Sen. John McCain’s top campaign aides convened a conference call today to complain of being called “liars.” They pressed the media to scrutinize specific elements of Sen. Barack Obama’s record.
But the call was so rife with simple, often inexplicable misstatements of fact that it may have had the opposite effect: to deepen the perception, dangerous to McCain, that he and his aides have little regard for factual accuracy.
The errors in McCain strategist Steve Schmidt’s charges against Obama and Sen. Joe Biden were particularly notable because they seemed unnecessary. Schmidt repeatedly gilded the lily: He exaggerated the Biden family’s already problematic ties to the credit card industry; Obama’s embarrassing relationship with a 1960s radical; and an Obama supporter’s over-the-top attack on Sarah Palin when — in each case — the truth would have been damaging enough.
“Any time the Obama campaign is criticized at any level, the critics are immediately derided as liars,” Schmidt told reporters.
But as he went on to list a series of stories he thought reporters should be writing about Obama and Biden, in almost every instance he got the details wrong.
Schmidt criticized the press for the relatively sparse coverage of the fact that one of Biden’s sons, Hunter, is a registered federal lobbyist.
“His son is a lobbyist for the credit card and banking industry,” Schmidt said.
But Hunter Biden’s lobbying clients don’t include any banks or credit card companies. He did work, as a vice president and then as a consultant, for MBNA, a Delaware-based bank and credit card giant to which Biden had close ties. But he does not appear to have lobbied for the firm.
“Steve Schmidt lied — or just got it flat wrong,” said Biden spokesman David Wade. “Hunter Biden has never — never — been a lobbyist for the credit card or banking industry.”
Schmidt attacked Obama for his ties to William Ayers, who has spoken of his role in 1960s anti-war bombings committed by the Weather Underground.
“What we know for sure, and is beyond debate and argumentation is this: Senator Obama said that William Ayers is a guy that lives in his neighborhood. We know that that is a disingenuous and untruthful answer,” Schmidt said.
“Senator Obama began his political career in its early stages raising money at Ayers’ house,” he said.
Obama did hold a 1995 campaign event at Ayers’ house. It was not, however, a fundraiser, and Ayers did not contribute money to Obama’s first campaign, according to Illinois records.
Schmidt also complained of Obama backers’ attacks on McCain’s running mate, Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin.
“As soon as Gov. Palin was nominated, one of … Obama’s chief campaign surrogates, [Florida Rep.] Robert Wexler, went out and accused her of being a Nazi sympathizer,” Schmidt said. “Where is the outrage to that aspersion on the part of some of the biggest newspapers in the country?”
But Wexler didn’t call Palin a Nazi sympathizer. He called former presidential candidate Pat Buchanan a Nazi sympathizer, and attacked Palin for allegedly having endorsed him.
“John McCain’s decision to select a vice presidential running mate that endorsed Pat Buchanan for president in 2000 is a direct affront to all Jewish Americans. Pat Buchanan is a Nazi sympathizer with a uniquely atrocious record on Israel,” Wexler said.
(Wexler was apparently wrong: Though Buchanan claimed that Palin had supported him, she said she backed Steve Forbes in 1996 and 2000, and no evidence has emerged to the contrary.)
Asked about the series of errors, McCain aides could not provide evidence to back up Schmidt’s assertions.
One McCain aide, Michael Goldfarb, said Politico was “quibbling with ridiculously small details when the basic things are completely right.”
Another, Brian Rogers, responded more directly:
“You are in the tank,” he e-mailed.
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