Reporting on a YouTube video that CNN's Wolf Blitzer described as portraying Sen. Barack Obama and his wife as "America-hating racists," correspondent Carol Costello quoted, without challenge, a Republican National Committee official saying attacks on Obama's patriotism "do[n't] come from us." Costello did not note that Sen. John McCain's campaign has suspended one staffer for circulating the video and that the campaign also reportedly said it was "an error" when it sent out a Wall Street Journal op-ed attacking Obama's minister.
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On the March 25 edition of CNN's The Situation Room, in a report about what host Wolf Blitzer called "a new YouTube video attacking Senator Barack Obama's patriotism," correspondent Carol Costello uncritically reported Republican National Committee deputy chairman Frank Donatelli saying about attacks on Obama's patriotism: "It doesn't come from us. As I say, I can't just say more strongly enough, that all the candidates running for president are patriotic. There are a lot of voices out there. There's cable television. There's the Internet. Everybody has a blog. I mean, it can come from a lot of different sources." However, Costello failed to note the role Sen. John McCain's campaign had in circulating materials attacking Obama, including the video discussed in the report. Indeed, CNN Internet correspondent Abbi Tatton reported on March 20, "John McCain staffer Soren Dayton" viewed the video, "then sent it out through the website Twitter," and "[t]hat got Dayton suspended today from the McCain campaign."
Further, Costello did not mention that the McCain campaign reportedly circulated to reporters a Wall Street Journal op-ed in which Newsmax.com chief Washington correspondent Ronald Kessler wrote that "Obama's close association with" Rev. Jeremiah A. Wright "raises legitimate questions about Mr. Obama's fundamental beliefs about his country," which "deserve a clearer answer than Mr. Obama has provided so far." On March 14, the Politico's Jonathan Martin reported that the McCain campaign "included an op-ed from the WSJ written by Ron Kessler about Obama's pastor today in its morning clips." Subsequently, McCain's campaign reportedly said it sent the op-ed "in error."
Moreover, Costello reported that "[t]hose who doubt Obama's patriotism also ask whether he can be trusted as commander in chief," and asserted, "[T]hat's not exactly a million miles from Republican charges against Barack Obama's Iraq policy." Then, while showing a page from the RNC's website attacking Obama, Costello uncritically reported that "[o]n the RNC's website, there are doubts about Obama's commitment to U.S. troops in Iraq," without noting that McCain had also voted against a bill that funded the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
In the March 25 and March 20 Situation Room reports, both Costello and Blitzer, respectively, said the video was about "patriotism" without noting its racial overtones. Tatton and Costello noted that the Politico had reported that the video was created in part by Lee Habeeb "a former producer of the Laura Ingraham Show" and currently "director of strategic content at Salem Radio Network." But none of the three -- Costello, Tatton, or Blitzer -- noted that, as the Politico's Martin reported, "the incendiary video ... also includes footage of Malcolm X, the U.S. Olympians who raised their hand in the black power salute and the song 'Fight the Power.' " Martin also reported that Habeeb said of his video, "I didn't do this to make him like a scary black man," but, as Martin wrote, Habeeb made this assertion "despite the inclusion of Malcolm X, the black Olympians and a rap song by Public Enemy."
Further, Blitzer described attacks on Obama's patriotism as "a new tactic against Barack Obama that we're sure to see more of if he wins the Democratic presidential nomination. What his campaign simply calls hit jobs on his patriotism." Notwithstanding Blitzer's reference to the "new tactic," since Obama officially announced his run for the presidency, conservative media figures have repeatedly raised questions about his patriotism, pointing to his choice not to wear U.S. flag pins and a photo showing Obama without his hand over his heart during a playing of the national anthem. Moreover, CNN previously lent legitimacy to questions about Obama's patriotism, asking in a February 24 CNN.com online poll: "Does Barack Obama show the proper patriotism for someone who wants to be president of the United States?" Blitzer also described the video as "new," despite the fact it was posted March 16 on YouTube and The Situation Room had previously reported on the video on March 20.
