McCain Regrets Picking Sarah Palin As His Running Mate

Regrets, he's had a few.

John McCain is saying in his upcoming book that he regrets picking Sarah Palin as his running mate in 2008:4

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) said he regrets choosing former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin (R) to be his running mate during the 2008 presidential campaign.

The New York Times reported on Saturday that McCain, while still defending Palin’s performance, said in his upcoming book, “The Restless Wave: Good Times, Just Causes, Great Fights, and other Appreciations,” that he wishes he had instead selected former Sen. Joseph Lieberman (I-Conn.)

His advisers reportedly had warned against choosing Lieberman, who was once a Democrat, stating that Lieberman’s support of abortion rights could divide Republicans.

“It was sound advice that I could reason for myself,” he writes. “But my gut told me to ignore it and I wish I had.”

In a new HBO documentary, McCain goes on to say that not choosing Lieberman was “another mistake” that he made in his political career.

Lieberman told the Times that he didn’t know McCain felt that way.

“It touched me greatly,” he said of the film.

The Times reported that Lieberman recently visited McCain, 81, at his ranch in Arizona where the senator is recovering from his brain cancer treatment and surgery for an infection

Those who followed the 2008 election closely will remember that, as the Republican National Convention neared that year, there were several rumors about who McCain would choose as his running mate. One of the most persistent, albeit the oddest, was the idea that he would effectively reach across the aisle and select former Connecticut Senator Joe Lieberman, who had been the Democratic nominee for Vice-President in 2000 before running for re-election as an independent in 2006 after he lost the Democratic nomination for his seat to Ned Lamont. Lieberman went on to win the General Election that year, garnering nearly 50% of the vote even though he was running a three-way race against Lamont and the Republican nominee Alan Schlesinger. McCain was warned, though, that trying to tag Lieberman as his running mate would face resistance from the delegates and could even have resulted in the convention rejecting the nominee’s choice of a running mate, something that would have been disastrous for a campaign that was already facing headwinds.

Once the idea of picking Lieberman was finally taken off the table, McCain’s choice came down to Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty, who was at the beginning of his second term in office as Governor of Minnesota at the time, and Sarah Palin, who was just at the beginning of her first and only term as Governor of Alaska and was a relative unknown in American politics at the time. For a brief period, selecting Palin appeared to significantly shake the 2008 election to the point where the McCain/Palin ticket was leading the Democratic ticket of Barack Obama and Joe Biden by the time the Republican National Convention ended. Very quickly, though, it became apparent that Palin was plainly not ready for her time on the national stage, was largely ignorant about important public policy issues, and someone more concerned with her own public image than the national campaign or what was good for the Republican Party.

While I understand the sentiment that McCain may still have for the idea of picking Liberman, it clearly was a bad idea on his part and an early indication that his judgment was faulty when it came to deciding who his potential replacement should be in the event he actually was elected President. While Lieberman may have been qualified for his position, picking him would have been a politically dumb move because it would have likely split the Republican Party, caused many conservatives to stay home or not vote for President on Election Day and resulted in an even bigger Democratic win on Election Day 2008.

As I’ve said many times, the problem with McCain picking Palin in 2008 was the fact that, as is usually the case with Presidential candidates, it was his first opportunity, to demonstrate the type of judgment he would use were he elected to the President. In a Vice-Presidential selection, a candidate for President is basically telling the nation that this is the person who would be best suited to take over leadership of the nation in the event they were unable to serve or died in office, even if it happened on their first day in office. Palin did not meet the criteria for that position in any respect of the word based on her resume alone, and it quickly became clear based on her performance on the national stage that she was not prepared to be Vice-President, and most certainly not prepared to be President should the need arise. By selecting her, McCain caused many people to call his judgment into question for the first time since he became a national politician.

The other problem with McCain selecting Palin, of course, is the fact that his decision led to her rise to media stardom on the right and pushed the Republican Party in general and its hardcore conservative wing in particular even further down the road that eventually led us to Donald Trump winning the Republican Party’s nomination eight years later. Many of the same people who rallied around Sarah Palin during the 2008 campaign turned into what became the Tea Party movement in 2009 and beyond, and Palin herself became a frequent speaker at Tea Party events, backing candidates who were far off the mainstream of the GOP and who appealed to the right-wing populism that both Palinism and the Tea Party represented. That right-wing populism, combined with a healthy dose of anti-immigrant hysteria, is what fed the monster that became Donald Trump and, to a large degree, gave us what we have today. McCain isn’t solely responsible for this, of course. Much of it probably would have happened even if he had not chosen Palin as his running mate, but he did play a role in it and he does bear some responsibility for the consequences of that decision.

