Media continue to falsely claim Clark criticized McCain's service

››› ››› BRIAN LEVY, DIANNA PARKER & CHRISTINE SCHWEN

Several media reports falsely claimed that Wesley Clark criticized Sen. John McCain's military service during a June 29 appearance on CBS' Face the Nation, including CNN anchor John Roberts, who said that "Clark took a weekend hit at McCain, targeting his history as a war hero and his possible future as president." In fact, Clark praised McCain as "a hero to me and to hundreds of thousands of millions of others in the Armed Forces as a prisoner of war."

Several media reports, including two separate pieces by Washington Post staff writers and a report on CNN's The Situation Room, falsely claimed that retired Gen. Wesley Clark criticized Sen. John McCain's military service during a June 29 appearance on CBS' Face the Nation. In fact, Clark did not criticize McCain's military service, but rather praised McCain as a hero. As noted by a post on Columbia Journalism Review's Campaign Desk blog, these reports are echoing the false claim by the McCain campaign that "Clark attacked John McCain's military service record"; at CJR's Campaign Desk, writer Zachary Roth wrote: "Of course, Clark had done nothing of the kind."

Examples of media echoing this false claim include the following:

  • In a July 1 article, Washington Post staff writers Jonathan Weisman and Michael D. Shear quoted comments Clark made about McCain during his Face the Nation interview after asserting that McCain "pushed back hard against criticism of his own record as a Navy flier and a prisoner of war."
  • On the June 30 edition of The Situation Room, guest host John Roberts said that "Clark took a weekend hit at McCain, targeting his history as a war hero and his possible future as president." Roberts made the assertion despite the fact that immediately afterward, Roberts aired video of Clark saying during his Face the Nation appearance, "I certainly honor his service as a prisoner of war. He was a hero to me and to hundreds of thousands of millions of others in the Armed Forces as a prisoner of war. He has been a voice on the Senate Armed Services Committee, and he has traveled all over the world. But he hasn't held executive responsibility."
  • In a July 1 washingtonpost.com column, Post media critic Howard Kurtz asserted that "Clark used an appearance on 'Face the Nation' Sunday to strafe John McCain over his Vietnam War record." Kurtz later stated: "No one's saying that being a POW entitles you to the Oval Office or places you above criticism. But Barack Obama frequently prefaces his criticism of McCain with a nod to his honorable service. Which raises the question: What was Wes thinking?" But Clark's statement, "I don't think riding in a fighter plane and getting shot down is a qualification to be president" -- quoted by Kurtz in the column and highlighted (and mischaracterized) by several media outlets and figures as controversial -- is itself an argument that McCain's military service does not "entitle[]" him "to the Oval Office."

Media Matters for America has documented other media outlets that have similarly falsely claimed or suggested that Clark attacked McCain's military service.

Additionally, both Weisman and Shear's article and Kurtz's column quoted Clark's assertion -- "I don't think riding in a fighter plane and getting shot down is a qualification to be president" -- but did not indicate in any way that Clark's comment came in direct response to Face the Nation host Bob Schieffer's statement that, unlike McCain, Sen. Barack Obama has not "ridden in a fighter plane and gotten shot down." Additionally, Kurtz wrote that Clark said: "That large squadron in the Navy that he commanded -- that wasn't a wartime squadron." But Kurtz did not note that Clark's statement that "[t]hat large squadron in the Navy that he commanded -- that wasn't a wartime squadron" came in response to Schieffer's statement that McCain "was a squadron commander of the largest squadron in the Navy."

From Clark's June 29 interview on CBS' Face the Nation:

SCHIEFFER: With us now from Little Rock, Arkansas, retired General Wesley Clark. He was for Hillary Clinton during the primaries. Once Hillary was out of it, he announced that he was supporting Barack Obama -- and let's get right to it here, General. You heard what Senator [Joe] Lieberman [I-CT] said. He said that Barack Obama is simply more ready to be president than Barack Obama.

CLARK: Well, I think Barack -- I think Joe has it exactly backwards here. I think being president is about having good judgment. It's about the ability to communicate. As one of the great presidential historians, Richard Neustadt, said, "The greatest power of the presidency is the power to persuade." And what Barack Obama brings is incredible communication skills, proven judgment -- you look at his meteoric rise in politics, and you see a guy who deals with people well, who understands issues, who brings people together, and who has good judgment in moving forward. And I think what we need to do, Bob, is we need to stop talking about the old politics of left and right, and we need to pull together and move the country forward. And I think that's what Barack Obama will do for America.

SCHIEFFER: Well, you -- you went so far as to say that you thought John McCain was, quote -- and these are your words -- "untested and untried." And I must say, I had to read that twice, because you're talking about somebody who was a prisoner of war. He was a squadron commander of the largest squadron in the Navy. He's been on the Senate Armed Services Committee for lo these many years -- how can you say that John McCain is untested and untried, General?

