CBS scrubs a second McCain flub from interview broadcast
David Edwards and Nick Juliano
Published: Thursday July 24, 2008

Print This  Email This

Update: DNC slams McCain for calling Iraq 'first' post-9/11 conflict

Keeping up with John McCain's foreign policy gaffes is becoming a cottage industry these days, and a progressive radio host has caught another slip-up from the Republican presidential nominee talking about the war on terror.

And keeping those flubs away from viewers is occupying plenty of network news editors' time.

Young Turks host Cenk Uygur noticed that his confusion about the timeline of the "surge" in Iraq wasn't McCain's only gaffe in his interview with CBS news this week. McCain seemed to forget the war in Afghanistan preceded the invasion of Iraq; either that or he didn't think it was a major conflict.

"The fact is we had four years of failed policy. ... We were losing the war in Iraq. The consequences of failure. The defeat of the United States of America in the first major conflict since 9/11 would have had devastating impacts throughout the region and the world," McCain told CBS anchor Katie Couric.

"Was Afghanistan not major enough for him?" Uygur asks.

Like his previous flub, CBS edited this misstatement from its broadcast. The full version of the interview, which only aired online, also saw McCain wrongly crediting the surge with sparking the "Anbar Awakening," in which tribal leaders began to turn against al Qaeda in Iraq.

The Anbar Awakening gaffe was edited out and replaced with McCain's scurrilous attack accusing Democratic nominee Barack Obama of caring more about winning the election than winning a war. Crooks & Liars notes that bit of editing violated CBS's own Standards & Practices because they edited in an answer from an earlier question and changed the meaning of McCain's statement.

The latest bit of tricky editing does not seem to have changed McCain's overall meaning, and virtually all interviews are edited before they are broadcast. It seems the network in this case simply saved McCain from a bit of embarrassment in front of the evening news audience.

Uygur is willing to give McCain the benefit of the doubt in this case, and assumes he does actually know the war in Afghanistan started more than a year before Iraq.

"In all likelihood, this was a simple mental mistake for McCain, among a litany of others recently," Uygur writes. "But it does go toward state of mind. They never saw Afghanistan as a priority."

The Democratic National Committee was less forgiving toward the GOP nominee.

"It is disappointing that John McCain doesn’t recognize that the war in Afghanistan was not only the first major conflict after 9/11, and is in fact a major front in the fight against terrorism," DNC spokeswoman Karen Finney said in an e-mail to reporters a few hours after Uygur's article was posted. "No wonder John McCain doesn’t understand why the American people are looking for new leadership that will bring the war in Iraq to a responsible end so we can direct the resources we need to getting the job done in Afghanistan."

Uygur posted the following video to YouTube Thursday:

This video is from CBS's Evening News, broadcast July 22, 2008.

Download video

A transcript of the exchange follows, with the some parts cut from the CBS broadcast hightlighted:

Couric: Senator McCain, Sen. Obama says, while the increased number of U.S. troops contributed to increased security in Iraq, he also credits the Sunni awakening and the Shiite government going after militias. And says that there might have been improved security even without the surge. What's your response to that?

McCain: [Sen. Obama has indicated that by his failure to acknowledge the success of the surge, that he would rather lose a war than lose a campaign. ...] I don't know how you respond to something that is such a false depiction of what actually happened. Colonel McFarlane (phonetic) was contacted by one of the major Sunni sheiks. Because of the surge we were able to go out and protect that sheik and others. And it began the Anbar awakening. I mean, that's just a matter of history. Thanks to General Petraeus, our leadership, and the sacrifice of brave young Americans. I mean, to deny that their sacrifice didn't make possible the success of the surge in Iraq, I think, does a great disservice to young men and women who are serving and have sacrificed.

They were out there. They were protecting these sheiks. We had the Anbar awakening. We now have a government that's effective. We have a legal system that's working, although poorly. And we have progress on all fronts, including an incredible measure of security for the people of Iraq. There will still be attacks. Al Qaeda's not defeated. But the progress has been immense. And to not recognize that, and why it happened, and how it happened, I think is really quite a commentary.

Couric: A commentary on what?

McCain: That Sen. Obama does not understand the challenges we face. And … not understand the need for the surge. And the fact that he did not understand that, and still denies that it has succeeded, I think the American people will make their judgment....

Couric: Sen. Obama also told me, Sen. McCain, that the money spent on those additional troops, on the surge, might have been more effective had it gone to Afghanistan or even to a better energy policy in the United States. What's your response?

McCain: The fact is we had four years of failed policy. We were losing. We were losing the war in Iraq. The consequences of failure and defeat of the United States of America in the first major conflict since 9/11 would have had devastating impacts throughout the region and the world.