CBS Downplays Obama-Ayers Connection, Attacks McCain Campaign’s ‘Bare Knuckle Strategy’

Sarah Palin, CBS At the top of the CBS Early Show, co-host Harry Smith described how the McCain campaign was criticizing Barack Obama for his connection to domestic terrorist Bill Ayers, but avoided any such label: "...dredging up of a character that Barack Obama knows from Chicago named Bill Ayers, who was one of the founders of the Weather Underground. So it's really getting crazy..." Smith offered no explanation of the terrorist activity launched by Weather Underground. In a later segment, correspondent Chip Reid also avoided the terrorist label, but did describe the activity of the organization: "William Ayers, a former radical who participated in a domestic bombing campaign during the Vietnam War."

At the same time that Smith and Reid worked to downplay Ayers’s terrorist activity and connection to Obama, they also bashed the McCain campaign for daring to even mention such a connection. Smith began the show by declaring: "It's getting ugly. Less than a month to go and the campaigns are turning negative in the race for the White House... Desperate measures or smart strategy?...And the campaign is getting nasty to say the least." In his report, Reid blamed the ugliness and nastiness on the McCain campaign: "But with a flurry of new negative ads and attacks, it's clear the gloves are now completely off. John McCain's running mate, Sarah Palin, is leading the charge...With the campaign's new bare knuckle strategy, attacking Barack Obama's character..."

Reid followed by repeating the Obama campaign's talking points on the issue: "The Obama campaign says Obama and Ayers are only casual friends, whose children go to the same schools...Campaigning in North Carolina, Obama accused McCain of launching a smear campaign to distract attention from McCain's record on the economy." Reid went to described Obama’s lead in the polls and an Obama rally in Ohio featuring Bruce Springsteen. Reid concluded his report by describing how the Obama campaign is: "...expecting John McCain to come out swinging as he struggles to find someway to try to turn this thing around."

The only suggestion that Obama was also engaging in negative campaigning was a few brief mentions of Obama ads attacking John McCain for his role in the Keating Five scandal. Smith began the show by explaining: "A couple of ads coming out now, one from the Obama side dredging up the memories of the Keating Five, the savings and loan scandal that cost hundreds of millions of dollars to several -- about 10,000 -- 20,000 stockholders, that implicated Senator John McCain." Later, Reid mentioned: "Later today they plan to release a so-called 'documentary' on it's campaign website detailing McCain's relationship with Charles Keating. The man at the center of the savings and loan scandal in the late 1980s." At no point during the segment was it explained that McCain was exonerated of any wrongdoing in the corruption scandal.

Following Reid’s report, Smith interviewed McCain advisor Nancy Pfotenhauer and Obama communications director Robert Gibbs about the campaign attacks. When Pfotenhauer quoted a recent New York Times article that outlined Obama’s connection to Ayers, Smith became visibly upset and angrily interrupted: " And what was the conclusion? Excuse me. And what was...Excuse me. What was the conclusion? What was the conclusion? What was the conclusion of that article?"

Here is the full transcript of the segment:

7:00AM TEASER:

HARRY SMITH: It's getting ugly. Less than a month to go and the campaigns are turning negative in the race for the White House.

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

BARACK OBAMA: They'd rather tear our campaign down than lift this country up. That's what you do when you're out of touch, out of ideas, and running out of time!

SMITH: Desperate measures or smart strategy? We'll ask both campaigns.

7:01AM TEASER:

SMITH: And the campaign is getting nasty to say the least. A couple of ads coming out now, one from the Obama side dredging up the memories of the Keating Five, the savings and loan scandal that cost hundreds of millions of dollars to several -- about 10,000 -- 20,000 stockholders, that implicated Senator John McCain. And of course, on the other side, the dredging up of a character that Barack Obama knows from Chicago named Bill Ayers, who was one of the founders of the Weather Underground. So it's really getting crazy and we're going to talk to people from the campaigns here in just a couple of minutes.

7:02AM SEGMENT:

MAGGIE RODRIGUEZ: But first, the election. With less than a month to go, 29 days until election day, the battle for the White House has turned into a war of words. CBS News Capitol Hill correspondent Chip Reid is in Asheville, North Carolina. Chip, good morning.

CHIP REID: Well, good morning, Maggie. You know, it wasn't long ago when Barack Obama and John McCain were both promising a positive, high-minded campaign. But with a flurry of new negative ads and attacks, it's clear the gloves are now completely off. John McCain's running mate, Sarah Palin, is leading the charge.

SARAH PALIN: This is not a man who sees America as you and I do.

REID: With the campaign's new bare knuckle strategy, attacking Barack Obama's character, highlighting his friendship with William Ayers, a former radical who participated in a domestic bombing campaign during the Vietnam War.

PALIN: I think it's fair to talk about where Barack Obama kicked off his political career, in the guy's living room.

