MSNBC's Witt aired McCain ad without noting misleading claims about visiting wounded troops, Afghanistan hearings, military funding

››› ››› MATT GERTZ

On MSNBC Live, Alex Witt aired an ad from Sen. John McCain asserting that Sen. Barack Obama "made time to go to the gym, but canceled a visit with wounded troops. Seems the Pentagon wouldn't allow him to bring cameras." But in neither segment did Witt or her guests note that Obama reportedly previously visited wounded troops at Walter Reed Army Medical Center without the media, or that although Obama decided not to visit Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany, he reportedly made phone calls to wounded soldiers there. Nor did they challenge any of the other misleading claims in the ad.

During the 8 a.m. and 9 a.m. hours of MSNBC Live on July 27, anchor Alex Witt aired an ad from Sen. John McCain asserting that Sen. Barack Obama "made time to go to the gym, but canceled a visit with wounded troops. Seems the Pentagon wouldn't allow him to bring cameras." But in neither segment did Witt or her guests, McClatchy Newspapers chief Washington correspondent Steve Thomma and Hill blogger Bob Franken, note that Obama reportedly previously visited wounded troops at Walter Reed Army Medical Center without the media, or that although Obama decided not to visit Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany, he reportedly made phone calls to wounded soldiers there. Nor did Witt or her guests note that according to Obama spokeswoman Linda Douglass, "We told military officials explicitly that Senator Obama had absolutely no intention of bringing any members of the media or photographers in with him to visit the wounded warriors." In addition, while the ad asserts that Obama "made time to go to the gym, but canceled a visit with wounded troops," the accompanying footage shows Obama playing basketball during his July 19 visit with U.S. troops at Camp Arifjan in Kuwait, which neither Witt nor her guests noted.

During the 8 a.m. segment, Thomma asserted that "Obama had a gaffe here by canceling a long-planned trips to visit these wounded troops in Rammstein, Germany." He added, "I think he looked a little weak in the process, and it was a gaffe." During the 9 a.m. segment, Franken said, "I think that the Obama people blew it. Plain, simple, period." He also asserted, "And the McCain ad I think is going to draw a little bit of blood because I believe in the case of Barack Obama, if you live by the photo op, you die of the photo op, or in this particular case, the lack of a photo op."

By contrast, in a July 26 post on his blog Political Punch, ABC senior national correspondent Jake Tapper wrote:

The McCain campaign provides no evidence for the assertion that being told he [Obama] couldn't bring media had anything to do with the trip's cancellation.

Oddly, when discussing Obama's trip to the gym, the ad uses footage of Obama playing basketball with US troops in Kuwait over the weekend.

Tapper also provided Douglass' statement: "We told military officials explicitly that Senator Obama had absolutely no intention of bringing any members of the media or photographers in with him to visit the wounded warriors. In all of our communications with the military, we stressed that this was to be a private visit by Senator Obama."

Similarly, in a July 26 post on the Time blog Swampland, national political correspondent Karen Tumulty wrote, "[T]here's a little problem with this line: 'And now, he made time to go to the gym, but cancelled a visit with wounded troops.' " Tumulty continued, "Sure enough, the accompanying footage shows Obama playing basketball ... with the troops in Kuwait." Tumulty also asserted that "[t]here is absolutely no evidence" for the ad's suggestion that "Obama cancelled the trip because he was told he couldn't bring the media."

Further, in uncritically airing the McCain ad's contention that Obama "never held a single Senate hearing on Afghanistan," Witt did not note that McCain is a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, but reportedly has not attended a single Armed Services Committee hearing related to Afghanistan in 2007-08. Nor did Witt note, in uncritically airing the McCain ad's claim that Obama "voted against funding our troops," that McCain himself voted against legislation funding the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq or that, as Washington Post media critic Howard Kurtz wrote, that "Obama has frequently voted to finance the war but was one of 14 Senate Democrats to oppose a war-funding bill last year -- after Republicans removed troop withdrawal deadlines -- saying he did not want to be 'validating the same failed policy in Iraq.' "

From the 8 a.m. ET hour of MSNBC Live on July 27:

WITT: We talked about this new McCain camp ad, and it is releasing it. It's slamming Barack Obama for not visiting the wounded soldiers in Germany. So let's take a little look at it.

