MSNBC's O'Donnell falsely claimed McCain "called for Don Rumsfeld's resignation"


On MSNBC, Norah O'Donnell falsely claimed that Sen. John McCain "called for [former Defense Secretary] Don Rumsfeld's resignation." In fact, McCain did not call for Rumsfeld to resign; he said the decision about whether Rumsfeld should leave was the president's.

On the March 26 edition of MSNBC Live, chief Washington correspondent and host Norah O'Donnell falsely claimed that Sen. John McCain "called for [former Defense Secretary] Don Rumsfeld's resignation." In fact, as Media Matters for America has documented, McCain did not call for Rumsfeld to resign. While McCain expressed "no confidence" in Rumsfeld in 2004, the Associated Press reported at the time that McCain "said his comments were not a call for Rumsfeld's resignation." Further, when Fox News host Shepard Smith specifically asked McCain, "Does Donald Rumsfeld need to step down?" on November 8, 2006 -- hours before Bush announced Rumsfeld's resignation -- McCain responded that it was "a decision to be made by the president." McCain offered a similar statement on the October 18, 2006, edition of MSNBC's Hardball with Chris Matthews, stating: "I was asked if he should resign. I said no, that's up to the president."

As Media Matters noted, The Washington Post reported in a February 9 article that McCain "regularly reminds audiences that he also criticized Bush's management of the war and called for Donald H. Rumsfeld's resignation as defense secretary." After Media Matters noted the article's failure to report that McCain's assertion that he had called for Rumsfeld's resignation was false, the Post published an article reporting that McCain "overstate[d] his public position on Rumsfeld" and never called for him to resign. According to the February 16 article: "[D]uring a debate at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, Calif., aired on CNN, McCain said, 'I'm the only one that said that Rumsfeld had to go.' A McCain spokesman acknowledged this week that that was not correct. 'He did not call for his resignation,' said the campaign's Brian Rogers. 'He always said that's the president's prerogative.' " The February 16 Post article also noted that "McCain's false account has been unwittingly incorporated into the narrative he is selling by some news organizations, including The Washington Post."

Following the Post's February 16 article, The New York Times' Elisabeth Bumiller wrote that "McCain has overstated his original position on Mr. Rumsfeld. ... [U]nlike a group of retired generals who called for Mr. Rumsfeld's resignation in the spring of 2006, Mr. McCain never did."

From the 3 p.m. ET hour of the March 26 edition of MSNBC Live:

O'DONNELL: John, isn't it true that John McCain does want to continue the president's course in Iraq?

JOHN LEHMAN (McCain campaign national security adviser): John McCain is -- has been criticizing the Bush administration policy for many years. Finally, the Bush administration adopted his recommendations, which was to put sufficient forces in there to establish the kind of security --

O'DONNELL: We know that. He has criticized Don Rumsfeld. He called for Don Rumsfeld's --

LEHMAN: Right.

O'DONNELL: -- resignation. But he was before -- for the surge before anybody else. Answer the question, though, how it's different that his course would be different from Bush in terms of continuing on this path, continuing the failed policies, as Hillary Clinton says.

Posted In
Elections, National Security & Foreign Policy
Norah O'Donnell
John McCain, 2008 Elections
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