While Touting Obama Talking Points, ABC's Sawyer Quizzes McCain About Bias

"Good Morning America" co-host Diane Sawyer on Monday quizzed John McCain on whether the media is gushing too much over Barack Obama's Middle East trip. She then proceeded to cite Obama talking points on the visit. First, Sawyer wondered, "A quick question about the press coverage, if I can. [Obama's] there with a lot of reporters and it's been widely reported--" At this point, the Arizona senator started chuckling to himself.

A surprised Sawyer continued, "You're laughing. Do you think the press coverage is unfair?" McCain wryly responded, "That's up to the American people to decide, Diane. It is what it is." A few seconds earlier, Sawyer appeared to preemptively answer her query on media bias. The ABC journalist prompted, "You have criticized Senator Obama in the past for not going to Iraq and getting a fresh assessment. He is in Iraq as we speak this morning. Does this take care of it?" The subtext of the question sounded very much like "He went to Iraq. Will you leave him alone now?" Never mind the fact that McCain has been to the area eight times and Obama only two.

Sawyer repeatedly borrowed statements from Obama talking points. And at one point, a second question resulted in a laugh from McCain: "You know, his camp has said that in fact he was out ahead of you on Afghanistan [McCain snorts], where the real problem is today." She then observed that "Senator Obama says that he was warning of this all along" and played a clip of the Democrat calling the situation in Afghanistan "precarious and urgent."

This resulted in an exchange in which Sawyer attempted to goad the GOP candidate into using Obama's words: "Do you agree the situation in Afghanistan is precarious and urgent?" McCain concurred that the country faces significant challenges, but didn't use the exact phrasing. Sawyer tried again: "Not precarious and urgent?"

The host also speculated, "Does [Obama] deserve the credit for saying that there should be more troops in Afghanistan?"

So, perhaps Sawyer's question about media bias was rhetorical?

A transcript of the July 21 segment, which aired at 7:05am, follows:

DIANE SAWYER: And we turn now to the race for '08, Barack Obama's opponent, Republican presidential candidate John McCain. He joined us just a few minutes ago from South Portland, Maine. Senator McCain, good to have you with us this morning. Good morning.

ABC GRAPHIC: John McCain One-on-One: His View of Obama's Trip

SENATOR JOHN MCCAIN: Good morning, Diane.

SAWYER: You have criticized Senator Obama in the past for not going to Iraq and getting a fresh assessment. He is in Iraq as we speak this morning. Does this take care of it?

MCCAIN: Well, I believe that he'll be able to -- I know that he'll be able to have the opportunity to see the success of the surge. It has succeeded. This is the same strategy that he voted against. Railed against. Campaigned for his nomination and obtained his nomination in opposition. He was wrong about the surge. It is succeeding. And we are winning and I hope he will, he will agree that he had a fundamental misjudgment of the need for this change in strategy which has succeeded, which is allowing us to win this war.

SAWYER: A quick question about the press coverage, if I can. He's there with a lot of reporters and it's been widely reported-- [McCain starts chuckling to himself.] You're laughing. Do you think the press coverage is unfair?

MCCAIN: That's up to the American people to decide, Diane. It is what it is.

SAWYER: You know, his camp has said that in fact he was out ahead of you on Afghanistan [McCain snorts], where the real problem is today. The level of violence has increased with more U.S. And NATO troops killed in June in Afghanistan than were in Iraq. The Taliban resurging and also Senator Obama says that he was warning of this all along and I'm going to play a bite from yesterday.

SENATOR BARACK OBAMA ["Face the Nation" clip]: I believe U.S. troop levels need to increase. And I've -- for at least a year now -- have called for two additional brigades, perhaps three. The situation is precarious and urgent here in Afghanistan. And I believe this has to be our central focus -- the central front on our battle against terrorism.

SAWYER: Does he deserve the credit for saying that there should be more troops in Afghanistan? And now the chairman of the joint chiefs is saying just the same thing.

MCCAIN: Actually, the chairman of joint chiefs said yesterday it would be very dangerous to do what Senator Obama wants to do Iraq. He said the fragile victory that we're succeeding and gaining would be all placed at risk if we did what Senator Obama wanted. Look, you don't have to choose to lose in Iraq in order to succeed in Afghanistan. Of course, I've been following closely the events in Afghanistan. I gave speeches in Germany talking about the need for more NATO troops, more U.S. troops but it's more complicated than that, Diane.

SAWYER: But--

MCCAIN: It's not just a matter of troops. It's a matter of our relationship with Pakistan. It's relations with a new strategy which will-- can and will succeed. The same kind that worked in Iraq, which he has rejected. And we can succeed there, but, it's going to be tough.

SAWYER: But--

MCCAIN: It is very tough. If we had lost in Iraq, the complications in Afghanistan would have been enormously more difficult.

SAWYER: But the chairman of the joint chiefs says I need the surge. I need the additional brigades. But "I don't have troops that I can reach for to send into Afghanistan until I have reduced requirements in Iraq." So, in the sense, they are linked. The troops in Iraq and the availability of troops for Afghanistan. My question is, when will you have enough troops to send to Afghanistan?

MCCAIN: Oh, I'm sure fairly soon. But it will be dictated by the conditions on the ground. Look, it's like any counter-insurgency or strategy that succeeds. We will be able to free up troops to go to Afghanistan. But if we abandon Iraq and have specific dates for withdrawal-- We would have been out last March, this previous March, if we had done what Senator Obama wanted to do. He was wrong then. He was wrong now. And he should admit that he was wrong. That might help us succeed in Afghanistan, and we will free up additional troops as we succeed in Iraq and come home in victory and honor.

SAWYER: Do you agree the situation in Afghanistan is precarious and urgent?

MCCAIN: Well, I think it's very serious. I think it's a serious situation.

SAWYER: Not precarious and urgent?

MCCAIN: Oh, I don't know exactly-- run through the vocabulary. But it's a very serious situation. But there's a lot of things we need to do. We have a lot of work to do and I'm afraid that it's a very hard struggle, particularly given the situation on the Iraq/Pakistan border. And I would not announce that I'm going to attack Pakistan as Senator Obama did when he was-- during his campaign. But most importantly, he railed against, voted against and said the surge wouldn't work. He said it wouldn't work and couldn't work and has failed to acknowledge. It did work and we have succeeded. Thank God.

SAWYER: I can't let you leave, Senator McCain, this morning, without making one more valiant attempt at the vice presidential question. Can tell me anything new about your timetable and how many people on your list now?

MCCAIN: Diane, I would love to, but I can't. And I'm sure you understand. But I also understand why you try.

SAWYER: If you'd love to, why not give yourself a break this morning and just tell us.

MCCAIN: Thank you, Diane. We're still going through the process.

SAWYER: Senator McCain thanks so much for being with us.

MCCAIN: Thank you, Diane.

SAWYER: Good to have you.

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