NBC News political director: Media taking bait on "lipstick" comment "a joke," "laughable"
On Morning Joe, NBC News political director Chuck Todd said of media coverage of Sen. Barack Obama's comment that "[y]ou can put lipstick on a pig; it's still a pig" while discussing Sen. John McCain's proposed policies: "I think the McCain campaign is laughing, laughing their butts off this morning. That any of us have taken the bait on this lipstick thing, I mean, this is a joke. It is laughable." Time's Jay Carney stated that the McCain campaign's claim that Obama's comments represented "sexism" was "false" and "ridiculous."
On the September 10 edition of MSNBC's Morning Joe, NBC News political director Chuck Todd said of media coverage of Sen. Barack Obama's comment that "[y]ou can put lipstick on a pig; it's still a pig" while discussing Sen. John McCain's proposed policies: "I think the McCain campaign is laughing, laughing their butts off this morning. That any of us have taken the bait on this lipstick thing, I mean, this is a joke. It is laughable." Later, Todd stated that a recent McCain campaign web advertisement which baselessly asserts that Obama's comment was directed at Palin is "literally bait -- catnip -- for us, you know, seeing if we would play with it." Todd also noted that Obama "wasn't talking about Sarah Palin" when he made his comment.
During a later segment on Morning Joe, Time Washington bureau chief Jay Carney stated that the McCain campaign's claim that Obama's comments represented "sexism" was "false" and "ridiculous." Host Joe Scarborough asked Carney what he referred to as a "journalist question": "Obviously, a lot of people would be saying, 'Well, they shouldn't even respond to this lipstick attack from the McCain campaign,' but it's extraordinary when you have one candidate calling another candidate for president 'sexist.' ... How do you not respond to that? How do you not talk about that?" Carney responded: "Well, this is the cynical brilliance of the McCain campaign strategy. They are throwing this stuff out there. It's false. It's ridiculous. It's a common phrase, but they know they've got Obama trapped." Carney also asserted: "I mean, it's just false, and it's fake. But it's designed to throw Gorilla dust up in the air and make the public focus on these issues and wonder whether or not Obama is acceptable as president."
NBC News chief foreign affairs correspondent Andrea Mitchell then asked, "But isn't it working for them?" Carney responded: "Of course it's working. We're talking about it. ... [W]e're supposed to be the referees, but they already -- and one part of their storyline is that the referees are in the tank already. They want us to talk about." Mitchell interjected, saying, "Well, they played the refs early." Carney added: "They played the ref, and they say the ref is biased."
Todd's and Carney's comments follow Time magazine senior political analyst Mark Halperin's criticism  of the coverage on the September 9 edition of CNN's Anderson Cooper 360. Halperin characterized the media attention to Obama's comment as "a low point in the day ... and one of the low days of our collective coverage of this campaign." Halperin also asserted: "Stop the madness. I mean, this is, I think -- with all due respect to the program's focus on this and to what [CNN senior political analyst] David [Gergen] just said -- I think this is the press just absolutely playing into the McCain campaign's crocodile tears."
From the September 10 edition of MSNBC's Morning Joe:
SCARBOROUGH: First, the McCain campaign has just jumped all over this lipstick statement. They have this new ad out talking about, not only lipstick on the Web, but also about sex education for kindergarten students.
SCARBOROUGH: I heard you last night, talking -- I think you were saying that they're always just a day or so late in responding to all these attacks.
TODD: They are. Look --
SCARBOROUGH: Are they going to pay for it?
TODD: I think the McCain campaign is laughing, laughing their butts off this morning that any of us have taken the bait on this lipstick thing. I mean, this is a joke. It is laughable, and you know, look, our mutual friend, [MSNBC executive producer] Chris Licht, and I were having an off-air debate about whether we should've even -- we should be airing the Web ad, because it's such a faux controversy. It's made up out of whole cloth by the McCain campaign.
Hey, look, this is what they're good at. They're good at winning these news cycles, and they beat the McCain -- they have beaten the Obama campaign on these little -- what I call -- sort of shiny metal object days, right? They're able to say, "Oh, look, shiny metal object. Let's not" -- it's another day they're not --
SCARBOROUGH: Well, they're speaking of --
TODD: You know, not talking about Bush and all that stuff.
SCARBOROUGH: Speaking of shiny metal objects, and somebody that always stops for all shiny metal objects on the street -- Willie Geist, can you hold up the Daily News headline that of course is getting an awful lot of play?
GEIST: I guess that means I have to stop reading the sports page. Here it is.
SCARBOROUGH: Yes, stop reading the sports page. So, here we go: "Lipstick Bungle."
SCARBOROUGH: Of course, the New York Post being the New York Post, followed with this one: "Boar War." But you also have the sex education ad that's out there --
TODD: Look, that's a real ad. That's actually airing somewhere.
TODD: The Web ad is literally bait -- catnip -- for us, you know --
SCARBOROUGH: Well, but it's --
TODD: -- seeing if we would play with it. But the sex ed ad is a real ad.