CLARK: Because in the matters of national security policy-making, it's a matter of understanding risk. It's a matter of gauging your opponents, and it's a matter of being held accountable. John McCain's never done any of that in his official positions. I certainly honor his service as a prisoner of war. He was a hero to me and to hundreds of thousands of millions of others in the Armed Forces as a prisoner of war. He has been a voice on the Senate Armed Services Committee, and he has traveled all over the world. But he hasn't held executive responsibility. That large squadron in the Air -- in the Navy that he commanded, it wasn't a wartime squadron. He hasn't been there and ordered the bombs to fall. He hasn't seen what it's like when diplomats come in and say, "I don't know whether we're going to be able to get this point through or not. Do you want to take the risk? What about your reputation? How do we handle it" --

SCHIEFFER: Well --

CLARK: -- "publicly?" He hasn't made those calls, Bob.

SCHIEFFER: Well -- well, General, maybe he --

CLARK: So --

SCHIEFFER: Could I just interrupt you? If --

CLARK: Sure.

SCHIEFFER: I have to say, Barack Obama has not had any of those experiences either, nor has he ridden in a fighter plane and gotten shot down. I mean --

CLARK: Well, I don't think riding in a fighter plane and getting shot down is a qualification to be president.

SCHIEFFER: Really?

CLARK: But Barack is not -- he is not running on the fact that he has made these national security pronouncements. He's running on his other strengths. He's running on the strengths of character, on the strengths of his communication skills, on the strengths of his judgment -- and those are qualities that we seek in our national leadership.

From Kurtz's July 1 Washington Post column, "Clark Misfires":

Clark has always recognized the importance of military reputations, and as the campaign wore on, the former CNN analyst grew more savvy at dealing with the media.

So it can't have been an accident that Clark used an appearance on "Face the Nation" Sunday to strafe John McCain over his Vietnam War record. "That large squadron in the Navy that he commanded -- that wasn't a wartime squadron. He hasn't been there and ordered the bombs to fall. He hasn't seen what it's like when diplomats come in and say, I don't know whether we're going to be able to get this point through or not ... I don't think riding in a fighter plane and getting shot down is a qualification to be president," Clark told Bob Schieffer.

I never imagined, given what McCain endured in North Vietnam, that his own service would become an issue. But then, I didn't anticipate John Kerry coming under political sniper fire for his Vietnam medals, either.

No one's saying that being a POW entitles you to the Oval Office or places you above criticism. But Barack Obama frequently prefaces his criticism of McCain with a nod to his honorable service. Which raises the question: What was Wes thinking?

From Shear and Weisman's July 1 Washington Post article:

"Throughout my life, I have always taken my deep and abiding love for this country as a given," Obama said in the 29-minute address to about 1,150 people crowded into a gymnasium at the Truman Memorial Building, named for former president Harry S. Truman. "It was how I was raised. It was what propelled me into public service. It is why I am running for president. And yet at times over the last 16 months, my patriotism has been challenged -- at times as a result of my own carelessness, more often as a result of the desire by some to score political points and raise fears about who I am and what I stand for."

Obama's speech came on the same day that his rival for the White House, Sen. John McCain, pushed back hard against criticism of his own record as a Navy flier and a prisoner of war. On Sunday, retired Army Gen. Wesley K. Clark questioned McCain's qualifications for the White House. "He hasn't held executive responsibility," Clark said on CBS's "Face the Nation." "I don't think getting in a fighter plane and getting shot down is a qualification to become president."

Obama rebuked that line of attack Monday, acknowledging McCain by name in saluting veterans "who have endured physical torment in service to our country."

From the June 30 edition of CNN's The Situation Room:

ROBERTS: [CNN senior political correspondent] Candy Crowley will be back with more on Obama's patriotism, and then it's up for discussion with the best political team on television. So make sure you stay with us for that.

Now to John McCain, taking command of his own truth squad -- his campaign pressed into action to respond to sharp criticism coming from an ally of Barack Obama. That would be retired General Wesley Clark. Clark took a weekend hit at McCain, targeting his history as a war hero and his possible future as president.

CLARK [video clip]: I certainly honor his service as a prisoner of war. He was a hero to me and to hundreds of thousands of millions of others in the Armed Forces as a prisoner of war. He has been a voice on the Senate Armed Services Committee, and he has traveled all over the world. But he hasn't held executive responsibility.

ROBERTS: Our [CNN congressional correspondent] Dana Bash traveled with McCain to Pennsylvania. She joins us now.

Dana, the McCain campaign hitting back very hard against what General Clark said. What are they doing?

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