CBS splices McCain interview clip, expunging his false claim on surge timeline and falsely suggesting he gave different answer

››› ››› RYAN CHIACHIERE & MATT GERTZ

On the CBS Evening News, anchor Katie Couric aired portions of an interview she conducted with Sen. John McCain, removing a part of a response in which he falsely asserted that the 2007 U.S. troop surge "began the Anbar awakening." Couric gave no indication that McCain's comments had been edited in any manner, nor did she otherwise note his falsehood.

On the July 22 edition of the CBS Evening News, while airing portions of an interview she conducted that day with Sen. John McCain, anchor Katie Couric removed a part of his response in which he falsely asserted that the 2007 U.S. troop surge "began the Anbar awakening." In fact, the so-called Anbar awakening reportedly began in September 2006, months before the surge was even announced. Couric had asked McCain, "Senator [Barack] Obama says while the increased number of U.S. troops contributed to increased security in Iraq, he also credits the Sunni awakening and the Shia government going after militias, and says that there might have been improved security even without the surge. What's your response to that?" But rather than airing McCain's direct reply, including the false claim that the surge "began the Anbar awakening" -- an agreement by some tribal leaders in western Iraq to accept U.S. aid and cooperate with anti-Al Qaeda operations -- Couric aired comments by McCain spliced together from three separate statements he gave during the interview, one of which responded to a different question. Couric gave no indication that these comments had been edited in any manner, nor did she otherwise note McCain's falsehood.

Keith Olbermann reported on the spliced McCain response on the July 22 edition of MSNBC's Countdown.

During McCain's full response to Couric's question, he called Obama's statements a "false depiction of what actually happened," and said: "Colonel [Sean B.] MacFarland was contacted by one of the major Sunni sheiks. Because of the surge we were able to go out and protect that sheik and others. And it began the Anbar awakening. I mean, that's just a matter of history." According to video and transcript of the full interview posted on the CBS News website, Couric did not challenge McCain's false statement that the surge "began the Anbar awakening."

On the Evening News, Couric aired the following exchange between herself and McCain:

COURIC: Senator McCain, Senator Obama says while the increased number of U.S. troops contributed to increased security in Iraq, he also credits the Sunni awakening and the Shia government going after militias, and says that there might have been improved security even without the surge. What's your response to that?

McCAIN: Senator Obama has indicated by his failure to acknowledge the success of the surge, that he would rather lose a war than lose a campaign. Thanks to General [David] Petraeus [commanding general of the Multi-National Force in Iraq], our leadership, and the sacrifice of brave young Americans. I mean, to deny that their sacrifice didn't make possible the success of the surge in Iraq, I think, does a great disservice to young men and women who are serving and have sacrificed. There will still be attacks. Al Qaeda's not defeated. But the progress has been immense. And to not recognize that, and why it happened, and how it happened, I think is -- is really quite a commentary.

But as the video and transcript of the interview posted on CBSNews.com demonstrate, the statement Couric aired as McCain's purported response to her question was in fact compiled from three different statements he made during the interview, one of which came in response to a different question. From Couric's interview with McCain (portions aired as McCain's response to Couric's question bolded):

COURIC: Senator McCain, Prime Minister Maliki and Senator Obama seem to be on the same page when it comes to a timetable for the withdrawal of U.S. troops by 2010. Are you feeling like the odd man out here?

McCAIN: Prime Minister [Nouri al-]Maliki, and General Petraeus, and Admiral [Mike] Mullen and -- and the other leaders of Iraq have all agreed that it's conditioned-based. Senator Obama said the surge would fail. He said that it couldn't succeed. He was wrong. He said he still doesn't agree that the surge has succeeded when everybody knows that it has succeeded. I said at the time that I supported the surge, that I would much rather lose a campaign than lose a war. Senator Obama has indicated by his failure to acknowledge the success of the surge, that he would rather lose a war than lose a campaign.

[...]

COURIC: Senator McCain, Sen. Obama says, while the increased number of U.S. troops contributed to increased security in Iraq, he also credits the Sunni awakening and the Shia government going after militias, and says that there might have been improved security even without the surge. What's your response to that?

McCAIN: I don't know how you respond to something that is a -- such -- such a false depiction of what actually happened. Colonel MacFarland was contacted by one of the major Sunni sheiks. Because of the surge, we were able to go out and protect that sheik and others. And it began the Anbar awakening. I mean, that's just a matter of history. Thanks to General Petraeus, our leadership, and the sacrifice of brave young Americans. I mean, to deny that their sacrifice didn't make possible the success of the surge in Iraq, I think, does a great disservice to young men and women who are serving and have sacrificed.

They were out there. They were protecting these sheiks. We had the Anbar awakening. We now have a government that's effective. We have a legal system that's working, although poorly. And we have progress on all fronts, including an incredible measure of security for the people of Iraq. There will still be attacks. Al Qaeda's not defeated. But the progress has been immense. And to not recognize that, and why it happened, and how it happened, I think is -- is really quite a commentary.

