NBC's Mitchell Smells 'Jesse Helms' GOP In Reverend Wright Ad

On Election Night 1990, after the news broke that Sen. Jesse Helms had beaten black Democrat Harvey Gantt, NBC’s Andrea Mitchell mourned "This has really been a heart-breaking race," and compared Helms to racist David Duke. On Thursday, Mitchell was seeing old Helms commercials as she denounced the North Carolina Republican Party ads featuring Rev. Jeremiah Wright’s "God damn America" comments. "This has such deep roots in the North Carolina Republican Party, the Jesse Helms Republican Party," she complained on MSNBC’s Morning Joe.

During her 1 pm newscast on Wednesday, Mitchell interviewed McCain adviser Jack Kemp, and asked him what the ad says "about the Republican Party." Kemp agreed with McCain’s call to pull the ad, but displeased Mitchell by adding "The American people know exactly what Reverend Wright stands for. That's Barack Obama's problem and it's going to stick for him for a long time to come."

In the 8 am hour of Morning Joe, co-host Willie Geist cued up the North Carolina GOP ad with disdain, as if the garbage truck was coming around the corner: "We’ve seen this theme. We knew it was coming." After the ad was replayed, Mitchell was sour: "Classic...I mean, this goes -- this has such deep roots in the North Carolina Republican Party. The Jesse Helms Republican Party, this kind of advertising. John McCain has disavowed it."

A few minutes later, she added that it would damage the GOP, and McCain. As Scarborough said McCain suggested he couldn’t make them stop the ad campaign, Mitchell protested: "You would think that if their nominee said ‘look, this is hurting us and my attempt to run a different type of campaign’ -- I mean, John McCain is – needs to appeal to independents, and now that he's won the nomination, he's got to start broadening the base. And he can't be running this kind of campaign himself."

Scarborough agreed, saying that McCain went to Selma, Alabama, not to win half of the black vote, but to appeal to suburban voters, to send a "message to moderates," and "this ad really undermines that." Isn't it odd that "moderate voters" would somehow approve of Reverend Wright's comments, or at least think those are less offensive than the people airing them?

About 38 minutes into the 1 PM hour Eastern time on Wednesday, Mitchell interviewed McCain adviser Jack Kemp, first about McCain’s remarks in Kentucky on the economy, and then on the allegedly offensive Wright ad:

MITCHELL: John McCain has written a letter and I gather in the last few minutes, in fact, spoken out against this ad. He's written a letter to the North Carolina Republican Party, telling them that he does not want them to run this ad. He said that "the television advertisement you're planning to air degrades our civics and distracts us from the very real differences we have from Democrats. In the strongest terms, I implore you to not run this advertisement." He's obviously taking a very strong stand, but what does it say about the Republican Party that the North Carolina Republicans were planning to run this ad?

KEMP: Well, I think most people would understand that this is a state party in North Carolina. I agree with John. I don't think they need to run and shouldn't run that ad. The American people know exactly what Reverend Wright stands for. That's Barack Obama's problem and it's going to stick for him for a long time to come. I would like to see this -- and I think John has pointed this out -- that it's better for our democratic process to talk about what you're for, not what you're just against. And I think he has tried to lift the level of debate.

It's going to be a tough campaign, but it's going to be respectful, and I think John, in going to Selma, Alabama, and talking about John Lewis, the great civil rights leader, and going to Appalachia, and as I mentioned before, Andrea, going into Youngstown, Ohio, getting picketed for believing in free trade is not all that bad. Because frankly, the enemy of the steelworker in Ohio or Buffalo, New York, is not in Japan or Germany or Brazil. The enemy are the tax policies and regulatory policies in Washington, D.C. And that's what John McCain is after.

It’s odd that Mitchell or any other network reporter would think that an ad featuring Wright’s "God Damn America" remarks was more negative (and more damaging to a candidate) than Wright’s comments themselves. But Mitchell has mourned the North Carolina Republican Party in the past. From the November 1990 edition of MRC’s old MediaWatch newsletter:

After Helms beat Gantt by eight points, reporters became sore losers. From Gantt's election-night party, Mitchell reported: "This has really been a heart-breaking race....What happened here was a very strong racial message from Jesse Helms in the closing ten days of the race and it focused on something that we've found, found previously in Louisiana with the David Duke campaign."

(Hat tips: Mark Levin show, Laura Ingraham show)

Tim Graham
Tim Graham
Tim Graham is Executive Editor of NewsBusters and is the Media Research Center’s Director of Media Analysis