Sep 8 2008

Brokaw Responds to FAIR

NBC anchor Tom Brokaw responded to FAIR’s August 29 action alert, which criticized Brokaw’s warning to Democrats that they should be “careful” about how they criticize Republican presidential John McCain.

As FAIR noted, Brokaw’s argument was that McCain was a “Vietnam War hero” and that Democrats “have to be careful about how you go after John McCain because of that Vietnam experience.”

Brokaw’s response was as follows:

Thanks for the courtesy—but your action alert is provocatively misleading.

I did not advise anyone to lay off John McCain. I merely said it was a tricky issue for Democrats—and cited Jim Webb’s admonition as an example.

My comments came before Senator Clinton and President Clinton’s speeches—and, in fact, they did finesse the issue.

It is disappointing to see you try to make a piñata out of me to promote your website. Any fair reading of my remarks would support that conclusion.

Brokaw is incorrect about the timing of his remarks about Bill Clinton’s speech, which indeed came after the former president’s address. As our alert noted, NBC‘s Chris Matthews posed the question to Brokaw this way: “Tom, first, what did you make of the acknowledgment of the service of John McCain in very glowing terms?”

The point of FAIR’s criticism, of course, is not to make a “piñata” out of anyone. We believe the way the media cover elections has a profound impact on both electoral results and the health of American democracy. Political parties work hard to advance certain “storylines” during a campaign; whether the media play along more or less determines whether a given storyline takes hold.

The Republicans have been adept at challenging the national security leadership—and often the patriotism—of their opponents, including decorated Vietnam veterans like John Kerry and Max Cleland. In our view, when Brokaw tells “anyone in the Democratic Party” that “it’s a very tricky case taking on John McCain” because “you have to be careful about how you go after an American Vietnam War icon,” it serves to strengthen that Republican tactic and inhibit a fuller discussion of these issues.