NBC's Nightly News, AP uncritically repeated McCain's inaugural address smear of Obama

››› ››› ERIC HANANOKI

NBC's Kelly O'Donnell, Lester Holt and the AP uncritically repeated the McCain campaign's claims that Sen. Barack Obama is already writing or has already written an inaugural address. The claims are reportedly based on a New York Times article, which asserted that Obama transition chief John D. Podesta "has already written a draft Inaugural Address for Mr. Obama, which he published this summer in a book called 'The Power of Progress.' " But neither O'Donnell nor the AP gave any indication that they had attempted to verify the accusation or obtain a response from Podesta, who issued a statement calling the charge "a complete fabrication."

During the October 25 edition of NBC's Nightly News, correspondent Kelly O'Donnell said that Sen. John McCain "criticized Senator [Barack] Obama for having an inaugural address written, according to published reports." Anchor Lester Holt later added: "We heard from Kelly with the McCain folks a moment ago, and they seem to believe that Obama is already planning his victory and writing an inauguration speech." Similarly, in an October 26 Associated Press article, reporter Mike Glover uncritically reported that McCain "ridiculed reports that Obama is polishing his inaugural address." The McCain campaign's claims that Obama is already writing or has already written an inauguration address are reportedly based on an October 25 New York Times article, which asserted that Obama campaign transition chief John D. Podesta "has been mapping out the transition so systematically that he has already written a draft Inaugural Address for Mr. Obama, which he published this summer in a book called 'The Power of Progress.' " However, while repeating the McCain campaign's attacks, neither O'Donnell nor the AP gave any indication that they had attempted to verify the accusation or obtain a response from Podesta, who called the charge "a complete fabrication" in an October 25 statement.

In an October 25 blog post written after the NBC report, but before the AP article, New York Times reporter Larry Rohter wrote that McCain charged during an October 25 rally in Mesilla, New Mexico, that Obama already possesses a "manuscript of his inaugural address," and that McCain based the charge on a New York Times article published earlier that day. In that article, written by Peter Baker and Jackie Calmes, the Times reported:

Mr. Podesta has been mapping out the transition so systematically that he has already written a draft Inaugural Address for Mr. Obama, which he published this summer in a book called "The Power of Progress." The speech calls for rebuilding a "grand alliance" with the rest of the world, bringing troops home from Iraq, recommitting to the war in Afghanistan, cutting poverty in half in 10 years and reducing greenhouse gases 80 percent by 2050.

However, Think Progress -- which Podesta oversees as president of the Center for American Progress Action Fund -- reported in an October 25 blog entry posted in response to the Times article that Podesta wrote the speech before he joined Obama's campaign and while he was supporting Sen. Hillary Clinton's campaign. Think Progress later included a statement from Podesta, in which he called McCain's reference to the inaugural address "a complete fabrication," and added: "He [McCain] bases this claim on a New York Times story which distorted and confused a chapter I wrote last spring, for a book that was published this summer, with work I am doing this fall on behalf of Senator Obama." From Think Progress:

-- The book, which was in the works for over a year and was written with the help of CAP's in-house progressive historian John Halpin, traces the history and successes of progressive politics in the 20th Century, draws lessons from that history, and then applies those lessons to the big challenges facing the country -- the global economy, global warming, and global security. At the end, there is a sample inaugural address written not "for Mr. Obama," but rather, clearly offered as a literary device to summarize the main arguments in the book.

-- The inaugural address was written and submitted to the publisher in March 2008, during a time when Podesta was supporting Sen. Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign. Podesta re-did the introduction to the book -- but not the inaugural address -- in June when it became clear that Obama would emerge as the nominee.

[...]

UPDATE John Podesta issued this statement tonight:

While I appreciate Senator McCain's plug for my book, the Power of Progress, his charge is a complete fabrication. He bases this claim on a New York Times story which distorted and confused a chapter I wrote last spring, for a book that was published this summer, with work I am doing this fall on behalf of Senator Obama.