FILED UNDER: Campaign 2008, Politicians, Sarah Palin, US Politics, ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010. Before joining OTB, he wrote at Below The BeltwayThe Liberty Papers, and United Liberty Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. Kathy says:

    I can’t help but imagine that one of McCain’s advisers is a woman named Cassandra.




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  2. Kylopod says:

    At first when I heard about this, my thought was it was going to be one of these deathbed confessions comparable to Lee Atwater’s apology for using racism on the campaign trail. But now that I look at it–and I’m basing it on the quotes presented here, without seeing the full context–it seems like McCain is merely regretting the political consequences of his choice, not truly grappling with how damaging it was to the country. I don’t know if he’d have done better or worse with Lieberman on the ticket (I doubt he’d have won, either way), but whatever my reservations about Lieberman (especially in terms of his ultra-hawkish foreign-policy views, which were the main source of their alliance in 2008), it wouldn’t have been anywhere near as irresponsible. Palin paved the road toward Trump. McCain/Lieberman wouldn’t have really paved the road toward anything except political oblivion.




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  3. Paul L. says:

    it became apparent that Palin was plainly not ready for her time on the national stage, was largely ignorant about important public policy issues

    Translation:
    Pro-Gun, Pro-Life and Anti full rights for Illegal Aliens.
    Democrats need to run fully against these in 2018.

    it quickly became clear based on her performance on the national stage that she was not prepared to be Vice-President, and most certainly not prepared to be President should the need arise.

    Trump is as “unqualified” as Sarah Palin. He is now President.




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  4. CSK says:

    @Paul L.:

    All of which proves nothing more than that horrifyingly unqualified vulgarian buffoons can become president.




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  5. MarkedMan says:

    McCain has always been a study in conflicts. He is definitely from a different era in the Republican Party, from a time when there were Republicans with morals and integrity. But he also had an impulsiveness that was very worrisome, and Palin’s selection fell right into that. I honestly felt given his health issues, putting someone like her just a heartbeat away from the Presidency was so reckless as to be disqualifying in and of itself.




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  6. MarkedMan says:

    @Paul L.:

    Trump is as “unqualified” as Sarah Palin. He is now President

    Yes. That’s exactly right. You and your fellow travelers voted for a piece of trash to be President.




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  7. Eric Florack says:

    John McCain has never understood conservatives much less agreed with them. The fact of the matter is that if Palin has been on the top of that ticket she would have won…. And he knows it. That’s what really is stuck in his craw.




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  8. Gustopher says:

    I think people are reading too much into this — McCain seems to regret not picking Lieberman, rather than regretting picking Palin.

    Perhaps he is just being a gentleman, and not openly criticizing her — that’s certainly possible. But all he has expressed is a sentimental regret at not picking his friend.

    (Also, it’s not that Sarah Palin wasn’t ready for the national stage, but rather that Sarah Palin is an angry and aggrieved nitwit that lacks the temperament of a national leader. There was nothing that would make her “ready”)




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  9. gVOR08 says:

    Having just watched his party push the country into a by then unpopular war and into the Great Recession, the R nominee had no hope of winning, so his choice of VP affected nothing but the veep nominee and the party’s future. Something McCain should have realized. So his choices were Lieberman, Palin, or Pawlentzzz…. (sorry, nodded off there for a moment), and people talk about Dems having a thin bench.




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  10. @gVOR08:

    He could have picked Romney. Perhaps no more exciting than Pawlenty, but certainly more competent than Palin.




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  11. CSK says:

    What a sideshow the Palin family in D.C. would have been: multiple out-of-wedlock pregnancies, multiple arrests for domestic violence, drug and alcohol abuse, drunken brawls involving the entire clan, squalid custodial and divorce battles…all played out on the world’s stage.




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  12. Franklin says:

    @Eric Florack: Who do you associate with, such that you think those views are in any way common?




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  13. Leonard says:

    He would have lost my vote if he’d picked Lieberman. He would have lost millions of others, and picked up none.




