Senator John McCain rallied the crowd with the wish that in the final week of campaigning here, ''We won't be having any negative ads.' '' On February 9, 2000, however, the Times reported on a negative advertisement McCain was running against Bush. The Times evaluated the ad and concluded, "Mr. McCain's placid demeanor only partly masks the vehemence of the advertisement, which contains a fairly dramatic dig at Mr. Bush, at least as far as Republicans are concerned: that one of his newest commercials 'twists the truth like Clinton.' In the exchange of attack ads this week, Mr. McCain appears to be holding back less than Mr. Bush."

On February 11, 2000, the Times reported that McCain called for an end to the negative campaigning between him and Bush and said, "I'll pull down every negative ad that I have." The article, titled, "WAR OF WORDS; Spotlight Turns on Ugly Side of Politicking," quoted his pledge:

"I'm calling on my good friend George Bush to stop this now," Mr. McCain said. "Stop this now. He comes from a better family. He knows better than this. He should stop it. I'll pull down every negative ad that I have. I want this thing stopped and get this campaign back on the level." [Emphasis added.]

A February 16, 2000, Times article noted that McCain had, in fact, pulled a "sharply negative advertisement." The article stated:

With polls showing Mr. McCain either behind Mr. Bush or running neck and neck, the senator enters the last days before the crucial South Carolina primary with a serious tactical disadvantage. Not only does Mr. Bush have more money, but he is free to pour unlimited funds into the state because of his decision not to accept federal matching funds. And his own campaign efforts are being supplemented by mailings, phone banks and radio advertisements by an array of conservative groups bitterly opposed to Mr. McCain.

The McCain campaign, by contrast, has to abide by the federal spending cap and is near the limit in South Carolina. So it is trying something unconventional in politics -- not battling negative with negative. Aides said Mr. McCain had no second thoughts about his decision last week to pull a sharply negative advertisement against Mr. Bush off the air.

Media also reported on phone calls that the McCain campaign made in 2000. A February 23, 2000, article in the Times reported on phone calls made prior to the Michigan primary and reported that "The script provided by the Bush campaign reads: 'Gov. George Bush has campaigned against Senator John McCain by seeking the support of Southern fundamentalists who have expressed anti-Catholic views.' '' The Times reported that McCain's 2000 campaign manager, Rick Davis, asserted that the campaign "made the calls late in the day as polls were closing in the Michigan primary, which Mr. McCain won by six percentage points." The article reported:

Mr. Davis acknowledged that the campaign made the calls late in the day as polls were closing in the Michigan primary, which Mr. McCain won by six percentage points. Earlier in the day, after Mr. Bush had complained about the calls, a spokesman for Mr. McCain, Howard Opinsky, denied any involvement.

Asked about the Mr. Opinsky's earlier denial, Mr. Davis said the spokesman had not been told of the calls.

A March 3, 2000, CNN.com article reported that "McCain had first disavowed knowledge of the calls, but days later admitted he had understood and stood by their content."

On the March 5, 2000, edition of Meet the Press, McCain was asked about the calls. According to the transcript, found via Nexis, host Tim Russert first played the entire audio of the call:

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: This is Catholic Voter Alert. Governor George W. Bush has campaigned against Senator John McCain by seeking the support of Southern fundamentalists who have expressed anti-Catholic views. Several weeks ago, Governor Bush spoke at Bob Jones University in South Carolina. Bob Jones has made strong anti-Catholic statements, including calling the pope the anti-Christ and the Catholic Church a satanic cult. John McCain, a pro-life senator, has strongly criticized this anti-Catholic bigotry, while Governor Bush has stayed silent while gaining the support of Bob Jones University. Because of this, one Catholic pro-life congressman has switched his support from Bush to McCain, and many Michigan Catholics now support John McCain for president.

McCain responded to the clip of the call by claiming, "That is absolute fact," and later in the segment, he stated:

McCAIN: I was paying for calls that stated the facts. The question that he asked me was, "Are you running calls that are -- that accuse Governor Bush of being anti-Catholic or practicing racial bigotry?" I said no then. I say no now. We were running factual statements. Those are far different from the kind of phone calls that were run by the Bush campaign which had very interesting allegations. So I repeat, we ran no calls and I paid for no calls that accused him of anti-Catholic bigotry. The calls were statements of facts which he authenticated when he apologized.

