Charlie Rose falsely asserted McCain "call[ed] for the firing of Secretary Rumsfeld"

››› ››› ERIC HANANOKI

During an interview with Sen. Chuck Hagel, Charlie Rose falsely asserted that Sen. John McCain "early on call[ed] for the firing of Secretary Rumsfeld." In fact, while McCain expressed "no confidence" in Rumsfeld in 2004, he did not call for him to be fired; he said the decision about whether Rumsfeld should leave was the president's.

On the March 28 edition of his Public Broadcasting Service program, during an interview with Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-NE), Charlie Rose falsely asserted that Sen. John McCain "early on call[ed] for the firing of [former Defense] Secretary [Donald] Rumsfeld." In fact, McCain did not call for Rumsfeld to be fired, nor did he call for his resignation. Indeed, the McCain campaign itself reportedly admitted the falsehood when The Washington Post reportedly contacted the campaign challenging McCain's campaign stump claim "that he was 'the only one' who called for Donald H. Rumsfeld's resignation as defense secretary." 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 President Bush announced Rumsfeld's resignation -- McCain responded that it was "a decision to be made by the president." Indeed, on the October 31, 2005, edition of Rose's program, McCain said of Rumsfeld: "I don't have confidence in him," but later added: "I don't go out and seek a confrontation with the secretary of defense. And I won't. He serves at the pleasure of the president. I want to do whatever I can to help win this conflict."

On the October 31, 2005, edition of Charlie Rose (retrieved from the Nexis database), Rose said to McCain: "[T]he president must be -- like you -- unlike you, have confidence in his secretary of defense." McCain replied: "Well, I think that's a given, because he's still there. But when I say that I don't have confidence in him, I can't look people in the eye and say that I do, because so many mistakes were made that -- that cost us so much in American blood and treasure. But I don't go out and seek a confrontation with the secretary of defense. And I won't. He serves at the pleasure of the president. I want to do whatever I can to help win this conflict." McCain later added: "We cannot afford to lose, Charlie. The reason why I don't want to have a confrontation with Secretary Rumsfeld -- as long as he's there, I want to work with him, because we've got to win. The consequences of failure are profound." At no point during the interview did McCain call for Rumsfeld to be fired, or to resign.

As Media Matters for America noted, the 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."

As the February 16 Post article noted: "McCain's false account has been unwittingly incorporated into the narrative he is selling by some news organizations, including The Washington Post." Additionally, The New York Times' Elisabeth Bumiller wrote in a March 3 article 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. He said it was the president's prerogative to keep him." Nevertheless, following those reports, as Media Matters has documented, on the March 5 edition of CNN's The Situation Room, senior political analyst Gloria Borger falsely claimed that "McCain has said over and over again, you know, 'I would have fired Donald Rumsfeld.' ... [H]e called for him to be fired while -- in the Senate." And on the March 26 edition of MSNBC Live, chief Washington correspondent Norah O'Donnell falsely claimed that McCain "called for Don Rumsfeld's resignation." O'Donnell later issued a "clarification": "Yesterday, I suggested that John McCain had called for Secretary Rumsfeld's resignation in the past. In fact, what McCain had said repeatedly was that he lacked confidence in Rumsfeld. But he did not directly call for Rumsfeld to step down back when Rumsfeld was still in office."

From the March 28 edition of PBS' Charlie Rose:

HAGEL: No, I disagree with John's point. Did we initiate an action that essentially has destroyed much of Iraq? Yes. We have four and a half million Iraqis who have been displaced. Do we have some responsibility for that? Yes. To say -- to put on the back of the American people and these poor soldiers that we're sending over there for three and four tours, 15 months at a time. You have --

ROSE: Four thousand deaths just been noted.

HAGEL: Four -- 30,000 wounded. You have a moral obligation to go do that? I think John's crossed a line on that. I don't see it that way.

ROSE: And is that the reason you cannot endorse him for president?

HAGEL: Not the only reason. As I said earlier, Charlie, it's the entire frame of his policy on Iraq and where he'd want to go for the next four years and foreign policy.

ROSE: He's not going to change, so you're not going to endorse him at any point.

HAGEL: Well, no, I wouldn't say that. I want to talk to John personally. I want to -- I want to sit down. I owe him that. John is a good friend; I admire him.

ROSE: Is he going to tell you anything that you don't already know about how he feels about this? I mean, he's had the same --

HAGEL: I don't know.

ROSE: -- position about this, critical of the administration and the handling of war, early on calling for the firing of Secretary Rumsfeld.

HAGEL: Yes. There are some of those things that John and I agreed with.

ROSE: Oh, yes. And he also has called recently for closing down of Guantánamo --

HAGEL: Right.

ROSE: -- and has been very strong on the issue of torture --

HAGEL: Those are the things --

ROSE: -- along with [former Secretary of State] Colin Powell and you.

HAGEL: That's right, and me. We agree on those things.

From the October 31, 2005, edition of PBS' Charlie Rose:

ROSE: The war. We saw this week in the last seven days the 2,000th casualty. There's a story today about the highest-ranking officer, I think, killed yet in Iraq, a colonel. What's -- what's your counsel to the country and to the president today in terms of what might be done? And I'll come to what has been disappointing. You -- you literally called for Donald Rumsfeld, almost, that you don't have any confidence in him. Do you have any confidence in the vice president?

McCAIN: Yes.

ROSE: You do?

McCAIN: Yeah, I do. It's the secretary of defense's job to -- to run the defense establishment.

ROSE: But the secretary of defense --

McCAIN: And by the way --

ROSE: -- works for the president of the United States. He's appointed by the president of the United States.

McCAIN: I understand.

ROSE: His long-term colleague is the vice president. Without the vice president's support, he wouldn't be there.

McCAIN: I don't know. I think --

ROSE: You think --

McCAIN: I'm not quite sure that's true, but -- but --

ROSE: Why would you not think that's true?

McCAIN: I think he serves at the pleasure of the president. I think the president is -- keeps obviously very careful attention to what the secretary of defense is doing.

ROSE: So, the president must be -- like you -- unlike you, have confidence in his secretary of defense.

McCAIN: Well, I think that's a given, because he's still there. But when I say that I don't have confidence in him, I can't look people in the eye and say that I do, because so many mistakes were made that -- that cost us so much in American blood and treasure. But I don't go out and seek a confrontation with the secretary of defense. And I won't. He serves at the pleasure of the president. I want to do whatever I can to help win this conflict.

ROSE: Win the conflict?

McCAIN: Yes. Win -- winning means a flawed but functioning democracy in Iraq, the United States either withdrawn or in an enclave so that there's no more U.S. casualties, and the Iraqi military can take over the bulk of their responsibilities. That's what -- and they start to improve their economy. They have a viable, but again, flawed political system. We're going to find out on December 15th, they're going to have an election. They had an election, contrary to the predictions of some, where they approved the constitution. Afghanistan, we don't read about anymore, because it's succeeded. And by the way, there's several reasons, including NATO participation and other reasons, why Afghanistan is doing as well as it is.

So, we need to -- to make progress. We cannot afford to lose, Charlie. The reason why I don't want to have a confrontation with Secretary Rumsfeld -- as long as he's there, I want to work with him, because we've got to win. The consequences of failure are profound.

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Charlie Rose
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Charlie Rose (show)
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John McCain, 2008 Elections
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