Media continue to ignore McCain's flip-flop on Iraq-Korea comparison

››› ››› ERIC HANANOKI

In reporting on the Democratic National Committee's ad highlighting Sen. John McCain's statement that the U.S. might be in Iraq for "a hundred" years, the Associated Press, the Los Angeles Times, The New York Times, and the Tribune Co.'s Washington bureau all reported that McCain indicated that the extended involvement in Iraq that he was referring to would be similar to the presence the U.S. has had in South Korea. But they did not report that McCain has previously dismissed the idea of a Korea-like U.S. troop presence in Iraq.

In April 27 reports on the Democratic National Committee's (DNC) ad highlighting Sen. John McCain's January 3 statement that the U.S. might be in Iraq for "a hundred" years, the Associated Press, the Los Angeles Times, The New York Times, and the Tribune Co.'s Washington bureau each noted that in those and subsequent comments, McCain indicated that the extended involvement in Iraq that he was referring to would be similar to the presence the U.S. has had in South Korea, among other places. However, none of these reports noted that McCain actually has flip-flopped on whether South Korea could be an apt analogy for future U.S. involvement in Iraq: While McCain said in his January 3 remarks that he's "fine" with a Korea-like U.S. troop presence in Iraq, he had dismissed the idea in November 2007.

Indeed, as Media Matters for America noted, on the November 27, 2007, edition of PBS' Charlie Rose, McCain was asked by Rose if South Korea "is an analogy of where Iraq might be ... in terms of an American presence over the next, say, 20, 25 years, that we will have a significant amount of troops there." McCain replied, "I don't think so." Rose then asked: "Even if there are no casualties?" McCain replied, "No. But I can see an American presence for a while. But eventually I think because of the nature of the society in Iraq and the religious aspects of it that America eventually withdraws."

By contrast, during a January 3, 2008, town hall meeting in Derry, New Hampshire, a participant said to McCain: "President Bush has talked about our staying in Iraq for 50 years -- ." McCain interjected: "Maybe a hundred. We've been in South Korea; we've been in Japan for 60 years. We've been in South Korea for 50 years or so. That'd be fine with me as long as Americans -- as long as Americans are not being injured or harmed or wounded or killed, then it's fine with me. I hope it would be fine with you if we maintain a presence in a very volatile part of the world where Al Qaeda is training, recruiting, and equipping, and motivating people every single day."

The following April 27 articles analyzing or referencing the DNC ad failed to note McCain's inconsistent statements on whether he'd be "fine" with a Korea-like troop presence in Iraq:

  • Reporter Hope Yen, in an AP article, wrote that "McCain has repeatedly said he has no intention of extending the war into the next century, but would keep a U.S. military presence in Iraq much as the United States has in Germany, Japan and South Korea."
  • In a separate AP analysis of the DNC ad, reporter Douglass K. Daniel wrote that "[i]nstead of framing the comments in terms of warfare, McCain says the U.S. military would remain there [in Iraq] much as it has in Germany, Japan and South Korea."
  • In an entry on the Los Angeles Times' Top of the Ticket blog, editor Leslie Hoffecker wrote that McCain "has been careful -- both during the exchange with New Hampshire peace activist Dave Tiffany and in later interviews -- to liken the continuation of U.S. troops in Iraq to the ongoing U.S. military presence in Japan, Germany and South Korea, more than 60 years after the end of World War II and more than 50 years after the cease-fire in the Korean conflict."
  • In an entry on the New York Times blog The Caucus, reporter Kate Phillips wrote that "[i]n the initial exchange with the voter, Dave Tiffany, and in subsequent interviews, Mr. McCain made it clear he was not talking about extended combat, but about the fact that he would not mind maintaining a presence in Iraq to assist with stability. (He likened it to the continuing presence of troops in South Korea or Bosnia.)"
  • In an entry on The Swamp, the blog of the Tribune Co.'s Washington bureau, reporter Mark Silva wrote that in his January comments, McCain "was speaking, of course, of a non-combatant role, much like the deployment of U.S. forces in Germany following World War II or in South Korea."

As Media Matters has documented, the media have frequently reported on McCain's January 3 remarks without noting his inconsistency on the subject.

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