CBS Omits Bill Ayers Context of Obama Clip Used in Romney Ad

CBS's Early Show on Wednesday boosted a claim by Democrats that a recent Mitt Romney ad takes a line from a 2008 speech by then-candidate Barack Obama out of context. However, CBS noted at that time that Obama was using that line to counter a McCain campaign ad which played up the Democrat's association with left-wing terrorist Bill Ayers.

Anchor Erica Hill raised the controversy over the Romney ad towards the end of a segment with political correspondent Jan Crawford about the most recent Republican presidential debate. After playing the relevant part of the commercial, which includes a clip of Obama stating that "if we keep talking about the economy, we're going to lose," Hill asked, "A lot of controversy over that ad, Jan- why?"

Crawford replied that "as far as conservatives go, it's not so controversial....But Democrats are all upset about it because of that last line, where he says, 'If I keep talking about the economy, then we are going to lose.' That is from then-Senator Obama, who is quoting...a McCain campaign ad." The journalist then played a fuller quote from Obama, who stated that "Senator McCain's campaign actually said- and I quote- if we keep talking about the economy, we're going to lose."

Thomas M. DeFrank of the New York Daily News attributed the "we're going to lose" quote to an anonymous "top McCain strategist" in an October 5, 2008 article. DeFrank also noted that "Obama lit into the Arizona Republican for returning to the low road by having Palin and other surrogates resurrect Obama's associations with 1960s radical William Ayers, now a Chicago educator." Three days later, the McCain campaign released an ad detailing the Illinois senator's affiliation with Ayers.

Then-anchor Maggie Rodriguez reported on that McCain ad on the October 10, 2008 edition of CBS Evening News, and included a clip of Obama using the "we're going to lose" quote during a speech in Chillicothe, Ohio earlier that day:

MAGGIE RODRIGUEZ: John McCain continued to hammer Barack Obama with a new TV ad focusing on his association with a 1960s radical....Bill Ayers founded the terrorist group known as the Weather Underground. Years later, Obama worked with him in two non-profit organizations, but insists they were never close and that the McCain camp is trying to, in Obama's words, score cheap political points by exaggerating his ties to Ayers.

BARACK OBAMA: Senator McCain's campaign actually said, and I quote, 'If we keep talking about the economy, we're going to lose.' So in the last couple of days, we've seen a barrage of nasty insinuations and attacks.

Neither Hill nor Crawford mentioned this further context about Ayers during the segment. In fact, Hill, along with co-anchor Chris Wragge and news anchor Jeff Glor, gave their own commentary on the Romney ad at the end of the segment:

WRAGGE: In context, out of context- does it really matter these days? I mean-

HILL: Context, shm-ontext-

WRAGGE: (laughs) It's a little absurd, I think. Anybody watching that- a little bit absurd.

Okay. Here's Jeff Glor at the news desk with a check of today's other headlines for us this morning. Jeff, good morning.

JEFF GLOR: I think it matters-

HILL: Kind of?

WRAGGE: (laughs) Yeah, it should-

GLOR: It matters quite a bit, actually-

HILL: It tends to be important-

GLOR: No matter which side you're on-

HILL: Absolutely. It does not matter- the side.

About the same time, on NBC's Today, correspondent Kristen Welker highlighted the Democratic reaction to the Romney ad during her report about the GOP debate: "Now, the debate comes on the heels of a commercial released by Romney's...election which critics say he used a quote from President Obama out of context." ABC's Good Morning America didn't mention the issue, but correspondent Jake Tapper trumpeted that the Obama clip in the ad was "so out of context it's false" on Tuesday's World News.

The transcript of the relevant portion of the Jan Crawford/Erica Hill segment, starting at the 12 minutes into the 7 am Eastern hour mark:

HILL: ...In terms of Romney, we talked a little bit about this new ad that he launched yesterday in New Hampshire, which is drawing a lot of criticism now. Let's take a quick look, then I want to ask you about it.

[CBS News Graphic: "Romney's Controversial Ad: Obama Camp Calls It Misleading, Out of Context"]

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA (from clip of Mitt Romney political ad): If we keep talking about the economy, we're going to lose.

HILL: A lot of controversy over that ad, Jan- why?

CRAWFORD: Well, I mean, as far as conservatives go, it's not so controversial. Romney's courting that vote, and they think it's pretty brilliant. But Democrats are all upset about it because of that last line, where he says, 'If I keep talking about the economy, then we are going to lose.' That is from Senator- then-Senator Obama, who is quoting a McCain ad- a McCain campaign ad. Let's listen to the full context of that quote.

OBAMA: Senator McCain's campaign actually said- and I quote- if we keep talking about the economy, we're going to lose.

CRAWFORD: So that's the whole quote, and the ad doesn't quite get into that. Romney's team says- listen, they're just making a point, and Obama's clueless on the economy and that shows how. And I think that could go over well with some conservatives. Obviously, they've been wanting Romney to get tough on Obama, and here he is in this ad getting tough on Obama, even if it's a little out of context.

HILL: Whichever candidate you're backing, you want them to get tough because you want them to win. But, in taking things out of context, no matter which side of the aisle you're coming from, could that ultimately backfire at some point?

CRAWFORD: You know, I guess at some point it could, but not at this point. And I think what people understand and see a lot of is that- yes, in political campaigns, it's a blood sport. Things get dirty; things could be taken out of context; and, as one person was saying yesterday, if it's not out of context, it's not an effective political ad. That's kind of sad, but that's political advertising at times, and I think voters may recognize that and like to see Romney really going after Obama, particularly on issues of the economy.

HILL: Jan, thanks. Jan Crawford in Washington this morning.

— Matthew Balan is a news analyst at the Media Research Center. You can follow him on Twitter here.