"No Conversations" About Troop Ad: McCain Camp--BND's Further Thoughts

Posted by: David Kiley on July 31, 2008

Given the McCain campaign’s vehement denials about ever discussing an ad/messaging strategy that would have bashed Sen. Barack Obama for visiting wounded troops in Germany this month [The New Normal: McCain’s Desperate Ad Hours], I thought it fair to hear in detail the McCain campaign’s explanation, and to go back to my original source for elaboration. I also sought, unsuccessfully, to find secondary sources to back up my original source.

I spent quite a while on the phone with Taylor Griffin, a spokesman for the McCain campaign.

The McCain campaign insists that no conversations took place about ads or campaign communication that would have cast Senator Obama in a bad light for visiting the troops while on a campaign trip about which the McCain campaign has been highly critical.

Griffin cites the following reasons why this couldn’t and wouldn’t be true.

1. The McCain campaign was not aware of the Obama visit to the troops in Germany beforehand, and neither was the traveling press with Obama. Therefore, the campaign could not have prepared a strategy around the trip. By the time they were reacting to his skipped visit of the troops, there was no reason to have talked about any other scenario.

2. Barack Obama has frequently visited the troops, including wounded troops at Walter Reade Hospital, as well as in Afghanistan and Iraq. Sen.. McCain has always praised him for doing so. The campaign has said that there is never a reason not to visit the wounded troops, which is why it reacted so strongly to his decision not to see the troops in Germany.

3. John McCain visited the same hospital in Germany during his last trip to Europe, so it would have been crazy to criticize Sen. Obama for doing so. [It is worth noting here that Sen. McCain, according to his spokesman, was on a Senatorial trip, not spending campaign funds as Sen. Obama was. The rules for visiting troops are different when spending campaign funds.]

I went back to my original source with whom I spoke last weekend to make sure I had understood what he was saying. He clarified that he’d heard about discussions of a possible ad from a McCain adviser, not literally that a script was in place. My language about an ad “ready to go,” was meant to be figurative to describe the campaign’s willingness to rip Obama no matter what he had done, according to the campaign adviser to spoke with my source. It may be worth noting that I originally called this source, an experienced GOP lobbyist and strategist, to ask him his viewpoint about the sharp turn the McCain campaign had taken in much more negative attacks on Obama. The information was not fed to me deliberately or proactively. However, I have not been able to find a secondary source to back up the original source. Subsequent calls to a couple of other sources today were greeted with a much greater sense of nervousness because of the intense scrutiny around this issue inside the McCain campaign.

This leaves me with little ammunition to buttress the original assertion, especially in the face of the fierce denials by the McCain campaign.

There is a huge amount of smoke being blown by both campaigns, each trying to define the other in the most negative terms possible. Indeed, my original blog-post enumerated some of the examples of other media outlets and www.factcheck.org citing the McCain campaign in recent days for broadcasting ads that just don’t hold up to even basic scrutiny. The Obama campaign has at times also drawn fire from media outlets and www.factcheck.org. The campaign reflexively disregards any organization that calls them on the facts.

But I do admit that my source’s original assertion should have been backed up by reliable secondary and tertiary sources before going into the blog entry, especially since it hit close to the bone for the McCain campaign.

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Reader Comments

Tim D

July 31, 2008 11:29 PM

So let me get this straight. You, the "Senior Correspondent," originally you had said:

"What the McCain campaign doesn’t want people to know, according to one GOP strategist I spoke with over the weekend, is that they had an ad script ready to go if Obama had visited the wounded troops saying that Obama was...wait for it...using wounded troops as campaign props."

There is no indication here that this is a possibility or a rumor, and certainly none of the journalistic skepticism that should be the hallmark of any "Senior Correspondent." People should KNOW that the McCain camp HAD AN AD SCRIPT READY.

Even the slightest amount of objectivity or skepticism would have told you that this is not true. The Obama camp had kept their schedule entirely secret; Obama had visited many hospitals before, and had even done so in Iraq, and there was no criticism then; and there's just the sheer implausibility that someone of McCain's experience and known convictions would have objected to someone visiting the troops without (as it would have had to be) press or campaign staff in attendance.

Now you say your source "clarified" that "he'd heard about discussions of a possible ad." Your earlier report gave the impression he had direct knowledge. Now he "heard about" it. Did he hear about it from someone else who had heard about it? So at best it was second-hand knowledge, maybe third-hand or more. Plus there was not a planned ad, there were discussions of a possible ad. So some Joe in the McCain camp could have raised the possible--and been shot down immediately--and this would have constituted "discussions of a possible ad." And what was this GOP strategist? What kind of GOP strategist would be leaking information clearly damaging to the campaign? Or is this just someone in an ad agency that had a loose relationship with the campaign?

Admit it. Your adulation of Obama led you to rush to "press" with something that no "Senior Correspondent" should have let pass. You blew it. Own up to it. Don't say you now have "little ammunition to buttress the original assertion." You never should have alleged it, and you should retract it.

Rook

August 1, 2008 07:55 AM

I'd be up-in-arms if someone was making base-less accusations of a serious nature about me, to be honest. The fact that some Republicans got antsy when they got asked questions about something they didn't know about- something that sounded dangerous- is little basis for an 'assertion'.

Yes, both sides have been blowing smoke; It's a political race, that's exactly what's expected. This article includes no real news to anyone, really. If you'll bear with me, I have a theory to this mystifying article.

There is no "...experienced GOP lobbyist and strategist..." merely your inability to admit to your own mistake; jumping the gun and pounding out an article based on rumors and nothing else.

Now, this is no attack. I'd like to think of it as a reality-check. If you'd resort to the "pass-the-buck" strategy shared by the entirety of the Fox News (an oxymoron) network, then how do you expect to be taken seriously, as I assume you wish to be, given such lengthly and involving articles?

As a matter of personal opinion, risking its journalistic taboo, I believe you should either ask your referenced source to come forward to reinforce your testimony, or admit your own fault in abandoning journalistic protocol.

With all due respect,
-Rook

Person of Choler

August 1, 2008 10:57 AM

Mr. Kiley, don't feel bad; you did your work well and scored points on McCain. More people will be aware of your hit on him than will know about your back pedaling.

That said, it would perhaps have been "fairer" had you cross checked your source before publishing, rather than after. Is it standard practice to wait for vehement denials of stories before looking for confirmatory information? I've never been to journalism school, so I wouldn't know

Now, it will be fun to read the verbal gymnastics of the left wing commentariat as they try to prove that the monosourced rumor you propagated is in fact true.

Jerry

August 1, 2008 11:09 AM

Why in the world do you not link to this "clarification" from the original attack? Why didn't you ask the campaign before running the attack? Their explanations sound pretty solid.

From Kiley: we have

frank loweser

August 4, 2008 09:05 AM

I read the original post, of course, and it clearly says that the assertion was based on one source. So, what's the mystery? Blogs I read are not the same as news articles.

But let's be real here. Kiley gave us all the info from both sides for us to make up our minds with. McCain meanwhile is sticking to the lying ad messages he put out despite being called on them by numerous media outlets and www.factcheck.org.

McCain said last week, when questioned, that he had never heard of www.factcheck.org. This, from a guy who can't figure out e-mail either.

I used to like McCain. I voted or him in the primary in 2000. I don't even know who this guy is anymore

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News, opinions, inflammatory meanderings and occasional ravings about the world of advertising, marketing and media. By marketing editor Burt Helm, Innovation Editor Helen Walters, and senior correspondent Michael Arndt.

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