Mike Allen Reports:
McCain's campaign manager Rick Davis asked Sunday for a meeting with Steve Capus, the president of NBC News, to protest what the campaign called signs that the network is "abandoning non-partisan coverage of the Presidential race."
Davis made the request Sunday in a letter that is part of an aggressive effort by Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) to counter news coverage he considers critical.
In this case, the campaign is objecting to a statement by NBC's Andrea Mitchell on "Meet the Press" questioning whether McCain might have gotten a heads-up on some of the questions that were asked of Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.), who was the first candidate to be interviewed Saturday night by Pastor Rick Warren at a presidential forum on faith.
Warren told the audience that McCain was being held in "a cone of silence" so he wouldn't hear the questions, which were similar for both candidates.
Warren referred again to "the cone of silence" when McCain came onstage, and the senator joked: "I was trying to hear through the wall."
Mitchell reported that some "Obama people" were suggesting "that McCain may not have been in the cone of silence and may have had some ability to overhear what the questions were to Obama. He seemed so well prepared."
A McCain aide said that is not the case: "Senator McCain was in a motorcade led by the United States Secret Service and held in a green room with no broadcast feed."
Mitchell made the comment in the context of saying McCain did better, and that the Obama camp was defensive. In response to the campaign's letter, she pointed out that journalists get criticism from both sides.
"I wasn't expressing an opinion," Mitchell said. "I was reporting what they were saying."
Here is the text of the letter:
August 17, 2008
Mr. Steve Capus
President, NBC News
30 Rockefeller Plaza
New York, NY 10112
We are extremely disappointed to see that the level of objectivity at NBC News has fallen so low that reporters are now giving voice to unsubstantiated, partisan claims in order to undercut John McCain.
Nowhere was this more evident than with NBC chief correspondent Andrea Mitchell's comments on "Meet the Press" this morning. In analyzing last night's presidential forum at Saddleback Church, Mitchell expressed the Obama campaign spin that John McCain could only have done so well last night because he "may not have been in the cone of silence and may have had some ability to overhear what the questions were to Obama." Here are Andrea Mitchell's comments in full:
Mitchell: "The Obama people must feel that he didn't do quite as well as they might have wanted to in that context, because what they are putting out privately is that McCain may not have been in the cone of silence and may have had some ability to overhear what the questions were to Obama. He seemed so well-prepared." (NBC's "Meet The Press," 8/17/08)
Make no mistake: This is a serious charge. Andrea Mitchell is repeating, uncritically, a completely unsubstantiated Obama campaign claim that John McCain somehow cheated in last night's forum at Saddleback Church. Instead of trying to substantiate this blatant falsehood in any way, Andrea Mitchell felt that she needed to repeat it on air to millions of "Meet the Press" viewers with no indication that 1.) There's not one shred of evidence that it's true; 2.) In his official correspondence to both campaigns, Pastor Rick Warren provided both candidates with information regarding the topic areas to be covered, which Barack Obama acknowledged during the forum when asked about Pastor Warren's idea of an emergency plan for orphans and Obama said, "I cheated a little bit. I actually looked at this idea ahead of time, and I think it is a great idea;" 3.) John McCain actually requested that he and Barack Obama do the forum together on stage at the same time, making these kinds of after-the-fact complaints moot.
Indeed, instead of taking a critical journalistic approach to this spin, Andrea Mitchell did what has become a pattern for her of simply repeating Obama campaign talking points.
This is irresponsible journalism and sadly, indicative of the level of objectivity we have witnessed at NBC News this election cycle. Instead of examining the Obama campaign's spin for truth before reporting it to more than 3 million NBC News viewers, Andrea Mitchell simply passed along Obama campaign conspiracy theories. The fact is that during Senator Obama's segment at Saddleback last night, Senator McCain was in a motorcade to the event and then held in a green room with no broadcast feed. In the forum, John McCain clearly demonstrated to the American people that he is prepared to be our next President.....
We are concerned that your News Division is following MSNBC's lead in abandoning non-partisan coverage of the Presidential race. We would like to request a meeting with you as soon as possible to discuss our deep concerns about the news standards and level of objectivity at NBC.
John McCain 2008