Stephanopoulos: Obama Attacks Are Similar to 'Untrue' Kerry Charges

On Friday's "Good Morning America," former top Clinton aide George Stephanopoulos attacked criticism of Barack Obama as comparable to "the experience of the Michael Dukakis Democratic campaign in 1988, of John Kerry's campaign in 2004." In an apparent dig at the Swift Boat veterans and their criticism of John Kerry, the ex-Democratic official-turned journalist maligned, "In both those cases, the Democratic candidates were attacked by unfair and untrue charges but failed to respond and lost the election." Stephanopoulos, who worked on the Dukakis campaign, didn't mention what "unfair and untrue" changes he was referring to regarding the '88 election.

Both the Stephanopoulos segment and a previous piece by ABC reporter Jake Tapper discussed attacks and "unflattering and untrue" criticism of both Barack and Michelle Obama. Tapper observed that the candidate's wife has made some "controversial comments." However, the GMA reporter, and later Stephanopoulos and news anchor Chris Cuomo, failed to mention what those statements might be. To be fair, Tapper has previously highlighted Mrs. Obama's utterance that, with the 2008 campaign, "For the first time in my adult life, I am proud of my country." But it would have been helpful to have played the clip on Friday's segment. After all, is there not a difference between internet smears that the Illinois senator is a secret Muslim and criticism of actual statements made on the campaign trail?

Blurring the lines, Cuomo began the first segment by lamenting, "Despite pledges for the campaign to be about issues, personal attacks are popping up on the internet." Tapper's piece stated that the Tennessee Republican Party ran "a web ad against [Michelle Obama]." He didn't mention it, but that ad brought up the "proud of my country" comments. Now, contrast that statement, which was most definitely uttered by Mrs. Obama, with the ABC graphic that appeared during the piece: "Stopping the Smear Campaign: Obama Campaign Fights Rumors." It seems as though ABC is attempting to lump together all critiques on the Obamas as "rumors" and smears.

A transcript of the June 13 segments, which aired at 7:13am, follows:

CHRIS CUOMO: And now to the race to '08. Despite pledges for the campaign to be about issues, personal attacks are popping up on the internet. The presumptive Democratic nominee is taking unprecedented action this morning trying to squash rumors about his faith, his background, even his wife Michelle. Jake Tapper has more for us this morning from Chicago. Good morning, Jake.

ABC GRAPHIC: Stopping the Smear Campaign: Obama Campaign Fights Rumors

JAKE TAPPER: Good morning, Chris. Well, Senator Barack Obama has vanquished the powerful Clinton-Democratic machine but has not yet been able to beat back those persistent and untrue rumors about him and his wife. So, he has taken the unusual step of launching a new website called Fightthesmears.com. Barack Obama knows there are some unflattering and untrue e-mails about him circulating.

SENATOR BARACK OBAMA: All I want to say is, let me know if you see this guy named Barack Obama because he sounds pretty scary.

TAPPER: His new website aims to website to correct the record, as with the rumor that Michelle Obama says "whitey" on a tape. The truth, the website declares, no such tape exists.

ROBERT GIBBS (Communications director, Obama campaign): Without a website to let people know the truth, rumor becomes the truth on the internet.

TAPPER: A recent poll showed that one in ten Americans think Obama's a Muslim, which he is not. But the rumor has been circulating for more than a year. Initially, Obama did not want to dignify the rumors with a response.

DREW WESTEN (Author, The Political Brain): I would have gone after them the day they first showed up on the internet.

TAPPER: Psychiatry professor Drew Weston said that was bad strategy, since our brains are wired to take in immediate impressions, even if false.

WESTEN: The reality is, that if you don't respond to an attack, just from the point of view of how our brains work, what you're allowing the other side to do is to shape the associations people have to the candidates in their minds..

TAPPER: The tipping point for Obama dealt with his wife Michelle, whose sometimes controversial comments have made her a lightning rod for criticism. Last week Obama became irritated after a reporter asked him about the apparently non-existent "whitey" tape.

OBAMA: We've seen this before. There is dirt and lies that are circulated in e-mail. And they pump 'em out long enough until finally, you, a mainstream reporter, asks me about them.

TAPPER: Obama has been sensitive to attacks on Michelle before. After the Tennessee Republican Party ran a web ad against her, Obama told "Good Morning America" she was off limits.

OBAMA: But I also think these folks should lay off my wife. All right? Just in case they're watching.

TAPPER: Apparently Obama was fired up about the rumor issue. He confronted Senator Joe Lieberman, the independent who is backing John McCain for not doing enough to push back on the Obama-Muslim rumor when Lieberman's asked about it. Chris?

CHRIS CUOMO: All right, Jake. Thank you for that. Let's get the bottom line on all of this. For that, we go to chief Washington correspondent, host of "This Week," George Stephanopoulos. George, good morning. As always, good to have you.

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: Hey, Chris.

CUOMO: Let's get right to the heart of the matter here. Barack Obama doesn't like them going after his wife but is it fair game? Should he expect this?

STEPHANOPOULOS: Oh, I mean, you have to be ready for anything. But as you saw in that piece, he's ready to fight back as well, both on the web and across the media. Number one, Michelle Obama herself is going to be out there on the campaign trail. She's campaigning with Obama today at a forum in Ohio. She's going to be on "The View" next week as a guest host. So -- but the important point the Obama campaign wants to make is that whenever an unfair charge or an untrue charge is leveled, they're going to respond. They're going to hit back hard. They're colored by the experience of the Michael Dukakis Democratic campaign in 1988, of John Kerry's campaign in 2004. In both those cases, the Democratic candidates were attacked by unfair and untrue charges but failed to respond and lost the election.

CUOMO: It's interesting on this one. David Axelrod, one of Obama's advisors said there may be recoil potential going after Michelle, may work against the Republicans. Let me ask about their strategy here so far. The website. Is this going to be enough to stem these kinds of attacks? Obama's website?

STEPHANOPOULOS: It's not going to stop the attacks, but instead of creating just a campaign war room, like we've seen in the past, what the Obama campaign wants to do is basically create a virtual army with foot soldiers all across the country sending along the e-mails to counter what they consider the unfair, untrue e-mails. What you can do on this website is actually download your entire address book so that everyone you know gets the, gets the information from the Obama campaign. The insight here, Chris, is that the campaign realizes, just as George W. Bush's campaign realized in 2004, that most people get most of their political information, not just from the media, but from their friends, from their neighbors, on the internet. So, they're going to fight it e-mail by e-mail, link by link.

CUOMO: All right, George. Thank you very much. Appreciate the insight this morning.

Scott Whitlock
Scott Whitlock
Scott Whitlock is the senior news analyst for the Media Research Center and a contributing editor for NewsBusters.org