CBS’s Reynolds: Obama ‘Firing Back’ After ‘Below-the-Belt Attacks’

Dean Reynolds, CBS On Friday’s CBS "Early Show" correspondent Dean Reynolds described how the Obama campaign was defending itself against the latest McCain ad: "Spurred by what it considers below-the-belt attacks on his character, fitness, and even his fame...Barack Obama is firing back." Reynolds went on to highlight a new Obama website designed to counter McCain’s "low blows": "And Obama's campaign has just created a new website, the 'Low Road Express.' Playing off McCain's campaign bus dubbed the 'Straight Talk Express.' The new site will chronicle what the Obama folks consider low blows from McCain, who, it alleges, ‘doesn't seem to stand for anything but negative attacks and false charges against Barack Obama. This isn't the John McCain we used to know.’"

Reynolds offered a similar campaign report on Thursday’s CBS "Evening News," in which he declared: "What is striking about McCain's sharper edge, criticized by several newspapers recently, is how it appears to conflict with some of his more high-minded talk of the need for civility on the stump." Introducing the segment, anchor Katie Couric referred to the McCain ad as "infamous."

Both on the "Evening News" and the "Early Show" Reynolds seemed to argue that John McCain himself agreed with Obama that race was being injected in the campaign:

REYNOLDS: While McCain has spoken of the need for civility on the stump, his campaign reacted quickly to this complaint from Obama about how his opponents are attacking him:

OBAMA: He's got a funny name. You know, he doesn't look like all those other presidents on those dollar bills, you know.

REYNOLDS: Obama said McCain's camp was playing the race card. And while Obama's camp denied he was doing any such thing, McCain said the charge was legitimate.

JOHN MCCAIN: I'm sorry to say that it is, it's legitimate. And we don't -- there's no place in this campaign for that.

In reality, McCain was saying that Obama was playing the race and that the charge that Obama was playing the race card was legitimate. If Reynolds had played a longer clip of CNN’s John King asking McCain the about the issue, the sound bite would have been much more clear:

JOHN KING: Your campaign manager says he's [Barack Obama’s] playing the race card by saying that, by saying that you're trying to scare people and make them think this guy doesn't look like past presidents. Is that a fair criticism for Rick Davis to say the Barack Obama is playing the race card?

MCCAIN: It is. I'm sorry to say that it is. It's legitimate. And we don't -- there's no place in this campaign for that. There's no place for it and we shouldn't be doing it.

On the "Early Show," Reynolds found the source of the McCain campaign’s lack of "civility": "The sharper tone has been noted since McCain put associates of Karl Rove in charge of his campaign. Rove was the mastermind of President Bush's election victories."

Despite the clear anti-McCain theme in Reynolds’ coverage, "Early Show" co-host Maggie Rodriguez interviewed McCain campaign manager Rick Davis and Obama campaign manager David Axelrod in a balanced manner. While Rodriguez was tough on Davis, she equally challenged Axelrod:

MAGGIE RODRIGUEZ: Joining us now is Rick Davis, campaign manager for Senator John McCain. Good morning, Rick.

RICK DAVIS: Good morning, Maggie. How are you?

RODRIGUEZ: I'm fine, thank you.

DAVIS: Good.

RODRIGUEZ: I want to ask you about something that you said yesterday. Quote, 'Barack Obama played the race card and he played it from the bottom of the deck.' Why did you say that?

DAVIS: Well, I said it because the night before in three separate appearances Barack Obama made direct allusions to the fact that John McCain himself, and Barack Obama named John McCain, was going to come after him in this way. And we're not going to let anybody define John McCain in those terms. And so we did exactly what we should do as a campaign. We went out there and we said, no, we're not going to let this card get played. We're not going to put up with this and we pushed back pretty hard. Since then I think the Obama campaign has retracted what they've been saying. And, look, from our perspective, we don't like this kind of thing but we will not let anyone define John McCain in those terms.

RODRIGUEZ: But it was Senator McCain who drew first blood with that ad comparing Barack Obama to Britney Spears and Paris Hilton, two celebrities who are basically known for fluff. That's condescending.

DAVIS: Well, it's certainly a lot different than being called racist. And my gosh, Maggie, I mean, don't you think that an ad like that should be able to be aired if we choose to? I mean it's one thing if others don't like our ad. We liked it. And it was talking about a contrast between the fact that Barack Obama is not ready to be president yet because he is different on these issues-

RODRIGUEZ: Yes Rick, but -- but in a strategy memo of yours from March which I'll read from you said 'it's critical that we all follow John's lead and run a respectful campaign focused on the issues and values that are important to the American people.' How is that ad focusing on the issues and values that are important to the American people?

DAVIS: That ad pointed out very clearly that Barack Obama is wrong on not allowing there to be drilling and that he is offering tax increases on energy, which I think is very clear to the American public, are major issues to them. And so my view is that's totally consistent with those two things.

RODRIGUEZ: Alright. Rick Davis, thank you for your time this morning.

DAVIS: Thank you, Maggie.

RODRIGUEZ: And in Chicago this morning is David Axelrod, chief strategist for the Obama campaign. Good morning David.

AXELROD: Good morning, Maggie.

