Gibson, who is scheduled to interview Palin, let several McCain falsehoods go unchallenged

››› ››› MATT GERTZ

ABC's Charlie Gibson posed no challenge to several false, contradictory, or dubious assertions made by Sen. John McCain during a September 3 interview. Gibson is scheduled to interview McCain's running mate, Gov. Sarah Palin, later this week.

On the September 7 edition of Fox News Sunday, Rick Davis, campaign manager for Sen. John McCain, asserted that Gov. Sarah Palin would not be interviewed until "at which point in time we feel like the news media is going to treat her with some level of respect and deference." ABC News subsequently announced that World News anchor Charlie Gibson had secured the first television interview with Palin following her vice-presidential nomination, which is scheduled to air on September 11 and 12. Indeed, during a September 3 interview with McCain, Gibson posed no challenge to several of his false, contradictory, or dubious assertions. For example, Gibson did not challenge McCain on his false claim that when Palin became governor of Alaska, she said, "No more [earmarks] for my state"; Gibson offered no rebuttal to McCain's claim that Sen. Barack Obama has never "taken on the special interests in his party on a major issue"; and did not note that McCain previously reportedly had a different view from his current one of the relevance of a governor's experience presiding over his or her state's National Guard.

Earmarks and the "bridge to nowhere"

As Media Matters for America documented, Gibson did not challenge the claim by McCain that after Palin obtained millions of dollars in earmarks as mayor of her Alaskan hometown, Wasilla, she "learned that earmarks are bad" when she became governor and said, "No more for my state." At no point did Gibson point out that as governor, Palin, by her own account, requested nearly $200 million in earmarks for Alaska just this year. Other media outlets have noted Palin's earmark requests as governor; The Seattle Times reported on September 2 that her earmark requests for 2008 amounted to "more, per person, than any other state."

Gibson also left unchallenged McCain's claim that Palin said, "We don't want the 'bridge to nowhere.' " In fact, as The Seattle Times article reported, after "appear[ing] to embrace" the "so-called 'Bridge to Nowhere' " during her run for governor, "A year later, as criticism of earmarks mounted, Palin began to speak out against earmarks" but nonetheless kept the federal money for Alaska and used the funds for other projects.

Obama "has never taken on the special interests in his party on a major issue ever"

Gibson allowed McCain to claim without challenge that Obama "has never taken on the special interests in his party on a major issue ever." Gibson did not note that Obama has refuted that claim by pointing to his work dealing with ethics reform and education, and that media, including ABC News, have reported that Obama has taken positions that were not popular with interests or politicians within his party. reported on Obama's proposal for merit pay for teachers in a November 20, 2007, analysis by Teddy Davis and Sunlen Miller headlined "Obama Bucks Party Line on Education":

Obama's willingness to boost teacher pay based on performance separates him from his Democratic rivals, including Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., who supports school-based, rather than individual teacher-based, merit pay. The broader political significance of his unorthodox proposal is that it gives him an opportunity to buttress his argument that he is the Democrat best positioned to bring people together for purposes of challenging the status quo.

Even author David Freddoso wrote in his book, The Case Against Barack Obama, that an ethics reform bill co-sponsored by Obama, The Federal Funding Accountability and Transparency Act of 2006, was "a real accomplishment for Obama in the name of reform" and "a small victory for open government and bipartisanship" that was "approved over the objection of some of Capitol Hill's worst porkers." From Pages 93-94 of Freddoso's book:

Obama's reform record is not a complete wash. His most notable accomplishment in Washington was the bill he co-sponsored with Republican senator Tom Coburn, the conservative junior senator from Oklahoma. The Federal Funding Accountability and Transparency Act of 2006 -- also known as "Google for Government" -- helped expose to the sunlight the congressional practice of "earmarking," in which members of Congress direct federal spending to parochial projects -- swimming pools, bridges to nowhere -- that often have no national importance or congressional authorization.63 Coburn and Obama's bill, approved over the objection of some of Capitol Hill's worst porkers, really was a small victory for open government and bipartisanship.

