On Morning Joe, Mika Brzezinski and Joe Scarborough did not challenge McCain campaign manager Rick Davis' assertion that a McCain campaign ad attacking Sen. Barack Obama for not visiting wounded soldiers at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany was "the truth," despite reporting by their colleague, NBC's Andrea Mitchell, that the ad's criticism of Obama is "completely wrong, factually wrong" and "literally is not true."
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During a July 29 interview on MSNBC's Morning Joe, co-hosts Mika Brzezinski and Joe Scarborough failed to challenge the assertion by Rick Davis, Sen. John McCain's presidential campaign manager, that a McCain campaign ad attacking Sen. Barack Obama for not visiting wounded soldiers at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany is "the truth," despite reporting by their colleague, NBC chief foreign correspondent Andrea Mitchell, contradicting Davis' assertion. Scarborough and Brzezinski played a clip from the July 28 edition of Morning Joe in which Obama spokesman Robert Gibbs reacted to the McCain ad by asserting that McCain "is an honorable man, but running a very dishonorable campaign," and that the ad is "beneath the John McCain that we thought we knew." Asked to respond to Gibbs' assertions, Davis said, "I think that he -- sounds like he's stunned by the truth." Scarborough and Brzezinski did not challenge Davis' assertion, despite the fact that on at least four occasions on July 28, Mitchell appeared on MSNBC programs -- including Morning Joe -- and debunked the false suggestion in the ad that Obama "canceled a visit with wounded troops" because "the Pentagon wouldn't allow him to bring cameras," at one point saying the charge "literally is not true."
Brzezinski did not challenge Davis' claim that the ad was "the truth," although she did say of the ad: "I mean there is some backlash to it. I mean, there are some who would think that the McCain campaign, you and the McCain campaign are basically trying to deflect in any desperate way you can from what was a very good trip for Barack Obama, where he was seen on the international stage with world leaders making it work for him."
On the July 28 edition of MSNBC's Hardball, Mitchell asserted, "There was never any intention -- let me be absolutely clear about this. The press was never going to go. The entourage was never going to go. There was never an intention to make this political." She later said, "And the McCain commercial on this subject is completely wrong, factually wrong." During the 1 p.m. ET hour of the July 28 edition of MSNBC Live, Mitchell asked Sen. Richard Burr (R-NC): "As someone supporting John McCain, I've got to ask you about this new McCain ad. The McCain ad says, literally, that he could've gone, you know, that he did other things -- Obama did other things. He could've visited the troops but not with cameras. That literally is not true." She later said that Obama "wasn't planning to bring an entourage and he certainly visited the soldiers only four or five days earlier when he was in Iraq, and he visited them in Walter Reed again without any notice and without any entourage -- so it just seems inexplicable that this whole thing has become such an issue, but clearly, the McCain campaign wants this to be an issue." In an earlier segment, during the 9 a.m. hour of MSNBC Live, Mitchell stated, "I can attest to the fact that he did visit troops in Iraq only four or five days earlier, that there was no notice of it, that I confirmed that it happened, but they had no video of any type and no reporters. And that he's been to Walter Reed. So let's at least get that off the table."
Scarborough had the following exchange with Mitchell on the July 28 edition of Morning Joe:
MITCHELL: The background on the military flap is that they had clearly planned a trip to Ramstein, they were planning to visit the injured troops, and then the Pentagon explained they couldn't go as part of a political trip. The Obama campaign thought that they could go, leave the press corps on the tarmac, and then take off with military escort and make this one last visit, as he did, by the way, in Iraq. He visited a casualty unit in the Green Zone without photographers as part of the congressional delegation. But the military said that the rules are that he could only go as part of a previously arranged congressional delegation to Ramstein.
Clearly, people in the campaign are really angry. They had wanted this to be the final stop on the trip here in Germany, and to do it without the press corps, just to do it on his own. But the objections of the military were that he is now being staffed by campaign aides, not by his Senate staff, which -- who were the people who, of course, were with him when he went with [Sen. Chuck] Hagel [R-NE] and [Sen.] Jack Reed [D-RI] in Iraq. So, you know, the anger here is pretty intense at the Pentagon: They feel that the military are, you know, drawing some lines -- they're not saying this publicly, of course -- but drawing lines that they might not have drawn for other people. He was planning to just go by himself, not with cameras, not with any entourage, as he had done in Walter Reed in the past in Washington, as he did in Iraq, Joe.
