On CNN’s post-debate coverage on Wednesday night, special correspondent Soledad O’Brien misinterpreted the dial-tester reaction from a focus group of 30 Ohioans. When she played a clip of the dial test line graph flat-lining then rising up again slightly when John McCain spoke about the issue of Bill Ayers during the presidential debate, she overemphasized the results: “You see the dive. I mean, literally, it goes off the cliff. You can watch that right on the screen” [see video at right].
Just before this, she played the positive reaction of the focus group to McCain’s “I am not President Bush” remark: “Take a look at the squiggles -- immediately, when he said you should have run four years ago, those -- those squiggles go up sharply because really, people here found that to really resonate with them.”
The transcript of the relevant portion of O’Brien’s segment, which began 41 minutes into the 11 pm Eastern hour of CNN’s debate coverage on Wednesday:
SOLEDAD O'BRIEN: What they liked was John McCain from the get-go. Really, I would say 25 minutes into the debate, John McCain came out very strongly. You could see -- let me play you a clip. You've heard this before, where he distances himself from President Bush -- probably the strongest line of the night from John McCain. Listen to it.
JOHN MCCAIN: Senator Obama, I am not President Bush. If you want to run against President Bush, you should have run four years ago. I'm going to give a new direction to this economy and this country.
O'BRIEN: Take a look at the squiggles -- immediately, when he said you should have run four years ago, those -- those squiggles go up sharply because really, people here found that to really resonate with them. But the opposite of that was William Ayers. Any discussion about William Ayers, member of the Weather Underground in the '60s, dial-testers went right down. Listen to this.
MCCAIN: I don't care about an old washed-up terrorist. But as Senator Clinton said in her debates with you, we need to know the full extent of that relationship. We need to know the full extent of Senator Obama's relationship --
O'BRIEN: You see the dive. I mean, literally, it goes off the cliff. You can watch that right on the screen.