This was a real accomplishment for Obama in the name of reform -- the second such accomplishment of his career after the Illinois ethics law.

In a June 16 interview with ABC News senior national correspondent Jake Tapper, Obama cited "ethics reform legislation" as an example of a time he "worked across the aisle in such a way that entailed a political risk." According to the Nexis database, the exchange was aired on the August 12 edition of World News, in a segment introduced and concluded by Gibson. From the interview transcript:

TAPPER: But have you ever worked across the aisle in such a way that entailed a political risk for yourself?

OBAMA: Well, look, when I was doing ethics reform legislation, for example, that wasn't popular with Democrats or Republicans. So any time that you actually try to get something done in Washington, it entails some political risks.

Obama also cited ethics reform as an example of when he "went against party loyalty, and maybe even went against your own best interest, for the good of America" during the August 16 Saddleback Presidential Forum, moderated by pastor Rick Warren:

WARREN: We've talked about this before, about the common good, and the common ground and common good. Can you give me an example of a time -- you know, I've seen that a lot of good legislation gets killed because of party loyalty. Can you give me a good example where you went against party loyalty, and maybe even went against your own best interest, for the good of America?

OBAMA: Well, you know, I'll give you an example that, in fact, I worked with John McCain on, and that was the issue of campaign ethics reform and finance reform. That wasn't probably in my interest or his, for that matter, because the truth was that both Democrats and Republicans sort of like the status quo. And I was new to the Senate and didn't necessarily engender a lot of popularity when I started saying, you know, we're going to eliminate meals and gifts from corporate lobbyists. I remember one of my colleagues, whose name will be unmentioned, who said, where do you expect us to eat, McDonald's? I thought, well, actually, a lot of your constituents probably do eat at McDonald's, so that wouldn't be such a bad thing.

But I think that we were able to get a bill passed that hasn't made Washington perfect, but at least has started moving things forward. I guess the other example where I'm not sure that this was a -- more of a partisan issue, but it was something I felt very deeply, was when I opposed the initial decision to go into war in Iraq. That was not a popular view at the time. And I was just starting my campaign for the United States Senate. And I think there were a lot of people who advised me, you should be cautious. This is going to be successful. The president has a very high approval rating and you could end up losing the election as a consequence of this.

Further, during a February 11 Politico/WJLA-TV interview, when Politico editor-in-chief John Harris asked Obama to "[n]ame some issues where you've been willing to stand up against your party," Obama responded, "education":

HARRIS: Senator, we've got a question that goes right to that. The likely Republican nominee, Sen. McCain, has regularly stood up against his own party and has some real scars that he's wearing because of it, when he thought it was in the national interest to do so. Name some issues where you've been willing to stand up against your party, and also take those scars?

OBAMA: Well, look, we've talked about education. We actually had a roundtable here about what we need to do with the schools. I've consistently said, we need to support charter schools. I think it is important to experiment, by looking at how we can reward excellence in the classroom.

Similarly, on the April 27 edition of Fox News Sunday, when host Chris Wallace asked Obama to "name a hot-button issue where you would be willing to buck the Democratic Party line," Obama cited "issues of education" [transcript from the Nexis database]:

WALLACE: As a president, can you name a hot-button issue where you would be willing to buck the Democratic Party line and say, "You know what? Republicans have a better idea here?"

OBAMA: Well, I think there are a whole host of areas where Republicans in some cases may have a better idea.

WALLACE: Such as?

OBAMA: Well, on issues of regulation. I think that back in the '60s and '70s a lot of the way we regulated industry was top-down command and control, we're going to tell businesses exactly how to do things.

And you know, I think that the Republican Party and people who thought about the markets came up with the notion that, "You know what? If you simply set some guidelines, some rules and incentives, for businesses -- let them figure out how they're going to, for example, reduce pollution," and a cap and trade system, for example is a smarter way of doing it, controlling pollution, than dictating every single rule that a company has to abide by, which creates a lot of bureaucracy and red tape and oftentimes is less efficient.

