Media advance claim -- not made by McCain -- that he can't use a computer or send email because of war injuries

››› ››› MATT GERTZ, LAUREN AUERBACH, NATHAN TABAK & HANNAH DREIER

Since the release of an Obama campaign ad asserting that Sen. John McCain "admits he still doesn't know how to use a computer, can't send an email," several Fox News figures and talk-radio hosts have claimed that McCain doesn't use a computer or email because of injuries he sustained during his service in the Vietnam War. But the McCain campaign itself did not make this claim in response to the ad, reportedly responding that "John McCain travels with a laptop."

Since Sen. Barack Obama's campaign released an ad asserting that Sen. John McCain "admits he still doesn't know how to use a computer, can't send an email," several figures on Fox News and talk-radio hosts have claimed that McCain does not use a computer or email because of injuries he sustained during his service in the Vietnam War. But the McCain campaign itself reportedly did not cite his war injuries in connection with his computer habits, and a campaign spokesman reportedly responded to the Obama ad by saying that "John McCain travels with a laptop."

Moreover, after saying in February that he is a computer "illiterate," McCain reportedly told The New York Times in a July 11 interview, "I am learning to get online myself, and I will have that down fairly soon, getting on myself," adding, "I use the Blackberry, but I don't e-mail, I've never felt the particular need to e-mail. I read e-mails all the time, but the communications that I have with my friends and staff are oral and done with my cell phone." According to the transcript provided by the Times, McCain made no mention of his war injuries in discussing his computer use.

On the September 15 edition of MSNBC Live, Republican strategist Ron Christie asserted, "[T]he fact of the matter is, while Senator Obama was a young man, Senator McCain was being beaten and tortured in a jail. That's why he can't type." Correspondent David Shuster responded: "No, no, no, no. That's not true. We have established that John McCain can type. He suffered grave injuries from being a POW, but his inability to type is not one of them. Well, we've heard from John McCain himself that he can type."

In addition to Christie, other examples of media figures advancing the claim that McCain is unable to use a computer due to his war injuries include:

  • On the September 16 edition of Fox News' Fox & Friends, co-host Steve Doocy asserted: "The ad we're running right here, about how he doesn't email, it turns out he doesn't email because of his -- the injuries he sustained while being tortured by the North Vietnamese." Media Research Council president L. Brent Bozell III replied, "That's where opposition research has got to be a little bit more accurate before they do an ad."
  • On the September 15 edition of Fox News' America's Newsroom, anchor Bill Hemmer repeatedly asked Obama spokesman Bill Burton whether he was "aware" that McCain is "unable to type on a keyboard" because of his war injuries, and ignored Burton's response that McCain "had specifically said that he was learning how to use a computer." Some of the questions Hemmer asked Burton included: "Did it occur to you that he can't use a keyboard effectively because of Vietnam War wounds he suffered for five and a half years of captivity?"; "Back to the point, did you know he can't use a key[board]?"; "Did it occur to you that the injuries he suffered in the Hanoi Hilton is the reason why?"; "So you're saying that you weren't aware of that? That's your answer then, right?"; and "If he gave flesh for the country and you knew that he couldn't use a keyboard because his arms and shoulders were broken by the Viet Cong four decades ago, is that fair game?
  • Discussing Obama's ad on the September 15 edition of Fox News' Hannity and Colmes, co-host Sean Hannity started to say of McCain: "The reason he doesn't use a computer is 'cause --" Fox News contributor and columnist Dick Morris then interrupted, saying, "Because of the war injuries." Hannity replied, "Yeah, because of his war injuries."
  • On the September 15 edition of Fox News' The O'Reilly Factor, Fox News analyst Mary Katharine Ham asserted: "[W]e've seen several reports that McCain does go online. He does do certain things. His wife has to help him, because he has some war injuries that prevent him from actually going online. Now, this is undoubtedly unintentional on the Obama campaign's part, but it's a pretty boneheaded mistake when you're going negative."
  • On the September 15 broadcast of his nationally syndicated radio show, G. Gordon Liddy asserted: "The ad by Obama says he doesn't know how to operate the Internet, he doesn't know how to send email. ... [W]hat they don't say is the terrible war and torture wounds that McCain suffered rendered him -- it's impossible for him to type." He continued: "He physically cannot do it. He knows how to do it, but he can't do it physically because of his terrible war wounds."
  • On the September 15 broadcast of KSFO's The Lee Rodgers Show, guest host Brian Sussman said of McCain: "Well, of course he can't use email, because he can't type on a keyboard. It's not his fault. If you want to blame anyone, blame Communism. It's the Communists, the captors in North Vietnam, that did this to him. But nonetheless, he is disabled. He can't manage a computer keyboard. He couldn't type when he was -- he can't do any of that, and therefore, he can't do email, right? He can't do email."

From the 4 p.m. ET hour of the September 15 edition of MSNBC Live:

CHRISTIE: David, you could try that, but to go back on topic, if you want to talk about despicable, low-gutter ads, let's talk about the ads what we're here to talk about. Senator Obama has an ad out right now that says that Senator McCain, when he came in 1982, it's more of the same, and he can't use a typewriter and he can't use email.

