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Belittling Palin?

A McCain-Palin TV ad accuses Obama of being "disrespectful" of Palin, but it distorts quotes to make the case.


The McCain-Palin campaign has released a new TV ad that distorts quotes from the Obama campaign. It takes words out of context to make it sound as though the Democratic ticket is belittling Palin:

  • The ad says "they said she was doing ‘what she was told.’ " But the Obama adviser who’s being quoted didn’t accuse Palin of meekly following orders. What he actually said is that she made a false claim about Obama’s legislative record and added, "maybe that’s what she was told."
  • It says "they lashed out at Sarah Palin; dismissed her as ‘good looking,’ " But "they" didn’t lash out at all. Obama – who is the one pictured – didn’t say anything like that. The only one the McCain campaign quotes is Obama’s running mate, Biden, and he actually offered the remark as a compliment. Biden said the "obvious" difference between Palin and himself is "she’s good looking."
  • The ad says Obama was "disrespectful" when he accused Palin of "lying" about her record. But the truth is Palin’s claim to have "said no" to the "bridge to nowhere" is indeed a dubious one, as we and many have pointed out.


The new McCain-Palin ad "Disrespectful" begins like an earlier ad we criticized, with its reference to Barack Obama’s celebrity, but then goes down new paths of deception. It takes quotes from news organizations and uses them out of context in an effort to portray Obama and his running mate, Joe Biden, as unfairly attacking Sarah Palin and making sexist remarks. We’ve long been a critic of candidates (Obama included) usurping the credibility of independent news organizations and peddling false quotes, and this ad is particularly egregious. We found it airing in Denver on Sept. 10, as recorded by the Campaign Media Analysis Group, a unit of TNS Media Intelligence.

[TET ]



McCain-Palin 2008: "Disrespectful"

Narrator: He was the world’s biggest celebrity, but his star is fading. So they lashed out at Sarah Palin. Dismissed her as good looking. That backfired. So they said she was doing what she was told. Then desperately called Sarah Palin a liar. How disrespectful. And how Governor Sarah Palin proves them wrong every day.[/TET]

Hey, Good-Lookin’

The ad says Obama and Biden "lashed out at Sarah Palin. Dismissed her as ‘good looking.’ "

That’s misleading. The reference is to a report of Biden joking that one of the differences between Palin and him is that “she’s good looking.” But the report cited in the ad doesn’t characterize Biden’s remarks as dismissive. Instead, ABC News’ Jake Tapper and Matt Jaffe describe a moment when Biden “ham[s] it up” for the crowd, with one woman telling Biden that he’s “gorgeous.” The Democratic candidate then says he’d like to end “on a serious note.” Here’s the quote in context:

ABC News, Aug. 31, 2008: "From our perspective the whole deal is how does the government help you get back up without getting in the way?" Biden asked. "There’s a gigantic – gigantic – difference between John McCain and Barack Obama, and between me and I suspect my vice presidential opponent. And that is that – "

The crowd laughed.

"Well there’s obvious differences," Biden said, beginning to ham it up. "She’s good looking," he said, laughing. "You know there’s obvious differences. But there’s a whole lot — "

A woman shouted: "you’re gorgeous!" to Biden.

"Where’s that person?" Biden asked. "Who said that? Who said that? Would you say that again for my wife?"

"You’re gorgeous!" the woman yelled.

"Oh, I tell you what, would you make sure Jill hears that?" Biden joked. "You know what I mean? I just want to make sure she hears that. I haven’t heard that in a long, long, long time. And hanging out with this lean, young-looking guy is making me feel pretty old, you know what I mean?"

Biden continued his riff. "I thought I was in pretty good shape til I hung out with this guy, you know what I mean?"

"Joe’s looking good," said Obama.

"Yeah, I’m looking good alright, I tell you what," Biden said. "But look, folks, let me end with, on a serious note here. On a serious note — I was a pretty good football player, man," he said to Obama "We oughta talk a little bit after this. Okay? –But look, on a very serious note …"

He then continued with his very serious note.

Our ears don’t hear Biden’s "good looking" comment as dismissive. To the contrary, it’s clearly a self-deprecating remark made in joking about himself and his looks. And by the way, the ad shows a picture of Obama next to the "good looking" quote, but it was Biden, not Obama, who said that.

Marching Orders?

The ad continues to imply sexism by claiming that "they said she was doing ‘what she was told.’ " Presumably "they" are the Democrats. But no one said anything close to that. Rather, the McCain ad took a fragment of an actual statement by an Obama adviser and carefully added language to alter the meaning.

The ad cites a Sept. 4 report from Ben Smith’s blog at Politico.com in which he interviewed Obama adviser David Axelrod about Palin’s speech at the Republican National Convention.

The full quote reads:

Axelrod, quoted by Politico, Sept. 4: "She tried to attack Obama by saying he had no significant legislative accomplishments — maybe that’s what she was told — but she should talk to Sen. Lugar, talk to Sen. Coburn, talk to people across the aisle in Illinois where he passed dozens of major laws to expand health care reform welfare, reduce taxes on working families."

Axelrod’s statement, as reported, was about information that Palin was given: "maybe that’s what she was told." The McCain-Palin campaign manipulated the phrase to make it sound as though he was alleging that Palin took orders: "doing what she was told."

The rest of the interview actually included some praise from Axelrod for Palin. For instance, he said she is a “skilled politician.”

And, again, the quote used in the ad wasn’t said by Obama, either – though his photo appears next to it.

Speaking of Dismissive

The ad wraps up by saying Obama and Biden "desperately called Sarah Palin a liar." And it adds, "How disrespectful."

The reference is to an ad the Obama-Biden campaign released in which it criticizes Palin for saying she was against the infamous Bridge to Nowhere when she had previously been for it. (We called into question Palin’s comments on the bridge last week.) The Obama ad says, “Politicians lying about their records. You don’t call that maverick, you call it more of the same.” It then quotes an item from the liberal magazine The New Republic, which called the claim that Palin stopped the pork-barrel bridge project "a naked lie."

As we’re fond of saying, we can’t read minds. So we can’t determine whether the McCain campaign means to say that calling a woman a liar is disrespectful – or whether it’s just disrespectful to say that of Palin. But in either case, "disrespectful"? Wait a minute. Isn’t this politics?

For more on another now well-known McCain-Palin ad alleging sexism, see our Wire item, "Pigs and Pit Bulls."

–- by Justin Bank and Lori Robertson

Clarification, Sept. 11: This ad aired on a Denver station on Sept. 10, prior to its official release by the McCain-Palin campaign. It was recorded by the Campaign Media Analysis Group, a unit of TNS Media Intelligence. Our original story did not include a date that the ad had aired. We do not have any information suggesting it aired on Sept. 11.


Smith, Ben. "Axelrod on Palin." Politico, 4 Sept. 2008.

Tapper, Jake. "Oh, That Joe! (Number 4 in a Series) — Biden on Difference Between Him and Palin: "She’s Good Looking." ABC News Political Punch, 31 Aug. 2008.