Cable news nets run ad attacking Obama over and over -- even as pundits note win-win for McCain

››› ››› BRIAN LEVY & MEREDITH ADAMS

Beginning on the afternoon of April 23, MSNBC, Fox News, and CNN aired a controversial ad by the North Carolina Republican Party attacking Sen. Barack Obama and two Democratic gubernatorial candidates at least 22 times combined, in most cases also noting that Sen. John McCain denounced the ad. As media figures on MSNBC and CNN pointed out, the repeated broadcasts benefit the North Carolina Republican Party, which does not have to pay for them, and they presumably benefit McCain, even as he is credited with taking the high road for criticizing the ad.

Beginning on the afternoon of April 23, MSNBC, Fox News, and CNN aired a controversial ad by the North Carolina Republican Party attacking Sen. Barack Obama and Democratic gubernatorial candidates Beverly Perdue and Richard Moore at least 22 times combined, in most cases also noting that Sen. John McCain denounced the ad. As MSNBC political analyst Rachel Maddow and other media figures on MSNBC and CNN pointed out, the repeated broadcasts benefit the North Carolina Republican Party, which does not have to pay for them, and presumably benefit McCain, even as he is credited with taking the high road for criticizing the ad.

Indeed, according to an April 24 New York Times article, there had yet to be an airing of the ad paid for by the North Carolina Republican Party. The Times reported: "Republican officials in North Carolina said [the ad] would make its debut during the [April 24] 6 p.m. newscasts."

As Media Matters for America noted, MSNBC also gave another ad attacking Obama free publicity. On the April 24 edition of MSNBC Live, while airing video of that ad, created by Floyd Brown, Contessa Brewer said, "Well, here's the catch: Brown does not have a single ad buy in any TV market. Instead of paying for airtime, he just announces this in a press release for outlets like YouTube to pick up." Brewer did not note the irony of her and MSNBC's giving the ad free airtime while reporting that the producer was hoping for free airtime, although guest Craig Gordon, Newsday Washington bureau chief, made the point: "[W]e're talking about it here today, so he probably accomplished what he hoped to accomplish."

Fox News

On Fox News, the North Carolina Republican Party's advertisement aired at least 10 times, with McCain's condemnation mentioned in nine of the instances, beginning at 4 p.m. ET on April 23, including on the programs Your World with Neil Cavuto, America's Election HQ, Special Report with Brit Hume, Hannity & Colmes, Fox & Friends First, and Fox & Friends.

MSNBC

On MSNBC, the advertisement aired at least eight times, beginning at 1 p.m. ET, including on the programs MSNBC Live, Hardball with Chris Matthews, Race for the White House with David Gregory, and Verdict with Dan Abrams. Seven of those reports included McCain's condemnation of the ad.

CNN

On CNN, the advertisement and McCain's condemnation aired at least four times, beginning at 4 p.m. ET, including on the programs The Situation Room and Lou Dobbs Tonight.

CNN and MSNBC aired the ad despite pundits' pointing out on both cable networks that doing so benefited McCain:

  • On the April 23 edition of The Situation Room, correspondent Brian Todd aired a quote from Larry J. Sabato, director of the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia: "It's win-win for McCain. McCain looks like a saint in denouncing the negative advertising, but he also ensures now that the media, the news media, will run that ad repeatedly for free. So the message of the ad will get out." CNN aired the advertisement at least three more times after Todd's report on the 4 p.m. ET hour of The Situation Room.
  • As Media Matters noted, Slate.com contributor Melinda Henneberger asserted on the 4 p.m. ET hour of MSNBC Live on April 23, "McCain gets to have it both ways. He gets to take the high road and say that these attacks are absolutely unwarranted ... and yet the ads are still out there doing him some good for the general [election]."
  • On the April 23 edition of Hardball, Washington Post editorial writer Jonathan Capehart said of McCain, "He's able to have it both ways in terms of there's an attack ad on Senator Obama. He gets to denounce it. He gets to say, 'Take it off the air.' And then they get to say, 'Well, no, we're not going to do it.' And by the way, every cable network is going to show it every half-hour on the half-hour because it's a big story. You know, heck, I saw on MSNBC that this ad was out there."
  • On the April 23 edition of Race for the White House, Maddow said, "John McCain today proactively weighed in with the North Carolina GOP and asked them not to run that ad. ... I think McCain recognizes that there are some political points to be gained, particularly with independents and with people for whom that Obama 'no politics as usual' message is resonating, and this certainly gives him those points. The fact that the ad's going to run anyway means it is actually a win-win for him instead of just a simple win."

