CNN’s ‘Truth Squad’ Obfuscates Obama Link to Terrorist Ayers

CNN Graphic of Sarah Palin, Republican vice-presidential candidate | NewsBusters.orgCNN’s so-called Truth Squad, in two reports on Sunday and Monday by two different correspondents, labeled Republican vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin "false" for stating that Barack Obama "sees America as imperfect enough to pal around with terrorists who targeted their own country." The Squad, in their "fact-checking" of the Alaska governor, who was making a reference to left-wing terrorist William Ayers, obfuscated Obama’s past connections to the former leader of the Weather Underground. The Squad’s reports, which aired on CNN’s Sunday Morning program and on Monday’s American Morning, also left out key details about the Democratic presidential candidate’s past with Ayers.

The network first made an attempt at "fact-checking" Palin’s statement, which she made at a campaign rally in Carson, California, near the beginning of the 7 am hour of their Sunday Morning program. Anchor T.J. Holmes, after a report by Don Lemon on the Alaska governor’s claim, gave a brief look at the Obama/Ayers connection. "Well, nobody's exactly sure how well Bill Ayers and Barack Obama know each other. The New York Times, CNN, other news organizations have looked into this, found that they apparently did not have a very close relationship, it appears." Well, that’s about as clear as Mississippi River mud, and one might guess that Holmes was asking his audience to take the word of two liberal media outlets.

Holmes then gave a short bio of Ayers: "So, exactly who is Bill Ayers? Today, he is a professor of education at the University of Illinois at Chicago. Back in the '60s, however, Ayers was a radical activist and a founding member of the group the Weather Underground. That group was behind several bombings in Washington, including at the Capitol and the Pentagon. Riot and conspiracy charges against Ayers were dropped in 1974." After this, he returned to discussing the Obama/Ayers connection: "Ayers and Obama were, in fact, acquaintances. They live in the same Chicago neighborhood, and in 1995, Obama attended a political meeting at Ayers' home. Obama and Ayers also served together on a Chicago charity from 1995 to 1999."

Actually, Obama and Ayers served together on the board of the Woods Fund, a Chicago-based organization, from 1999 to 2002. The Fund, which is a $72 million foundation, has given large grants to several liberal organizations (David Freddoso gave a thorough description of these grants in his book, The Case Against Barack Obama). Among these organizations is ACORN, the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, which over the past several years has been connected to incidents of voter registration fraud.

More importantly, CNN did not go into detail about the 1995 "political meeting at Ayers’ home," where he lives with his wife Bernadine Dohrn (who was an active member of the Weather Underground herself, and is known for her praise of the Charles Manson murders: "Dig it! Manson killed those pigs, then they ate dinner in the same room with them, then they shoved a fork into a victim's stomach"). A February, 22, 2008 story by Ben Smith of the Politico described how "[Illinois] State Senator Alice Palmer introduced her chosen successor, Barack Obama, to a few of the district’s influential liberals at the home of two well known figures on the local left: William Ayers and Bernardine Dohrn." In other words, Obama’s political career more or less began in the home of two left-wing terrorists. Smith later recounted in his story that the New York Times quoted Ayers (in their September 11, 2001 edition no less, according to Freddoso; in the same article, the Dohrn quote about Manson appeared) as saying, "I don't regret setting bombs; I feel we didn't do enough." The detail that this political meeting with Ayers took place at his house would be left out by CNN in the subsequent "Truth Squad" reports.

The first "Truth Squad" report aired about an hour and 15 minutes after Holmes gave his first brief "fact-check." Correspondent Josh Levs detailed the "radical" background of Ayers, and then gave the following outline: "...[W]e have a graphic for you here laying out a few facts about Ayers and Obama.... They live in the same neighborhood. Both worked with a nonprofit -- Annenberg Challenge, on a local school improvement project, and both were board members for the same charity. Ayers hosted a campaign event for Obama when Obama was running for state Senate. But Obama's campaign says they had no contact by phone or email since 2005." The correspondent then parsed one of Palin’s words, just as CNN.com had done in their "fact-check:" "Now, we contacted the McCain campaign because we wanted to understand why Palin used the plural word, 'terrorists,' and we did not hear back from the McCain campaign." Levs failed to mention Bernadine Dohrn’s marriage to Ayers, so the lack of understanding of Palin’s use of the plural could be understandable.