SCARBOROUGH: It's -- it's curious, if that's the case, why the campaign didn't make that announcement yesterday and allowed stories go like this. I'm sure there's going to be a lot of "he said, she said" in the days to come about this.
MITCHELL: Well, but they felt that they couldn't win. Yeah, they felt that they -- that they were in a, you know, no-win situation, that the Pentagon, perhaps, the military with cooperation from some Republican operatives -- I mean, that's the -- the sort of scuttlebutt, that there have been some foreign policy advisers of John McCain with connections in the Pentagon who've had something to do with this, but that is perhaps just the normal political paranoia of the season.
As Media Matters has noted, ABC senior national correspondent Jake Tapper and Time national political correspondent Karen Tumulty have each also stated that the McCain campaign has provided "no evidence" to support the ad's assertion that Obama canceled the visit because "the Pentagon wouldn't allow him to bring cameras." Additionally, on July 28, Factcheck.org wrote that the McCain ad's "insinuation -- that the visit was canceled because of the press ban or the desire for gym time -- is false."
On July 28, Media Matters for America noted that MSNBC's Tamron Hall ignored Mitchell's reporting, asserting, "McCain is now taking aim at Obama's character and patriotism, also ripping him for not visiting wounded American troops," before playing the McCain ad. That same day, Media Matters noted that in on-screen text, MSNBC attributed to the Obama campaign the assertion that Obama "met troops in Iraq without American press," even though Mitchell had reported earlier in the day on MSNBC Live that she had personally confirmed that fact. Additionally, on the July 28 edition of Morning Joe, MSNBC political analyst Pat Buchanan asserted that the ad played into "the sense that, you know, Barack is not one of us. He's just not a normal guy who would go see the wounded troops," to which Scarborough replied: "And again, as the McCain campaign's saying, won't see the troops because -- and this is what the Pentagon said: We'll let him go see the troops, he just can't take cameras with him to film it."
From the July 29 edition of MSNBC's Morning Joe:
GIBBS [video clip]: John McCain is an honorable man, but increasingly running a very dishonorable campaign. [Senator] Chuck Hagel [R-NE] is right that the ad is simply inappropriate, and it's just simply beneath -- it's beneath the John McCain that we thought we knew.
SCARBOROUGH: All right, with us now talking about that --
BRZEZINSKI: Mmm. Wow.
SCARBOROUGH: Those were some tough words.
BRZEZINSKI: Those were fighting words.
SCARBOROUGH: Ah. Yup. Let's bring in right now McCain campaign manager Rick Davis. Rick, the quote is that you and Senator McCain are running "a very dishonorable campaign." Respond.
DAVIS: Well, I think that he -- sounds like he's stunned by the truth and I think that after this eight-day photo-op tour of Europe and the Middle East, the Obama campaign was very unhappy with the fact that they finished the entire tour with a -- a huge mistake, which was blowing off the troops before coming home.
DAVIS: No, I'm sure he does. And I'm sure that the men and women in our uniform would've valued the -- the visit that he had indicated early on that he was gonna make, you know, when he -- when he arrived in Landstuhl. I don't know what the truth is, because out of the Obama campaign themselves and Mr. Gibbs in particular, there have been probably 11 separate excuses for why they didn't visit the troops. Now if they don't know why they didn't' visit the troops, I'm sure as heck not gonna figure it out.
SCARBOROUGH: And again, what do you think, I -- I'm trying to figure out what the McCain campaign and what John McCain thinks this signifies. What are you all suggesting this means about Barack Obama, his values and what type of commander in chief he's going to be?
DAVIS: You know, I think people are going to make their own judgment. I mean, this is the kind of issue that I think is gonna stick around for a while. I think it's up to people who hear the various excuses and evaluate the news reports that you all put out to come to a judgment of their own. I know that John McCain --
SCARBOROUGH: Well, what judge -- what judgment have you come to?
DAVIS: -- said this Sunday on television, which is -- which is I'm sure that the troops were disappointed that -- the fact he didn't go. There's no clear reason why. Blaming the Defense Department didn't seem to work, so now they're jumping through various other hoops to try and come up with a good reason. But at the end of the day, he didn't do it. It was bad judgment. I don't think anybody would defend his actions. I mean, you'll notice that's not what they're doing. So I think it's going to be left up to the voters to figure out. And I think it's probably a bad report card.
SCARBOROUGH: Do you think Barack Obama loves his country?
