Wash. Post did not challenge examples cited by McCain aide denouncing smears of Obama

››› ››› MATT GERTZ

The Washington Post reported that McCain aide Mark Salter said Sen. John McCain would not "tolerate" racially tinged attacks. According to the article, Salter noted that McCain "denounced" Bill Cunningham's controversial remarks about Sen. Barack Obama and that he "criticized" an ad by the North Carolina GOP. But the Post did not challenge Salter's claims: In fact, the McCain campaign reportedly invited Cunningham to a rally despite his history of controversial remarks, and McCain reportedly did not take steps to stop the ad from airing.

In an August 1 Washington Post article, staff writers Jonathan Weisman and Juliet Eilperin reported that Mark Salter, a senior aide to Sen. John McCain, asserted in an email that "there isn't a shred of evidence" that McCain "would tolerate" what Salter referred to as Sen. Barack Obama's "repeated suggestion that [McCain is] running a racist campaign." While Salter mentioned instances in which McCain "denounced" racially tinged attacks by third parties, Weisman and Eilperin failed to note that McCain reportedly did not take steps to stop the conduct or prevent it beforehand.

In their article, Weisman and Eilperin reported that Salter "not[ed] that the senator from Arizona had denounced an Ohio radio talk show host who mocked Obama's name and that he criticized an ad by the North Carolina Republican Party highlighting Obama's ties to [Rev. Jeremiah] Wright." But they did not point out that while McCain did repudiate conservative radio host Bill Cunningham's gratuitous references to Obama's middle name at a February 26 McCain rally, the campaign reportedly invited Cunningham to appear at the rally despite his history of conduct similar to what McCain denounced, including his having previously advanced the false claim that Obama attended a madrassa, falsely referred to Obama as "Mohammed," and repeatedly referred to Obama's middle name.

Regarding the North Carolina GOP ad, while McCain pledged, "I'll do everything in my power to make sure not only they stop it but that kind of leadership is rejected," according to North Carolina GOP chairwoman Linda Daves, at no point did McCain call her directly and ask her not to run the ad. Moreover, as Media Matters for America noted, several ranking members of the state Republican Party also had "official" roles in the McCain campaign or in the Republican National Committee to whom McCain could have insisted the ad not run.

Further, in uncritically reporting Salter's citing the North Carolina GOP ad as an example of what McCain would not "tolerate," Weisman and Eilperin did not note McCain's reported comment that "he wouldn't have run the GOP ad, 'but I am not going to referee, I am just going to run my own campaign.' " Additionally, in a June 12 article, the Boston Herald quoted McCain saying, "I can't be a referee of every spot run on television," and described his comments as "a softening of his view on the negative campaign tactic" that "opens the door to a no-holds-barred five-month scramble."

From the August 1 Post article:

Obama aides said the candidate's remarks were no different from applause lines he has used for months. At a mid-June fundraiser in Jacksonville, Fla., for instance, Obama said: "They're going to try to make you afraid of me. He's young and inexperienced and he's got a funny name. And did I mention he's black?' "

But Obama did appear to expand upon the theme by linking the attacks to McCain by name. Asked what specifically Obama was referring to, campaign manager David Plouffe avoided the question, saying, "What we're seeing out of the McCain campaign, the Republican Party and some of their allies have been some very aggressive charges."

Obama strategist Robert Gibbs said separately: "Barack Obama in no way believes that the McCain campaign is using race as an issue, but he does believe they're using the same old low-road politics to distract voters from the real issues in this campaign, and those are the issues he'll continue to talk about."

McCain aides acknowledged that Obama has leveled similar accusations for some time, but they said the insinuations that McCain was personally a party to racism required a response. In an e-mail, senior McCain aide Mark Salter wrote that Davis issued the statement to defend McCain "from Obama's repeated suggestion that he's running a racist campaign." Salter continued: "When he did it the first time yesterday, we let it pass. When he did it again later, specifically linking us to it, we decided to respond."

Salter added that "there isn't a shred of evidence" that McCain "would tolerate such a thing," noting that the senator from Arizona had denounced an Ohio radio talk show host who mocked Obama's name and that he criticized an ad by the North Carolina Republican Party highlighting Obama's ties to Wright.

The Washington Post
Jonathan Weisman, Juliet Eilperin
John McCain, 2008 Elections
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