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Pounce on McCain's Home Gaffe, Not So Fast with Kerry's in '04 --8/22/2008


1. Pounce on McCain's Home Gaffe, Not So Fast with Kerry's in '04
Four years ago when Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry made his "I actually did vote for the $87 billion before I voted against it" remark, the CBS Evening News instead ran a soundbite of Kerry promising "we're going to build an army of truth-tellers" as it took the newscast six months (!) to finally air the soundbite and the NBC Nightly News didn't play it for nine days. Yet on Thursday night, both newscasts led with what NBC's Lee Cowan declared is "John McCain's personal housing crisis." ABC, which in 2004 aired Kerry's comment a day later, didn't lead Thursday with McCain's failure Wednesday to say how many homes he and his wife own, but devoted a full story-plus to it with Jake Tapper deciding "it could be a seminal moment" in the campaign before George Stephanopoulos relayed how the Obama camp thinks "this is one of those metaphorical moments." Fill-in CBS anchor Maggie Rodriguez led: "John McCain couldn't answer a question most Americans would find simple, how many homes do you own?" NBC's Brian Williams opened with how though "reporters are busy chasing down all available clues" on Obama's VP pick: "This was not the biggest political story of the day. That came from John McCain in response to a question about how many houses he owns. He didn't answer. The actual answer is a sizable number."

2. What About Iraq? NY Times Pollsters Skip Long-Standing Question
After five years of asking respondents how they think things are going in Iraq, New York Times pollsters suddenly switched to Afghanistan, where prospects are worse. Is it because an improving Iraq is losing its potency as an anti-war issue?

3. ABC Touts Gun-Toting Granny's Self Defense Which CBS Ignores
On Thursday's Good Morning America, the ABC morning show provided a detailed account of an 85-year old great grandmother who thwarted a burglar by pulling a gun on him and then kept the criminal at bay while waiting for police. CBS's Early Show, however, has thus far ignored the story. On NBC, Today provided a scant 15 second news brief on Wednesday.


Pounce on McCain's Home Gaffe, Not So
Fast with Kerry's in '04

Four years ago when Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry made his "I actually did vote for the $87 billion before I voted against it" remark, the CBS Evening News instead ran a soundbite of Kerry promising "we're going to build an army of truth-tellers" as it took the newscast six months (!) to finally air the vote for/voted against clip and the NBC Nightly News didn't play it for nine days. Yet on Thursday night, both newscasts led with what NBC's Lee Cowan declared is "John McCain's personal housing crisis."

ABC, which in 2004 aired Kerry's comment a day later when Dick Cheney raised it, didn't lead Thursday with McCain's failure Wednesday to say how many homes he and his wife own, but devoted a full story-plus to it with Jake Tapper deciding "it could be a seminal moment" in the campaign before George Stephanopoulos relayed how the Obama camp thinks "this is one of those metaphorical moments." He recalled 1992, "when it seemed like President Bush didn't know what a supermarket scanner was."

Fill-in CBS anchor Maggie Rodriguez led: "John McCain couldn't answer a question most Americans would find simple, how many homes do you own?" NBC's Brian Williams, back in Manhattan from Beijing, opened with how though "reporters are busy chasing down all available clues" on Obama's VP pick: "This was not the biggest political story of the day. That came from John McCain in response to a question about how many houses he owns. He didn't answer. The actual answer is a sizable number."

CBS's Dean Reynolds maintained that "just as Obama has begun to stress a more populist message he heard news today of an inadvertent and totally unexpected assist in making his point from John McCain in McCain's response to a simple question."

In relaying the McCain campaign's retorts, Reynolds distorted them. First, he cited the "rapid response ad suggesting Obama purchased his home in a deal with a shady Chicago influence peddler." That's not a "suggestion" but a fact. Jake Tapper's take on ABC: "The McCain camp was quick to point out that Obama's one home sits on property he received help in financing from political fundraiser Tony Rezko, who has since been indicted for corruption."