McCain has campaigned negatively during the 2008 primary campaign as well. As Media Matters for America has noted, in a December 28, 2007, 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, 2007, 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 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 two of the ads, McCain attacked 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."

Additionally, as Media Matters noted, McCain ran a negative advertisement criticizing Clinton's support for a $1 million earmark for a museum at the Bethel Woods Center for the Arts, located "at the site of the original 1969 Woodstock Festival" in New York, although McCain himself had skipped the vote on removing the earmark.

From the March 6 edition of CNN's The Situation Room:

JACOBUS: Look what John McCain did in the primary. He came out of nowhere with no money. So you can't say that this is a guy who did it with pollsters and consultants and focus groups.

John McCain is the can -- I mean, the man is the message on this one. He didn't even need a lot of money to get where he is, so --

BLITZER: He knows what negative campaigning is --

JACOBUS: He knows.

BLITZER: -- 'cause he goes back to 2000, when he was the -- when he was the victim of a lot of negative campaigning.

STEPHANIE CUTTER (Democratic strategist): Right. He was the subject --

JACOBUS: He knows the world. He knows democracy. He knows what this country is about. He understands the Senate. He's the ultimate outsider's insider. So he's a very formidable candidate. And Clinton or Obama is going to have a very tough time against John McCain.

BLITZER: We gotta leave it there, guys. Thanks very much. A good discussion.

From the March 5, 2000, edition of NBC's Meet the Press:

RUSSERT: Here's the Catholic Voter Alert.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN [audio clip]: This is Catholic Voter Alert. Governor George W. Bush has campaigned against Senator John McCain by seeking the support of Southern fundamentalists who have expressed anti-Catholic views. Several weeks ago, Governor Bush spoke at Bob Jones University in South Carolina. Bob Jones has made strong anti-Catholic statements, including calling the pope the anti-Christ and the Catholic Church a satanic cult. John McCain, a pro-life senator, has strongly criticized this anti-Catholic bigotry, while Governor Bush has stayed silent while gaining the support of Bob Jones University. Because of this, one Catholic pro-life congressman has switched his support from Bush to McCain, and many Michigan Catholics now support John McCain for president.

RUSSERT: Let me go through the scenario of exactly what happened.

McCAIN: Could I respond to it first, one second? Could I respond?

RUSSERT: Please.

McCAIN: That is absolute fact. I stand by it. I've said it publicly. I've said it in every arena that I've been involved in. That's exactly true. And when Governor Bush apologized for not speaking out, that authenticated that message, so --

RUSSERT: What happened was when the press learned the ad was being made --

McCAIN: Yes. Yes. Yes.

RUSSERT: -- the calls were being made, here's the scenario. And I want to give you a chance to talk about it because this is important.

McCAIN: OK. OK. Thanks.

RUSSERT: "McCain campaign denied any knowledge of the calls." That was Monday afternoon. On Tuesday afternoon, "McCain spokesman Howard Opinsky said the campaign is 'not making any such calls.' "

It went on to Tuesday night. David Gregory said to you, "He had allies making calls criticizing you. You had allies criticizing him."

McCain: "Not so. No, that's not so. The calls were made that I had anything to do with -- although I don't know who paid for them -- had to do with pointing out that Governor Bush did go to an institution that prohibits racial dating, that is anti-Catholic." You knew who was paying for that call.

McCAIN: I was paying for calls that stated the facts. The question that he asked me was, "Are you running calls that are -- that accuse Governor Bush of being anti-Catholic or practicing racial bigotry?" I said no then. I say no now. We were running factual statements. Those are far different from the kind of phone calls that were run by the Bush campaign which had very interesting allegations. So I repeat, we ran no calls and I paid for no calls that accused him of anti-Catholic bigotry. The calls were statements of facts which he authenticated when he apologized.

Network/Outlet
CNN
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Wolf Blitzer
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The Situation Room
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John McCain, 2008 Elections
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