DAVIS: I'm sure Obama loves his country. I'm sure that --
SCARBOROUGH: Do -- do -- do you think he -- do you think he values --
DAVIS: -- anybody that runs for president does so with the greatest of intentions to -- to do so.
SCARBOROUGH: Do you think he values the troops at work?
DAVIS: I think what we're questioning and I think what the American public would question was what kind of judgment did he exert in -- in -- when he was over there to -- to allow his staff or allow his own judgment to fail him and not go by and visit the troops.
DAVIS: As John McCain said --
BRZEZINSKI: What --
DAVIS: "If anybody told him he couldn't visit troops in the field, there would be a seismic event", and I believe that.
SCARBOROUGH: All right. Mika.
BRZEZINSKI: Well, Rick, let me -- let's -- let me ask it to you this way. I mean, I -- I want to get a sense of why you guys decided to do that ad that some consider -- I mean there is some backlash to it. I mean, there are some who would think that the McCain campaign, you and the McCain campaign are basically trying to deflect in any desperate way you can from what was a very good trip for Barack Obama, where he was seen on the international stage with world leaders making it work for him.
DAVIS: I'll be the first one to admit that he's -- Barack Obama has become a global celebrity. I mean, Barack Obama has more fans across the world than Paris Hilton does. I mean, it's just an extraordinary thing.
DAVIS: And I don't think anybody would underestimate that, but I think when he had an opportunity to make a decision based on, you know, his own experience, which -- or lack thereof, you know, he made the wrong choice. You know Mika, you know, the only backlash that -- that I'm noticing out there on this issue are from people like you and other Obama supporters, you know, who are upset that we would actually point out that there was a flaw in a otherwise perfect trip.
BRZEZINSKI: Now you know what --
DAVIS: You know, I mean I just --
BRZEZINSKI: I take issue with that, Rick. Hold on one second.
DAVIS: I just find it fascinating that -- that --
BRZEZINSKI: Hold on one second. I am not me and other Obama supporters. I'm telling you that this trip went well. It appears that it went well and that -- that was a bad call. I said it on the air yesterday.
SCARBOROUGH: Well -- well, let -- let me ask you this --
BRZEZINSKI: I thought it was a bad call and looks bad. In the grand scheme of things --
SCARBOROUGH: Let -- let me step in here for second.
BRZEZINSKI: I don't think it's going to make a difference.
SCARBOROUGH: Rick, let me ask you this question. Is it not a good thing that after seven years of many people in Europe not holding us in the highest of esteem that you have an American politician going to Berlin, a country that was openly hostile to us in 2002 and 2003 and you saw thousands of American flags waving in the crowd, isn't that good for America?
DAVIS: Oh look, I'm -- believe me, again, I don't know how many times I would have to repeat myself. I think it was great for America's image abroad. I think that it shows what kind of popular celebrity that Barack Obama has become. Look, he's not the first politician to go over there. He's just the first politician with fans. And John McCain goes to Berlin --
BRZEZINKSI: Um. Well.
DAVIS: John McCain goes to Berlin every year to talk to a series of defense ministers called the Verkunda Conference.
SCARBOROUGH: Uh huh.
DAVIS: He talks about substance. He pushes back on the Russians. He talks about NATO. He talks about Afghanistan. He doesn't go there and give a flowery speech that has no real substance to it and have 200,000 people. Does that make him any less -- more important to our American fabric abroad?
SCARBOROUGH: All right. Hey, Rick, thank you so much for being with us.
BRZEZINKSI: Thanks, Rick.
SCARBOROUGH: We appreciate your insight.
From the July 28 edition of MSNBC's Hardball:
MITCHELL: And the other thing is, did he make a bad call in deciding not to go to Ramstein? He had every right to go to Ramstein --
MIKE BARNICLE (guest host): To visit the --
MITCHELL: -- to visit the troops in Landstuhl.
He had already been to visit the troops in Iraq without cameras, without an entourage. And he got, I think -- his people, rather, got so backed off by warnings from the Pentagon, now, be please careful, and don't bring your military aide, because he's now a political aide. The Pentagon was way too aggressive probably in that.
And they got so nervous, oh, well, this is going to look political, and they were damned if they did or damned if they didn't. They --
HOWARD FINEMAN (Newsweek senior Washington correspondent): Obama had --
MITCHELL: Let me just finish one -- just one point.
FINEMAN: I'm sorry.
MITCHELL: There was never any intention -- let me be absolutely clear about this. The press was never going to go. The entourage was never going to go. There was never an intention to make this political.