Second, Reynolds reported how the McCain team pointed out that "Obama made $4 million last year and is in no position to complain about McCain's wealth." Reynolds then treated a joking answer from McCain as a serious assessment: "Except that even by McCain's own definition, $4 million would not make Obama rich." Viewers saw a clip of Rick Warren, at Saturday's Saddleback Forum, asking McCain to "define rich," followed by McCain's reply which generated laughter from the audience: "How about $5 million?"

Rewind to Tuesday, March 16, 2004 when, at a campaign event in West Virginia, John Kerry defended himself against a Bush-Cheney ad about his Iraq votes: "I actually did vote for the $87 billion before I voted against it." In a Media Research Center Media Reality Check a week later, "Kerry Gaffes in Front of the Press, But They Don't Notice? Only FNC Covered Kerry's $87 Billion Flub the Day He Said It," the MRC's Rich Noyes recounted the minimal and/or delayed coverage for the ridiculed comment: www.mediaresearch.org

[This item, by the MRC's Brent Baker, was posted Thursday night on the MRC's blog, NewsBusters.org: Newsbusters.org]

By network evening newscast:

# ABC's World News Tonight: Aired it the next night, March 17, in story by Terry Moran.


# NBC Nightly News: Nothing until a story nine days later on Thursday, March 25.


# CBS Evening News: Ran a full story on March 16 from Bill Plante about the anti-Kerry ad and Kerry's response at the West Virginia event. The soundbite of Kerry CBS/Plante chose to feature instead: "I'm not going to worry about them misleading because we're going to just keep pounding away at the truth over the course of these next months and we're going to build an army of truth-tellers in the United States of America."

In early September of 2004, a CBS Evening News story included a bite of President Bush saying what Kerry said, but not until the CBS Evening News of Thursday, September 23 did the program actually air the clip of Kerry, and then only in a story aimed at undermining public perception of Kerry as more of a flip-flopper than Bush. As recited in the September 24, 2004 MRC CyberAlert:

JIM AXELROD: If the polls are right, John Kerry's got some gaps to close in the next six weeks.
JOHN KERRY: I'm going to fight every single day.
AXELROD: And none larger than the decisiveness gap -- 75 percent of voters surveyed now see George Bush as decisive compared to just 37 percent for Kerry. Those numbers suggest Mr. Bush has been successful reducing his opponent to two words: "flip-flop."
NARRATOR IN ANTI-KERRY AD SHOWING KERRY SAILBOARDING: In which direction would John Kerry lead?
AXELROD: Now, while Senator Kerry has certainly supplied some raw material for this characterization-
KERRY AT MARCH 16 EVENT: I actually did vote for the $87 billion before I voted against it.
AXELROD -the President is not without his own, shall we say, changes of mind. Everything from gay marriage to steel tariffs to the constantly shifting rationale for the war in Iraq....

The Sept. 24, 2004 CyberAlert: www.mediaresearch.org

Back to Thursday night, August 21:

# ABC's World News:

JAKE TAPPER: ...But the McCain camp was quick to point out that Obama's one home sits on property he received help in financing from political fundraiser Tony Rezko, who has since been indicted for corruption....
The Obama campaign thinks this gaffe is highly exploitable. It could be a seminal moment in this fight. Often in campaigns even the smallest miscue can take on a life of its own. Perhaps, you remember, Charlie, John Kerry saying he voted for a troop funding bill, before he voted against it.

CHARLES GIBSON: The Obama people did hop on this rather quickly. They may this think is a seminal moment?
GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: Oh, they sure do, Charlie. They think this is one of those metaphorical moments in the campaign. Remember back in 1992, when it seemed like President Bush didn't know what a supermarket scanner was. They said that was metaphoric for him being out of touch. Or John Edwards in the primary campaigns and his $400 hair cut. They think it's going to have that kind of power. The McCain team says no way, that John McCain brand is too well-established. No one will see him as an elitist.


# CBS Evening News:

MAGGIE RODRIGUEZ: Good evening. Katie is on assignment. The presidential campaign came down to this today: a question one candidate wouldn't answer and a question the other candidate couldn't answer. John McCain couldn't answer a question most Americans would find simple, how many homes do you own? Barack Obama wouldn't reveal his running mate, though he confirmed he has now made a choice. So that's where we'll begin tonight, with Dean Reynolds covering the Obama campaign.

