Norah O'Donnell aired cropped "John is right" clips, but in nearly all instances, Obama was criticizing McCain

››› ››› JEREMY SCHULMAN & MORGAN WEILAND

On MSNBC, Norah O'Donnell aired a montage of what she described as "the multiple times that Barack Obama said 'John [McCain] is right' " during the first presidential debate. Following the montage, O'Donnell commented, "I thought this was a debate." In fact, in nearly all instances, Obama was actually criticizing McCain after first noting a point of agreement on the topic Obama was discussing.

During the September 27 edition of MSNBC Live, NBC chief Washington correspondent Norah O'Donnell aired a montage of what she described as "the multiple times that Barack Obama said 'John [McCain] is right' " during the first presidential debate. Following the montage -- which echoed a misleading McCain ad -- O'Donnell commented, "I thought this was a debate." In fact, in nearly all instances, Obama was actually criticizing McCain after first noting a point of agreement on the topic Obama was discussing.

For example, O'Donnell aired footage of Obama saying, "John mentioned the fact that business taxes on paper are high in this country, and he's absolutely right." In fact, Obama said the following:

John mentioned the fact that business taxes on paper are high in this country, and he's absolutely right. Here's the problem: There are so many loopholes that have been written into the tax code, oftentimes with support of Senator McCain, that we actually see our businesses pay effectively one of the lowest tax rates in the world.

Similarly, O'Donnell aired footage of Obama saying, "John, I -- you're absolutely right that presidents have to be prudent --". Obama actually said this:

John, I -- you're absolutely right that presidents have to be prudent in what they say. But, you know, coming from you, who, you know, in the past has threatened extinction for North Korea and, you know, sung songs about bombing Iran, I don't know, you know, how credible that is.

During the segment, O'Donnell also referenced a McCain campaign web video, which -- like the montage O'Donnell played -- consisted of several clips of Obama saying he agreed in some respect with McCain without noting that Obama was, in fact, criticizing McCain. O'Donnell said: "The Republicans -- and I was getting some emails from 'em -- said, 'Wow, look at this.' And they immediately turned it into an ad."

Below are the transcripts of the clips O'Donnell aired, followed by the context in which Obama made those comments, according to a New York Times transcript.

MSNBC clip:

OBAMA: Well, I think Senator McCain's absolutely right that we need more responsibility --

Context:

JIM LEHRER (moderator): Do you have something directly to say, Senator Obama, to Senator McCain about what he just said?

OBAMA: Well, I think Senator McCain's absolutely right that we need more responsibility, but we need it not just when there's a crisis. I mean, we've had years in which the reigning economic ideology has been what's good for Wall Street, but not what's good for Main Street.

And there are folks out there who've been struggling before this crisis took place. And that's why it's so important, as we solve this short-term problem, that we look at some of the underlying issues that have led to wages and incomes for ordinary Americans to go down, the -- a health care system that is broken, energy policies that are not working, because, you know, 10 days ago, John said that the fundamentals of the economy are sound.

MSNBC clip:

OBAMA: Senator McCain is absolutely right that the earmarks process has been abused --

Context:

LEHRER: Senator Obama, two minutes.

OBAMA: Well, Senator McCain is absolutely right that the earmarks process has been abused, which is why I suspended any requests for my home state, whether it was for senior centers or what have you, until we cleaned it up. And he's also right that oftentimes lobbyists and special interests are the ones that are introducing these kinds of requests, although that wasn't the case with me.

But let's be clear: Earmarks account for $18 billion in last year's budget. Senator McCain is proposing -- and this is a fundamental difference between us -- $300 billion in tax cuts to some of the wealthiest corporations and individuals in the country, $300 billion.

Now, $18 billion is important; $300 billion is really important. And in his tax plan, you would have CEOs of Fortune 500 companies getting an average of $700,000 in reduced taxes, while leaving 100 million Americans out.

So my attitude is, we've got to grow the economy from the bottom up. What I've called for is a tax cut for 95 percent of working families, 95 percent.