REID: And this morning, the McCain campaign is releasing a new ad attacking Obama, titled 'Dangerous.' The Obama campaign says Obama and Ayers are only casual friends, whose children go to the same schools. Later today they plan to release a so-called 'documentary' on it's campaign website detailing McCain's relationship with Charles Keating. The man at the center of the savings and loan scandal in the late 1980s. Campaigning in North Carolina, Obama accused McCain of launching a smear campaign to distract attention from McCain's record on the economy.

BARACK OBAMA: They'd rather tear our campaign down than lift this country up. That's what you do when you're out of touch, out of ideas, and running out of time!

REID: Recent polls show a significant shift in Obama's favor. North Carolina is one of ten states where George Bush won in 2004, but where polls now show Obama leading or in a virtual tie. One of those states is Ohio, where Bruce Springsteen rallied for Obama Sunday, and where a new poll shows Obama leading by seven points. Barack Obama will spend the day here in North Carolina, preparing for tomorrow night's debate and they're expecting John McCain to come out swinging as he struggles to find someway to try to turn this thing around. Harry.

HARRY SMITH: Joining us now from Arlington, Virginia is Nancy Pfotenhauer, a McCain campaign advisor, and from Asheville, North Carolina, Robert Gibbs, an adviser for the Obama campaign. Good morning to you both.

NANCY PFOTENHAUER: Good morning.

ROBERT GIBBS: Good morning, Harry.

SMITH: Just watching this package right now and watching the coverage over the weekend, so much for change and looking forward. Nancy, what is the point of all of this?

PFOTENHAUER: Well, I think what the point is, Harry, is that in four short weeks, Americans are going to pull the lever for the man who will be the next commander in chief of our country at a time when we face tremendous challenges both here with our economy and aboard-

SMITH: Right, we're aware of that.

PFOTENHAUER: And frankly, with Barack Obama, we know very little about this man. He has very -- very scant record and he, frankly, obfuscates or hides that record frequently on domestic issues, particularly, I could tick through a number, but public financing or campaign financing, Second Amendment issues, taxes, spending. He's got, I think, very questionable judgment in foreign policy and he's got these relationships with individuals that I think call into question his judgment-

SMITH: Robert?

PFOTENHAUER: -and again he downplays them and tries to kind of push them away.

SMITH: Robert? What do you say to all of that?

ROBERT GIBBS: Yes, sir. Well, look it's surprising to hear Nancy talk about issues when in the front pages of major newspapers on Saturday, the McCain campaign announced that they wanted to sweep under the rug any discussion about the economy. They wanted to, quote, 'turn the page' on talking about the economy. And go into a character assassination and smear campaign that news organizations even this weekend called desperate and dishonest. The American people deserve, Harry, far better than what they're getting from the McCain campaign. Our economy's in trouble. 150 -- 159,000 people lost their jobs just last month and the McCain campaign would much rather engage in a character assassination smear campaign than talk about their plans to make this economy strong again. That's not what people deserve in this election.

SMITH: So Nancy, you guys dredge up Bill Ayers. Gibbs and company is going to dredge up Charles Keating. Do either of these steps back into the past help answer the question who best to lead, which is the decision America has to make in less than a month?

PFOTENHAUER: Well, you know, Harry, I just might point out that we didn't dredge this information up, the 'New York Times' spent 2,000 words on an article about it the other day. The 'Wall Street Journal's' written on it.

SMITH: And what was the conclusion? Excuse me. And what was-

PFOTENHAUER: The Chicago -- the Chicago papers have-

SMITH: Excuse me. What was the conclusion? What was the conclusion? What was the conclusion of that article?

PFOTENHAUER: What the article also concluded is that if Senator McCain had hung out with somebody who bombed abortion clinics, no one would consider it illegitimate. And again, I might point out that Hillary Clinton raised this as an issue as well. The reason that some of this is relevant is because it speaks to the judgment of the people involved and it also speaks to whether the individuals are being straight forward about the plans that they're advocating for their path forward-

SMITH: Alright-

PFOTENHAUER: Senator Obama talks about cutting taxes but he's got

GIBBS: Harry, let's-

PFOTENHAUER: -a history of raising them and I could go on and on.

SMITH: Okay, alright, alright. Nancy -- alright.

GIBBS: Harry, let's talk about being straight forward-

SMITH: Final word, final word.

GIBBS: -because I'm not sure -- I'm not sure in the several minutes that you just heard from Nancy you got any sort of answer. But the -- obvious the article said they knew each other, but of course they weren't close. Bill Ayers has played no role in Barack Obama's campaign. Barack Obama has condemned the attacks that happened when Barack Obama was 8 years old. Charles Keating is relevant in this campaign because the actions of a United States Senator to pressure regulators to stop -- against stopping criminal activity at a savings and loan that cost tens of thousands of people their life savings is relevant in the very current news that we have in our struggling economy where we're watching banks collapse each and every day. Is that the kind of leadership, is that the kind of person we trust to get our economy going again?

SMITH: There you go.

PFOTENHAUER: That's just-

SMITH: So much for civilized discourse, kids. We will look forward to the debate Tuesday night. Nancy Pfotenhauer and Robert Gibbs, take care.

GIBBS: Thank you.

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