DEAN REYNOLDS: This afternoon, Barack Obama moved one tantalizing step closer to answering the big question.
BARACK OBAMA: I made the selection. And that's all you're going to get.
REYNOLDS: Campaigning in Virginia with a possible choice, Governor Tim Kaine, at his side, Obama would not say who he's picked but told Harry Smith of The Early Show how he decided.
HARRY SMITH, TO BARACK OBAMA: In the final analysis, did you find it more intellectual or was it a gut check?
OBAMA: I think it's a combination of things. I think you've got to, obviously feel comfortable with the person.
REYNOLDS: But talk of a running mate was almost drowned out by a loud round of charge and counter-charge between the two camps. Just as Obama has begun to stress a more populist message he heard news today of an inadvertent and totally unexpected assist in making his point from John McCain in McCain's response to a simple question:
REPORTER FOR THE POLITICO: How many houses do you and Mrs. McCain have?
JOHN McCAIN: I think, I'll have my staff get to you. I'll try to tell you about that.
REYNOLDS: When McCain's staff got back, they said the number was at least four homes, but it turns out the real number, according to an independent watchdog project, is at least seven homes. Worth in the neighborhood of $13 million, they are scattered from coast to coast and they put McCain, whose wife inherited a $100 million fortune, well ahead of past chief executives in the private, residential sweepstakes. Obama jumped on McCain's remarks.
OBAMA: If you don't know how many houses you have, then it's not surprising that you might think the economy was fundamentally strong.
REYNOLDS: A national ad on McCain's comment was churned out in record time.
OBAMA TV AD, WITH PICTURE OF THE WHITE HOUSE: Seven houses, and here's one house America can't afford to let John McCain move into.
REYNOLDS: McCain's housing advantage could complicate attempts to cast Obama, who owns one million-dollar home in Chicago himself, as an out-of-touch, arugula-eating elitist. The McCain campaign, caught flat-footed by their candidate's remark and fighting to get the news media on to a different story, fired up its own rapid response ad suggesting Obama purchased his home in a deal with a shady Chicago influence peddler. What's more, argued McCain's people, Obama made $4 million last year and is in no position to complain about McCain's wealth, except that even by McCain's own definition, $4 million would not make Obama rich.
RICK WARREN: Define rich.
McCAIN AT SATURDAY'S SADDLEBACK FORUM: How about $5 million? (Audience laughter)
REYNOLDS: Of obvious concern to Republicans is that the discussion of McCain's wealth comes as many voters are dealing with foreclosures and high gasoline prices. The McCain campaign is clearly nervous that their candidate's own words will now come back to haunt him. And a campaign operative tells CBS News they plan on fighting back by attacking Obama's past associations, including the Reverend Jeremiah Wright. Said this operative, "the gloves are off." Maggie.


# NBC Nightly News:

TEASE, FROM BRIAN WILLIAMS: On our broadcast tonight: Housing issues. Does John McCain really not know how many houses he owns?

BRIAN WILLIAMS: Good evening. Days away now from the start of the Denver Democratic Party convention and tonight Barack Obama says he has made his choice for his vice presidential nominee, only we don't know it yet.
While reporters are busy chasing down all available clues, this was not the biggest political story of the day. That came from John McCain in response to a question about how many houses he owns. He didn't answer. The actual answer is a sizable number. And so the Obama campaign has seized on it. There are indications we'll be hearing a lot more about this starting right about now. NBC's Lee Cowan is with the campaign in Chesapeake, Virginia tonight. Lee, good evening.