On the February 24 edition of CNN's Ballot Bowl '08, correspondent Josh Levs similarly ignored that Republicans were using patriotism as an issue to attack Obama. 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."
From the March 25 edition of CNN's The Situation Room:
BLITZER: Campaign smears -- a new YouTube video attacking Senator Barack Obama's patriotism, portraying him and his wife as, quote, "America-hating racists." We'll take a closer look at whether it could do permanent damage to his campaign. We'll tell you what's going on.
BLITZER: There's a new tactic against Barack Obama that we're sure to see more of if he wins the Democratic presidential nomination. What his campaign simply calls hit jobs on his patriotism.
CNN's Carol Costello's been working that story for us. She's coming into The Situation Room, tell us what she's finding out.
What are you finding out?
COSTELLO: Well, it's a nasty YouTube video and it's out -- it's out right now. It's pretty nasty, but if Barack Obama gets the Democratic nomination, it's just the tip of the iceberg.
[begin video clip]
WRIGHT: Not "God bless America" --
COSTELLO: It's the ultimate attack ad, cleverly edited video interspersing Senator Obama and words from his pastor maligning America.
OBAMA: --particularly controversial -- controversial --
COSTELLO: Obama supporters say the intent is vile: to portray the senator and his wife as America-hating racists. The website Politico says the video was spliced together by Lee Habeeb, a former producer for the conservative talk show host Laura Ingraham.
The Obama camp calls it a hit job. Others say this sort of attack could do real damage if Obama becomes the Democratic candidate.
JOHN FORTIER (American Enterprise Institute research fellow): We may see it again in the fall, where those states like Ohio are key to the election, and those are the types of voters we'll be fighting over. And patriotism is something that will matter to them.
COSTELLO: Those who doubt Obama's patriotism also ask whether he can be trusted as commander in chief. Their take: "If someone doesn't love our country, how can he support our troops defending it?" And that's not exactly a million miles from Republican charges against Barack Obama's Iraq policy.
On the RNC's website, there are doubts about Obama's commitment to U.S. troops in Iraq. And while the RNC denies this has anything to do with an alleged patriotism problem, it is aware those charges are out there.
FRANK DONATELLI (RNC deputy chairman): It doesn't come from us. As I say, I can't just say more strongly enough, that all the candidates running for president are patriotic.
There are a lot of voices out there. There's cable television. There's the Internet. Everybody has a blog. I mean, it can come from a lot of different sources.
COSTELLO: Obama is certainly aware of how this video and Pastor Wright's rhetoric could hurt him. He surrounded himself with eight U.S. flags as he repudiated Wright's remarks in a widely broadcast speech. His surrogates have addressed the charges directly.
GEN. TONY McPEAK (Obama adviser): Because both Barack Obama and John McCain are great patriots who love this country and are devoted to it. So is Hillary Clinton. Any suggestion to the contrary is flat wrong.
[end video clip]
COSTELLO: And the irony of the general's comments? He was actually addressing something said by Bill Clinton, a Democrat. So Barack Obama's getting it from all sides.
BLITZER: Carol, thank you.
Carol Costello reporting.
From the March 20 edition of CNN's The Situation Room:
BLITZER: A staffer for John McCain's presidential campaign was suspended today for sending out a YouTube video questioning Barack Obama's patriotism.
Let's go to our Internet reporter, Abbi Tatton. She's got the details.
What did the video, Abbi, show?
TATTON: Wolf, it's this video. "Is Obama Wright?" splices together the Reverend Jeremiah Wright's controversial comments with Obama sound bites. It was traced by Politico.com to Lee Habeeb, a director at a conservative radio network, who tells CNN he made it at home this weekend with a friend, saying, "We're in a world where we're allowed to criticize public figures."
But forwarding the video has led to one campaign casualty. John McCain staffer Soren Dayton was about -- one of about 50,000 people that viewed it. He then sent it out through the website Twitter that allows you to send short updates to friends. That got Dayton suspended today from the McCain campaign. A spokeswoman said: "We have been very clear on the type of campaign we intend to run, and this staffer acted in violation of our policy" -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Abbi, thanks for that.