A Stunningly Dishonest Campaign Ad

Here is John McCain’s campaign ad accusing Barack Obama of blowing off wounded American troops in Germany so he could go to the gym:

As I have blogged at Comments from Left Field, this accusation, which has been picked up and bounced around by right-wing bloggers ad nauseum, is completely non-factual. All the wingnuts have been doing here is draw the most uncharitable conclusions about events based on their biased ideas of what those events “might” mean, what it “looks like” Obama was doing or not doing, what “appears” to be the explanation, while being unable to present a single solid, confirmed FACT to back up their accusations.

Sen. Obama has provided an entirely reasonable explanation for what happened:

The campaign had initially said that Sen. Obama had said he thought it might be inappropriate to visit the troops since the campaign was funding his European swing.

Then after reports that the Pentagon had expressed concerns to the Obama campaign about the political aspect to the visit, the Obama campaign issued a statement from Maj Gen. Scott Gration (Ret.), a foreign policy adviser to Obama, saying that the Pentagon told him the visit to Landstuhl Regional Medical Center would be viewed as “a campaign event.”

“Senator Obama did not want to have a trip to see our wounded warriors perceived as a campaign event when his visit was to show his appreciation for our troops and decided instead not to go,” Gration said.

But the Pentagon said that wasn’t true, that Obama was more than welcome to come, it was just that he couldn’t bring the media or campaign staff.

So here’s what Obama said about it all:

“The staff was working this so I don’t know each and every detail but here is what I understand happened,” Obama said. “We had scheduled to go, we had no problem at all in leaving, we always leave press and staff off — that is why we left it off the schedule. We were treating it in the same way we treat a visit to Walter Reed which I was able to do a few weeks ago without any fanfare whatsoever. I was going to be accompanied by one of my advisors, a former military officer.”

Continued Obama, “And we got notice that he would be treated as a campaign person, and it would therefore be perceived as political because he had endorsed my candidacy but he wasn’t on the Senate staff. That triggered then a concern that maybe our visit was going to be perceived as political. And the last thing that I want to do is have injured soldiers and the staff at these wonderful institutions having to sort through whether this is political or not or get caught in the crossfire between campaigns.”

“So rather than go forward and potentially get caught up in what might have been considered a political controversy of some sort,” Obama said, “what we decided was that we not make a visit and instead I would call some of the troops that were there. So that essentially would be the extent of the story.”

Jake Tapper reported Chuck Hagel’s reaction to the Landstuhl story as well as another anti-Obama smear:

On CBS’s Face the Nation this morning, host Bob Schieffer asked Hagel about McCain’s claim that “Senator Obama would rather lose a war in order to win a campaign.”

“I think John is treading on some very thin ground here when he impugns motives and when we start to get into, ‘You’re less patriotic than me. I’m more patriotic,'” Hagel said. “I admire and respect John McCain very much. I have a good relationship. To this day we do. We talk often. I talked to him right before I went to Iraq, as a matter of fact. John’s better than that.”

Schieffer also asked about McCain’s new TV ad in which he says Obama in Europe “made time to go to the gym but canceled a visit with wounded troops. Seems the Pentagon wouldn’t allow him to bring cameras.”

Hagel, who accompanied Obama on their official trip to Afghanistan and Iraq but broke off in Jordan, said, “the congressional delegation that you referred to ended when we parted in Jordan. At that point, it was a political trip for Senator Obama. I think it would have been inappropriate for him and certainly he would have been criticized by the McCain people and the press and probably should have been if on a political trip in Europe paid for by political funds – not the taxpayers -to go, essentially, then and be accused of using our wounded men and women as props for his campaign…I think it would be totally inappropriate for him on a campaign trip to go to a military hospital and use those soldiers as props. So I think he probably, based on what I know, he did the right thing.”

Hagel said he wasn’t sure about all the details of the controversy, but “we saw troops everywhere we went on the congressional delegation. We went out of our way to see those troops.”

Hagel said of McCain’s ad, “I do not think it was appropriate.”

Here is Karen Tumulty on McCain’s attack ad (emphasis mine):

The charter landed about a half-hour ago in Chicago, to news that the McCain campaign has launched what Halperin is calling its “toughest attack ad yet.” But there’s a little problem with this line:

And now, he made time to go to the gym, but cancelled a visit with wounded troops.

Sure enough, the accompanying footage shows Obama playing basketball … with the troops in Kuwait.
Jake Tapper notes the ad also claims that Obama cancelled the trip because he was told he couldn’t bring the media. There is absolutely no evidence for that one. The campaign insists that the plan had been to leave us at the airport, and the military has confirmed that arrangements were being made to hold media and staff there at a passenger terminal.

As I have heard the campaign’s explanations for this decision over the past few days, as well as the attacks, I am convinced that it comes down to something that campaign strategist Robert Gibbs told reporters on the plane: When the campaign learned of the Pentagon’s concerns (Wednesday night), they realized that, however they structured the hospital visit, they were going to come in for criticism.

