The traditional media, as usual, is focusing on the wrong aspect of the recent dueling  McCain robocalls linking Obama to Ayers or insinuating that Obama refused medical care to fetuses that survived late term abortions.  The meme du jour is that McCain was a victim of robo calls in South Carolina in 2000, but is now the victimizer. This would only be partially correct since McCain used his own robo calls against George W. Bush.

One of the ironies of the 2000 robocalls McCain approved is they focused on Bush's decision to speak at Bob Jones University in South Carolina and how Jones and supporters treated Catholics, supposedly shocking McCain's conscience. Yet eight years later, McCain actually sought the endorsement of someone, John Hagee, that called Catholicism the "whore of religions."

Here is the text of the original McCain robo call, which was also known as Catholic Voter Alerts:

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: This is Catholic Voter Alert. Governor George W. Bush has campaigned against Senator John McCain by seeking the support of Southern fundamentalists who have expressed anti-Catholic views. Several weeks ago, Governor Bush spoke at Bob Jones University in South Carolina. Bob Jones has made strong anti-Catholic statements, including calling the pope the anti-Christ and the Catholic Church a satanic cult. John McCain, a pro-life senator, has strongly criticized this anti-Catholic bigotry, while Governor Bush has stayed silent while gaining the support of Bob Jones University. Because of this, one Catholic pro-life congressman has switched his support from Bush to McCain, and many Michigan Catholics now support John McCain for president.

Here is how McCain rationalized his decision to Tim Russert on Meet the Press in March 5, 2000:

McCAIN: I was paying for calls that stated the facts. The question that he asked me was, "Are you running calls that are -- that accuse Governor Bush of being anti-Catholic or practicing racial bigotry?" I said no then. I say no now. We were running factual statements. Those are far different from the kind of phone calls that were run by the Bush campaign which had very interesting allegations. So I repeat, we ran no calls and I paid for no calls that accused him of anti-Catholic bigotry. The calls were statements of facts which he authenticated when he apologized.

Senator Honorable as JoeKlein has been calling McCain as of late wanted to portray a victim while he was retaliating in kind. McCain is not even in George W. Bush's class of liar either since the transcript of the phone calls specifically mentions ANTI Catholic bigotry, so he must have been smoking RepubliCrack TM to actually believe that.

And here is how the late Tim Russert called McCain on his lies:

RUSSERT: "McCain campaign denied any knowledge of the calls." That was Monday afternoon. On Tuesday afternoon, "McCain spokesman Howard Opinsky said the campaign is 'not making any such calls.' "

It went on to Tuesday night. David Gregory said to you, "He had allies making calls criticizing you. You had allies criticizing him."

McCain: "Not so. No, that's not so. The calls were made that I had anything to do with -- although I don't know who paid for them -- had to do with pointing out that Governor Bush did go to an institution that prohibits racial dating, that is anti-Catholic." You knew who was paying for that call.

This was Jacob Weisberg's take on the issue in the Feb. 28 2000 edition of Slate:

Most of John McCain's complaints about the way George W. Bush conducted his campaign in South Carolina are entirely valid. Bush ought not to have visited Bob Jones University without denouncing its prejudicial policies. The governor also introduced a new level of nastiness into the election when his campaign initiated anti-McCain phone calls. But these and other criticisms sound enitrely hollow in light of the McCain campaign's own increasingly noxious tactics.

Let's start with the phone calls. McCain pitched a fit in South Carolina when he heard the story about a 14-year-old Boy Scout who received an anti-McCain advocacy call from the Bush campaign. This incident prompted McCain to yank all his negative advertising from the airwaves and to call upon Bush to do the same. But in Michigan, the McCain campaign initiated advocacy calls about Bush that were far worse than Bush's South Carolina calls about McCain in a number of respects. These calls were not merely negative, as Bush's calls about McCain were, but also deceptive and misleading. Instead of hearing the voice of a human being who identified himself as being from the Bush campaign, recipients in Michigan heard a recorded voice than implied the existence of a phony organization called "Catholic Voter Alert."


The other ethical difference between these two episodes is that when accused, the Bush campaign promptly accepted responsibility and released the script for its South Carolina calls. On Election Day in Michigan, McCain spokesman Howard Opinksy denied that his campaign was behind the "Catholic Voter Alert" messages. I don't think that Opinksy was intentionally lying, but the truth is equally damning. McCain's campaign manager Rick Davis--who also played a role in Bob Dole's negative advocacy calls against his primary opponents in the 1996 campaign--kept the McCain phone-banking operation secret, so secret that even other high campaign officials didn't know about it. Even now, the McCain campaign refuses to come clean about its calls. Despite repeated requests, the campaign won't release the scripts for the two other advocacy calls it acknowledges making in Michigan. McCain's only defense is that Bush has been doing more or less the same thing as he has by not demanding that his ally Pat Robertson cease making calls attacking McCain supporter Warren Rudman as "a vicious bigot." But while the Robertson calls about Rudman are obnoxious, they aren't anonymous and there's nothing technically inaccurate in them. I don't think that Rudman's saying that some members of the religious right are bigots makes him a bigot, but the charge is a matter of opinion, not fact.

McCain displays a similarly egregious double standard when it comes to his contention that the Bush campaign courted bigots in South Carolina. All the time he was blasting Bush for campaigning at Bob Jones, McCain himself was paying $20,000 a month to South Carolina political consultant Richard Quinn, a neo-Confederate revanchist who is one of the leaders of the state's pro-flag faction. Quinn is editor in chief of Southern Partisan, a magazine that publishes apologias for slavery and sells paraphernalia celebrating the assassination of Abraham Lincoln. Quinn himself once advocating voting for the "maverick" David Duke.
When asked about this background on Meet the Press the day after the South Carolina primary, McCain didn't distance himself from Quinn. Instead, he professed ignorance about Quinn's writings, just as Bush did about Bob Jones' policies, and argued, as Bush also did about Bob Jones, that Ronald Reagan had done the same thing he had. But where Bush criticized Bob Jones in stringent terms after the fact, McCain continues to describe Quinn as "a man of integrity" who isn't responsible for what appears in his own magazine. Though McCain's Richard Quinn connection is arguably worse than Bush's Bob Jones faux pas, it never turned into a big deal for one simple reason: The press let McCain get away with it, even as it held Bush's feet to the fire on Bob Jones.

And the press is doing the same thing now, with some notable exceptions, because if McCain had been held to the same low standard that even Bush adhered to, McCain would have been too cowardly to run these ads in 2008.

Originally posted to Dirk McQuickly on Fri Oct 17, 2008 at 09:29 AM PDT.

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