LEE COWAN: Well, Brian, the Senator's answer was actually pretty surprising. He essentially said he didn't know how many homes he and his wife Cindy actually owned. And that was an answer the Obama campaign quickly predicted that working class, middle class families would have a pretty tough time understanding. It's John McCain's personal housing crisis. During an interview with Politico.com he seemed not to be sure just how many homes he and his wife actually own.
POLITICO REPORTER: How many houses do you and Mrs. McCain have?
JOHN McCAIN: I think, I'll have my staff get to you, mostly condominiums, I'll have to get back to you.
COWAN: In fact, he and his wife Cindy own at least seven properties in three states, including the one in Sedona, Arizona, where he's currently on vacation. For Barack Obama today in Virginia, it was all too good to resist.
BARACK OBAMA: If you don't know how many houses you have, then it's not surprising that you might think the economy was fundamentally strong. But if you're like me and you got one house or you were like the millions of people who are struggling right now to keep up with their mortgage so they don't lose their home, you might have a different perspective.
COWAN: His staff jumped into action too, releasing a hurriedly produced TV ad entitled "seven" criticizing McCain as an elitist.
OBAMA TV AD: Here's one house America can't afford to let John McCain move into.
COWAN: A McCain spokesman shot back in a statement, saying quote: "Does a guy who made more than $4 million last year and bought his one-million-dollar mansion with the help of a convicted felon, really want to get into a debate about houses?" The "who's more out of touch" game was actually a favorite of Hillary Clinton's who herself used it against Obama.
HILLARY CLINTON: Enough with the speeches and the big rallies!
COWAN: But today, she was in Florida campaigning for him.
CLINTON: Now I'm asking that you work as hard for Senator Obama.
COWAN: Even she's having trouble selling Obama to some of her most ardent supporters. A recent NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll shows 21 percent of her supporters are backing McCain and an additional 27 percent are either undecided or want to vote for someone else.

What About Iraq? NY Times Pollsters Skip
Long-Standing Question

After five years of asking respondents how they think things are going in Iraq, New York Times pollsters suddenly switched to Afghanistan, where prospects are worse. Is it because an improving Iraq is losing its potency as an anti-war issue?

The story accompanying Thursday's release of the latest New York Times/CBS News poll was buried on page 14, perhaps because there's no real news: Obama led McCain by three, 45 to 42 percent, just within the margin of error, which is in line with other recent polling showing a tightening race.

More revealing was the poll's treatment of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan: It contained not a single question about Iraq (the war was cited briefly, when respondents were asked to list favored priorities for their preferred candidate). Thursday article on the survey: www.nytimes.com

Instead, the Times asks about Afghanistan, where things are becoming more unstable: "Question 72: What is your impression of how the war in Afghanistan is going for the United States right now -- very well, somewhat well, somewhat badly, or very badly?" See: graphics8.nytimes.com

[This item, by Clay Waters, was posted Thursday on the MRC's blog, NewsBusters.org: www.timeswatch.org ]

The Times last asked that question in March 2003 -- over five years ago, just as the war in Iraq was beginning. Now that Afghanistan is becoming more unstable, the question reappeared. Again, there were no direct questions about Iraq this time.

In contrast, the Times' last poll, released July 16, asked three direct questions about Iraq:

Question 43: If John McCain were elected President, do you think he would generally continue George W. Bush's policies in Iraq, or not?

Question 73: Looking back, do you think the United States did the right thing in taking military action against Iraq, or should the U.S. have stayed out?

Question 74: How would you say things are going for the U.S. in its efforts to bring stability and order to Iraq? Would you say things are going very well, somewhat well, somewhat badly, or very badly?

That previous poll: graphics8.nytimes.com

The responses to Question 74 showed that by July 16, the gap between those who think the Iraq war is going very badly or somewhat badly (51%) and those who think its going very well or somewhat well (45%) had shrunk to six percentage points. That was the smallest gap since December 2005 (18 polls ago), which was two months before the terrorist explosion at a shrine in Samarra touched off Sunni-Shiite killings. By contrast, a May 2007 poll showed a gap of 53 percentage points.

To summarize: Just as the Iraq question has lost its political potency, the Times switched its polling to Afghanistan. Is it because Afghanistan is now a more reliable source for bad news?

ABC Touts Gun-Toting Granny's Self Defense
Which CBS Ignores

On Thursday's Good Morning America, the ABC morning show provided a detailed account of an 85-year old great grandmother who thwarted a burglar by pulling a gun on him and then kept the criminal at bay while waiting for police. CBS's Early Show, however, has thus far ignored the story. On NBC, Today provided a scant 15 second news brief on Wednesday.

