CNN's Sanchez Defends Hit on McCain Over Supporter's 'Bitch' Remark

A night after CNN host Rick Sanchez decided to try to create a scandal over John McCain's failure to rebuke a supporter who referred to Hillary Clinton as a “bitch,” Sanchez on Wednesday declared McCain “should have distanced himself” from the remark and, since he didn't, the incident was newsworthy; McCain castigated CNN for its “biased reporting” and CNN's own media critic, Howard Kurtz agreed “his campaign has a point. That little incident was pretty badly hyped by Rick Sanchez.”

ABC got into the hype too as anchor Charles Gibson introduced a story on “another bit of controversy in the presidential race” which “involves the reaction of Senator John McCain when a lady at a town meeting asked him a question that contained a derogatory reference to Hillary Clinton.”

On CNN's The Situation Room, Brian Todd informed viewers how on “Tuesday evening CNN anchor Rick Sanchez takes about six minutes at the very top of his prime time show, Out in the Open, raising questions about why Senator McCain didn't immediately chastise the woman for insulting Mrs. Clinton like that.” Later, on Out in the Open, Sanchez whined about how in criticizing CNN's news judgment, McCain is “shooting the messenger, blaming me personally and CNN for his present plight.” Sanchez laid bare his agenda as he excoriated McCain for not acting as Sanchez wanted: “His staff has put out several statements today. None of them offers an apology to women in general or to Hillary Clinton specifically.”

Sanchez devoted two segments Wednesday night to “John McCain & the B-Word.” After looking at McCain's reaction to CNN and re-hashing what McCain did and should have done, Sanchez brought aboard left-wing radio talk show host Stephanie Miller to examine when it's okay to use the “B-word.”

Not surprisingly, MSNBC's Countdown with Keith Olbermann devoted a segment to the Monday exchange, at a South Carolina restaurant, between a woman in the audience -- who asked “how do we beat the bitch?” -- and McCain, an incident being pushed by liberal activists.

The story in the 6 PM EST hour of The Situation Room highlighted this line from an e-mail sent to supporters by the McCain campaign: “We need you to stand with John McCain against Rick Sanchez and his friends at CNN and their biased reporting.”

The Tuesday night NewsBusters posting, “CNN's Sanchez Erupts Over McCain Not Rebuking Supporter Who Called Hillary a 'Bitch,'” recounted:

Trying to create a scandal over Republican presidential candidate John McCain's failure to rebuke a woman supporter who called Hillary Clinton a “bitch,” CNN's Rick Sanchez led Tuesday night's Out in the Open with what he insisted was the “relevant and newsworthy” topic as he seriously asked: “Is John McCain done as a result of this?” He later speculated: “Is his campaign dead in the water?” Betraying the skew of those at CNN, Sanchez told guest Amy Holmes: “He could be in trouble for this from women, especially the ones that've been talking to me today in our newsroom who heard this and were offended.” Sanchez's spin matched that of left-wing bloggers, a story in Wednesday's New York Times revealed: “The clip began showing on Web sites like Salon.com, the liberal site TPM.com and others, with bloggers asking why Mr. McCain had not taken the questioner to task.”

Setting up the video, Sanchez haughtily intoned: “You're going to hear a McCain supporter. She refers to Hillary Clinton using really what is a horrible word that is used to do nothing but demean women. Well, at the time, it was a supporter who said that. It wasn't until later on, when we watched the whole tape, which is what you're about to see, that you see McCain's reaction, or lack thereof, that we decided that this is both relevant and newsworthy, and important information to this campaign.” An older woman at an event in South Carolina had asked: “How do we beat the bitch?” An appalled Sanchez complained: “He says 'that's an excellent question,' after somebody refers to Hillary Clinton as a B-word which rhymes with witch.”
CNN's follow-up story during the 6 PM EST hour of the November 14 The Situation Room:
WOLF BLITZER: Right now, John McCain's campaign is having to respond to something someone else said. It involves one woman's use of some foul language, Hillary Clinton, and criticism of CNN. Let's go to Brian Todd. He's following this story. Brian, this has ignited some controversy. Give us the background.

BRIAN TODD: It sure has, Wolf. John McCain's campaign is brushing back hard on a CNN prime time segment, accusing the network of bias. It started with an impromptu campaign stop by John McCain Monday in Hilton Head, South Carolina. A woman uses offensive language in asking how McCain can stop Senator Hillary Clinton's campaign momentum.

VIDEO ATTRIBUTED TO YOUTUBE:
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: How do we beat the bitch?
(LAUGHTER)
SENATOR JOHN MCCAIN: May I give the translation?
(LAUGHTER)
MCCAIN: The way that-
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Senator, I thought she was talking about my ex-wife.
MCCAIN: But that's an excellent question. You might know that there was a, there was a poll yesterday, a Rasmussen poll identified that shows me three points ahead of Senator Clinton in a head to head match up.
(APPLAUSE)
MCCAIN: I respect Senator Clinton. I respect anyone who gets the nomination of the Democrat Party.

TODD: The exchange plays out over less than a minute. Tuesday evening, CNN anchor Rick Sanchez takes about six minutes at the very top of his prime time show, Out in the Open, raising questions about why Senator McCain didn't immediately chastise the woman for insulting Mrs. Clinton like that.

RICK SANCHEZ, ON TUESDAY'S OUT IN THE OPEN: Is John McCain done as a result of this? Is this going to become a viral video?

TODD: A top official in the McCain campaign tells CNN he believes the Senator did a good job trying to diffuse the situation, that it goes without saying the woman's remark was offensive, but it's not McCain's job to come to Mrs. Clinton's defense. The McCain campaign accuses Rick Sanchez of sensationalizing the exchange in hopes of generating a news story. They used the segment as a peg for this e-mail to supporters to stand with McCain against Sanchez and to make contributions. McCain's campaign later calls for an apology. Sanchez says he has nothing to apologize for.

