Nets Agitated by McCain's 'Nasty' & 'Childish' Anti-Obama 'Attack' Ad

The McCain campaign's new television ad comparing Barack Obama to shallow celebrities such as Britney Spears and Paris Hilton so upset the network news operations that they all ran full stories, with ABC and NBC leading with the “attack ad.” Though all tried to frame their stories as balanced looks at attacks against each other by both campaigns, it was the McCain ad which prompted the stories, the language used painted McCain as the aggressor and Obama as the victim fighting back (“responded,” “fired back” and “hitting back”) and two of the stories featured condemnations of the McCain ad as “childish” or “juvenile.”

ABC anchor Charles Gibson teased: “Tonight, McCain says Obama is all star power and no substance. Obama says McCain is using scare tactics. It's getting nasty. And it's only July.” Reporter David Wright, who relayed how “Obama told an audience in Missouri the Republicans are just trying to scare voters,” concluded with how “it's getting ugly early, and some Republicans are expressing concern about McCain's tone, in particular one former McCain aide calling the new celebrity ad 'childish.'” (That would be John Weaver.)

On CBS, which put “Attack Ad” on screen, Katie Couric asserted: “John McCain sharpened his attack against Barack Obama, trying to turn his popularity against him. And late today, Obama fired back.” For an expert assessment, Chip Reid went to the Politico's David Mark who declared that the McCain ad “seems a little juvenile.”

Reid began by recounting Obama's media-fueled celebrity status:
Just about everywhere Barack Obama goes, the adoring crowds follow. 200,000 turned out to hear him speak last week in Germany. Here at home, his town hall meetings are standing room only. Political commentators compare him to a rock star. Now the McCain campaign has decided to try to use Obama's celebrity status against him.
NBC Nightly News anchor Brian Williams teased:
On the broadcast tonight, going negative. And here's the question: What do Britney Spears and Paris Hilton have to do with Barack Obama. Well that's the questions being asked about the new John McCain attack ad and now the Obama campaign is hitting back.
NBC reporter Kelly O'Donnell uniquely showed an earlier anti-McCain attack ad from the Obama campaign: “Team McCain maintain that Obama was the first to run a negative spot hitting McCain on TV three weeks ago.” Viewers saw a very short clip: “On gas prices, John McCain's part of the problem.”

The MRC's Brad Wilmouth corrected the closed-captioning against the video to provide transcripts of the Wednesday, July 30 stories on ABC and CBS:

ABC's World News:
CHARLES GIBSON, IN OPENING TEASER: Welcome to World News. Tonight, McCain says Obama is all star power and no substance. Obama says McCain is using scare tactics. It's getting nasty. And it's only July.
...

GIBSON: Good evening. It is a pledge made by every candidate in every campaign, to run on the issues and avoid negative attacks. Just last month, John McCain pledged that throughout the campaign, he would "show my admiration and respect for Senator Obama." As for Obama, he pledged to "run a different campaign, run a positive campaign." Well, that was then. Today the attacks were flying so fast and furious, it was sometimes hard to keep up. ABC's David Wright is in Washington tonight. David?

DAVID WRIGHT: Good evening, Charlie. The mud has, indeed, been flying, with Obama constantly comparing McCain to President Bush. And today, McCain comparing Obama to empty celebrities -- all sizzle, no substance. John McCain has been trying to raise doubts about his opponent. Today in Colorado, he was at it again.

JOHN MCCAIN: The bottom line is that Senator Obama's words, for all their eloquence and passion, don't mean all that much.

WRIGHT: McCain has recently said Obama would rather lose a war to win a election. He's called him "Dr. No" on energy reforms, and run ads blaming Obama for high gas prices.

CLIP OF AD: He's the biggest celebrity in the world. But is he ready to lead?

WRIGHT: Today McCain unveiled a new ad in 11 states, flashing images of Britney Spears and Paris Hilton, suggesting Obama is just another vapid celebrity.