Contrary to McCain's assertion, the so-called Anbar awakening reportedly began in September 2006, months before the surge was even announced. Indeed, as blogger Jed Lewison noted, in the March-April 2008 issue of Military Review, MacFarland -- who McCain said "was contacted by one of the major Sunni sheiks" -- and Maj. Niel Smith wrote: "The 'Anbar Awakening' of Sunni tribal leaders and their supporters that began in September 2006 near Ramadi seemed to come out of nowhere." Further, as blogger Spencer Ackerman pointed out, in a September 29, 2006, news briefing, MacFarland responded to a question by then-United Press International reporter Pam Hess by describing the early signs of the awakening. MacFarland stated:

MacFARLAND: With respect to the violence between the Sunnis and the al Qaeda -- actually, I would disagree with the assessment that the al Qaeda have the upper hand. That was true earlier this year when some of the sheikhs began to step forward and some of the insurgent groups began to fight against al Qaeda. The insurgent groups, the nationalist groups, were pretty well beaten by al Qaeda.

This is a different phenomena that's going on right now. I think that it's not so much the insurgent groups that are fighting al Qaeda, it's the -- well, it used to be the fence-sitters, the tribal leaders, are stepping forward and cooperating with the Iraqi security forces against al Qaeda, and it's had a very different result. I think al Qaeda has been pushed up against the ropes by this, and now they're finding themselves trapped between the coalition and ISF on the one side, and the people on the other.

President Bush announced the surge on January 10, 2007, asserting in an address that he had "committed more than 20,000 additional American troops to Iraq."

An April 29, 2007, New York Times article reported:

The turnabout began last September, when a federation of tribes in the Ramadi area came together as the Anbar Salvation Council to oppose the fundamentalist militants of Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia.

Among the council's founders were members of the Abu Ali Jassem tribe, based in a rural area of northern Ramadi. The tribe's leader, Sheik Tahir Sabbar Badawie, said in a recent interview that members of his tribe had fought in the insurgency that kept the Americans pinned down on their bases in Anbar for most of the last four years.

"If your country was occupied by Iraq, would you fight?" he asked. "Enough said."

But while the anti-American sheiks in Anbar and Al Qaeda both opposed the Americans, their goals were different. The sheiks were part of a relatively moderate front that sought to drive the Americans out of Iraq; some were also fighting to restore Sunni Arab power. But Al Qaeda wanted to go even further and impose a fundamentalist Islamic state in Anbar, a plan that many of the sheiks did not share.

Al Qaeda's fighters began to use killing, intimidation and financial coercion to divide the tribes and win support for their agenda. They killed about 210 people in the Abu Ali Jassem tribe alone and kidnapped others, demanding ransoms as high as $65,000 per person, Sheik Badawie said.

For all the sheiks' hostility toward the Americans, they realized that they had a bigger enemy, or at least one that needed to be fought first, as a matter of survival.

The council sought financial and military support from the Iraqi and American governments. In return the sheiks volunteered hundreds of tribesmen for duty as police officers and agreed to allow the construction of joint American-Iraqi police and military outposts throughout their tribal territories.

A similar dynamic is playing out elsewhere in Anbar, a desert region the size of New York State that stretches west of Baghdad to the Syrian and Jordanian borders. Tribal cooperation with the American and Iraqi commands has led to expanded police forces in the cities of Husayba, Hit, Rutba, Baghdadi and Falluja, officials say.

With the help of the Anbar sheiks, the military equation immediately became simpler for the Americans in Ramadi. The number of enemies they faced suddenly diminished, American and Iraqi officials said. They were able to move more freely through large areas. With the addition of the tribal recruits, the Americans had enough troops to build and operate garrisons in areas they cleared, many of which had never seen any government security presence before.

Similarly, a September 9, 2007, McClatchy Newspapers article reported:

No one disputes that Anbar province, once the heart of the Sunni insurgency, is far more secure now than it was this time last year. But what credit American troops can claim for that and how likely it is to remain that way are hotly debated.

The tribal rebellion against al Qaida in Iraq began in September 2006, well before the surge was even contemplated. That's when tribal leaders, fed up with al Qaida in Iraq's attacks on moderate Sunnis and its efforts to impose strict Islamic fundamentalism, formed the Anbar Salvation Council to battle the group.

Tribal sheik Fassal Gaoud, a former Anbar governor, told McClatchy Newspapers in June that the tribes previously had asked for U.S. help in attacking the group, but had been rebuffed. By the time U.S. troops began working with the tribes, the battle against al Qaida was well under way. Gaoud, however, was killed in a bombing at the Mansour Melia hotel in central Baghdad in July in the midst of the U.S. surge.

Posted In
Elections, National Security & Foreign Policy, War in Iraq
Person
Katie Couric
Stories/Interests
John McCain, 2008 Elections
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