ABC's Chris Cuomo Slams McCain for 'Frivolous, Childish' Ad
On Friday's "Good Morning America," news anchor Chris Cuomo derided John McCain's campaign manager for a "frivolous, childish" ad comparing Barack Obama to a celebrities such as Paris Hilton and Britney Spears. Cuomo, who is the son of former New York Democratic Governor Mario Cuomo and the brother of the state's current Democratic attorney general, even tried to goad Davis into pledging to not run any similar ads in the future.
He prompted, "...Your candidate started by saying he wanted to run a different type of campaign. Do you want to put out a pledge? No more ads like this? Let's leave the personal alone. Let's talk about what we'll do for America." He also played a clip of McCain pledging to run a respectful campaign and then complained, "So that's what we expected from John McCain...What's going on here?"
Davis wouldn't back down. "Well, listen, I think the ad is a great ad. I think it's getting a lot of attention which was exactly what it was designed to do," he asserted. Cuomo simply couldn't let go of his negative assessment of the spot and responded, "But is this the type of discussion you want? That you're comparing the candidate that you're running against to Paris Hilton. That it's frivolous, childish. Is that good for you?"
Cuomo proceeded to bizarrely suggest that it was the Arizona senator who was "seizing on race" by attacking Obama's remark that the McCain team would tell people "he [Obama] doesn't look like all those other presidents on those dollar bills..." Attempting to turn the issue back to the Republican, the ABC journalist asked:
CHRIS CUOMO: But let's talk about where this all came from. You took something that Barack Obama said that seemed to indicate that his opponents will say that he looks different than the other presidents on the dollar bills and you said he's playing the race card. You said that. Now, Barack Obama has said these types of things before. Why are you seizing on this now to bring up something like race?
Again, McCain's top aide refused to accept the premise of the loaded question. He pointed out that Obama, by name, associated McCain with attempts to interject race into the campaign. Referring to his own assertion that Obama had played the race card, Davis drew a line in the sand:
RICK DAVIS: I said what I said because I will not allow anyone in this campaign to attack John McCain on race and it's never happened before and it never will again. And we are not going to allow the Obama campaign to put this on the table.
Now, Cuomo followed up his Davis interview by talking with chief Obama strategist David Axelrod. The GMA host did challenge Axelrod somewhat, but not as sharply as he did with Davis. He played Obama's statement on race and then asked the obvious: "What does that mean if it's not a suggestion that his race is going to be used against him?"
After fumbling for his words, Axelrod weakly responded, "He's said this repeatedly, as you mentioned, all over the country, he's noted he's not from central casting when it comes to candidates for president of the United States. He's young. He's new to Washington. Yes, he's African-American."
It's certainly a positive that Cuomo actually asked Axelrod about the race card, but he went on to tell his guest that the McCain team aired the celebrity ad because they were "looking to get attention. There's been a lot of attention given to Obama." Notice how he used the passive voice: "There has been a lot of attention..." Well, who has been giving it to Obama?
A transcript of the August 1 segment, which aired at 7:10am, follows.
CHRIS CUOMO: All right, Jake, good question there and certainly all this talk about race isn't good for either campaign. So let's get to the bottom of what's going on here. First, we'll turn to Senator McCain's campaign manager Rick Davis. Rick, thanks for joining us this morning. Let me remind everybody what Senator McCain had said about what kind of campaign he wanted to run. Let's take a look and a listen.
SENATOR JOHN MCCAIN: I pledged at that time and I pledge again a respectful campaign, a respectful campaign based on the issues and based on the stark differences and vision that we have for the future of America.
CUOMO: So that's what we expected from John McCain. Now we see these ads with Britney Spears, Paris Hilton, even one of your former aides comes out and says, this is childish. What's going on here?
RICK DAVIS (McCain campaign manager): Well, listen, I think the ad is a great ad. I think it's getting a lot of attention which was exactly what it was designed to do. The ad-- In that ad, it says that Barack Obama is not ready to lead this country yet and they say in the ad that he is for increasing your taxes on energy and against drilling offshore which will help alleviate the gas crisis. These are things I think are important aspects of this debate. And, honestly speaking, I think it's much to do about nothing. It's a great ad and everybody is talking about it and we're having a great time with it.
CUOMO: But is this the type of discussion you want? That you're comparing the candidate that you're running against to Paris Hilton. That it's frivolous, childish. Is that good for you?
DAVIS: Look, I think that it's a matter of interpretation. I mean, there's no question that Barack Obama is a global celebrity. I mean how many politicians go off to Europe and have rallies with 200,000 fans? I mean, I think that's just obvious. So, the fact that we use it in a commercial was a gift that Barack Obama himself gave us. Look, what's outrageous here and with all due respect, this New York Times editorial is way over the top. It has absolutely nothing to do with this debate. Barack Obama's own campaign says they disagree with their conclusions and we'll stand by that. The New York Times has spent a lot of time trying to attack John McCain in their editorial section. We think it's just another low blow by them.