SANCHEZ: If someone had used this word about Laura Bush or about Senator McCain's wife or about anybody else, be they Democrat or Republican, there are many people out there who would have said that's an offensive word, and the Senator should have distanced himself not only from the statement made against Senator Clinton, but against the use of the word itself. And at no time does it seem that he does that, and that's the reason we did the story.

TODD: We asked Howard Kurtz of CNN's Reliable Sources and the Washington Post about the blow-up.

HOWARD KURTZ: It probably would have been better for John McCain to have not laughed along with the crowd and talked about that being an excellent question. [edit jump] But his campaign has a point. That little incident was pretty badly hyped by Rick Sanchez. Senator McCain did not embrace the "B" word that this woman in the audience used.

TODD: McCain has been criticized for some of his more candid public moments.

MCCAIN, APRIL 18: That old Beach Boys song, Bomb Iran? You know, bomb, bomb, bomb, anyway.

TODD: But he has also publicly shown solidarity with Hillary Clinton, visiting Iraq with her, making other appearances. And the McCain campaign says he's expressed his utmost respect for Mrs. Clinton several times on the campaign trail. We contacted Mrs. Clinton's campaign for response to the woman's remark and Senator McCain's reaction. Her spokesman had no comment. A short time ago, Mr. McCain addressed the issue at a stop in Phoenix. Listen.

MCCAIN: I did. You know, I walked into a restaurant in South Carolina. There was a number of people there. They asked questions. She made a comment. I made light of the comment, and then I said very seriously, I treated and continue to treat Senator Clinton with respect. And I've said that many times. I'm sure that's good enough for the American people, even if it's not good enough for CNN.

TODD: Senator McCain responding there once again. And the campaign has reiterated that this woman was not a supporter, stressing again that it was an impromptu campaign stop, and one of the McCain spokespeople told me that the people in the restaurant essentially turned it into a de facto town hall meeting, Wolf.
Sanchez set up a segment on the November 14 Out in the Open:
Tonight, John McCain is not apologizing, not apologizing. Last night, we showed you a clip of one of his supporters calling Hillary Clinton the B-word that rhymes with witch. You know the word well. Well, the Senator, he laughs, and then he calls it a good question. All right. So maybe he made a mistake. And most people in this situation would normally come back the next day and say, you know, I probably should have distanced myself from that comment and I shouldn't have laughed, and maybe I shouldn't allow any woman to be called such a demeaning word. Nope! Instead, today Senator McCain is e-mailing the comment with the Hillary bash to donors and asking them to send more money to his presidential campaign.

He's also, of course, shooting the messenger, blaming me personally and CNN for his present plight. Our staff has put out several statements, I should say, his staff has put out several statements today. None of them offers an apology to women in general or to Hillary Clinton specifically. No matter what you think of Hillary Clinton, and we know that she can be very polarizing, she is a U.S. Senator, the former First Lady of the United States. Should her being called that be turned into a joke by a presidential candidate? Fair question. There's a lot to get to here....
ABC got into the topic and the MRC's Brad Wilmouth corrected the closed-captioning against the video to provide this transcript of the piece on the November 14 edition of ABC's World News:
CHARLES GIBSON: Well, there is another bit of controversy in the presidential race tonight. Not so much about what a candidate said, but what he didn't say. It involves the reaction of Senator John McCain when a lady at a town meeting asked him a question that contained a derogatory reference to Hillary Clinton. ABC's Kate Snow reports.

KATE SNOW: The question came at a quick meet and greet at Trinity Restaurant in Hilton Head, South Carolina.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: How do we beat the bitch?

SNOW: McCain chuckled.

MCCAIN: May I give the translation?

SNOW: Then said-

MCCAIN: But that's an excellent question.

SNOW: Some voters we spoke with today took issue with the question, and thought Senator McCain should at least have reprimanded the questioner for her choice of words.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: He's running to be the leader of our country. He should have certainly used some leadership at that moment.

SNOW: And top Republican strategists agreed McCain might have handled it differently.

TUCKER ESKEW, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: If there's anything he could have done different, it would have been to more quickly rebuke that choice of words, and then answer the question, which is: How are we going to beat her?

SNOW: But a conservative talk radio host said the criticism was overblown.

SEAN HANNITY, TALK RADIO HOST: Do you notice, I mean, there was humor, there was laughter, there was, he didn't say it. He's not going there.

SNOW: McCain's campaign noted he did quickly pivot at the restaurant.

MCCAIN: I respect Senator Clinton.

SNOW: And today, he reiterated his respect for her, but with a veiled swipe.

MCCAIN: People come to gatherings, and they voice their opinion. I don't tell them what to say.

SNOW: But the "B" word question points to something larger: a current of anti-Clinton sentiment that is very real. We found it in Medina, Ohio.

SNOW TO THREE WOMAN: Can any of you see voting for Hillary Clinton?

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: No.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #2: No way, no how.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: No way.

SNOW: Just don't like her?

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #3: No. [edit jump] I'm not so sure that she is for the family.

SNOW: In that key state, 44 percent of registered voters say they have an unfavorable opinion of Senator Clinton, and nationally, Clinton remains a highly polarizing figure -- her strongest supporters intense in their support; her biggest detractors, even more intense. And the McCain campaign is trying to use all of that negativity to their advantage. In fact, today, in an e-mail to supporters, McCain's campaign manager denounced all the coverage of this questioner, but then went ahead and asked supporters for money.
Brent Baker
Brent Baker
Brent Baker is the Steven P.J. Wood Senior Fellow and VP for Research and Publications at the Media Research Center