GMA co-host Robin Roberts appeared impressed with Pennsylvania resident Leda Smith. She interviewed the grandmother and listened as the senior citizen recounted arriving home to find someone inside her house: "...I had my gun under a cushion on a chair. I picked up the gun. I turned around and I snapped it shut and I cocked it and when I did that, he turned around and his eyes were kind of big and he said, 'I didn't do it! I didn't do it!'"

[This item, by the MRC's Scott Whitlock, was posted Tuesday afternoon on the MRC's blog, NewsBusters.org: newsbusters.org ]

Generally, the three network morning shows have shown an aversion to positive gun news. In late June, when the Supreme Court historically declared that the Second Amendment is an individual right, Good Morning America, Today and The Early Show devoted a combined three minutes and 33 seconds of coverage. Back on June 27, the day after the decision came down, Early Show, which skipped any reporting of the armed grandmother, featured a mere 30 seconds on the Supreme Court's ruling, a total that came nowhere near the four minutes they used to discuss how to Feng Shui your house for pets.

In comparison, co-host Robin Roberts lauded this most recent example of an American citizen defending her home. She marveled to Ms. Smith, "The person that made a mistake was that 17-year-old that went into your home." And though Today offered very little coverage, reporter Amy Robach did assert that the "85-year-old Pennsylvania grandmother refused to be a victim of crime."

A transcript of the August 20 Today news brief and the August 21 GMA segment, which aired at 7:31am:

NBC's Today, August 20. AMY ROBACH: And this week an 85 year old Pennsylvania grandmother refused to be a victim of crime. In fact, when a teenager broke into her home, she grabbed her gun. She cornered him and then she marched him into the living room and made him call the police.

ABC's GMA, August 21:

ROBIN ROBERTS: But first our next guest is a woman you don't want to mess with. When Leda Smith found a burglar in her home, she didn't panic. When police arrived she was waiting with them with the burglar on the floor. And did I mention Leda has four grandchildren and five great grandchildren. Well, here's the story she'll be telling them for a long time. 85-year-old, though she never thought she'd have to use it [sic] until Sunday afternoon when she came home and saw her back door had been kicked in and an intruder hiding in the corner.