CUOMO: Well, I hear what you're saying about the New York Times. But let's talk about where this all came from. You took something that Barack Obama said that seemed to indicate that his opponents will say that he looks different than the other presidents on the dollar bills and you said he's playing the race card. You said that. Now, Barack Obama has said these types of things before. Why are you seizing on this now to bring up something like race?
DAVIS: Barack Obama's never said that line before and he said it three times night before last. And he used John McCain in those quotes. You missed-- You didn't have that in your tape but he said John McCain and the Republicans are going to tell you this. And that's just not true. John McCain doesn't use these kinds of tactics and when Barack Obama put that on the table, the press asked him what do you mean by that and they have yet to put out a plausible explanation. I took it as a race card. I said what I said because I will not allow anyone in this campaign to attack John McCain on race and it's never happened before and it never will again. And we are not going to allow the Obama campaign to put this on the table.
CUOMO: How about this, though? With the ugliness that's come out of this for both sides, your candidate started by saying he wanted to run a different type of campaign. Do you want to put out a pledge? No more ads like this? Let's leave the personal alone. Let's talk about what we'll do for America.
DAVIS: You know, the day after Barack Obama became the Democratic nominee, John McCain invited Barack Obama to weekly town halls in order to answer questions from people, real people, undecided voters. We haven't had a single acceptance of those weekly invites and I think it's about time the Obama camp laid down their swords and came over and joined us in a town hall meeting next week.
CUOMO: All right, Rick. Thank you very much. I'm going to turn now to David Axelrod. I'll see what he has to say about that. But thanks for joining us this morning. All right. We also have David Axelrod, he's the chief strategist for the Obama campaign. Let's start off with that last thing. You've been invited to all these different debates and they say you're not answering. What is going on? Does Obama not want to debate against McCain?
DAVID AXELROD (Obama campaign chief strategist): That's as untrue as his ads and much of everything else Rick just said. The fact is that we did accept and said let's do five of them. We actually proposed doing one on July 4th. We proposed doing one later in the summer. We never heard back from the McCain campaign. We're going to debate and we're going to debate several times and people will see them side by side and we look forward to that. But that is really a diversion from what's going on here. The fact of the matter is that they ran a ridiculous ad that's insulting not to us but to the American people. You just had a piece at the top of your news saying we've had the seventh straight month of job loss in this country and Rick is saying we're having a great time running ads about Paris Hilton and Britney Spears. This is beneath him. It's beneath Senator McCain. It's certainly a violation of the pledge he was going to run and now to inject this race card issue takes it one step beyond that and ask what happened to John McCain? What happened to the campaign that he promised to run?
CUOMO: Well, let's take one step back and figure out who brought up this race thing and what the implications are. Let me remind you what your candidate said. Here's Senator Obama.
SENATOR BARACK OBAMA: Nobody really thinks that Bush or McCain have a real answer for the challenges we face. So what they're going to try to do is make you scared of me. You know, oh, he's not patriotic enough. He's got a funny name. You know, he doesn't look like all those other presidents on those dollar bills, you know?
CUOMO: What does that mean if it's not a suggestion that his race is going to be used against him?
AXELROD: Well, look, he said -- the-- By the way-- He's said this repeatedly, as you mentioned, all over the country, he's noted he's not from central casting when it comes to candidates for president of the United States. He's young. He's new to Washington. Yes, he's African-American. And so this is nothing new but his main point was that the McCain forces were going to run a relentlessly negative campaign because they can't defend their record on the economy. They can't defend their record on foreign policy and that's what we see and now we see Senator McCain saying he's proud of his Britney Spears/Paris Hilton ad. That's what he said yesterday and it's really a shame. I think the country expected more.
CUOMO: Well, they're looking to get attention. There's been a lot of attention given to Obama. Let me ask you something about this: The polls for all the burden of expectations, let's say for Senator Obama, the polls are showing somewhat of a dead heat. Are you surprised by that? How do you explain it coming off this whirlwind tour you just took?
AXELROD: As we said during the trip, we didn't expect any dividend from going on the trip, politically, in the polls back home and so that's not our concern. Look, this is going to be a tough, heated campaign. Power doesn't -- we're fighting over the presidency of the United States. We've got the White House and Senator McCain working in tandem to try and hang on. And change never occurs without a fight so we know we're going to have a big battle but let's keep it on the issues. Let's talk about the things important to the American people. Let's not entertain ourselves with negative ads that make no sense and are insulting.