SCARBOROUGH: Yeah, but if -- even if we don't report on it, you and I both know the McCain campaign is going to be hammering this every day until somebody does, because it works for them.
TODD: Well, look, it's what they have to do. I mean, you know, they cannot -- they cannot have -- you know they had to change the trajectory of this race before they even picked Governor Palin. They couldn't have this become a referendum on the Republican Party, a referendum on George Bush. They had to change the subject at all costs, and they do a very good job of it.
Like I said, they win this thing news cycle by news cycle. Ultimately, they're hoping that their news cycle victories will trump the overall environment. I mean, you look at our NBC poll, the reason McCain is tied basically with Obama is he's able to win on the character stuff and all of these character questions and these non-issue based questions, while Obama is able to stay ahead or stay even because the environment's on his side. You know, he's sort of winning despite all the other issues.
SCARBOROUGH: And Andrea -- and Andrea, it's just like Rick Davis said, "We can win this campaign on character, and not as much on issues."
MITCHELL: Well, Chuck, but how damaging is this, and does the Obama campaign have to figure out how to respond because for the last couple of news cycles, they're talking about Sarah Palin and she's getting all the ink, and now, defending themselves against what some would say are ginned-up, erroneous charges of sexism.
MITCHELL: How does Barack Obama get back on message and get some oxygen here?
TODD: Well, he's got -- they have got to stop talking about Sarah Palin. Now, in this case, I think he was trying to stop talk about -- stop to talk about Sarah Palin, and the McCain campaign said, "No, no, no, he was talking about her." I mean, even in the Web ad, they say, "Here's Obama and Sarah Palin." Well, he wasn't talking about Sarah Palin in there, but they want the conversation about her.
SCARBOROUGH: It's unbelievable.
TODD: You know, they really -- they want the conversation about her. They don't want it to be Obama versus McCain; they want it to be Obama versus Palin. And I think, look, like I said, she has this -- become almost this deflector shield for McCain. They're using her very effectively.
SCARBOROUGH: With us now, Time magazine Washington bureau chief Jay Carney. Jay, it's an upside-down world, brother. It's an upside-down world.
CARNEY: It is a crazy, crazy world.
SCARBOROUGH: Let me ask you -- I want to ask you a journalist question. Obviously, a lot of people would be saying, "Well, they shouldn't even respond to this lipstick attack from the McCain campaign," but it's extraordinary when you have one candidate calling another candidate for president "sexist."
SCARBOROUGH: How do you not respond to that?
CARNEY: Well, this is --
SCARBOROUGH: How do you not talk about that?
CARNEY: Well, this is the cynical brilliance of the McCain campaign strategy. They're throwing this stuff out there. It's false. It's ridiculous. It's a common phrase, but they know they've got Obama trapped. He'll get righteously indignant and respond, which means then the discussion is all about whether or not Obama is calling a female --
SCARBOROUGH: Whether he's sexist or not? Right.
CARNEY: -- candidate a pig and whether he's sexist or not. It's not about issues. It's not about other things. They've done the same thing with this education ad they've put out, which is, you know, essentially calling him -- you know, that he wants to teach kindergarteners sex education before they learn how to read. Again, a complete --
SCARBOROUGH: OK. Yeah, teach them sex before they teach reading.
CARNEY: -- a complete -- I mean, it's just -- it's false, and it's fake, but it's designed to throw Gorilla dust up in the air and force the public to focus on these issues and wonder whether or not --
MITCHELL: But isn't it working for them?
CARNEY: -- Barack Obama is acceptable as president.
SCARBOROUGH: It's working. It's working --
CARNEY: Of course it's working. We're talking about it. And the ref -- you know, we're supposed to be the referees, but they already -- and one part of their storyline is that the referees are in the tank already. So --
CARNEY: -- they want us to talk about --
MITCHELL: Well, they played the ref early.
CARNEY: They played the ref, and they say the ref is biased.
SCARBOROUGH: Yeah, and Andrea, of course, the Obama campaign would like to talk about today Sarah Palin getting money from the state of Alaska and I just -- I saw somewhere, like $50 a night, from the state of Alaska for staying at her house. But nobody's going to be talking about that today 'cause they're talking about sex education for 5-year-olds and whether Barack Obama is a sexist or not.
MITCHELL: Well, The Washington Post actually broke that story yesterday. The Anchorage papers picked it up today -- the whole question of the per diem here. She's, you know, advertising herself as a budget-cutter, and I got rid of the plane, and I got rid of the chef and all of this stuff, when, you know, some of these questions have to be looked into and --
CARNEY: Well, the problem with that --
MITCHELL: -- reporters are looking into it now.
CARNEY: -- story is that it's fact-based, and fact-based is clearly not as interesting as fiction-based. And what we've got, we're -- you know, we're now --
PAT BUCHANAN (MSNBC political analyst): It's boring.
CARNEY: We're now in --
SCARBOROUGH: Buchanan just said facts --
SCARBOROUGH: -- are boring.
CARNEY: Yeah, exactly.
BUCHANAN: Well, I mean, it's -- come on. This per diem stuff --
MITCHELL: What has happened to us here, guys?