And that means that the ordinary American out there who's collecting a paycheck every day, they've got a little extra money to be able to buy a computer for their kid, to fill up on this gas that is killing them.

And over time, that, I think, is going to be a better recipe for economic growth than the -- the policies of President Bush that John McCain wants to -- wants to follow.

MSNBC clip:

OBAMA: John mentioned the fact that business taxes on paper are high in this country, and he's absolutely right.

Context:

OBAMA: My definition -- here's what I can tell the American people: 95 percent of you will get a tax cut. And if you make less than $250,000, less than a quarter-million dollars a year, then you will not see one dime's worth of tax increase.

Now, John mentioned the fact that business taxes on paper are high in this country, and he's absolutely right. Here's the problem: There are so many loopholes that have been written into the tax code, oftentimes with support of Senator McCain, that we actually see our businesses pay effectively one of the lowest tax rates in the world.

And what that means, then, is that there are people out there who are working every day, who are not getting a tax cut, and you want to give them more.

It's not like you want to close the loopholes. You just want to add an additional tax cut over the loopholes. And that's a problem.

MSNBC clip:

OBAMA: John's right that we've got to make some cuts.

Context:

LEHRER: But if I hear the two of you correctly neither one of you is suggesting any major changes in what you want to do as president as a result of the financial bailout? Is that what you're saying?

OBAMA: No. As I said before, Jim, there are going to be things that end up having to be --

LEHRER: Like what?

OBAMA: -- deferred and delayed. Well, look, I want to make sure that we are investing in energy in order to free ourselves from the dependence on foreign oil. That is a big project. That is a multi-year project.

LEHRER: Not willing to give that up?

OBAMA: Not willing to give up the need to do it but there may be individual components that we can't do. But John is right we have to make [some] cuts. We right now give $15 billion every year as subsidies to private insurers under the Medicare system. Doesn't work any better through the private insurers. They just skim off $15 billion. That was a give away and part of the reason is because lobbyists are able to shape how Medicare works.

They did it on the Medicaid prescription drug bill and we have to change the culture. Tom -- or John mentioned me being wildly liberal. Mostly that's just me opposing George Bush's wrong headed policies since I've been in Congress but I think it is that it is also important to recognize I work with Tom Coburn, the most conservative, one of the most conservative Republicans who John already mentioned to set up what we call a Google for government saying we'll list every dollar of federal spending to make sure that the taxpayer can take a look and see who, in fact, is promoting some of these spending projects that John's been railing about.

MSNBC clip:

OBAMA: Senator McCain is absolutely right that the violence has been reduced --

Context:

LEHRER: I know, OK, let's go to the latter point and we'll back up. The point about your not having been --

OBAMA: Look, I'm very proud of my vice presidential selection, Joe Biden, who is the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and as he explains, and as John well knows, the issues of Afghanistan, the issues of Iraq, critical issues like that, don't go through my subcommittee because they're done as a committee as a whole.

But that's Senate inside baseball. But let's get back to the core issue here. Senator McCain is absolutely right that the violence has been reduced as a consequence of the extraordinary sacrifice of our troops and our military families.

They have done a brilliant job, and General Petraeus has done a brilliant job. But understand, that was a tactic designed to contain the damage of the previous four years of mismanagement of this war.

And so John likes -- John, you like to pretend like the war started in 2007. You talk about the surge. The war started in 2003, and at the time when the war started, you said it was going to be quick and easy. You said we knew where the weapons of mass destruction were. You were wrong.

You said that we were going to be greeted as liberators. You were wrong. You said that there was no history of violence between Shia and Sunni. And you were wrong. And so my question is --

[crosstalk]

LEHRER: Senator Obama --

OBAMA: -- of judgment, of whether or not -- of whether or not -- if the question is who is best-equipped as the next president to make good decisions about how we use our military, how we make sure that we are prepared and ready for the next conflict, then I think we can take a look at our judgment.

