Despite warning that any "gaffe" by Obama on his trip could be disastrous, nets' evening news broadcasts ignored McCain misstatements in same period

››› ››› ERIC HANANOKI, JULIE MILLICAN, JEREMY HOLDEN & LAUREN AUERBACH

Despite media figures from the three broadcast networks asserting that because of the extensive media presence on his trip to the Middle East and Europe, any "mistake," "gaffe," or "misstatement" by Sen. Barack Obama would be amplified and could have vast negative consequences, none of the networks' evening news programs has reported on Sen. John McCain's recent misstatements regarding a nonexistent Iraq-Pakistan border and the timing of the Anbar Awakening.

None of the three broadcast networks' evening news programs -- ABC's World News with Charles Gibson, the CBS Evening News with Katie Couric, and NBC's Nightly News with Brian Williams -- has reported on Sen. John McCain's recent misstatements regarding a nonexistent Iraq-Pakistan border and the timing of the Anbar Awakening. In contrast with the networks' ignoring McCain's misstatements in their nightly news broadcasts, both of which have been made during Sen. Barack Obama's trip abroad, media figures from each network warned of what they said would be the great impact of any "mistake," "gaffe," or "misstatement" by Obama during his trip.

For instance:

  • In advance of Obama's trip, ABC News chief Washington correspondent George Stephanopoulos said during the July 18 edition of ABC News' Good Morning America that in his trip Obama has "got to show he can do the job. And above all ... not make any mistakes on this trip. A gaffe could be a killer for Obama." Stephanopoulos went on to say that the "McCain campaign is very frustrated by this" because "[a]ll three evening news anchors going over to -- on this foreign soil with Barack Obama." He added, "I think they will look to take quick hits every day and, of course, pounce on any mistake that Barack Obama makes. That would be the big opening for the McCain campaign."
  • On the July 18 edition of the CBS Evening News, senior political correspondent Jeff Greenfield said that the "saturation coverage" of Obama's trip "has already led the conservative blogosphere to offer blistering critiques of a liberal media slavishly treating Obama as a pop star, but of course, Katie [Couric], the sheer presence of media in no way guarantees favorable coverage. In some ways, it makes the possibility of a misstep that much more dangerous." In response to anchor Katie Couric's question, "What do you think is the biggest potential landmine for him," Greenfield responded: "You know, I think it's everything from an untoward photo opportunity -- [former Democratic presidential candidate Michael] Dukakis in a tank -- to a misstatement that makes it seem to critics that he really does not know the nature of the terrain that he's -- that he's talking about."
  • NBC News chief foreign affairs correspondent Andrea Mitchell said that Obama ran the "risk of making a mistake in a very high-profile trip," during the July 18 broadcast of MSNBC's Morning Joe. David Gregory, NBC News chief White House correspondent and host of MSNBC's Race to the White House, teased a discussion on the July 17 edition of his MSNBC show by stating: "Next up, Obama studying the script for his world stage debut next week. He's expected to stick closely to campaign talking points to avoid a potential gaffe that, as we say, could be heard around the world."

Notwithstanding the importance they attached to any potential "gaffe" by Obama during his trip, the three networks have ignored two missatements by McCain in the same time period. None of the networks has reported during its evening news program that in an interview with Couric, McCain falsely claimed that the 2007 troop surge "began the Anbar Awakening." As Media Matters for America has documented, the 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, Col. Sean B. 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." 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."

In the case of CBS News, rather than airing McCain's falsehood in response to Couric's question on Obama's statements regarding "increased security in Iraq," CBS cut out the falsehood completely and instead aired comments by McCain that were spliced together from three separate statements he gave during the interview, one of which was in response 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. In a statement reported in The Washington Post on July 24, CBS News acknowledged it erred, but maintained, falsely, that the video as aired did not misrepresent McCain's comments.

In addition, while being interviewed on the July 21 broadcast of ABC's Good Morning America, McCain referred to "the Iraq-Pakistan border" -- which does not exist -- while discussing the ongoing war in Afghanistan. As Media Matters noted, host Diane Sawyer did not correct McCain's statement or otherwise point out that Iraq and Pakistan do not share a border. The ABC News political newsletter The Note stated of McCain's "Iraq-Pakistan border" comment: "[I]t was McCain who owns the first big gaffe of the trip," referring to Obama's trip to the Middle East and Europe. But none of the three networks -- including ABC -- reported on the misstatement during its evening broadcast.

From July 18 edition of MSNBC's Morning Joe:

MIKA BRZEZINSKI (co-host): Let's talk about Barack Obama's trip overall.