The inaugural address in the "Power of Progress" was a literary device I used to sum up the arguments in the book. It was completed well in advance of my work for Senator Obama and has nothing to do with the Obama campaign or pre-transiton [sic]. No one involved in pre-transition work has written one word of any address inaugural or otherwise.

Later that evening, in the same post on The New York Times' Caucus blog in which he reported that McCain's comments in New Mexico were "referring to a story that appeared in The New York Times on Saturday, discussing Mr. Obama's transition planning process," Rohter stated:

According to the [Times] story, "Mr. Podesta has been mapping out the transition so systematically that he has already written a draft Inaugural Address for Mr. Obama, which he published this summer in a book called 'The Power of Progress.' " At the time the book was published, however, Mr. Podesta, originally a supporter of Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton, had not been asked by Mr. Obama to work on transition issues, and the Democratic convention had not yet chosen Mr. Obama as the party's nominee.

Additionally, in a separate October 26 AP article, reporter Matthew Barakat wrote:

Obama's campaign said the claim that he has written an inaugural address is 'completely false.' Spokesman Bill Burton said the reference to an address came from a New York Times report Saturday that former White House chief of staff John D. Podesta had written a draft inaugural speech for Obama and included it in a recent book. Burton said Podesta wrote it as a sample address, not for Obama but for whoever became the nominee.

From the October 25 edition of NBC's Nightly News with Lester Holt:

HOLT: And Kelly, McCain has been repeatedly on the attack. Will he maintain that attack mode all the way to the election?

O'DONNELL: Well, he today even criticized Senator Obama for already having an inaugural address written, according to published reports. So, advisers say the sharp hits, the distinctions, will continue for several days, and then in the final stretch McCain plans to turn to purely positive, talking about his own vision for the country as voters head to the polls. Lester.

HOLT: All right, Kelly O'Donnell tonight. Thank you.

[...]

HOLT: And Lee, we just heard from Kelly with the McCain folks a moment ago, and they seem to believe that Obama is already planning his victory and writing an inauguration speech. Explain to me how Obama plans to play out these next 10 days. Is it more of a defense right now, just protecting what he has?

LEE COWAN (NBC News correspondent): Well, I think in terms of the states that he's going to, in a lot of ways, it's offense. It's going to some of these states -- Joe Biden, for example, in West Virginia, as these mainly -- some of these red states that he is going in to try and be offensive on. But he is being a little defensive in terms of just trying to make sure he doesn't make any mistakes. Almost all these events, I don't know whether you can see, but he uses a teleprompter now at these events -- used to not be the case. He used to just talk extemporaneously. He doesn't do town hall meetings anymore where he's just answering questions off the cuff. So, a lot of it is just keeping the course, don't make any mistakes, and just march towards Election Day -- you know, 10 days away -- without making any mistakes.

HOLT: All right, Lee Cowan in Las Vegas for us tonight. Lee, thank you.

From the October 26 AP article:

McCain also ridiculed reports that Obama is polishing his inaugural address, but he focused on warning activists of the dangers of Democrats pushing for higher taxes and bigger government.

"That's what's going to happen if the Democrats have total control of Washington," McCain told supporters at an Iowa rally. "We can't let that happen."

Democrats, current in control of the House and Senate, are on track for sizable gains in both chambers, aided by the poor economy, President Bush's unpopularity, a lopsided advantage in fundraising and a robust organizational effort in key states by Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama.

In Zanesville, Ohio, as he opened a campaign swing in that crucial battleground state, McCain targeted House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid as vigorously as Obama.

"You can imagine Obama, Reid and Pelosi," he said. "Tax and spend, tax and spend."

McCain also echoed running mate Sarah Palin, who told supporters at a Tampa, Fla., rally that Obama is acting as if he's already won.

"He's measuring the drapes," McCain said in Iowa, where public polls show him trailing Obama in the race for its seven electoral votes. "I prefer to let voters have their say. What America needs now is someone who will finish the race before starting the victory lap."

Network/Outlet
NBC, Associated Press
Person
Kelly O'Donnell, Lester Holt
Show/Publication
NBC Nightly News
Stories/Interests
Barack Obama, John McCain, 2008 Elections
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