LEDA SMITH: And I motioned with the gun. He went ahead of me out to the hallway to -- in the living room and we got by the telephone. And I said, call the cops.
ROBERTS: The stunned burglar did as he was told.
[911 tape]
INTRUDER: Yes, um, there's a ma'am here and she thinks I broke into the house, which I didn't.
ROBERTS: Then he handed her the phone.
SMITH: This is Leda Smith. And I confirm I caught this boy in my house.
911 OPERATOR: You come home and found a boy, a male in your house that's not supposed to here.
SMITH: Yes, he's here, I got the gun on him.
ROBERTS: She held her aim as a 911 dispatcher transferred the great grandmother to a state police officer.
DISPATCHER: We got a lady on the line who has somebody a possible home invasion possibly at gunpoint. She has him at gunpoint.
SECOND DISPATCHER: What was it again?
DISPATCHER: Possible home invasion and has the actor at gunpoint.
SMITH: Can you come out right away? I left here and this boy was going out my driveway and I came back and he's in my house.
DISPATCHER: Is he there now?
SMITH: Yes, I've got a gun on him.
DISPATCHER: You have a gun on him, okay.
ROBERTS: The granny with the gun skillfully kept the intruder on the floor until police arrived.
SMITH: I was glad I didn't have to shoot him, because I was mad enough to do it.
ROBERTS: And the 17-year-old suspect faces charges of attempted burglary. And the great grandmother who stopped him right in his tracks is with us right now. Mrs. Leda Smith. It is so good to see you and to meet you. You're wondering what all the fuss is about.
SMITH: Yes.
ROBERTS: And you wanted to make a correct. It wasn't the kitchen door. It was--
SMITH: It was the back sun porch door.
ROBERTS: That's very special to you because of the glass.
SMITH: Yes, beveled glass and he broke one.
ROBERTS: And that's hard to replace and that's --
SMITH: They said they couldn't.
ROBERTS: That's what you were thinking. All right. You come home. There's this intruder in your home. You didn't panic. You weren't frightened at all?
SMITH: No. He was but not me.
ROBERTS: No? And you said you had seen him on your way out. He had approached you in front of your house or something?
SMITH: Before I took this lady home, we were going to the house to the kitchen door and when I opened the door to leave, he was standing with his hand up like this like he's going to knock on the door. Well, I knew who he was seeing him at a distance, you know, and he says, "Your house for sale?" I said, "What?" And he says, "Your house for sale? I said, no, it isn't and he turned and walked out the driveway-
ROBERTS: And you left-
SMITH: -And I got in the car and took Ruth and we went to Smithfield.
ROBERTS: And then when you came back you saw that the door had been kicked in?
SMITH: No, I didn't see because my house is -- the kitchen is out like this and one bedroom -- this is indented.
ROBERTS: So when did you know you had an intruder in the home?
SMITH: When I started taking off my jacket because I was going to change my clothes. And it just -- I knew there was someone in there because the door was open into the living room from the sun porch and I never leave that door open and I walked over to the door and I saw the outside door was broke. And there was a vase broken and some things were moved and I thought, he's in here somewhere or somebody is in here. So I laid my jacket down and went through the hallway and I know he heard me coming because I had heels on. And I have hardwood floors. And when I got over to the door I just saw a glimpse of his back sideways going over in the corner and I walked in the door and I looked over at him. He didn't -- he had his face up in the corner of the house like that. And when I passed him, passed the end of the bed and I had my gun under a cushion on a chair. I picked up the gun. I turned around and I snapped it shut and I cocked it and when I did that, he turned around and his eyes were kind of big and he said, "I didn't do it. I didn't do it." First I said, "What are you doing in my house?"
ROBERTS: So you did have -- you did talk to him.
SMITH: "Uh-huh. Yeah, I didn't do it. I didn't do it. They did it." I thought, is there somebody else in there? And I backed up so the wall was behind me and nobody could get behind me."
ROBERTS: You were thinking.
SMITH: I just kept -- kept the gun on him.
ROBERTS: And you had him walk down the hall. You had the gun on him and you got him to pick up the phone and call 911. I want to hear a little more of the 911 call.
[911 tape]
DISPATCHER: We've got a lady on the line who has somebody, a possible home invasion. She has him at gunpoint.
SECOND DISPATCHER: What was it again?
DISPATCHER: Possible home invasion and she has the actor at gunpoint.
SMITH: Yes, I've got a gun on him.
DISPATCHER: You have a gun on him, okay.
ROBERTS: They sound a little bit shocked there. How long did it take for them to come and did they tell you what to do?
SMITH: 15, 20 minutes. That's all.
ROBERTS: 15, 20 -- so what's happening during that whole time?
SMITH: I had him on the floor and they told me to put him on the floor and I stood there behind the couch. He was in front of the couch on the floor. And I just stood there like this and my arm was getting tired. Because I've been taking therapy on my shoulder for three times a week.
ROBERTS: Bless your heart.
SMITH: But every time he moved his head, I would say, "Lay still. Lay still" and he'd turn his head back over and then the police come in and they said that they were out there and I said "We're in here" and they come in and I laid my gun down because they told me to lay it down on 911 and said when you hear them, you lay the gun down and they said, I don't want somebody to make a mistake. Put your hands up a little bit so I did."
ROBERTS: The person that made a mistake was that 17-year-old that went into your home. I know you have some family members that are here. You have your daughter, a granddaughter and a grandson that are here.
SMITH: Great grandson.
ROBERTS: Great grandson, that's right, that are here with you. So four generations of your family and I know they're very happy that you're safe and sound and just proud of what you did and how you took care of your home.
SMITH: They were more excited than I was.
ROBERTS: They were. Mrs. Smith, thank you so much.

-- Brent Baker