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  14. gVOR08 says:

    @Eric Florack:

    if Palin has been on the top of that ticket she would have won…. And he knows it.

    And people say conservatives have no sense of humor.




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  15. Kylopod says:

    @gVOR08: @Doug Mataconis: It was clear at the time that the selection was a last-ditch effort to win the race (what, you thought he chose her because he felt she was the best choice to be vice president?)–the term “Hail Mary pass” was thrown around by the press at the time, and it’s an apt description. He was already headed toward a loss, and if he’d gone with some conventional, boring choice like Romney or Pawlenty, while it wouldn’t have hurt him, it probably would have done nothing to change the trajectory of the race. Selecting either Lieberman or Palin was bound to be regarded as unconventional (albeit for different reasons), and it was a way of generating buzz and enhancing McCain’s “maverick” reputation.

    Lieberman clearly would have been an attempt to give his campaign a bipartisan aura in an effort to win over independents and perhaps some Democrats. I have little doubt the press would have talked about the Lincoln/Johnson ticket in 1864 (which may not have been the most helpful comparison for McCain, given that Andrew Johnson is remembered as one of the worst presidents–but never mind).

    Sarah Palin had been on the radar of conservative activists as early as 2007, when Hillary was still regarded as the front-runner for the Democratic nomination. They were searching for a hardcore conservative who could neutralize Hillary on the womanhood issue. She continued to be pushed in conservative circles after Obama won the nomination, and I don’t have any doubt that part of McCain’s calculation was that she could steal the thunder from Obama in terms of youthfulness, charisma, and being a historical “first” of any kind.

    In my view, part of it reflected the McCain campaign’s failure to appreciate Obama as anything more than a novelty. Remember, the campaign put forth the “celebrity” ad comparing Obama to Paris Hilton. So their choice of Palin reflected their cynical view that the only way to stop Obama was by picking another vacuous “rock star”–which they incorrectly believed was all Obama amounted to.




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  16. gVOR08 says:

    @Doug Mataconis:

    He could have picked Romney. Perhaps no more exciting than Pawlenty, but certainly more competent than Palin.

    You didn’t list Romney as one of McC’s available choices. But McC could hav picked him, which might have boosted Romney for ’12 or ’16. But in ’08, with the economy tanking, McCain would have lost had Jesus been a natural born again citizen and run with McCain.




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  17. @gVOR08:

    I didn’t discuss Romney as a possibility mostly because he was not among the final candidates for the VP slot. That came down to Lieberman, Pawlenty, and Palin. Either Pawlenty or Romney would have been far better choices than Palin.




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  18. TM01 says:

    Palin was the only good move he made. He refused to address Obama’s obvious shortcomings and unpreparedness for higher office. He refused to address his “questionable” associations with people like Wright, Farrakhan (which we only learned about recently unfortunately), and Ayers. There was zero enthusiasm for him. Lieberman would have really killed his chances.

    The big thing is that Palin terrified the left, which brought out the Democrat Hate Machine, all guns blazing. Van Jones admitted that Palin had Democrats “shaking in our boots.” Journolist members admitted she was effective and was a real threat to Obama. Can’t let that happen. Attack attack attack.




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  19. teve tory says:

    TM01 says:
    Monday, May 7, 2018 at 13:13
    Palin was the only good move he made. He refused to address Obama’s obvious shortcomings and unpreparedness for higher office.

    Compared to, say, Donald J. Trump.




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  20. TM01 says:

    @teve tory: So Obama begat Trump I guess.




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  21. Kylopod says:

    @TM01:

    He refused to address his “questionable” associations with people like Wright

    That’s correct–he made a choice not to pursue the Wright controversy at all. And given how well it worked out for Hillary (which was not at all), that makes sense.

    Farrakhan (which we only learned about recently unfortunately)

    If we only learned about it recently (which consisted of a photo), how exactly is it McCain’s fault for not bringing it up?

    and Ayers

    He did bring up Ayers. He made several ads about it, even confronted Obama directly about it during one of the debates. At best it had no effect at all on the vote. Which suggests that the whole matter of alleged “questionable associations” is a lot less effective as a campaign tactic than you’re assuming.

