By Dan Kennedy • The press, politics, technology, culture and other passions

McCain’s factually inaccurate op-ed

The John McCain op-ed piece that was rejected by the New York Times contains at least one bit of factually inaccurate information about Barack Obama. That alone is sufficient reason to send it back for a rewrite. Instead, McCain has chosen to go public and claim that the Times refused to publish what he had written despite having run a commentary by Obama last week.

Here is the inaccuracy:

The success of the surge has not changed Senator Obama’s determination to pull out all of our combat troops. All that has changed is his rationale. In a New York Times op-ed and a speech this week, he offered his “plan for Iraq” in advance of his first “fact finding” trip to that country in more than three years. It consisted of the same old proposal to pull all of our troops out within 16 months. In 2007 he wanted to withdraw because he thought the war was lost. If we had taken his advice, it would have been. Now he wants to withdraw because he thinks Iraqis no longer need our assistance.

To make this point, he mangles the evidence. He makes it sound as if Prime Minister Maliki has endorsed the Obama timetable, when all he has said is that he would like a plan for the eventual withdrawal of U.S. troops at some unspecified point in the future.

The truth, of course, is that Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki has indeed endorsed Obama’s 16-month timetable for withdrawal. Republicans are now spinning like mad to make it appear that Maliki’s remarks had not been properly translated. But this Josh Marshall post makes it clear that Maliki said what he meant and meant what he said.

In fairness, it should be noted, as Time’s Joe Klein does, that McCain’s piece was rejected last Friday, and Maliki’s remarks were not reported until the next day. But Klein goes on to observe that the McCain campaign still refuses to acknowledge that Maliki said what he said. In any case, there’s no doubt McCain’s op-ed would need to be revised in order to avoid making a false statement about Obama (and Maliki).

According to the Times, the newspaper has published at least seven op-eds by McCain since 1996. I can’t imagine that it won’t be publishing another one or two before this campaign is over.

But if McCain wants his words published without any editing or vetting whatsoever, then he ought to buy an ad.

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  1. Anonymous

    Congrats! That’s the best leftist spin I’ve heard in a long time. As good as “It depends on what the meaning of the word ‘is’ is…..”Can’t you just admit that the majority of the mainstream media is in the tank for their man?

  2. Steve Stein

    I wonder if he purposely submitted an op-ed that he suspected would get sent back? Looking around the blog landscape, it appears he’s getting more long-term mileage out of “liberal media” bashing than out of a weak op-ed.

  3. Anonymous

    Dan,Are you really going to spend the rest of the time until the election being a voice for the Obama campaign?

  4. Anonymous

    If the Times rejected it before the quote was reported, then it was factually accurate when presented to the Times. Which leads people to question why the Times would reject it in the first place. Saying they got it right because some other evidence later surfaced doesn’t provide a defense for the Times.

  5. Rich

    So, will media call out Obama on all things he says, writes, etc that is “factually inaccurate”?Please…

  6. Dunque

    Dan – Others have already pointed out the timing issue so I won’t belabor that one.I love your last line about McCain buying an ad if he wants his words published without any editing or vetting. If he settled for that he’d still be a long way from the public relations machines the networks and cable news has fired up for their guy on his overseas trip. I think in this case you’re looking past the house engulfed in flames and focusing on the fire in the doghouse out back.

  7. Dan Kennedy

    I know how it works. Criticize the Democrat, or say something in defense of the Republican, and the reaction is … silence. Do the reverse, though, and you’re guilty of horrendous liberal bias. I’m sure this will persist through the campaign.Just as a reminder, though, last week my Guardian column was devoted to the proposition that the New Yorker cover was funny as hell, and that Obama supporters need to discover a sense of humor.Critics of the Times betray a real ignorance about the way a newspaper works. No one, not even a presidential candidate, gets to place an op-ed any time he feels like it, and without any editing or fact-checking. As I said, I will be shocked if McCain doesn’t have an opportunity to get one or two op-eds published in the Times before this is all over.