I think that on issues of education, I've been very clear about the fact -- and sometimes I've gotten in trouble with the teachers' union on this -- that we should be experimenting with charter schools. We should be experimenting with different ways of compensating teachers that --

WALLACE: You mean merit pay?

OBAMA: Well, merit pay, the way it's been designed, I think, is based on just a single standardized test -- I think is a big mistake, because the way we measure performance may be skewed by whether or not the kids are coming into school already three years or four years behind.

But I think that having assessment tools and then saying, "You know what? Teachers who are on career paths to become better teachers, developing themselves professionally -- that we should pay excellence more." I think that's a good idea, so --

Alaska National Guard

Gibson did not challenge McCain's repeated citation of Palin's tenure as "commander of the [Alaska] National Guard" as evidence that she has "the qualities and has enough experience to be commander in chief" and "the national security experience and background to be president," or McCain's claim that Palin "has had national security as one of her primary responsibilities." Gibson did not ask McCain to cite any actions Palin took as commander of the Alaska national guard that suggest the "qualities" and "experience" necessary to be commander in chief. Nor did Gibson point out that McCain has previously dismissed a governor's role as commander of his state's National Guard in assessing that person's national security experience.

During a January 30 Republican presidential primary debate, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney stated that "as a governor, you're also a leader. You're the commander-in-chief of your National Guard." Moments later, when asked, "What makes you more qualified than John McCain to run the military as commander-in-chief," Romney replied, in part: "You see, my objective is to keep America the strongest nation on Earth, economically, militarily, and, if you will, from the spirit of our people. I believe I can do that by virtue of a lifetime of experience leading, making decisions." Following Romney's remarks, McCain was asked, "Is Governor Romney ready to be a military commander?" McCain replied: "Oh, I'm sure that, as I say, he's a fine man. And I think he managed companies, and he bought, and he sold, and sometimes people lost their jobs. That's the nature of that business. But the fact is -- but the fact is we're at a time in our history -- we're in a time in our history where you can't afford any on-the-job training."

Additionally, in a September 5, 2007, article, The New York Times reported that McCain "questioned the foreign policy credentials" of Romney. McCain reportedly said that Romney had "nothing in his background that indicates that he has any experience" in "foreign policy or national security," apparently ignoring or dismissing Romney's role as commander of the Massachusetts National Guard while governor:

And for the first time Mr. McCain, who has a lengthy résumé in the Navy and in Congress, questioned the foreign policy credentials of his main rivals for the Republican presidential nomination: Mr. [Rudy] Giuliani, a former New York City mayor and prosecutor, and Mitt Romney, a former Massachusetts governor and a businessman.

"I think the nation respects the mayor's leadership after 9/11, and I do, too, and I think he displayed leadership at a time that Americans needed some steady hand, and I think that his conduct was very laudatory following 9/11," Mr. McCain said, when asked why so many voters identify Mr. Giuliani with the issue of terrorism.

But he went on to say: "I don't think it translates, necessarily, into foreign policy or national security expertise. I know of nothing in his background that indicates that he has any experience in it, with him or Romney."

Obama has "the most liberal extreme voting record of anybody in the Senate"

Gibson failed to challenge McCain's assertion that Obama "has the most liberal extreme voting record of anybody in the Senate." McCain appeared to be referring to the National Journal's ranking of Obama as the "most liberal senator" for 2007, which many conservatives and media figures have repeated without noting the ranking's subjectivity. As Media Matters has repeatedly noted, the National Journal based its rankings not on all votes cast by senators in 2007, but on "99 key Senate votes, selected by NJ reporters and editors, to place every senator on a liberal-to-conservative scale." In contrast, a study by political science professors Keith Poole and Jeff Lewis that used every non-unanimous vote cast in the Senate in 2007 to determine relative ideology placed Obama in a tie with his running mate, Sen. Joe Biden, for the ranking of 10th most liberal senator. Gibson also did not point out that that McCain himself "did not vote frequently enough" to receive a rating in 2007, according to the National Journal.

