At least 15 CNN reports between November 10 and November 22 referencing Sen. John McCain's appearance at a November 13 rally in support of Sen. Saxby Chambliss' re-election bid failed to note that McCain reportedly criticized as "worse than disgraceful" and "reprehensible" a campaign ad Chambliss used during his 2002 race against then-Sen. Max Cleland. The only exceptions to this pattern occurred on November 13, when CNN's Rusty Dornin stated in two separate reports that McCain's recent appearance in support of Chambliss "raised eyebrows" and was "a little bit ironic," given McCain's previous criticism of Chambliss' ad.
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Between November 10 and November 22, CNN has repeatedly made reference to Sen. John McCain's appearance at a November 13 rally in support of Sen. Saxby Chambliss' (R-GA) re-election bid. But in at least 15 of those reports CNN failed to note that McCain reportedly criticized as "worse than disgraceful" and "reprehensible" a campaign ad Chambliss used during his 2002 race against then-Sen. Max Cleland (D-GA). The only exceptions to this pattern occurred on November 13, when CNN correspondent Rusty Dornin stated in two separate reports that McCain's recent appearance in support of Chambliss "raised eyebrows" and was "a little bit ironic," given McCain's previous criticism of Chambliss' ad.
Chambliss' 2002 ad featured images of Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein and asserted that Cleland -- a decorated Vietnam War veteran and triple amputee as a result of injuries from a grenade explosion -- "says he has the courage to lead. But the record proves Max Cleland is just misleading." In a July 3, 2003, article (accessed via the Nexis database), The Washington Post reported that McCain "denounced" the ad "[i]mmediately," and quoted him saying: "I've never seen anything like that ad. ... Putting pictures of Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden next to a picture of a man who left three limbs on the battlefield -- it's worse than disgraceful, it's reprehensible."
In a report that aired during the 4 p.m. ET and 6 p.m. ET hours of the November 13 edition of CNN's The Situation Room, Dornin stated that "McCain's appearance with Chambliss has raised eyebrows," and noted that "McCain rebuked Chambliss publicly for" his 2002 ad, "calling it 'reprehensible.' " Likewise, on the November 13 edition of CNN Newsroom, Dornin reported that McCain's appearance in support of Chambliss was "a little bit ironic because in the 2002 election, Chambliss had a campaign ad that really slammed his opponent" and McCain "ended up rebuking Chambliss after that campaign."
CNN anchors and correspondents both prior to and following Dornin's reports have mentioned McCain's appearance for Chambliss without noting McCain's prior criticism of Chambliss' ad. On the November 10 edition of CNN's Situation Room, Blitzer reported that McCain was "getting ready to campaign down in Georgia for his friend Saxby Chambliss." And in a November 19 report on The Situation Room, Dornin stated that Chambliss "scored Senator John McCain last week in his first post-election political speech" and aired comments by Chambliss referring to McCain as "the honorable John McCain," and by McCain stating that Chambliss "is doing what we Republicans should have done for eight years."
Other CNN reports that mentioned McCain's participation at the Chambliss rally but not McCain's reported criticism of Chambliss' 2002 ad include:
- The November 22 edition of Saturday Morning News.
- The November 21 edition of The Situation Room.
- The 10 a.m. ET hour of the November 21 edition of CNN Newsroom.
- The November 19 edition of Lou Dobbs Tonight.
- The November 14 edition of American Morning.
- The November 13 edition of CNN Election Center.
- The November 13 edition of Lou Dobbs Tonight.
- The November 11 edition of The Situation Room.
In a November 23 article, CNN.com also reported that McCain "returned to the trail with Chambliss just nine days after losing the presidential election to Obama," but did not note his prior reported criticism of Chambliss' ad.
Media Matters for America has previously documented that Newsweek and The Atlanta Journal-Constitution also did not mention McCain's reported criticism of Chambliss' ad in articles referencing McCain's appearance at the Chambliss campaign rally.
From the 4 p.m. ET hour of the November 13 edition of The Situation Room:
WOLF BLITZER (host): Senator John McCain is back out on the campaign trail right now. Let's immediately go to CNN's Rusty Dornin. She's in Cobb County, Georgia. The senator doing some campaigning for a fellow Republican, Rusty -- tell us what we're about to see.
DORNIN: Well, Wolf, the event here is just about to begin. Hundreds have shown up, energized to see the man who might have fallen short of the presidency, but could help put a key Republican in the winner's column.
[begin video clip]
DORNIN: Republicans hope the man who beat Barack Obama in Georgia with 52 percent of the vote in the presidential election can make those numbers a reality for the Senate incumbent, Saxby Chambliss. Chambliss is headed to a runoff against Democratic contender Jim Martin.
Aside from an appearance on Jay Leno, this is McCain's first time in front of an audience since the election. He will stump for Chambliss near Atlanta with a number of other Republican legislators.
CHAMBLISS: As much support as we can get coming into Georgia, just to help us rally the troops, not dictate to folks how to vote, but just to talk about why it's important that they show up on December 2nd.
DORNIN: December 2nd would be the runoff date. Martin says there's no word yet on whether he will get President-elect Obama to shine his star power for him, but he will have one hundred Obama workers sent in from other states and 25 campaign offices at his disposal.
MARTIN: We've been able to open up 25 offices or more across the state, taking advantage of the same energy and resources that he has. So, he's been very helpful to us. Whether he'll be able to come to Georgia or not, I don't know.
DORNIN: McCain's appearance with Chambliss has raised eyebrows. In the 2002 campaign, Chambliss ran a commercial slamming his opponent, a former Vietnam vet and triple amputee, and questioning his support of homeland security. McCain rebuked Chambliss publicly for that ad, calling it "reprehensible."
[end video clip]
DORNIN: But this is a party fight to hold the Republican line. The Democrats need 60 seats for that filibuster-proof majority -- Wolf.
BLITZER: We're going to stand by and watch this event with you. Want to see what John McCain has to say. All right, Rusty, stand by with us.