  8. Anonymous

    EB3 here,hey Dan, you just disappointed me. I expected to read the factually wrong quote. You teased like you were going to provide it. Then you spouted of a quote that I believed was where the falsehood was perpetrated. But no, it wasn’t in there. You did not provide the quote. You explained it. Your interpretation.How bias is that?as Marge Simson would say “hmmmm”If you could quote one part you certainly could have quoted the offending text and let the readers draw their own conclusions.WTF

  9. Dan Kennedy

    EB3: What are you talking about? McCain’s inaccurate statement is in bold. As Emily Latella would say, “Never mind.”

  10. Steve Stein

    I know how it works. Criticize the Democrat, or say something in defense of the Republican, and the reaction is … silence. Do the reverse, though, and you’re guilty of horrendous liberal bias. I’m sure this will persist through the campaign.Are you saying this about the commenting community here, or about the wider blog landscape, or about cable tv “news” channels or about the media in general? Though this statement may have been true 8 years ago, I don’t think it works the same way everywhere now.Look at the comments at Time’s Swampland, for instance. The articles there are fairly centrist. The commenters, though, are 90% Democrat, and the Republican supporters are few and fairly ridiculous. The comments there follow an opposite rule – criticize the Democrat and you’re guilty of Republican bias.I don’t think the columnists at Swampland were prepared for that and you can see a real shift in the kinds of columns coming out of that group, especially Joe Klein. See, for instance, this episode of – Ana Marie Cox and Glenn Greenwald – especially the last segment: “Are vicious online commenters damaging journalism?”I don’t know if it’s “damage”, but Cox sure seems affected by it.The Republicans have tried “working the refs” for years, and in the past 20 years it’s really paid off. The myth of mainstream media “liberal bias” is still strong, even though the coverage has skewed right. Now (probably coinciding with the rise of popular left-wing voices of the blogosphere) the left is “working the refs” too, and it’s starting to work.I think the commenting community here is unusual. I’d characterize your blog as “center left”, but the comments are fairly widely spread across a political spectrum, and mostly thoughtful and well-presented. It’s an old saw that if you get bashed equally by both sides, you’re pretty much in the middle. But since there are so many opinions available now, audience fragmentation often leads to political mono-cultures. The right-wing audience gravitates to the righty blogs, the left-wing gravitates to the lefty blogs and there are view places where divergent views are presented.This place is different, and rare.

  11. Anonymous

    EB3 here.Ohhhh.. Thaaaaat innacurate statement.I thought that was you talkin’. Not McCain’s column. So that’s what those indentations are for.You won this one Mr. Kennedy.Now let me crawl back into my hole.Keep on Keepin on

  12. Neil

    Seems to me the actual important thing once again is buried by the ritualistic meta-discussion of media bias. Complaining about which is endless and pointless: The media is biased against {whoever my guy happens to be}. No it isn’t. Yes it is. It’s a distraction and an irrelevance.What matters is that Prime Minister Maliki has actually endorsed a 16-month timetable for withdrawal of US troops. Given that, how do the candidates respond? The government of Iraq has the right to self determination and Maliki has expressed its wish.It does sound as if Maliki has endorsed the Obama timetable. Now what?I don’t understand McCain’s logic–the surge is a success, and the benefit we reap from this success is…that we remain in Iraq indefinitely? What criteria can McCain use to determine when it’s time to leave, if not the stated wish of the Iraqi government.

  13. mike_b1

    Surge: Pronunciation: ˈsərj Function: verb intransitive verb1 : to rise and fall actively2 : to rise and move in waves or billows3 : to slip around a windlass, capstan, or bitts4 : to rise suddenly to an excessive or abnormal value5 : to move with a surge or in surgesGuess Old Man McCain is using a somewhat strained of the 4th or 5th definition. Either that, or his next purchase — after buying a computer, that is — should be a dictionary.

  14. Anonymous

    Isn’t standard operating proceedure in most newspapers to not let people reply to an op-ed with an op-ed? The usual response is through a letter to the editor, right?McCain refutes the Obama op-ed in his own op-ed

  15. Steve Stein

    And speaking of media bias, here’s more “working the refs” examples by Michael Scherer in Swampland.There’s a well-produced, hilarious video from the McCain camp about the press’s love affair with Obama (to the tune of “Can’t Take My Eyes Off Of You”), and a somewhat less professional effort by Media Matters about the press’s obsession with “Maverick”.