Nor did Gibson note that according to a presidential support study by the nonpartisan publication Congressional Quarterly, an earlier version of which McCain himself cited in 2003 as evidence that "the president and I agree on most issues," McCain has voted with President Bush 90 percent of the time during Bush's presidency, including 95 percent of the time in 2007. In a January 13 article (accessed via Nexis), Congressional Quarterly reported that "McCain's 95 percent support [for Bush] score for last year was the highest in the chamber."

From the transcript of Gibson's September 3 interview with McCain:

GIBSON: Senator, since I've been following politics, every single presidential nominee has said that the first quality they look for in a vice presidential pick is the capability and the readiness to take over as president.

Can you look the country straight in the eye and say Sarah Palin has the qualities and has enough experience to be commander in chief?

McCAIN: Oh, absolutely. Having been the governor of our largest state, the commander of their National Guard, she was once in charge of their natural resources assets, actually, until she found out there was corruption and she quit and said it had to be fixed.


GIBSON: But you criticized, for a long time, Sen. Obama...

McCAIN: Sure.

GIBSON: ... based on his lack of experience...

McCAIN: Sure.

GIBSON: ... in your words...

McCAIN: Yes.

GIBSON: ... with the foreign policy area. Jan. 6, I'm quoting you, "Sen. Obama does not have the national security experience and background to be president."

McCAIN: I said he didn't...

GIBSON: Sarah Palin does?

McCAIN: I said that he didn't have the judgment. He doesn't have the judgment. He didn't have the judgment on Iraq. He still refuses to acknowledge that the surge has succeeded.

Gov. Palin knows the surge has succeeded. She's the commander of the Alaskan National Guard. He said that Iran was a tiny problem. He's never visited south of our border. He has no experience on these issues.

She has been in charge and she has had national security as one of her primary responsibilities. Sen. Obama has never had a position of responsibility to do with many of those responsibilities. I'm proud of her vision. I'm proud of her strength. And everybody knows energy is a key element in American strength and future. She knows how to address that issue.

GIBSON: You had many people to consider. Sen. Lieberman, who has spent a lifetime in government.

McCAIN: Yes.

GIBSON: Gov. Romney, who has had large executive experience. Tom Ridge, who has served in so many different capacities.

And you feel she's more qualified than any of them.

McCAIN: Of course, I think, overall, she's by far the best candidate. And, again, being governor with an 80 percent approval rating of America's largest state, I think, is a very significant plus.

And by the way, if you'd talk to the other governors who have worked with her, they're very impressed with her. They all give her very high marks, very high marks.

In the U.S. Senate, Sen. Obama has the most liberal extreme voting record of anybody in the Senate.

Gov. Palin has appointed Democrats, independents. She has reformed their government.

Sen. Obama comes from the old Chicago machine politics and has never taken on the special interests in his party on a major issue ever. She's taken them on time after time. That's what Americans want.

GIBSON: It says "Country First" all over the convention hall, as you'll see when you go in there tomorrow night, probably seen pictures of it, it says "Country First."


GIBSON: Earmarks...[Palin] got $27 million in earmarks for her small town. You have talked about them in pernicious terms that you campaign. So why are they OK for them?

McCAIN: And then she learned that earmarks are bad. I know lots of people that are converts. And then when she became governor, she said, "No more for my state." She said, "We don't want the 'Bridge to Nowhere.'"

She, of course, understood, over time, how terrible and pernicious these earmarks are and how great an evil they are, and I'm glad she took the position that she did, against the old bulls in her own party.

GIBSON: Gave a speech or spoke at a Pentecostal church not long ago, said, "Our national leaders are sending U.S. soldiers," talking about Iraq, "on a task that is from God." "From God." Do you agree?

Charlie Gibson, Sarah Palin
John McCain, 2008 Elections
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