Well, the fact of the matter is, while Senator Obama was a young man, Senator McCain was being beaten and tortured in a jail. That's why he can't type.

SHUSTER: Right, but he can --

CHRISTIE: If you want to talk about gutter politics, David --

SHUSTER: No, no, no, no. That's not true. We have established that John McCain can type. He suffered grave injuries from being a POW --

CHRISTIE: He can type, David, but he says it is painful.

SHUSTER: -- but his inability to type is not one of them. Well, we've --

CHRISTIE: David, that's not true.

SHUSTER: -- heard from John McCain himself that he can type.

CHRISTIE: David -- David --

SHUSTER: But anyway, Ron Christie --

CHRISTIE: David, the truth of the matter is, he can type. It pains him. The McCain campaign has said that also, and Obama's trying to say that he can't type. He's not said that --

[crosstalk]

CHRIS KOFINIS (Democratic strategist): You know -- Ron, you know as well as I do --

SHUSTER: Well, John McCain has not said that, and the McCain campaign hasn't said it until this week, but in any case, we gotta go.

From the September 16 edition of Fox News' Fox & Friends:

DOOCY: Brent Bozell, the president of the Media Research Center joins us today. Good morning to you, Brent.

BOZELL: Good morning. How are you?

DOOCY: We're going to try to cover a lot of territory in three minutes. The negative ads, are they working?

BOZELL: Well, negative ads as a rule tend to work, but they can also backfire if you go too far. I think Obama's got a problem right now because Obama wrapped himself around the aura that he wouldn't go negative, and that ad he released yesterday -- now, I think is the perfect symbiotic relationship. The media had been hammering John McCain relentlessly, and here Obama runs an ad citing the media as a source.

DOOCY: And you know what? The ad we're running right here, about how he doesn't email, it turns out he doesn't email because of his -- the injuries he sustained while being tortured by the North Vietnamese.

BOZELL: That's where opposition research has got to be a little bit more accurate before they do an ad.

From the September 15 edition of Fox News' The O'Reilly Factor:

HAM: Well, the deal with most negative ads is that they're, you know -- they can arguably said to be had a kernel of truth in them or they -- they --

O'REILLY: But these can't.

HAM: It's hard -- well, OK. But here's -- the bigger problem with the Obama ad is that -- or the one against McCain for not being able to use a computer, is that, in fact, we've seen several reports that McCain does go online. He does do certain things. His wife has to help him, because he has some war injuries that prevent him from actually going online.

Now, this is undoubtedly unintentional on the Obama campaign's part, but it's a pretty boneheaded mistake when you're going negative --

O'REILLY: Well --

HAM: -- and they happen to go accidentally negative in the exact wrong way.

From the September 15 edition of Fox News' Hannity & Colmes:

HANNITY: All right, let's start with -- we even have an Obama ad out that literally accuses John McCain of being dishonorable, using every name they can possibly come up with. They have attacked him as being computer illiterate. The reason he doesn't use a computer is 'cause --

MORRIS: Because of the war injuries.

HANNITY: Yeah, because of his war injuries.

From the 10 a.m. ET hour of the September 15 edition of Fox News' America's Newsroom:

HEMMER: Can't use a computer; can't send an email; can't type on a keyboard. Bill Burton, spokesman for the Obama team, with us again from Chicago. Bill, good morning to you. Why was that important to have that in the ad?

BURTON: Well, that ad is important overall because it says something about John McCain and how in touch he is with the American people's lives. You know, just today, just moments before you and I started talking --

HEMMER: Did it occur to you that he can't use --

BURTON: Hold on one second, Bill. Just moments before you and I --

HEMMER: -- a keyboard effectively because of Vietnam War wounds he suffered for five and a half years of captivity?

BURTON: One second, Bill, let me just answer your question.

HEMMER: Did you know that?

BURTON: Yeah, what -- just before -- so I can answer your question. Before -- just before you and I started talking, John McCain said on stage that the fundamentals of our economy are strong. And so that ad, that talks about the fact that John McCain's out of touch, he doesn't know how to use a computer, he can't send an email --

HEMMER: And he also said in the same sentence that, you know, Wall Street has got issues, and if I'm president, I'll clean this stuff up. Back to the point, did you know he can't use a key --

BURTON: OK.

HEMMER: No, I'm just quoting from what I'm reading from the --

BURTON: I understand that.

HEMMER: -- campaign rally in Jacksonville, Florida --

BURTON: I understand that. But if John McCain thinks that the fundamentals --

HEMMER: -- just to finish -- hang on, Bill -- my question. I'll get an answer out --

BURTON: -- of our economy are strong, then he should stand by that comment. As for your question about whether or not --

HEMMER: Please.

BURTON: -- he can use a computer, I read an interview with him in The New York Times, and another with him in the San Francisco Chronicle, where he said that he was in fact learning how to use a computer, and he was learning how to email, but he wasn't quite there yet. So it's clear that --

HEMMER: Did it occur to you that the injuries he suffered in the Hanoi Hilton is the reason why?

