Monday, August 18, 2008

Andrea Mitchell: Obama people think that McCain cheated

Andrea Mitchell reported on what the Obama campaign is saying to excuse what they perceive as their guy's weaker answers at the Saddleback Church.
MR. GREGORY: Andrea Mitchell, that's a pretty clear contrast.

MS. ANDREA MITCHELL: Oh, absolutely. And, you know, there was the crisp, immediate, forceful response by John McCain, clearly in a comfort zone because he was with his base. And Barack Obama, taking a risk in going there but seeing an opportunity. And a much more nuanced approach. The Obama people must feel that he didn't do quite as well as they might have wanted to in that context, because that -- what they're putting out privately is that McCain may not have been in the cone of silence and may have had some ability to overhear what the questions were to Obama.

MR. GREGORY: Right.

MS. MITCHELL: He seemed so well prepared.
These guys are so full of themselves and their guy's miraculous abilities that they can't imagine John McCain would actually come off as more forceful and prepared than Obama. So they have started whispering that McCain, with his superhuman powers, somehow escaped the "cone of silence" to overhear the questions.

Mitchell also seems to be missing how illuminating that whispered accusation is. They're at the same time revealing how badly they think their guy did; how impossible it seems to them that their guy could do worse than the old guy; and how little they think of Rick Warren and the Saddleback Church.

I wonder if they even realize how insulting to Rick Warren that accusation is. They're basically saying that the respected pastor allowed one of the guys to cheat. And that John McCain, who knows something about honor, went along with that cheating. And that Pastor Warren has perpetuated a cheat on the American people by saying that McCain couldn't hear the questions ahead of time.

I wonder how Evangelicals, trying to decide between someone who agrees with their position and someone who doesn't, will appreciate these sore-loser insults of Rick Warren.

And Andrea Mitchell, demonstrating that she is missing something in her reportorial skills, just passes along the complaint. David Gregory just goes along with it by saying "Right." It doesn't even seem to get his attention that he's hearing a pretty damaging accusation.

And neither seem interested in doing any reporting of their own by asking the Saddleback guys if there was any way that McCain could have cheated. Better to just put that insinuation out there without doing any reporting to see if there is any justification about that. I guess in Mitchell's view, the job of the reporter is simply to pass along rumors without any research on her own. She did that earlier when the Obama camp was trying to blame Republicans and McCain over the brouhaha when Obama didn't visit wounded soldiers when he was in Germany.
MITCHELL: Clearly, people in the campaign are really angry. They had wanted this to be the final stop on the trip here in Germany, and to do it without the press corps, just to do it on his own. But the objections of the military are that he is now being staffed by campaign aides, not by his Senate staff, who are the people of course with him when he went with Hagel and Jack Reed in Iraq. So, you know, the anger here in the campaign is pretty intense at the Pentagon. They feel that the military are drawing some lines--they're not saying this publicly of course--but drawing lines that they might have drawn for other people. He was planning to just go by himself, not with cameras, not with any entourage, as he had done in Walter Reed in the past in Washington, as he did in Iraq. Joe.

JOE SCARBOROUGH: It's curious, if that's the case, why the campaign didn't make that announcement yesterday, and allowed stories to go like this. I'm sure there's going to be a lot of he said/she said in the days to come about this.

MITCHELL: But they thought that they couldn't win. Yeah. They thought that they were, you know, you know, no-win situation, that the Pentagon, perhaps the military with cooperation from some Republican operatives and, that's the sort of scuttlebutt, that there have been some foreign policy advisers of John McCain with connections in the Pentagon who had something to do with this. But that is, perhaps, just the normal political paranoia of the season.
Just as the Obama people are apparently willing to whisper smears of Rick Warren, they're also willing to do that for the Pentagon officials. And Mitchell, once again, serves as a mouthpiece for those smears without doing any original reporting to debunk or verify the accusations. If all she's going to do is repeat accusatory rumors and all David Gregory is going to do is nod and ignore them, then they're demonstrating no more journalistic skills than middle school gossipy children. I've taught kids that age. I expect more from national network reporters.

UPDATE: It seems that John McCain was not technically in the "cone of silence" for the first half-hour of the show because he was in his motorcade on the way there. McCain and his campaign swear that they weren't listening to the questions on their way there and Rick Warren takes them at their word. He also says that he gave both candidates the first two questions ahead of time.
The pastor spoke to each candidate this week, giving the general themes. Warren decided to tell them each the first two questions in advance, about the three wisest people you know, and the biggest moral failings.
I guess now we'd have to ask the Secret Service traveling with McCain if he was listening to the show on satellite radio.

The McCain campaign felt that Andrea Mitchell's uncritical repetition of the Obama complaints was so unprofessional that they have written a letter to NBC.
Make no mistake: This is a serious charge. Andrea Mitchell is repeating, uncritically, a completely unsubstantiated Obama campaign claim that John McCain somehow cheated in last night's forum at Saddleback Church. Instead of trying to substantiate this blatant falsehood in any way, Andrea Mitchell felt that she needed to repeat it on air to millions of "Meet the Press" viewers with no indication that 1.) There's not one shred of evidence that it's true; 2.) In his official correspondence to both campaigns, Pastor Rick Warren provided both candidates with information regarding the topic areas to be covered, which Barack Obama acknowledged during the forum when asked about Pastor Warren's idea of an emergency plan for orphans and Obama said, "I cheated a little bit. I actually looked at this idea ahead of time, and I think it is a great idea;" 3.) John McCain actually requested that he and Barack Obama do the forum together on stage at the same time, making these kinds of after-the-fact complaints moot.

Indeed, instead of taking a critical journalistic approach to this spin, Andrea Mitchell did what has become a pattern for her of simply repeating Obama campaign talking points.

This is irresponsible journalism and sadly, indicative of the level of objectivity we have witnessed at NBC News this election cycle. Instead of examining the Obama campaign's spin for truth before reporting it to more than 3 million NBC News viewers, Andrea Mitchell simply passed along Obama campaign conspiracy theories. The fact is that during Senator Obama's segment at Saddleback last night, Senator McCain was in a motorcade to the event and then held in a green room with no broadcast feed.
If you look at the times on Ann Althouse's live-blogging of the discussions and cut out the first two questions which Warren had given both candidates ahead of time, there were six questions that were asked in that period when McCain was in the car and could, if lying, had heard the questions: on flip-flops, tough decisions, what faith meant to him, abortion, gay marriage, and stem cells. If the Obama team hadn't figured out that, at an Evangelical forum, he might get questions on faith, abortion, gay marriage, and stem cells, then he should get himself a new set of advisors.