AP report on McCain criticism of "Mission Accomplished" banner did not report his previous promotion of its message

››› ››› MATT GERTZ

The AP reported that Sen. John McCain "said President Bush should not be held responsible for the much-criticized 'Mission Accomplished' banner five years ago," and that McCain said of the banner, "I thought it was wrong at the time." But the AP did not report comments McCain made "at the time" about the banner in a Fox News interview, in which host Neil Cavuto noted that "many argue the conflict [in Iraq] isn't over," to which McCain replied, "Then why was there a banner that said 'Mission Accomplished' on the aircraft carrier?"

On May 2, Associated Press reporter Libby Quaid wrote that on May 1, the fifth anniversary of President Bush's aircraft carrier landing and his declaration under a "Mission Accomplished" banner that "major combat operations in Iraq have ended," Sen. John McCain said of the banner, "I thought it was wrong at the time." But Quaid did not report comments McCain made about the banner in an interview on the June 11, 2003, edition of Fox News' Your World with Neil Cavuto (partial video available here), in which host Neil Cavuto noted that "many argue the conflict [in Iraq] isn't over," to which McCain replied, "Then why was there a banner that said 'Mission Accomplished' on the aircraft carrier?"

As a May 2 entry on ABCNews.com's Political Radar blog noted, on the June 11, 2003, edition of Your World, discussing McCain's suggestion that the Senate Armed Services Committee hold post-conflict hearings about the Iraq war, Cavuto asserted, "Senator -- after a conflict means after the conflict, and many argue the conflict isn't over." McCain replied, "Well, then why was there a banner that said 'Mission Accomplished' on the aircraft carrier?" McCain added, "Look, the -- I have said a long time that reconstruction of Iraq would be a long, long, difficult process, but the conflict -- the major conflict is over, the regime change has been accomplished, and it's very appropriate."

Further, Quaid reported that, at the May 1 press conference, "McCain said he can't blame Bush for the banner," but that "McCain said Bush should be blamed for comments" such as those of former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and Vice President Dick Cheney, and quoted McCain saying of Bush, "Do I blame him for that specific banner? I can't. ... But I do say that statements are made, 'a few dead-enders,' 'last throes,' those are, as opposed to the banner, direct statements which were contradicted by the facts on the ground." But Quaid did not note that in 2006, McCain "commend[ed]" Bush for providing the public with what McCain characterized as an "honest assessment" of the situation in Iraq. McCain made his comments commending Bush in the wake of controversy generated by remarks he made at a campaign event for then-Sen. Mike DeWine (R-OH) three days earlier, during which McCain criticized the administration, stating: " 'Stuff happens,' 'Mission Accomplished,' 'Last throes,' 'A few dead-enders.' I'm as more familiar with those statements than anyone else because it grieves me so much that we have not told the American people how tough and difficult this task would be."

During the May 1, 2008, press conference, McCain was asked, "Do you blame President Bush for speaking in front of a banner like that?" McCain replied:

McCAIN: Obviously the presidents bear the responsibility for it. I mean, we all do. But do I blame him for that specific banner? Of course not. You know, I don't -- I can't -- I have no knowledge of that, and I can't blame him for it. But I do, I do say, when statements are made -- "a few dead-enders," "last throes" -- then those are -- as opposed to a banner that just appeared -- those are direct statements which were contradicted by the facts on the ground. So rather than hold anybody quote, "responsible" for the, quote, "Mission Accomplished banner," which could have or could not have maybe been put up by some other individual, but when the leaders of government, the secretary of Defense, says that there's only a few dead-enders, then that is an area that responsibility should be placed in my view.

Those comments were similar to remarks McCain made at the August 22, 2006, DeWine campaign event:

McCAIN: I think one of the biggest mistakes we made was underestimating the size of the task and the sacrifice that would be required. "Stuff happens." "Mission Accomplished." "Last throes." "A few dead-enders." I'm as more familiar with those statements than anyone else because it grieves me so much that we have not told the American people how tough and difficult this task would be. And it has contributed enormously to the frustration that Americans feel today, because they were led to believe that this would be some kind of a day at the beach, which many of us fully understood from the beginning would be a very, very difficult undertaking.

But in an August 25, 2006, press release, McCain "commend[ed]" President Bush "for his public statements offering Americans an honest assessment of the progress we have made in Iraq":

"I have often emphasized the importance of leveling with the American people about the high costs and many difficulties of the mission, the potentially calamitous consequences of failure and the many benefits of success, as the President has also frequently stressed. But I have never intended my concern that the American public be fully informed about the conduct and consequences of the war to indicate any lessening of my support for our mission there. On the contrary, I view a candid, informed public discussion of the war as critical to sustaining popular support for the war and, thus, indispensable to ensuring the ultimate success of our mission. And I commend the President for his public statements offering Americans an honest assessment of the progress we have made in Iraq and the challenges that still confront us there, and, of course, for his determination to defend American security and international peace and stability by succeeding in this arduous and costly enterprise."

From the May 2 AP article:

Republican presidential candidate John McCain said President Bush should not be held responsible for the much-criticized "Mission Accomplished" banner five years ago, but said he should be blamed for bungling the early months of the war.

On Thursday, the fifth anniversary of Bush's dramatic landing on an aircraft carrier where the banner hung, McCain said, "I thought it was wrong at the time."

"So all I can tell you was that I was the strongest advocate, or one of the strongest advocates, for changing to adopt the surge," McCain told reporters. "And I think that history will judge me by the fact that I thought it was wrong."

McCain said he can't blame Bush for the banner. After shifting explanations, the White House eventually said the "Mission Accomplished" phrase referred to the carrier's crew completing its 10-month mission, not the military completing its mission in Iraq.

But McCain said Bush should be blamed for comments like that of Paul Bremer, the former chief of the U.S. occupation government in Iraq, who pledged that the U.S. military would crush die-hard Saddam Hussein "dead-enders," and of Vice President Dick Cheney, who declared the insurgency "in its last throes."

"Do I blame him for that specific banner? I can't," McCain said. "But I do say that statements are made, 'a few dead-enders,' 'last throes,' those are, as opposed to the banner, direct statements which were contradicted by the facts on the ground."

From the June 11, 2003 edition of Fox News' Your World (accessed from the Nexis database):

CAVUTO: Why do you want hearings?

McCAIN: Well, first of all, I think you might have misunderstood my position a little bit. I have always been in favor of hearings post-conflict as we did after the Gulf War, after Bosnia, after Kosovo where we have congressional oversight hearings, particularly in the Senate Armed Services Committee of which I am a member.

And I believe we're going to have General [Tommy] Franks as the first witness, and I'd like to hear about the tragedy of the friendly fire accidents, how our military functioned so effectively, the strategy and tactics employed, and what their future needs are. That's the appropriate role of Congress. Weapons of mass destruction will be part of that.

But I'm confident --

CAVUTO: But -- but after a conflict --

McCAIN: Let me just say --

CAVUTO: -- Senator -- after a conflict means after the conflict, and many argue the conflict isn't over.

McCAIN: Well, then why was there a banner that said "Mission Accomplished" on the aircraft carrier?

Look, the -- I have said a long time that reconstruction of Iraq would be a long, long, difficult process, but the conflict -- the major conflict is over, the regime change has been accomplished, and it's very appropriate.

Posted In
Elections
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Associated Press
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Libby Quaid
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John McCain, 2008 Elections
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