CLIP OF AD: Higher taxes. More foreign oil. That's the real Obama.

STUART ROTHENBERG, POLITICAL ANALYST: Nobody's going to confuse Paris Hilton with Senator Barack Obama. But over time, the attempt to raise questions about his substance, that could very well work.

WRIGHT: The Obama campaign dismissed the ad as more of McCain's "steady stream of false, negative attacks. Or, as some might say, 'Oops! He did it again.'"

BARACK OBAMA: We don't need the same, old, tired answers. What we need is something new.

WRIGHT: Obama told an audience in Missouri the Republicans are just trying to scare voters.

OBAMA: Their argument is, "I know you don't really like what we're doing, but he's risky."

WRIGHT: McCain's spokesman shot back: "This is a typically superfluous response from Barack Obama. Like most celebrities, he reacts to fair criticism with a mix of fussiness and hysteria." Today the McCain side released a memo noting, among other things, Obama's fondness for Chocolate Protein bars, Black Forest Berry Honest Tea, and Arugula. In other words, high-maintenance like any big star. But Obama supporters are having none of it. Today they called attention to the shoes McCain has worn on stops throughout the Rust Belt -- Italian calfskin loafers that retail for $520 a pair. Late today, the Obama campaign responded to McCain's celebrity ad with a new ad of their own.

CLIP OF AD: - “false,” “baloney,” “the low road,” “baseless.” John McCain: Same old politics, same failed policies.

WRIGHT: It's getting ugly early, and some Republicans are expressing concern about McCain's tone, in particular one former McCain aide calling the new celebrity ad childish, though the McCain campaign insists that Obama went negative first.

CBS Evening News:
KATIE COURIC, IN OPENING TEASER, WITH “ATTACK AD” ON SCREEN: Also tonight, the McCain campaign compares Barack Obama to Paris and Britney.

CLIP OF AD: He's the biggest celebrity in the world. But is he ready to lead?

BARACK OBAMA: I don't pay attention to John McCain's ads.

...

COURIC: Turning now to the presidential campaign, which today seemed to be ripped from the pages of a celebrity magazine, with supporting roles played by Britney Spears and Paris Hilton. John McCain sharpened his attack against Barack Obama, trying to turn his popularity against him. And late today, Obama fired back. Here's Chip Reid.

CHIP REID: Just about everywhere Barack Obama goes, the adoring crowds follow. 200,000 turned out to hear him speak last week in Germany. Here at home, his town hall meetings are standing room only. Political commentators compare him to a rock star. Now the McCain campaign has decided to try to use Obama's celebrity status against him.

CLIP OF AD: He's the biggest celebrity in the world. But is he ready to lead?

REID: Today releasing an ad that compares Obama to those symbols of shallowness -- Britney Spears and Paris Hilton. In a conference call today, McCain's top advisor said the ad is intended to pose a stark choice.

STEVE SCHMIDT, MCCAIN CAMPAIGN ADVISOR: Do the American people want to elect the world's biggest celebrity or do they want to elect an American hero?

REID: Political analyst David Mark says the ad is sure to get a lot of attention, but-

REID: Do you think the Britney Spears/Paris Hilton ad is going to work for John McCain?

DAVID MARK, POLITICO.COM: No, I think it's going to backfire. John McCain's campaign is predicated on the idea of loyalty, somebody of honor. This seems a little juvenile.

REID: Today the Obama campaign responded with an ad of their own.

CLIP OF AD: John McCain: His attacks on Barack Obama, "not true," "false," "baloney," "the low road"-

REID: Campaigning in Missouri, Obama took the high road.

BARACK OBAMA: You know, I don't pay attention to John McCain's ads, although I do notice that he doesn't seem to have anything very positive to say about himself, does he? He seems to only be talking about me.

REID: Today an Obama campaign spokesman responded to the McCain attack ad by quoting Britney Spears, saying about McCain: "Oops, he did it again."
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