MITCHELL: My pleasure.

BRZEZINSKI: What are the risks that he faces politically along the way here?

MITCHELL: Well, first of all, the risk of making a mistake in a very high-profile trip. Also, the risk of getting involved in Middle East diplomacy.

From the July 18 edition of the CBS Evening News with Katie Couric:

GREENFIELD: The second part of Obama's trip will be a campaign-funded visit to Europe and the Middle East. He'll meet with Israeli and Palestinian leaders, walking a fragile diplomatic tightrope.

JOE TRIPPI (CBS News political analyst) [video clip]: This is a high-stakes game for Obama. He doesn't want to make any mistakes. Certainly if he does make one, make a statement that causes a problem, it'll be a huge one.

GREENFIELD: But with voters concerned about the freshman senator's foreign policy and national security experience, Obama has little choice but to take the overseas gamble to shore up his credentials. For its part, the McCain camp was on the attack with a new ad.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE [video clip]: He hasn't been to Iraq in years. now Obama is changing to help himself become president.

GREENFIELD: There's little question that throughout this trip, Senator Obama will be walking a fine line.

TRIPPI [video clip]: You want to look presidential, but you don't want to look like you're president. That could be presumptuous and it could backfire here in -- here with the electorate.

GREENFIELD: This saturation coverage has already led the conservative blogosphere to offer blistering critiques of a liberal media slavishly treating Obama as a pop star, but of course, Katie, the sheer presence of media in no way guarantees favorable coverage. In some ways, it makes the possibility of a misstep that much more dangerous.

COURIC: Of course, he does, as you mention, have to walk some tightropes. What do you think is the biggest potential landmine for him?

GREENFIELD: You know, I think it's everything from a -- an untoward photo opportunity -- Dukakis in a tank -- to a misstatement that makes it seem to critics that he really does not know the nature of the terrain that he's -- that he's talking about.

COURIC: And while the political benefits are -- are many, i.e., you know, visuals of him appearing statesmanlike with a variety of world leaders, can a single trip wipe out the perception in the minds of some that he lacks the credentials in foreign policy?

GREENFIELD: Well, assuming he doesn't come back with a Mideast peace plan that all -- everybody signs on to, which is unlikely, no, but it can neutralize the fears. He doesn't have to equal McCain in that stature; he just has to make voters seem like he's OK, he knows what he's talking about.

From the July 18 edition of ABC's Good Morning America:

ROBIN ROBERTS (news anchor): Well, how is he going to kind of change the perception out there? Because our latest poll shows that most Americans, even most Democrats, say that Senator John McCain would be a good commander-in-chief of the military. Fewer than half of those polled feel that way about Obama. So, what does he need to do on this trip to change that?

STEPHANOPOULOS: He's got to show he can do the job, and above all, Robin, not make any mistakes on this trip. A gaffe could be a killer for Barack Obama. In Iraq, he's got a special problem. As Martha hinted at just a couple of minutes ago, he is going to be talking to commanders who disagree with the timeline he's set out for Iraq.

And he -- somehow, he's got to find a way to show that he's listening to the commanders but is not giving up on his principles. That's going to be difficulty number one. Number two, in Israel, he'll face this tricky thicket of -- of questions about the Middle East peace process. Many presidential candidates have made mistakes on -- on that before. He's going to have to avoid that. In Europe, it's slightly different. In Europe, he -- he's -- he's facing a situation where he does have an advantage on foreign policy, improving America's image in the world. And somehow, he's got to express the aspirations for the United States, the aspirations of an Obama policy without appearing to criticize President Bush overseas.

ROBERTS: And finally, how does McCain counter all of this attention that Obama is going to be receiving on this trip?

STEPHANOPOULOS: The McCain campaign is very frustrated by this, as you know. All three evening news anchors going over to -- on this foreign soil with Barack Obama. They know he's gonna get a lot of attention. I think they will look to take quick hits every day and, of course, pounce on any mistake that Barack Obama makes. That would be the big opening for the McCain campaign.

ROBERTS: All right, George, thank you as always for "The Bottom Line," and have a good weekend.

From the July 17 edition of MSNBC's Race for the White House:

DAVID GREGORY (host): All right. Next up, Obama studying the script for his world stage debut next week. He's expected to stick closely to campaign talking points to avoid a potential gaffe that, as we say, could be heard round the world. The big challenge is meeting with General Petraeus.

Network/Outlet
CBS, NBC, ABC
Stories/Interests
Barack Obama, John McCain, 2008 Elections
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