Fox's Williams falsely suggested Obama has changed position in now supporting ROTC on campuses

››› ››› JEREMY HOLDEN

On Fox News, Juan Williams falsely suggested that during the Democratic primary campaign Sen. Barack Obama did not support allowing ROTC on college campuses. In fact, when asked during a January debate, "Will you vigorously enforce a statute which says colleges must allow military recruiters on campus and provide ROTC programs?" Obama responded, "Yes."

During Fox News' coverage of the September 11 presidential forum on national service at Columbia University, National Public Radio news analyst and Fox News contributing political analyst Juan Williams falsely suggested that during the Democratic primary campaign Sen. Barack Obama did not support allowing Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) on college campuses. Citing Obama's comments that Columbia University should allow ROTC back on campus, Williams said:

I thought that the comments about ROTC, and the fact that Obama is willing to take on, I think, the left of his party, which is represented by people at Columbia who are opposed to ROTC going back to the Vietnam era and think that it has no place in an intellectual, academic environment, the fact that he is willing to do that again suggests that he is willing now to sort of run to the middle. I don't think you would have heard that from Barack Obama earlier during the primary campaign against Hillary Clinton.

But Williams' suggestion that Obama has shifted his position on ROTC after the primary is false: When asked by moderator Tim Russert during the January 15 Democratic presidential debate, "Will you vigorously enforce a statute which says colleges must allow military recruiters on campus and provide ROTC programs?" Obama responded, "Yes," and further stated:

One of the striking things, as you travel around the country, you go into rural communities and you see how disproportionally they are carrying the load in this war in Iraq, as well as Afghanistan. And it is not fair.

[...]

But I think that the obligation to serve exists for everybody, and that's why I've put forward a national service program that is tied to my tuition credit for students who want to go to college. You get $4000 every year to help you go to college. In return, you have to engage in some form of national service. Military service has to be an option.

Asked by Time managing editor Rick Stengel during the September 11 presidential forum on service, "Should Columbia and elite universities that have excluded ROTC invite them back on campus?" Obama responded, "Yes. I think we've made a mistake on that." He continued:

I recognize that there are students here who have differences in terms of military policy. But the notion that young people here at Columbia or anywhere, in any university, aren't offered the choice, the option of participating in military service, I think is a mistake.

That does not mean that we disregard any potential differences in various issues that are raised by the students here, but it does mean that we should have an honest debate while still offering opportunities for everybody to serve, and that's something that I'm pretty clear about.

From Fox News' coverage of the September 11 forum on national service:

OBAMA: But it's also important that a president speaks to military service as an obligation not just of some, but of many. You know, I traveled, obviously, a lot over the last 19 months. And if you go to small towns, throughout the Midwest or the Southwest or the South, every town has tons of young people who are serving in Iraq and Afghanistan. That's not always the case in other parts of the country, in more urban centers. And I think it's important for the president to say, this is an important obligation. If we are going into war, then all of us go, not just some.

STENGEL: To that end, to get the best and brightest into the military, this university, your alma mater, invited President [Mahmoud] Ahmadinejad of Iran to be here last year, but they haven't invited ROTC to be on campus since 1969. Should Columbia and elite universities that have excluded ROTC invite them back on campus?

OBAMA: Yes. I think we've made a mistake on that.

I recognize that there are students here who have differences in terms of military policy. But the notion that young people here at Columbia or anywhere, in any university, aren't offered the choice, the option of participating in military service, I think is a mistake.

That does not mean that we disregard any potential differences in various issues that are raised by the students here, but it does mean that we should have an honest debate while still offering opportunities for everybody to serve, and that's something that I'm pretty clear about.

[...]

HUME: I think it's fair to say that, if we are looking for differences on the issues tonight between McCain and Obama, there were very few, if any, and indeed they seemed to be shaving the edges off of differences that they might have had on the role of government service versus service generated in the private sector or by individuals and private charities and so on. Indeed, both of them agreed on whether ROTC should return to Columbia University, one of the only moments that seemed to strike any real spark there, because we know that Columbia has had this policy of no ROTC -- no to ROTC, but yes to Ahmadinejad, which caused an enormous amount of controversy for Columbia president Lee Bollinger when all of that unfolded earlier.

But tonight was a night when the two candidates seemed to agree on nearly everything and seemed perfectly comfortable with themselves -- with each other, I should say - as they did earlier when they encountered each other during the observances at Ground Zero in New York today. Nonetheless, it has been an eventful day. And we'll try to review this event and some of the others as well with our panel.

First of all, let's go around the table here with people who are joining me tonight. Juan Williams, your thoughts on this panel, on this event.

WILLIAMS: Well, you know, again, I thought there was no news here, but if you wanted to come down to the heart and soul of it, I thought that the comments about ROTC, and the fact that Obama is willing to take on, I think, the left of his party, which is represented by people at Columbia who are opposed to ROTC going back to the Vietnam era and think that it has no place in an intellectual, academic environment, the fact that he is willing to do that again suggests that he is willing now to sort of run to the middle. I don't think you would have heard that from Barack Obama earlier during the primary campaign against Hillary Clinton.

Posted In
National Security & Foreign Policy, Military Personnel & Veterans
Network/Outlet
Fox News Channel
Person
Juan Williams
Stories/Interests
Barack Obama, 2008 Elections
We've changed our commenting system to Disqus.
Instructions for signing up and claiming your comment history are located here.
Updated rules for commenting are here.