CNN's Blitzer aired spliced video in support of false assertion that McCain "quickly corrected" Al Qaeda-Iran gaffe

››› ››› BRIAN LEVY

Discussing Sen. John McCain's false claim that Iranian operatives are "taking Al Qaeda into Iran, training them and sending them back," CNN's Wolf Blitzer falsely asserted that McCain "quickly corrected [it] after some prodding from his Senate colleague, Joe Lieberman." Blitzer then aired a spliced video of McCain's misstatement immediately followed by his "correct[ion]." In fact, as The Washington Post reported, it was later in the press conference when McCain was "[p]ressed to elaborate" on his claim and after he reiterated that "Al Qaeda is going back into Iran and receiving training and are coming back into Iraq from Iran," that Lieberman "stepped forward and whispered" in his ear. McCain then corrected himself.

On the March 18 edition of CNN's The Situation Room, discussing Sen. John McCain's false claim that Iranian operatives are "taking Al Qaeda into Iran, training them and sending them back," which McCain made during a press conference in Amman, Jordan, that day, host Wolf Blitzer falsely asserted that McCain "quickly corrected [the misstatement] after some prodding from his Senate colleague, Joe Lieberman [I-CT]." Blitzer then aired a spliced video of McCain's "misstatement" -- "We continue to be concerned about Iranian -- taking the Al Qaeda into Iran, training them and sending them back. We continue to be concerned about Iranian influence and assistance to Hezbollah, as well as Iranian pursuit of nuclear weapons" -- immediately followed by McCain's "correct[ion]": "I'm sorry. The Iranians are training extremists, not al Qaeda, not al Qaeda. I'm sorry." CNN gave no indication that the video had been spliced or that any time had elapsed between McCain's misstatement and correction.

Indeed, in between the two statements, McCain was reportedly "[p]ressed to elaborate" on his misstatement and reiterated: "Well, it's common knowledge and has been reported in the media that -- that Al Qaeda is going back into Iran and receiving training and are coming back into Iraq from Iran. That's -- that's well-known and it's unfortunate." About a minute later, Lieberman whispered in McCain's ear and that is when McCain then said: "I'm sorry. The Iranians are training extremists, not al Qaeda, not al Qaeda. I'm sorry." Neither Blitzer nor CNN chief national correspondent John King, who reported on McCain's "misstatement" earlier on the program, noted that McCain twice falsely asserted in that same press conference that Iranians were training Al Qaeda members or that McCain had made that assertion the day before.

In a report earlier on the program, King had alleged that McCain corrected himself "a few moments later, after some prodding from Senate colleague, Joseph Lieberman." King also did not mention -- and his report omitted -- that McCain repeated his assertion that Iranian operatives are training Al Qaeda members. In fact, as The Washington Post's Cameron W. Barr and Michael D. Shear reported, it was when McCain was "[p]ressed to elaborate" on his claim and he reiterated "that Al Qaeda is going back into Iran and receiving training and are coming back into Iraq from Iran," that "Lieberman, standing just behind McCain, stepped forward and whispered in the presidential candidate's ear. McCain then said: 'I'm sorry, the Iranians are training extremists, not al-Qaeda.' "

King's and Blitzer's misleading suggestions that McCain "quickly corrected" himself "a few moments later" echoes the McCain campaign's false assertion that "John McCain misspoke and immediately corrected himself."

Moreover, as the blog Think Progress noted, this was not the first time McCain misidentified Iraqis who the U.S. government says are being trained in Iran. On the March 17 broadcast of Salem Radio Network's The Hugh Hewitt Show, McCain said: "As you know, there are al Qaeda operatives that are taken back into Iran, given training as leaders, and they're moving back into Iraq."

Blitzer also said that McCain was "continuing his tour. It's a fact-finding mission. He serves on the Armed Services Committee," again ignoring that on the March 6 edition of Blitzer's own program, CNN congressional correspondent Dana Bash reported that "[McCain] advisers tell CNN" that at least one purpose of McCain's overseas trip is to "stay[] in the headlines" and promote the "imagery of a leader comfortable on the world stage."