  16. Anonymous

    Hey Mike. You’re a smart guy. Can you drop the “Old Man McCain” bullshit? It just makes you look like a petty douchebag. We get it. He’s in his 70s. You don’t like him. Great. At least you could show him a little respect and just refer to him as McCain.

  17. mike_b1

    anon 2:55: Why on earth would you care how I look?

  18. Anonymous

    Here’s the take of a Clinton administration veteran on the ‘fair’ media coverage of McCain and The Messiah

  19. Steve

    Well, you might think the press is in the tank for Obama, but if Obama betrayed a fundamental misunderstanding of Iraq in an interview, would the press cover it up?Apparently, that’s what CBS did for McCain! (They edited out an answer in a Couric interview that misstated the history of the surge.)

  20. Dan Storms

    I always find it odd that “the media” is accused of Obama bias when it was McCain himself who called them his constituency. There is ample evidence of the media downplaying McCain’s gaffes (not knowing the difference between Sunni and Shia, for instance, or placing Iraq on Pakistan’s border), his vile temper (threatening a fellow senator with fisticuffs, calling his wife a, well, derogatory term in public), and his blatant myopia concerning his own errors (300 economists back his economic plan–except they don’t; he hasn’t flip-flopped on immigration, Iraq, illegal wiretapping, et al.–except he has).Obama gets a lot of press because he is news, people. Black man very possibly becoming president–that’s even bigger than man bites dog! Much of the attention that has been shown has not been flattering, either. How many times have Chris Matthews, Sean Hannity, or the Fat Pantload Opium Eater called him “Osama”? How often was the Jeremiah Wright video clip run as news, without similar footage of the anti-Catholic, anti-Semitic, anti-Muslim, anti-gay, anti-21st century Pastor Hagee for McCain? How many times has Michelle Obama been called “militant, “angry,” “shrill”? Jeebus Christmas folks, look with your eyes instead of your mouths.

  21. mike_b1

    And what’s funny about that, Steve, is that Yahoo had a recap of Old Man McCain’s entire gaffe — along with some other doozies — on its Search page yesterday.And who gets more viewers each day: the CBS Evening News, or Yahoo?

  22. Steve Stein

    who gets more viewers each day: the CBS Evening News, or Yahoo?What an interesting question!A more relevant question (in this case) would be “how many people saw the story on CBS; how many on Yahoo?”I’d say CBS, by a wide margin, but that’s just a guess, and a very uneducated one at that.Is there a way to know for sure? Are there good estimates out there? How does one go about answering questions like this? Can we get this info without having to pay for it?Is there a journalism professor in the house?

  23. mike_b1

    steve, CBS, or CBS Evening News? There’s a big difference there. And who is to say those who saw CBS Evening News saw the Old Man McCain piece? I think the CBS Evening News now averages between 5.3 and 5.6 million views a night.The Yahoo item was on its main page, which gets an estimated 30.6% of its overall traffic, which was 140 million in April ( So that comes to 42.8 million visitors over the month, but I’m not sure when Yahoo’s peak traffic is, or whether (and by how much) those data correct for multiple site visits.Anyway, it’s not easy to divine.

  24. Steve Stein

    Well, it’s also a question of push vs pull. Television pushes stuff out at you. On the Web, the user must pull the stuff (generally) by affirmatively clicking on the item. So even if we get numbers, it’s unclear what they mean.But those numbers ultimately mean ad revenue, so there must be SOME numbers that are credible to the ad-buying community.

  25. Dan Kennedy

    Steve and Mike: This is off the top of my head, based on no research.My guess is that the 5 million-plus people who watch “The CBS Evening News” sit down every night and watching from start to finish. It’s a half-hour commitment they make every day.On the other hand, the only Yahoo numbers that matter are how many people saw that one specific story. When you look at it that way, my expectation is that the CBS story reached far more people.

  26. Neil

    But they’re all like 80 years old right? Last time I watched the CBS Evening News it was one long Ex-Lax commercial punctuated by a couple of gentle, high-fiber news stories.CBS doesn’t want their most loyal viewers seeing one of their own making a slip o’ the memory.

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