Can Andrea Mitchell Really Believe Clark Was Freelancing on McCain?

Andrea Mitchell depicts Wesley Clark's cracks about John McCain's heroism as a gaffe.  Bloopers that will cost him any chance of being picked for the Obama veep slot.  But surely the seasoned MSM hand knows better than to imagine that Clark was freelancing.  Clark's were anything but impromptu remarks, made, say, late at night to a foreign reporter in a hotel cocktail lounge in some far-flung land.  To the contrary, Clark took his shots in the brightest of limelights—those of a Sunday morning talk show—speaking with the venerable Bob Schieffer.  Clark was explicitly there as an Obama campaign surrogate. 

Moreover, Clark had made similar comments before, as a guest on Morning Joe earlier this month [YouTube of earlier appearance].  So the Obama campaign was well aware of his views. If it had any qualms about him expressing them, surely he would have been warned off.  Thus, far from representing a gaffe, Clark's comments must be seen as reflecting Barack Obama's calculated strategy—and that is precisely how the McCain campaign has interpreted them.

So why would Andrea Mitchell turn up on Morning Joe today lambasting Clark for his "stupid" and "dumb" remarks?  You don't suppose she was trying to inoculate Obama, give him cover, some plausible deniability, so that the remarks get the maximum attention without Obama's fingerprints being seen on them?

View video here.

Here's how it went down on Morning Joe today [note: the Face the Nation clip of Clark was actually aired after Andrea's comments, but I've placed it before so people can see precisely what he said]:

MIKA BRZEZINSKI: I also want to get to General Wesley Clark. He's doing it again Andrea [Mika is shown in her what-the-heck? moment].  Willie, I, I, he did this on our show—we're going to play the bite—he's going after McCain's military experience and somewhat undermining it. It just doesn't, I don't understand why he's doing this.

WILLIE GEIST: Well, he says that having been shot down in battle does not qualify you to be good or strong on foreign policy.  Bob Schieffer called him out on that, and he continued after, he said this is not a qualification to be president, being shot down, which of course John McCain was. Here's how McCain's campaign responded, saying this:
If Barack Obama's campaign wants to question John McCain's' military service, that's their right. But let's please drop the pretense that Barack Obama stands for a new type of politics. The reality is he's proving to be a typical politician who is willing to say anything to get elected, including allowing his campaign surrogates to demean and attack John McCain's military service record.
Mika let out an audible "ouch" in the midst of Willie's reading of the McCain campaign response.
BRZEZINSKI: Andrea, do they have a point there?

ANDREA MITCHELL: Mika, you said earlier "is this fair?"  Well, not only isn't it fair, probably, but one could ask: is it politically stupid?

BRZEZINSKI: Ya-h-h-h.

MITCHELL: Because every time you hear Barack Obama talk about John McCain and most recently Hillary Clinton on Friday in Unity, New Hampshire, echoing it, they say "we honor his service."  That is the predicate for of course taking a shot at him in some other very, you know, substantive way at least. But this is going after the very thing that Barack Obama and all of his people have been very careful not to touch.  They have not criticized his military service because they think it will backfire, clearly, to do that, and maybe they even feel that way. So for Wes Clark as a surrogate to go after John McCain is really dumb, I think.  It goes against everything the Obama campaign has been trying to do, and I think it's going to have some ramifications. One thing I can tell ya is: it certainly means he's not going to be on that short list for Vice-President.

BRZEZINSKI: I'm thinkin' not.
When Harold Ford came on later in the hour, he confirmed that this was not the first time Clark had made such comments.
HAROLD FORD: General Clark made many of these comments or similar comments on Morning Joe just a few weeks ago when he was on.

BRZEZINSKI: That's right.
So Andrea Mitchell paints a picture of a renegade Wesley Clark, saying "dumb" and "stupid" things that run contrary to "everything the Obama campaign has been trying to do."  I'd say the McCain campaign has it right in imputing Clark's comments directly to Obama.  When you send a guy out there on a Sunday show, and he repeats what he's said before, that's not a mistake—it's reading from the script.

Dispatch from the Department of Unintentional Humor: Andrea's speculation that rather than simply being a cynical campaign ploy, when the Obama people speak of honoring McCain's service, they might actually mean it.
Mark Finkelstein
Mark Finkelstein
Mark Finkelstein is a contributing editor for NewsBusters.