But by tacking it on to the tail end of a political -- the political leg of the trip, they opened themselves up, they feared, to the criticism. And, if they had gone, they would have been criticized. And not going, they were criticized.
And the McCain commercial on this subject is completely wrong.
BARNICLE: Well, well --
MITCHELL -- factually wrong.
BARNICLE: Let -- let's watch the commercial. And tell us where it's wrong. Here's -- here's the new John McCain ad about this topic.
NARRATOR [video clip]: He voted against funding our troops. And, now, he made time to go to the gym, but canceled a visit with wounded troops. It seems the Pentagon wouldn't allow him to bring cameras.
BARNICLE: Well, that wasn't the entire ad. It was enough to give you an idea of it.
Here's Chuck Hagel, senator from Nebraska, his take -- he's a Republican -- on that John McCain ad.
[begin video clip]
BOB SCHIEFFER (host of CBS' Face the Nation): Do you think that ad was appropriate?
HAGEL: I do not think it was appropriate.
SCHIEFFER: You do not?
HAGEL: I do not.
[end video clip]
MITCHELL: Well, first of all, the picture, the image that they use of him playing basketball is with the troops shot by a -- an Army cameraman. That was DOD footage that the -- the Pentagon shot of him in Kuwait shooting hoops -- and a three-pointer, I might add.
MITCHELL: So --
MITCHELL: -- when he went to see the injured troops in the Green Zone, he did not bring a camera. There was no Pentagon camera. He did not even confirm to those of us covering by -- covering that he had gone. I had to find out that he had gone through other sources, military sources.
I mean, the fact is that he was never planning to take the press corps. The press corps was going to be on the tarmac, locked up on the airplane while he went off by himself.
The only issue was whether he could bring a political aide, who was a retired military -- retired Air Force general.
From the July 28 edition of MSNBC Live at 1 p.m.:
MITCHELL: As someone supporting John McCain, I've got to ask you about this new McCain ad. The McCain ad says, literally, that he could've gone, you know, that he did other things -- Obama did other things. He could've visited the troops but not with cameras. That literally is not true. Let me play a bit of Robert Gibbs, the spokesman for Barack Obama reacting to that McCain ad today.
GIBBS [video clip]: John McCain is an honorable man, but increasingly running a very dishonorable campaign. Chuck Hagel is right that the ad is simply inappropriate, and it's just simply beneath -- it's beneath the John McCain that we thought we knew.
MITCHELL: Now, the point is that Obama had no intention of bringing any cameras with him. I was there. I can vouch for that, so, why put up an ad that says that that's the reason that he didn't visit the troops. They claim the reason they didn't go was they were concerned that it would seem too political since that was the political leg of his journey.
SEN. RICHARD BURR [R-NC]: Well Andrea, I -- I am also the ranking member of the Veteran's Affairs Committee. I visit our wounded troops frequently. I've never been denied access to them, and I -- I believe if I were, it would be a national issue. And I think that's what John McCain stated, that no commander would have made that rule without a fight. And I'm not sure what happened on the ground in Germany, but clearly, this was designed to be a political trip and the context of it might have scared the military, but I'm sure that if Barack Obama had wanted to visit those soldiers, he could have visited those soldiers. But not with the entourage he had.
MITCHELL: Well he wasn't planning to bring an entourage and he certainly visited the soldiers only four or five days earlier when he was in Iraq, and he visited them in Walter Reed again without any notice and without any entourage -- so it just seems inexplicable that this whole thing has become such an issue, but clearly, the McCain campaign wants this to be an issue. Wants to paint him as someone who is unfeeling about the troops.
From the July 28 edition of MSNBC Live at 9 a.m.:
MITCHELL: Should you have guts-ed it out and gone anyway, given the fact that you were damned if you did and damned if you didn't?
GREG CRAIG (Obama senior foreign policy adviser): Well that's the -- there's -- obviously, Senator McCain had two press releases prepared, one -- if we had gone and seen the troops, he would've criticized us for politicizing and exploiting the troops in a political advantage. But we decided that that was something that we did not want to be criticized for, and so we didn't go, and now he's criticizing us for not going. There are about three or four factual misstatements --
MITCHELL: I can attest to the fact that he did visit troops in Iraq only four or five days earlier, that there was no notice of it, that I confirmed that it happened, but they had no video of any type and no reporters. And that he's been to Walter Reed. So let's at least get that off the table.