RODRIGUEZ: You just heard Rick Davis say that running an ad comparing Barack Obama to a celebrity is not the same as your camp calling John McCain a racist. What's your response?

AXELROD: Well, it's an outrageous thing to say because of course Barack Obama never called John McCain a racist. And in fact, you know, the quote that Rick's referring to happened at a town hall meeting in a rural area of Missouri. Not one newspaper reported it the way he accounts for it. The audience laughed and applauded because what Senator Obama was saying was that he's not exactly from central casting for presidential candidates and he understands that and he understands that that will be a source of contention. But in no way did he say that. And Maggie, I was interested in reading the coverage this morning, the New York Times-

RODRIGUEZ: But hang on a second, David.

AXELROD: Yeah, yeah.

RODRIGUEZ: Before you -- let's talk about that quote. Because he did directly attribute this to John McCain. He said 'John McCain is trying to make you scared of me, saying he doesn't look like all those other presidents on the dollar bill.'

AXELROD: Well that was among-

RODRIGUEZ: That's clearly a reference to race.

AXELROD: Among-

RODRIGUEZ: How can it be taken otherwise?

AXELROD: Maggie, among the other things that he said was that he was young, that he was new.

RODRIGUEZ: But he said that as well.

AXELROD: And you heard Rick Davis say himself he's not ready to be president. I mean that, what Senator Obama said was exactly what-

RODRIGUEZ: But that has nothing to do with race.

AXELROD: -is going on. No. And the quote itself was not interpreted that way by the audience. I mean, what's happened is Senator McCain has made a decision that he's going to run a 100% negative ad. And you know why, because he's trying to defend policies that are indefensible, in our economy, foreign policy. We need a change of direction, and he wants to distract voter attention from that. What I don't understand is how Senator McCain could say, as he did yesterday, that he was proud of that ad. This is not the John McCain that we expected in this campaign, this is not the John McCain who ran in 2000. And he's completely subjugated his campaign to the Washington hit machine philosophy, and that's-

RODRIGUEZ: Alright, David-

AXELROD: -in a year like this where we have so many problems, it's really a shame.

RODRIGUEZ: We've got to leave it there to give you both equal time.

AXELROD: Okay.

RODRIGUEZ: Thank you so much.

AXELROD: Alright. See you Maggie.

Here is the full transcript of Reynolds’ "Early Show" report:

7:00AM TEASER

MAGGIE RODRIGUEZ: Nasty politics. Obama accuses McCain of taking the low road. McCain fires back that Obama's playing the race card. We'll hear from both campaigns.

7:04AM SEGMENT:

MAGGIE RODRIGUEZ: The presidential race is getting nastier by the minute. The Obama campaign accuses the Republicans of resorting low road politics while the McCain campaign accuses Obama of playing the race card. CBS News correspondent Dean Reynolds is in Chicago this morning. Good morning, Dean.

DEAN REYNOLDS: Good morning, Maggie. Well, there was a time a while back when both contenders were talking about conducting a civil campaign on the issues and off the insults. But no more.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Gas prices soaring, Barack Obama says no to offshore drilling.

REYNOLDS: Spurred by what it considers below-the-belt attacks on his character, fitness, and even his fame-

WOMAN: He's the biggest celebrity in the world.

REYNOLDS: Barack Obama is firing back.

BARACK OBAMA: I do have to ask my opponent, is that the best you can come up with?

REYNOLDS: And Obama's campaign has just created a new website, the 'Low Road Express.' Playing off McCain's campaign bus dubbed the 'Straight Talk Express.' The new site will chronicle what the Obama folks consider low blows from McCain, who, it alleges, 'doesn't seem to stand for anything but negative attacks and false charges against Barack Obama. This isn't the John McCain we used to know.' While McCain has spoken of the need for civility on the stump, his campaign reacted quickly to this complaint from Obama about how his opponents are attacking him:

OBAMA: He's got a funny name. You know, he doesn't look like all those other presidents on those dollar bills, you know.

REYNOLDS: Obama said McCain's camp was playing the race card. And while Obama's camp denied he was doing any such thing, McCain said the charge was legitimate.

JOHN MCCAIN: I'm sorry to say that it is, it's legitimate. And we don't -- there's no place in this campaign for that.

REYNOLDS: The sharper tone has been noted since McCain put associates of Karl Rove in charge of his campaign. Rove was the mastermind of President Bush's election victories.

OBAMA: Senator John McCain, who started off talking about running an honorable campaign has fallen back into the predictable political attacks.

REYNOLDS: When a voter in Racine, Wisconsin on Thursday asked him about the more aggressive approach, McCain was unapologetic.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN B: Well, it seems like to Americans like me and other people like you may have flip flopped on what you had said earlier. And what is your response to that?

MCCAIN: Campaigns are tough, but I'm proud of the campaign that we have run, I'm proud of the issues that we have -- trying to address with the American people.

REYNOLDS: Indeed, campaigns are tough and this one looks like it's going to get a lot tougher. Maggie.

RODRIGUEZ: No doubt. CBS's Dean Reynolds. Thank you, Dean.

Kyle Drennen
Kyle Drennen
Kyle Drennen is a News Analyst for MRC