MSNBC clips:

OBAMA: John, I -- you're absolutely right that presidents have to be prudent --

OBAMA: Senator McCain is also right that it's difficult.

Context:

OBAMA: Nobody talked about attacking Pakistan. Here's what I said.

And if John wants to disagree with this, he can let me know, that, if the United States has Al Qaeda, bin Laden, top-level lieutenants in our sights, and Pakistan is unable or unwilling to act, then we should take them out.

Now, I think that's the right strategy; I think that's the right policy.

And, John, I -- you're absolutely right that presidents have to be prudent in what they say. But, you know, coming from you, who, you know, in the past has threatened extinction for North Korea and, you know, sung songs about bombing Iran, I don't know, you know, how credible that is. I think this is the right strategy.

Now, Senator McCain is also right that it's difficult. This is not an easy situation. You've got cross-border attacks against U.S. troops.

And we've got a choice. We could allow our troops to just be on the defensive and absorb those blows again and again and again, if Pakistan is unwilling to cooperate, or we have to start making some decisions.

And the problem, John, with the strategy that's been pursued was that, for 10 years, we coddled Musharraf, we alienated the Pakistani population, because we were anti-democratic. We had a 20th-century mindset that basically said, "Well, you know, he may be a dictator, but he's our dictator."

And as a consequence, we lost legitimacy in Pakistan. We spent $10 billion. And in the meantime, they weren't going after Al Qaida, and they are more powerful now than at any time since we began the war in Afghanistan.

That's going to change when I'm president of the United States.

From the noon ET hour of September 27 edition of MSNBC Live:

O'DONNELL: Yeah, you know, substance of course is very important in this and so is style, and McCain's tone and temperament has been subject to debate during this whole campaign -- also the way Barack Obama conducted himself last night. Let's play these clips of the multiple times that Barack Obama said "John is right." Take a listen.

[begin video clip]

OBAMA: Well, I think Senator McCain's absolutely right that we need more responsibility --

[...]

OBAMA: Senator McCain is absolutely right that the earmarks process has been abused --

[...]

OBAMA: John mentioned the fact that business taxes on paper are high in this country, and he's absolutely right.

[...]

OBAMA: John's right that we've got to make some cuts.

[...]

OBAMA: Senator McCain is absolutely right that the violence has been reduced --

[...]

OBAMA: John, I -- you're absolutely right that presidents have to be prudent --

[...]

OBAMA: Senator McCain is also right that it's difficult.

[end video clip]

O'DONNELL: I thought this was a debate, but what does that say? I mean, some people suggested that played really well with independents. The Republicans -- and I was getting some emails from 'em -- said, "Wow, look at this." And they immediately turned it into an ad.

BOB FRANKEN (political analyst): Well, here's something profound. Norah, I think you're absolutely right on that.

[laughter]

FRANKEN: What you just said. Do you get the impression as you are watching this that we had this remarkable thing where John McCain morphed into Barack Obama and vise versa? And you also had to feel sorry, I think, for Jim Lehrer a few times, who kept on trying to get the candidates to talk to one another, and they were really talking past each other. This was really a collection of your old tried-and-true sound bites.

O'DONNELL: But those two things, Anne -- "John is right," which Barack Obama used John's name, I think, more than 20 times in the debate, John McCain never used the word Barack or Obama.

ANNE E. KORNBLUT (Washington Post staff writer): Not only that, he didn't look at him, which, of course, was commentated on as it was unfolding. At least Obama didn't refer to him as "my friend," but I think that Obama was trying to engage, trying to have some kind of personal contact, and McCain I think probably under orders, went up there with a mission of speaking directly to the audience, trying to bypass both Jim Lehrer and Obama and just get through that filter and talk to the however many tens of millions of people were watching.

O'DONNELL: Finally, let's just play here the part on Iraq.

Network/Outlet
MSNBC
Person
Norah O'Donnell, Bob Franken, Anne Kornblut
Show/Publication
MSNBC Live
Stories/Interests
Barack Obama, John McCain, 2008 Elections
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