So they had a decision to make, and they had to do it on the fly. Their choice was to take a hit for going (even if it was a private detour from a very public campaign swing, Obama was going to be accused of using wounded troops for political gain), or a hit for not going (the charge would be–and has been–that Obama didn’t care about wounded troops). They decided to take the latter. …

Which points up the essential hypocrisy of the hysteria among the wingnuts: that Obama would have been condemned regardless of which decision he made.

Some blogger commentary:

  • Matthew Yglesias:

    When you think about the stunningly dishonest ad John McCain is running, falsely accusing Barack Obama of not meeting with troops during his trip abroad and falsely accusing Obama of some scheme to deny money to the troops, you have to recall the breathtakingly unprincipled way in which McCain has been pursuing the presidency from the beginning. …

    … He’s a guy who really wants to win the election, and he’s willing to adopt pretty much any policy position and launch pretty much any dishonest attack on his opponent that he thinks will help him get there. If that means totally fictitious ads about Obama refusing to meet with soldiers, then fine.

  • Outside the Beltway:

    This strikes me as a weak attack and a poor campaign strategy. First, Obama can rightly blame the Pentagon for the canceled trip even though it’s technically true that he was free to go in his capacity as a United States Senator if he left his campaign staff and camera crew behind. Second, my guess is that those who are going to vote on the basis of such things are already in McCain’s camp.

  • Steve Benen:

    It’s nothing short of breathtaking to watch a once honorable man want the presidency so desperately, he’s willing to flush his credibility and reputation down the toilet. John McCain’s new TV ad marks a turning point, not only in this presidential campaign, but as a measurement of McCain’s increasingly absent character.
    Perhaps the greatest irony of the ad is that it shows Obama playing basketball in a gym, while blurring the image to prevent the viewer from noting that Obama was surrounded by U.S. troops at the time, and the gym was actually on a U.S. military base in Kuwait. McCain’s ad, in other words, attacks Obama for blowing off the troops, while literally showing him hanging out with the troops.

  • Hot Air:

    This is a sequel to the attack ad McCain dropped on him at the beginning of his trip, retaining some of the same points about Obama’s NATO subcommittee and his having steered clear of Iraq for almost three years. It’s also a sequel of sorts to the “Pump” ad from a few days ago suggesting that Obama uniquely was somehow to blame for soaring gas prices; anyone who believes that will, I guess, also believe that he’d torpedo a visit to see wounded troops because there’d be no flashbulbs popping in his face. Not only does that not fit the facts — he left his pool reporters outside when he visited Walter Reed a few weeks ago, and as I noted last night, his spokesman says the plan at Landstuhl was to keep the press on the plane — but even under the worst assumptions, it makes no sense. …

  • Angry Bear:

    This only makes McCain both a liar and a petty little man. But check out this Youtube of where Obama played hoops – sure looks like American soldiers to me. Jonathan Martin has the details. In addition to being petty and dishonest, Team McCain is also incredibly stupid.

  • TPM Election Central:

    As we reported yesterday, the Pentagon told Obama that the issue here was not that he couldn’t bring cameras, but that he only had campaign staff with him and not Senate staffers. And since the Pentagon didn’t tell him this until he had already embarked on his trip, it was too late for him to do anything.

  • The Liberal Journal:

    By falsely accusing Obama of politicizing the troops, McCain is actually guilty of the same. Unfortunately, outside of the blogosphere, no one will challenge him on it. …

  • The Anonymous Liberal:

    This is the kind of ad that would be cheap and dishonorable if it was run by a fly-by-night 527 group. But, sure enough, McCain himself “approves this message.” He approves the false statements. He approves using the troops as props in cheap demagoguery. He approves implying that his opponent doesn’t place “country first.” How honorable.

    McCain’s claim that Obama snubbed wounded troops because they wouldn’t allow him to take cameras with him may be the most scurrilous and dishonorable claim I’ve ever seen a presidential candidate make in a personally-approved ad.

Cross-posted at Comments from Left Field.

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3 Comments on “A Stunningly Dishonest Campaign Ad”

  1. […] at Liberty Street. Share and Enjoy: These icons link to social bookmarking sites where readers can share and […]

  2. americalives Says:

    love all the links you have, you’re very in touch with the blogosphere. I agree i doubt Obama didnt want to visit the troops because he couldnt get media attention out of it. Obamas euro trip gave him all the expose his campaign dreamed of.

    I just wrote a piece analyzing Barack Obama’s Europe Trip at


    discover why the EU loves the messiah so much !!!!

  3. doubletalkexpress Says:

    “How can we possibly find honor in using the fate of our servicemen to score political advantage in Washington? There is no pride to be had in such efforts. We are at war, a hard and challenging war, and we do no service for the best of us — those who fight and risk all on our behalf — by playing politics with their service.” – John McCain, May, 2007

    I’m not sure what McCain’s values are anymore…


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