In addition to these comments on CNN and MSNBC, National Review Online blogger Jim Geraghty wrote in an April 24 post, "By criticizing the ad, McCain turned it into a national story, which means the ad is likely to be replayed on the cable networks and linked on YouTube and discussed on the talk shows and talk radio and written about in newspapers and magazines."

From the April 23 edition of CNN's The Situation Room:

TODD: Obama campaign officials wouldn't go beyond saying Americans are tired of divisive politics. But the Republican National Committee and John McCain are going one step further.

They've asked the North Carolina GOP to stop running this ad, just unveiled, using Obama's association with Pastor Jeremiah Wright to attack two Democratic candidates for governor.

WRIGHT: Not God bless America, God [bleep] America. That's in the --

NARRATOR: Now, Bev Perdue and Richard Moore endorse Barack Obama. They should know better.

TODD: In a letter to North Carolina's GOP chairwoman, McCain calls the ad offensive.

SABATO: It's win-win for McCain. McCain looks like a saint in denouncing the negative advertising, but he also ensures now that the media, the news media, will run that ad repeatedly for free. So the message of the ad will get out.

[end video clip]

TODD: A McCain campaign official calls that absolutely absurd, says any suggestion that he benefits from this situation is wrong. The official says the ads are a distraction from the real differences in this campaign, [host] Wolf [Blitzer].

From the 4 p.m. April 23 edition of MSNBC Live:

CONTESSA BREWER (anchor): Melinda, these attacks, are they because the GOP party in North Carolina wants to hurt Barack Obama before the general election? Or because they really are hoping that Hillary Clinton will be the Democratic nominee?

HENNEBERGER: Well, whichever is the case, I think this is fantastic because McCain gets to have it both ways. He gets to take the high road and say that these attacks are absolutely unwarranted, as I think they are. And yet the ads are still out there, no doubt doing him some good for the general. So whatever the motivations, I think it's a win-win for him.

From the April 23 edition of MSNBC's Hardball with Chris Matthews:

CHRIS MATTHEWS (host): Jonathan, John McCain says in a letter to them today he thinks they ought to pull the ad, but they're clearly going their own way on this. They say it's a local issue. They're going to stick with it.

CAPEHART: You know, I find it very interesting in this regard: He's able to have it both ways in terms of there's an attack ad on Senator Obama. He gets to denounce it. He gets to say, "Take it off the air." And then they get to say, "Well, no, we're not going to do it." And by the way, every cable network is going to show it every half-hour on the half-hour --

MATTHEWS: Right.

CAPEHART: -- because it's a big story. You know, heck, I saw on MSNBC that this ad was out there. I went to the website and I watched it and I told other --

MATTHEWS: Well --

CAPEHART: -- people and they watched it. It's sort of like the --

MATTHEWS: To make your point, Jonathan, we're going to show you a worse one of these ads when we come back after the break, all for free.

From the April 23 edition of MSNBC's Race for the White House with David Gregory:

MADDOW: John McCain today proactively weighed in with the North Carolina GOP and asked them not to run that ad. North Carolina GOP responded by saying, "Whatever. We're going to run it anyway." John McCain therefore gets the benefit of the high road, of being seen to try to put the kibosh on this. And of course it will hurt Barack Obama when it runs in North Carolina.

DAVID GREGORY (host): This is not -- this is only -- this -- it's certainly going to come up again, Rachel, whether it's North Carolina or somewhere else. Is this a lasting political tactic on the part of McCain?

MADDOW: I think McCain recognizes that there are some political points to be gained, particularly with independents and with people for whom --

GREGORY: Yeah.

MADDOW: -- that Obama "no politics as usual" message is resonating, and this certainly gives him those points. The fact that the ad's going to run anyway means it is actually a win-win for him instead of just a simple win.

GREGORY: All right. We have a lot more to get to in the program.

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