For four days, Sen. John McCain and his allies have accused Sen. Barack Obama of snubbing wounded soldiers by canceling a visit to a military hospital because he could not take reporters with him, despite no evidence that the charge is true.
The attacks are part of a newly aggressive McCain operation whose aim is to portray the Democratic presidential candidate as a craven politician more interested in his image than in ailing soldiers, a senior McCain adviser said. They come despite repeated pledges by the Republican that he will never question his rival's patriotism.
The essence of McCain's allegation is that Obama planned to take a media entourage, including television cameras, to Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany during his week-long foreign trip, and that he canceled the visit when he learned he could not do so. "I know that, according to reports, that he wanted to bring media people and cameras and his campaign staffers," McCain said Monday night on CNN's "Larry King Live."
The Obama campaign has denied that was the reason he called off the visit. In fact, there is no evidence that he planned to take anyone to the American hospital other than a military adviser, whose status as a campaign staff member sparked last-minute concern among Pentagon officials that the visit would be an improper political event.
"Absolutely, unequivocally wrong," Obama spokesman Tommy Vietor said in an e-mail after McCain's comments to Larry King.
Despite serious and repeated queries about the charge over several days, McCain and his allies continued yesterday to question Obama's patriotism by focusing attention on the canceled hospital visit.
McCain's campaign released a statement from retired Sgt. Maj. Craig Layton, who worked as a commander at the hospital, who said: "If Senator Obama isn't comfortable meeting wounded American troops without his entourage, perhaps he does not have the experience necessary to serve as commander in chief."
McCain's advisers said they do not intend to back down from the charge, believing it an effective way to create a "narrative" about what they say is Obama's indifference toward the military.
McCain spokesman Tucker Bounds said again yesterday that the Republican's version of events is correct, and that Obama canceled the visit because he was not allowed to take reporters and cameras into the hospital.
"It is safe to say that, according to press reports, Barack Obama avoided, skipped, canceled the visit because of those reasons," he said. "We're not making a leap here."
Asked repeatedly for the "reports," Bounds provided three examples, none of which alleged that Obama had wanted to take members of the media to the hospital.
The McCain campaign has produced a television commercial that says that while in Germany, Obama "made time to go to the gym but canceled a visit with wounded troops. Seems the Pentagon wouldn't allow him to bring cameras." The commercial shows Obama shooting a basketball -- an event that happened earlier in the trip on a stopover in Kuwait, where the Democrat spoke to troops in a gym before grabbing a ball and taking a single shot. The military released the video footage.