At the end of the report, Levs delivered CNN’s "verdict:"

CNN LEVS: Let's go to the verdict now, which I have for you from the CNN ‘Truth Squad.’ Our verdict here is false. There's no indication that Ayers and Obama are palling around, or that they have had an ongoing relationship in the past three years. And also, there's nothing to suggest that Ayers is now involved in terrorist activities other than -- or that any other Obama associates are. So, there you go. We kind of jumped on that one yesterday. As soon as we heard it on the campaign trail, obviously, it was a key one for the ‘Truth Squad’ to tackle. So, we got it for you.

This whole "there's nothing to suggest that Ayers is now involved in terrorist activities other than -- or that any other Obama associates are" distracts from the fact that Ayers proudly stated in the NY Times that he doesn’t "regret setting bombs" and felt that he and his Weather Underground bombers "didn't do enough."

On Monday’s American Morning, correspondent Jason Carroll gave his own version of the "Truth Squad" "fact-check" during a report 19 minutes into the 7 am Eastern hour of the CNN program. After co-host John Roberts introduced the report, Carroll began with an apparent Freudian slip: "She's definitely getting ugly out there. It was a harshly worded political weekend -- Sarah Palin twice linking Barack Obama to terrorists." After playing the "money quote" from Palin, he then gave the following analysis:

CARROLL: A dramatic charge, but is it right? We know that Palin was referring to at least, in part, to the man that you see there on the left here -- '60s radical William Ayers. Ayers and his wife were members of the Weather Underground, a group that protested the Vietnam War by bombing government buildings, including the Pentagon and the Capitol. The FBI labeled it a domestic terrorist group, and Ayers and his wife spent 10 years on the run. Charges were eventually dropped, but only after it was ruled that the FBI crossed the line in obtaining evidence. Ayers went on to become a professor at the University of Illinois, and settled down in Obama's Chicago neighborhood. The two met in 1995 and served on two boards together. In 1995, they worked on a school improvement program. That same year, Ayers hosted a campaign event for Obama, as Obama began to bid for the U.S. Senate. And from 1999 to 2001, both were board members for a charity foundation known at the Woods Fund. But Obama's campaign says they have not spoken on the phone or e-mailed since 2005, when Obama became a U.S. senator, and we found no evidence they were social outside of the work they did together.

So, what's the verdict here? Is Palin right to say Obama is palling around with terrorists? The 'Truth Squad' says -- no. This one is false. The two definitely know each other and had worked together, but there is no indication that Obama and Ayers are 'palling around' or have an ongoing relationship. There is also nothing to suggest that Ayers is now involved in terrorist activity, or that any Obama associates are.

In fact, we reached out to the McCain campaign to ask specifically about Palin's use of the plural 'terrorists,' but they did not respond. Of course, we're checking up on both sides. And next hour, we're going to look into claims from Obama that McCain's health plan will leave workers 'broke.'

So Carroll basically rehashed what his fellow correspondent Josh Levs outlined the morning before, all the while omitting where this "campaign event" took place and continuing to parse over the plural word "terrorists." Roberts actually had to correct Carroll, as he said that the meeting at Ayers took place as he "began to bid for the U.S. Senate," instead of at the beginning of his campaign for the Illinois State Senate. Also, according to an AP report on April 17, 2008, Obama left the Woods Fund board in December 2002, not in 2001. When that report was filed, Ayers was actually still on the Fund’s board.

Matthew Balan
Matthew Balan
Matthew Balan is a news analyst at Media Research Center