NBC Excited About Slap at Obama, Not So About Slam on McCain

Last Tuesday, when before a John McCain campaign rally, Cincinnati radio talk show host Bill Cunningham used Barack Obama's full name and derided Obama as “the great prophet from Chicago,” NBC and ABC pounced with full stories on the “controversy.” But after over the weekend, where at an event touted as “One Million for Hillary with Gloria Steinem” the left-wing feminist icon ridiculed John McCain's years as a prisoner of war, ABC did not utter a word about the remarks while NBC on Monday gave them -- sanitized -- a few seconds. A New York Observer posting on Sunday quoted Steinem:
“Suppose John McCain had been Joan McCain and Joan McCain had got captured, shot down and been a POW for eight years. [The media would ask], 'What did you do wrong to get captured? What terrible things did you do while you were there as a captive for eight years?'” Steinem said, to laughter from the audience. McCain was, in fact, a prisoner of war for around five and a half years, during which time he was tortured repeatedly. Referring to his time in captivity, Steinem said with bewilderment, “I mean, hello? This is supposed to be a qualification to be President? I don't think so.”
On the NBC Nightly News, which had run six Cunningham soundbites, David Gregory quoted only a small portion of Steinem:
No McCain endorsement from feminist author and Hillary Clinton supporter Gloria Steinem, who belittled McCain's ordeal as a prisoner of war during Vietnam during a Clinton campaign event in Texas. She was quoted by New York newspapers saying, "this is supposed to be a qualification to be President?" The Clinton team later disavowed Steinem's remarks.
And Gregory only mentioned the comment as he paired it with questions about another supporter of McCain: “Today, he faced questions about the endorsement of Texas televangelist John Hagee. Social conservatives are a key GOP voting bloc, but some of the televangelist's public remarks have offended Catholics.”

Nothing Monday night about the subject on the CBS Evening News, but at least that newscast didn't get excited about Cunningham. Monday's World News did include the show's first story, by Brian Ross, on Obama and Tony Rezko. Sunday's World News did not touch Steinem's remarks, but did show clips of Hillary Clinton on Saturday Night Live.

My February 27 NewsBusters item, “Nets Decry 'Caustic' Talk Host Who 'Compelled McCain to Apologize,'” which showed how NBC put “Damage Control” on screen with McCain's face, recounted:
With cover from John McCain, NBC and ABC on Tuesday night condemned the "caustic" and "mocking" remarks of Cincinnati radio talk show host Bill Cunningham who, on stage before an Ohio campaign appearance by McCain, dared to utter Barack Obama's middle name and call him "a hack" Chicago politician.

Though Hillary Clinton on Sunday, without upsetting journalists, ridiculed Obama with religious overtones ("Let's get unified. The sky will open. The light will come down. Celestial choirs will be singing!"), NBC's Kelly O'Donnell asserted: "Cunningham's nearly ten-minute provocative performance veered into more controversy when he parodied Obama as a religious figure." Cunningham's supposedly offensive line: "When the great prophet from Chicago takes the stand and the world leaders who want to kill us will simply be singing Kumbaya together." O'Donnell maintained that Cunningham's words "compelled John McCain to apologize" and she took for granted that he properly acted "to quickly undo any damage." Damage the media assumed needed undoing.

ABC anchor Charles Gibson teased: "Bashing Obama. John McCain apologizes for remarks made about Barack Obama at a McCain rally." Ron Claiborne charged that "local conservative radio personality Bill Cunningham made caustic references to Barack Obama, calling him a hack politician from Chicago" and presumed Cunningham had a nefarious motive since he "went on to use Obama's Muslim middle name, Hussein, three times. Obama is actually a Christian." At least Claiborne however, unlike NBC's O'Donnell, highlighted conservative disgust with McCain's cave-in to media sensibilities: "Rush Limbaugh wasted no time mocking McCain's apology."...
The second half of Gregory's March 3 NBC Nightly News story on Mike Huckabee and John McCain:
DAVID GREGORY: Despite Huckabee, McCain is moving on, building a general election campaign centered on his national security credentials. Democratic infighting over that very subject is playing into his hands.

JOHN HARWOOD, CNBC CHIEF WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: I think the McCain team is already envisioning the ads quoting Hillary Clinton going over Barack Obama on national security.

GREGORY: But McCain is now in the firing line as well. Today, he faced questions about the endorsement of Texas televangelist John Hagee. Social conservatives are a key GOP voting bloc, but some of the televangelist's public remarks have offended Catholics.

JOHN McCAIN: It's pretty obvious that you get a lot of endorsements in a political campaign. That does not mean I embrace the views of the people who endorse me.

GREGORY: Today, Hagee denied being anti-Catholic. No McCain endorsement from feminist author and Hillary Clinton supporter Gloria Steinem, who belittled McCain's ordeal as a prisoner of war during Vietnam during a Clinton campaign event in Texas. She was quoted by New York newspapers saying, "this is supposed to be a qualification to be President?" The Clinton team later disavowed Steinem's remarks.

McCain is now looking for a knockout blow against Mike Huckabee tomorrow, giving him the chance to battle the Democrats full time. David Gregory, NBC News, New York.
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