NARRATOR [video clip]: Barack Obama never held a single Senate hearing on Afghanistan. He hadn't been to Iraq in years. He voted against funding our troops. And now, he made time to go to the gym, but canceled a visit with wounded troops. Seems the Pentagon wouldn't allow him to bring cameras.

WITT: Well, the Obama camp says that Senator Obama scrapped the plans to visit those troops after the Pentagon raised the concerns it might involve the troops in politics. So, I'd like your reaction to this new McCain ad, considering everything.

THOMMA: Well, I think Senator Obama had a gaffe here by canceling a long-planned trips to visit these wounded troops in Rammstein, Germany. He says -- his campaign says -- they gave several explanations, Alex, but the bottom line was, they said, "The Pentagon told us not to come."

You know, Senator Obama says he wouldn't take the orders of the Pentagon on issues like whether to get out of Iraq, but somehow he'll take their orders from a junior PR guy at the Pentagon about whether to visit wounded troops. I think he looked a little weak in the process, and it was a gaffe.

WITT: OK, I'm curious, though, Steve. Do you think there's a chance Senator McCain can overplay this hand?

THOMMA: Yeah. Yeah, it's well-put, Alex. I think Senator McCain personally should have left this to surrogates and/or the media to cover. [unintelligible] been a lot of coverage of this screw-up not visiting the troops, and I think it would have been best left to others.

WITT: OK. Steve Thomma, not leaving anything to others. We're having you with us next hour, as well. Thanks so much.

From the 9 a.m. ET hour of MSNBC Live on July 27:

WITT: Let's talk about what McCain is doing now by releasing this stinging new ad slamming Obama for not visiting the wounded soldiers in Germany. Let's take a look at part of it.

NARRATOR [video clip]: Barack Obama never held a single Senate hearing on Afghanistan. He hadn't been to Iraq in years. He voted against funding our troops. And now, he made time to go to the gym, but canceled a visit with wounded troops. Seems the Pentagon --

WITT: Well, the Obama camp says that Senator Obama scrapped the plans to visit the troops after the Pentagon raised all those concerns that it might then involve the troops in politics. But I'm curious about your reaction, Bob, to this new McCain ad.

FRANKEN: Well, they blew -- first of all, I think that the Obama people blew it. Plain, simple, period. And if they were smart, they would just come out and say, "You know, we made a mistake." And the McCain ad I think is going to draw a little bit of blood because I believe in the case of Barack Obama, if you live by the photo op, you die of the photo op, or in this particular case, the lack of a photo op. The truth of the matter is, is that he had sort of gone unchallenged all week by the adoring media who were singing "Obama Mia" throughout the week. So finally, when he made a misstep, it was amplified quite a bit because of all the easy going that he'd had in the other photo ops.

WITT: "Obama Mia." May I quote you on that and attribute you when I do? Anyway --

FRANKEN: Yeah, you don't want to accept blame for that one, do you?

WITT: No, but I'll give it to you. But the question with John McCain now. Do you think he might overplay his hand here with this? Is there a risk of that?

FRANKEN: Oh, probably. I suspect he will overplay it. But subtlety has never been a part of any kind of campaign. One could argue that the whole Obama trip was an overplay of a major proportion, and John McCain has to sort of match that. So what you always get in a campaign is exaggeration. So, sure, he's going to overplay it. That's what politicians do.

Network/Outlet
MSNBC
Person
Bob Franken, Alex Witt, Steve Thomma
Show/Publication
MSNBC Live
Stories/Interests
Barack Obama, John McCain, 2008 Elections
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