CBS Uses Rich to Warn McCain Away from Raising Ayers in Debate

CBS political correspondent Jeff Greenfield, who after last week's second presidential debate lashed out at John McCain for referring to Barack Obama as “that one” (“Was it demeaning? Was it an insult?”), just over two hours before the third and final debate suggested McCain should not bring up Williams Ayers or Jeremiah Wright -- and he used far-left/conservative-hating New York Times columnist Frank Rich, who he at least tagged a “liberal,” as one of his experts. Citing Ayers and Sarah Palin's attack on Obama for “palling around” with him, Greenfield asked: “Is all this fair game? Yes, says a conservative writer.” That would be National Review's Byron York, but Greenfield countered him with two others, asserting: “It's dangerous, argues a liberal columnist.” Frank Rich presumed Greenfield (who could be seen talking to Rich) shares his views (“You or I may not agree with it”) as he scolded McCain:
If he wants to say your association with Jeremiah Wright or with William Ayers because they're too left wing or anti-American, whatever. That's all fine. You or I may not agree with it, but it's different from calling someone an -- being involved with active terrorists, palling around with terrorists. That's the line.
Greenfield followed with how “a one-time Ronald Reagan speechwriter says the tone strikes a discordant note.” That would be Peggy Noonan.

Surprisingly, anchor Katie Couric told Greenfield “a lot of people are wondering” if McCain will “bring up Reverend Jeremiah Wright?” Greenfield noted “the relationship between Obama and Wright was much closer and much longer than the Ayers/Obama relationship,” but “McCain has ruled out that out-of-bounds, possibly because he thinks it would be playing the race card.” Greenfield added that “to bring it up now...on a day when the Dow has lost, oh, I don't know, a trillion or so dollars of America's wealth, that may not be what Americans want to hear about.”

The story on the Wednesday, October 15 EDT/CDT edition of the CBS Evening News:
KATIE COURIC: Jeff Greenfield, our senior political correspondent, has been covering debates since 1980 but he's been a student of them far longer. He has more now about the danger of going negative.

JEFF GREENFIELD: If Senator McCain does bring up Bill Ayers tonight would that contradict a promise he made just a few days ago?

JOHN McCAIN, ON SUNDAY: I respect Senator Obama. We will conduct a respectful race and make sure that everybody else does, too. And that's important. But there are stark differences between us.

GREENFIELD: And will his tone be as tough as his running mate's was?

SARAH PALIN, OCTOBER 4: Our opponent is someone who sees America as imperfect enough to pal around with terrorists who targeted their own country.
 
JEFF GREENFIELD: And is all this fair game? Yes, says a conservative writer.

BYRON YORK, NATIONAL REVIEW: I think, if anything, they should have pressed earlier and with greater force on Obama's associations.

GREENFIELD: It's dangerous, argues a liberal columnist.

FRANK RICH, NEW YORK TIMES: If he wants to say your association with Jeremiah Wright or with William Ayers because they're too left wing or anti-American, whatever. That's all fine. You or I may not agree with it, but it's different from calling someone an -- being involved with active terrorists, palling around with terrorists. That's the line.

GREENFIELD: A one-time Ronald Reagan speechwriter says the tone strikes a discordant note.

PEGGY NOONAN, WALL STREET JOURNAL: Throwing away lines like "palling around with domestic terrorists" is vulgar. It's vulgar. It's not high enough for a presidential or vice presidential candidate.

GREENFIELD: And there's a purely tactical question here. Do such attacks work? If the polls are any indication, McCain's campaign has wound up hurting him far more than Obama. If he needs an argument to change minds, this may not be it, Katie.

COURIC: But a lot of people are wondering right now, with just hours to go, will John McCain bring up Reverend Jeremiah Wright or will he just not go there? What do you think?

GREENFIELD: You know, the relationship between Obama and Wright was much closer and much longer than the Ayers/Obama relationship. But McCain has ruled out that out-of-bounds, possibly because he thinks it would be playing the race card. To bring it up now 20 days out after having not raised it for months is very problematic and on a day when the Dow has lost, oh, I don't know, a trillion or so dollars of America's wealth, that may not be what Americans want to hear about. But his most earnest supporters are saying "that's what you've got to do." Really interesting dilemma for him.
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