BURTON: Why he was still using -- learning how to use a computer?

HEMMER: Why -- and unable to type on a keyboard. Were you aware of that?

BURTON: I think that I was aware of the fact that he had specifically said that he was learning how to use a computer. So I think that -- I think that he ought to, because the Internet is the backbone --

HEMMER: So you're saying you weren't aware of that? That's your answer then, right?

BURTON: No, my answer is that if John McCain is so out of touch with the American people's lives that he doesn't understand what's going on, in their homes, on their computers, doesn't understand how the Internet affects our economy, doesn't understand that the fundamentals of our economy are not strong --

HEMMER: But if you knew that he --

BURTON: -- we're actually in a crisis, and has no plan to address it --

HEMMER: If you knew that he gave flesh --

BURTON: -- then that's something that they should be able to stand up for.

HEMMER: If he gave flesh for the country and you knew that he couldn't use a keyboard because his arms and shoulders were broken by the Viet Cong four decades ago, is that fair game?

BURTON: Bill, I understand that you keep making this exact same point, but if he wasn't learning how to use a computer and he wasn't learning how to email, then why did he --

HEMMER: I'm just asking: Yes or no. Is it fair game?

BURTON: Bill, yes or no --

HEMMER: Do you think that's below the belt or not?

BURTON: -- was he learning how to use a computer?

HEMMER: Are you -- correct, but I'm asking yes or no?

BURTON: That's the exact point. Is that --

HEMMER: All right, you're not going to answer that. Let's go to another point, OK?

From the September 15 broadcast of Radio America's The G. Gordon Liddy Show:

CALLER: Yeah. The other thing is -- they're kind of mentioning about McCain not knowing how to operate the Internet, et cetera. Well, I don't know if you want to compare the movement of McCain at the memorial versus Obama. I don't think it makes any difference if he can operate the Internet.

LIDDY: Well, now, here's the thing. The ad by Obama says he doesn't know how to operate the Internet, he doesn't know how to send email, and it shows the thing saying, saying -- what they don't say is the terrible war and torture wounds that McCain suffered rendered him -- it's impossible for him to type. He physically cannot do it. He knows how to do it, but he can't do it physically because of his terrible war wounds. And the Obama people ought to be ashamed of themselves for that. Mark in South Dakota, real quick.

From the September 15 broadcast of KSFO's The Lee Rodgers Show:

SUSSMAN: You know how when John McCain stands before his audience, there's that right arm of his that's all, just, goofy? Well, it's goofy because it was broken in three places upon ejection from the plane over Hanoi, and his arm was also busted up in several different places. And it -- the arm and the leg were never properly set. They essentially mended of their own accord, so he's all -- he's crippled up. He's a disabled vet, but of course he would never tell you that. He would never tell you he's disabled, because he's not that kind of a guy. But what's really interesting, because of this disability, you -- if you've ever seen him salute, he can't snap off a salute like everyone else.

If you have read some of his stories over the last bunch of years -- I mean, many of us have known, the guy's arm is so -- his arms are so messed up, and his shoulders are so messed up, in all -- in part also because, not just that the plane crashed, but because for a long portion of his imprisonment, his hands were tied behind his body in such a way that his shoulders just became permanently mangled. So, he's screwed up. He can't comb his own hair. John McCain, besides not being able to properly snap off a salute, he can't even comb his own hair. Now, last I looked, he doesn't have much to begin with, but he can't comb what little he has.

Something else he cannot do -- he cannot sit down at a keyboard and type. It's just -- he's disabled. He can't do that. So, this has turned into this nonsense that, well, he can't even use email. Well, of course he can't use email, because he can't type on a keyboard. It's not his fault. If you want to blame anyone, blame Communism. It's the Communists, the captors in North Vietnam, that did this to him.

But nonetheless, he is disabled. He can't manage a computer keyboard. He couldn't type when he was -- he can't do any of that, and therefore, he can't do email, right? He can't do email. So the Obama people have come up with an ad -- out with an ad, and they're trying to make it look as if he's some kind of computer illiterate boob, who is incapable of handling the rigors of emailing. That's what they're trying to do here. This -- I'll tell you what. I hope that there are some disabled groups -- groups that represent disabled people that will just make their voices heard and go after the Obama people for being absolute hatemongers when it comes to ads like this.

[begin audio clip]

NARRATOR: 1982: John McCain goes to Washington. Things have changed in the last 26 years, but McCain hasn't. He admits he still doesn't know how to use a computer, can't send an email, still doesn't understand the economy, and favors $200 billion in new tax cuts for corporations, but almost nothing for the middle class. After one president who was out of touch, we just can't afford more of the same.

OBAMA: I'm Barack Obama, and I approve this message.

[end audio clip]

SUSSMAN: Barack Obama, you approve the message, and guess what? You're a hatemongering, low-class fool for putting that ad out. That is as low as it gets. Mr. Smiley, happy-face, slap-you-on-the-back Christian -- that was a low blow.

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