CBS Rejects McCain's Assurance He's Not Questioning Obama's Patriotism

CBS News reporter Dean Reynolds, who on Tuesday night centered a story on how “Obama is pivoting toward a more combative style, rebuking the Republicans for habitually turning differences over policy into questions about patriotism, a habit he said John McCain has readily embraced,” on Wednesday night countered John McCain's assurance he is “not questioning” Barack Obama's “patriotism, I am questioning his judgment.” After playing that soundbite from McCain in story pegged to how a new CBS News poll found McCain has cut Obama's lead in half since two weeks ago, Reynolds retorted:
Yet the McCain campaign continues to run ads attacking Obama on a personal level, belittling him as a shallow celebrity and describing him as fussy, hysterical, or testy. And while Obama's been fighting back lately, our poll found a majority believes McCain spends more time attacking Obama [52%] than explaining what he would do as President [38%].
Reynolds then concluded by acknowledging that “with the race getting closer, there's a sense that whatever voters may think about it” -- and, though he didn't say it, journalists -- “McCain's strategy may be helping him catch up.”

The CBS News/New York Times survey put Obama up 45 to 42 percent, half the 45 to 39 percent lead of two weeks ago. (A new NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll reported on Wednesday's NBC Nightly News had the identical results, 45 to 42 percent, down from a six-point spread a month ago. NBC News political director Chuck Todd pointed out that Obama is up 55 to 38 percent among those 18-34, but with those 35 and older McCain up by one point, 43 to 42 percent.)

My August 19 NewsBusters item, "CBS & NBC Trumpet How 'Barack Obama Fights Back' on Patriotism," recounted:
CBS and NBC led Tuesday night with speculation over the VP picks, but moved quickly, without citing any proof of John McCain's supposed scurrilous attack on Barack Obama's patriotism, to Obama condemning McCain for questioning his patriotism.

"Patriot games," CBS Evening News anchor Harry Smith teased, "Barack Obama fights back." Viewers then heard a clip of Obama before the VFW: "I will let no one question my love of this country." Reporter Dean Reynolds described how "Obama is pivoting toward a more combative style, rebuking the Republicans for habitually turning differences over policy into questions about patriotism, a habit he said John McCain has readily embraced." CBS ran two Obama soundbites, yet on Monday, when McCain addressed the VFW, CBS didn't show a second of him. Reynolds soon asserted that McCain and Republicans "had the stage to themselves last week while Obama vacationed." Certainly not on the CBS Evening News which spent the week puffing Obama...
The latter part of the Reynolds story on the Wednesday, August 20 CBS Evening News, picking up after Reynolds, from an Obama event in Lynchburg, Virginia, reported twice as many supporters are enthusiastic about Obama (48%) than McCain (24%):
DEAN REYNOLDS: ...McCain is seen as more capable on foreign policy [66 to 55%] and by twice as many voters as “very likely to be an effective commander in chief” [44 to 21%]. Today in New Mexico, he tried to underline that advantage with an optimistic assessment of a still-unpopular war.

JOHN McCAIN: Senator Obama's made it clear he values withdrawal from Iraq above victory in Iraq. Even today with victory in sight.

REYNOLDS: Then, he added this.

McCAIN: Let me be very clear. I am not questioning his patriotism, I am questioning his judgment.

REYNOLDS: Yet the McCain campaign continues to run ads attacking Obama on a personal level, belittling him as a shallow celebrity and describing him as fussy, hysterical, or testy. And while Obama's been fighting back lately, our poll found a majority believes McCain spends more time attacking Obama [52%] than explaining what he would do as President [38%].

But with the race getting closer, there's a sense that whatever voters may think about it, McCain's strategy may be helping him catch up.
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