Elisabeth Bumiller's report on the first day of Gen. David Petraeus's testimony before Congress on Iraq focused on the three presidential candidates hearing his testimony and offering their own politically calibrated questions.
But Bumiller, hypersensitive to Republican gaffes, concluded with an apparent slip-up (immediately corrected) by McCain which she tied to a similar previous statement on the part of the Republican candidate.
Mrs. Clinton and Mr. McCain did not appear to make any major mistakes in the hearing, although Mr. McCain did seem to get momentarily tangled over Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia.
It happened just after Mr. McCain asked General Petraeus if he still viewed Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia, a Sunni group, as a major threat, and elicited the response, "It is still a major threat, though it is certainly not as major a threat as it was, say, 15 months ago."
Mr. McCain responded, "Certainly not an obscure sect of the Shiites over all...."
To which General Petraeus replied, "No."
Mr. McCain continued, "Or the Sunnis or anybody else."
Senator McCain was embarrassed last month when, on a trip to Jordan, he stated several times that the Iranians were training Iraqi Qaeda operatives in Iran and then sending them back into Iraq. After one of his traveling companions, Mr. Lieberman, corrected him, Mr. McCain explained that he had meant to say that the Iranians, who are Shiites, were training other extremists.
Columnist Maureen Dowd was in the hearing room and also said McCain "seemed to repeat his recent confusion over tribes."
But is there a double standard on verbal slips for McCain and Obama?
Compare the coverage of McCain's gaffe to Sen. Barack Obama's exchange about Iran with Ryan Crocker, U.S ambassador to Baghdad. Obama at one point says the "Iraqi government" when he almost certainly meant "Iranian government." Unlike McCain, Obama didn't correct himself. The Times didn't quote that part of Obama's testimony and didn't note it in its news coverage.
Here's the relevant portion from the Times' transcript of Obama's exchange with Crocker (emphasis added):
Obama: OK, let me shift to Iran. Just as - and, Ambassador Crocker, if you want to address this, you can. Just as it's fair to say that we're not going to completely eliminate all traces of Al Qaida in Iraq, but we want to create a manageable situation, it's also true to say that we're not going to eliminate all influence of Iran in Iraq, correct?
That's not our goal. That can't be our definition of success, that Iran has no influence in Iraq.
So can you define more sharply what you think would be a legitimate or fair set of circumstances in the relationship between Iran and Iraq, that would make us feel comfortable drawing down our troops?
Crocker: Senator, as I said in my statement, we have no problem with a good, constructive relationship between Iran and Iraq. The problem is with the Iranian strategy of backing extremist militia groups and sending in weapons and munitions that are used against Iraqis and against our own forces.
Obama: Do we feel confident that the Iraqi government is directing these - this aid to these special groups?
Do we feel confident about that, or do we think that they're just tacitly tolerating it? Do you have some sense of that?
Crocker: There's no question in our minds that the Iranian government, and in particular the Quds Force, is - this is a conscious, carefully worked-out policy.