From the March 18 edition of CNN's The Situation Room:

BLITZER: While Democrats figure all that out, John McCain is free to travel the world right now. In fact, the man likely to become the Republican presidential nomination [sic] is in the Middle East. He's continuing his tour. It's a fact-finding mission. He serves on the Armed Services Committee.

Our chief national correspondent, John King, is joining us. He's following McCain around. You're in Jerusalem right now. Tell us the latest. What's going on with McCain and his colleagues?

KING: Well, Wolf, an odd scene today outside of one of Israel's most solemn sites, the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial, a round of applause for Senator McCain as he arrives -- some American tourists on hand cheering him here in Israel. One even shouting, "Mac is back," words he often hears back on the campaign trail back home.

But as the senator takes these early steps on the world stage, some fans, also a bit of controversy.

[begin video clip]

KING: In Jordan, a sit-down with a faithful U.S. ally, King Abdullah, and after touring an archaeological site, tough words for a potential foe.

McCAIN: We continue to be very concerned about the Iranian influence in Iraq and in the region. Just in the last few days, a cache of weapons was uncovered, which had many, I believe, 56 of these copper explosive devices, which are the most lethal, which are killing young American service members.

KING: Hardly the first time John McCain has aimed tough words in Tehran's direction. But these raised eyebrows.

McCAIN: We continue to be concerned about Iranian -- taking Al Qaeda into Iran, training them and sending them back. We continue to be concerned about Iranian influence and assistance to Hezbollah, as well as Iranian pursuit of nuclear weapons.

KING: The problem? The Pentagon says there are examples of Iranian weapons ending up in the hands of Al Qaeda in Iraq. And there is little doubt Iran provides training and assistance to Shia militants in Iraq.

But Al Qaeda is a Sunni group. And U.S. officials say there is no evidence of Iran training Sunni militants on its territory, a fact McCain himself corrected a few moments later, after some prodding from Senate colleague, Joseph Lieberman.

McCAIN: I'm sorry. The Iranians are training extremists, not Al Qaeda, not Al Qaeda. I'm sorry.

KING: Still, Democrats were quick to say the candidate who often boasts of his foreign policy experience can't get the facts straight. An occasional gaffe in a grueling campaign year is not uncommon, but the stakes are much higher now. This is Senator McCain's first overseas trip since becoming the presumptive Republican nominee, and his every word is being watched closely for signs of how a President McCain might change U.S. foreign policy.

After Jordan, Israel -- "Never again," a teary-eyed McCain wrote in the guest book at Israel's Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial.

[end video clip]

KING: And already on this trip, two hints from Senator McCain how he might be at least a bit different than Bush administration when it comes to foreign policy in this region.

Senator McCain says he thinks he could work better and more closely with European allies on the sanctions aimed at curtailing Iran's nuclear program. And, Wolf, Senator McCain also says that he would be more hands-on in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, although he says he does not see a breakthrough in the near future, to say the least -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, John, thanks very much. John King reporting for -- from Jerusalem.

[...]

BLITZER: On our "Political Ticker" today: John McCain's Middle East tour. The probable Republican presidential nominee sat down with Jordan's King Abdullah today in Amman and he sent a tough message to Iran. But McCain's comments also raised some eyebrows because of a misstatement he quickly corrected after some prodding from his Senate colleague, Joe Lieberman.

Listen to this.

McCAIN [video clip]: We continue to be concerned about Iranian -- taking Al Qaeda into Iran, training them and sending them back. We continue to be concerned about Iranian influence and assistance to Hezbollah, as well as Iranian pursuit of nuclear weapons.

I'm sorry. The Iranians are training extremists, not Al Qaeda, not Al Qaeda. I'm sorry.

BLITZER: Thousands of pages of Hillary Clinton's schedules as the first lady are set to be released tomorrow after Barack Obama and others suggested the Clintons have been slow to disclose the records. The National Archives said today it will release more than 11,000 pages of Clinton's daily schedules.

Posted In
Elections, National Security & Foreign Policy
Network/Outlet
CNN
Person
Wolf Blitzer
Show/Publication
The Situation Room
Stories/Interests
John McCain, 2008 Elections
We've changed our commenting system to Disqus.
Instructions for signing up and claiming your comment history are located here.
Updated rules for commenting are here.