ABC: McCain ‘Nasty & Bitter’; CBS: He’s Going Negative to Depress Turnout

ABC on Monday night focused its ire at John McCain, for making the campaign “increasingly nasty and bitter” by unleashing a “blistering barrage on Obama,” while CBS’s Jeff Greenfield suggested McCain “may” have decided to “campaign ugly” because “negative campaigns tend to depress turnout” and thus hurt Barack Obama since he’s attracting the new voters. Gibson’s loaded set-up:
We turn to presidential politics and what is becoming an increasingly nasty and bitter contest. On the eve of the second presidential debate, the McCain campaign has unleashed a blistering barrage on Obama, attacking him not only for what he says, but for who he is and who he knows.
Reporter Ron Claiborne proceeded to describe a McCain speech as “by far McCain's fiercest, most sustained, harshest attack on Barack Obama of the entire campaign” which included “even questioning Obama's honesty.” After noting the “new offensive includes running mate Sarah Palin accusing Obama of associating with Bill Ayers,” Claiborne was less condemnatory of Obama, describing “a slick 13-minute Web video about the Keating Five banking scandal.”

On the CBS Evening News, Katie Couric asked: “So, do you think it's going to turn a lot of voters from both camps off and they're not going to  show up on election day?” Greenfield allowed:
That may, and I say may, be part of the strategy, that negative campaigns tend to depress turnout. And when you look at who the new voters are, overwhelmingly Obama, I think the McCain campaign would be perfectly happy to see turnout lower than it would otherwise be and this may be one way to do it.
When Couric wondered “might this motivate voters?”, Greenfield reiterated his original theory: “I just know there's a theory that says ‘make the campaign ugly and people won't turn out to vote.’”

The MRC’s Brad Wilmouth corrected the closed-captioning against the video to provide this transcript of the story on the Monday, October 6 World News on ABC anchored from Dayton, Ohio:
CHARLES GIBSON: Next we turn to presidential politics and what is becoming an increasingly nasty and bitter contest. On the eve of the second presidential debate, the McCain campaign has unleashed a blistering barrage on Obama, attacking him not only for what he says, but for who he is and who he knows. Ron Claiborne is with McCain in Albuquerque.

RON CLAIBORNE: It was by far McCain's fiercest, most sustained, harshest attack on Barack Obama of the entire campaign.

JOHN MCCAIN CLIP #1: You need to know who you're putting in the White House and where the candidate came from and what he or she believes.

MCCAIN CLIP #2: Why has Senator Obama refused to disclose the people who are funding his campaign.

CLAIBORNE: On the financial meltdown:

MCCAIN: To hear him talk now, you’d think he’d always opposed the dangerous practices of these institutions, but there is absolutely nothing in his record to suggest he did. Nothing, zero, zippo, nada.

CLAIBORNE:  The McCain campaign is pounding Obama on everything from the economy and taxes to even questioning Obama's honesty.

MCCAIN CLIP #1: For a guy who’s already authored two memoirs, he's not exactly an open book.

MCCAIN CLIP #2: Who is the real Barack Obama?

CLAIBORNE: The new offensive includes running mate Sarah Palin accusing Obama of associating with Bill Ayers, a former member of the Weather Underground who bombed government buildings in the 1960s.

SARAH PALIN: This is someone who sees America as imperfect enough to work with a former domestic terrorist.

CLAIBORNE: And in a new TV ad, Obama is branded as dangerous, dishonorable, and risky.

CLIP OF AD: Obama and congressional liberals: too risky for America.

CLAIBORNE: But Barack Obama, in North Carolina preparing for tomorrow's debate, was having none of it.

BARACK OBAMA: I've got news for the McCain campaign. The American people are losing right now. They're losing their jobs. They’re losing their health care. They're losing their homes. They're losing their savings.

CLAIBORNE: And Obama's campaign released a slick 13-minute Web video about the Keating Five banking scandal in the 1980s. The Senate Ethics Committee ruled that McCain had used poor judgment on behalf of Charles Keating, the head of a savings and loan bank that ultimately failed. But the committee concluded that McCain had done nothing improper. The McCain campaign sees this new line of attack and tomorrow night’s debate in a McCain-friendly town hall format with which he is experienced and comfortable as perhaps his best bet to turn around his recent slide in the polls. Ron Claiborne, ABC News, Albuquerque, New Mexico.
The Couric-Greenfield discussion following a story on how the campaign is growing “nastier,” with McCain and Plain attacking and now a retort from Obama:
COURIC:  Jeff, very simply, why are they doing this?

GREENFIELD: The McCain campaign has been remarkably candid in saying flatly, even on the record, "we have got to change the topic the economy to raise doubts about Obama or we lose."

COURIC: But why?

GREENFIELD: Because they believe, apparently, that if the economy is the central issue, where the polls have been going, ours is one of the smaller leads for Obama, Obama will win. And the state polls are worse. They are saying -- Karl Rove, who' is not part of the Obama campaign but kind of a godfather, said quote: "They have to deepen doubts about Obama by pounding away about character, judgment, and values." It's their strategy.

COURIC: Will it work?

GREENFIELD: In the past it has worked to push -- Democrats mostly -- out of the mainstream. They've been very effective. They did it with Gore, they did it with Kerry, they did it with Dukakis. In this climate, the news everybody else and we are reporting, it's a question to see whether the voters say "I don't care much about the prospect of a great depression coming, I think I'll focus more on this issue." But I think it's the only card they've got.

COURIC: So, do you think it’s going to turn a lot of voters from both camps off and they’re not going to  show up on election day?

GREENFIELD: That may, and I say may, be part of the strategy, that negative campaigns tend to depress turnout. And when you look at who the new voters are, overwhelmingly Obama, I think the McCain campaign would be perfectly happy to see turnout lower than it would otherwise be and this may be one way to do it.

COURIC: But might this motivate voters?

GREENFIELD: It might. You know, this is why my crystal ball is cracked. I just know there's a theory that says "make the campaign ugly and people won't turn out to vote."
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