    And bringing up the matter of “questionable associations” may not be such a wise idea when talking about Palin–a woman whose husband was part of a secessionist group, and who belonged to a church that had a speaker who claimed that the victims of suicide bombings in Israel were being punished by God for their failure to accept Christ. You think Rev. Wright’s “God damn America” was bad? Palin had a pastor who said “God is gonna strike out his hand against…the United States of America.”

    https://www.huffingtonpost.com/max-blumenthal/palins-pastor-god-is-gonn_b_124417.html

    You know what? I bet you’ve never heard any of these facts before. The irony is that you think the press did a hit job on Palin, when in fact a great deal of the most disturbing things about her went largely unreported.




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  22. reid says:

    @TM01: This view into the rightwing bubble was disturbing.




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  23. SenyorDave says:

    At this point no sane person could possibly say that Palin would have been preferable to Obama as president. Palin had zero qualifications and showed herself to be an ignorant buffoon during the campaign. In the ten years since she was on the ticket she has started to fade into obscurity, although her family pops up every now and then to remind everyone what a train wreck she is. If some of the so-called conservatives who post here (TM01, Paul L, Florack) would really have preferred her over Obama the main reason must be skin color.




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  24. MarkedMan says:

    @TM01: Sometimes I wonder if you can ever judge a person’s character. And then I hear from someone who admires both Trump and Palin…




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  25. Paul L. says:

    he made a choice not to pursue the Wright controversy at all. And given how well it worked out for Hillary (which was not at all), that makes sense.

    Clinton did not want to alienate a major Democrat voting block who agreed with Wright.
    Clinton lost to Obama because of the super-delegates.

    Palin was destroyed by the Democrats and the GOP Establishment mainly the Never Trump part.




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  26. inhumans99 says:

    @Eric Florack:

    I think that you know this is not true, the GOP base would never put a woman into the White House, even someone they could shout from the rooftops One of Us, One of Us!

    Folks like Sarah Palin, Pam Gellar, and Ann Coulter are just useful tools for the GOP to fleece their flock but they would never in a million years let them wear the crown. A real man like President Trump who shares these ladies views can wear the crown, but no way in heck is even the modern incarnation of the GOP letting Coulter, Palin, or Gellar anywhere near the throne.

    Anyway, who care what point I am trying to make as Palin is already in the White House…but she goes by the name most folks know her by, Donald Trump. So yeah…I just realized that I pointed out how wrong I am as a woman is already in the White House. Heh.




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  27. teve tory says:

    Yeah, Obama’s relationships with Farrakhan and Ayers are troubling—it might make him do something bad as president! It’s just too soon to tell…




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  28. george says:

    @Kylopod:

    I always assumed McCain chose Palin for the same reason Nixon had Agnew and Bush Sr had Quayle: it made it extremely unlikely that anyone would assassinate them knowing who was next in line.

    And yes, I’m partly serious.




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  29. george says:

    @Eric Florack:

    Well, that certainly explains why Palin was so successful in running against Obama in 2012 as top of the ticket …




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  30. teve tory says:

    @SenyorDave: See also “National Republicans Pushing Back Against Upstart, Racist Candidate In West Virginia”

    Republicans Ponder Real Head-Scratcher: Where All These Racists Coming From?

    And of course the classic (NSFW): Why do all these homosexuals…




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  31. teve tory says:

    The big thing is that Palin terrified the left,

    I’m begging you to put her on the ticket next. We’re truly terrified. I’m shaking like a leaf on a tree.




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  32. Kylopod says:

    @george:

    I always assumed McCain chose Palin for the same reason Nixon had Agnew and Bush Sr had Quayle: it made it extremely unlikely that anyone would assassinate them knowing who was next in line.

    Well I remember an SNL bit from eons ago in which Bush Sr. describes Quayle as his “bullet-proof vest,” so the idea isn’t exactly new….




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  33. MarkedMan says:

    Hey, Trumpoids, I got a question for you. What exactly was it that Wright said that was so bad? “God damns America”? Your basic sweaty overweight Jeebus preacher pulls that one out about ten times a day. Heck, Pat Robertson and Baby Falwell pull that out after every national disaster. But there must be some difference to you teatypes between Pat Robertson and Jeffery Wright. I wonder what that could be…




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  34. JKB says:

    @MarkedMan: “God damns America”?

    There was no “s” in what Wright said. His was not a statement but a malediction




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  35. wr says:

    @Paul L.: Let me guess: You still think “what newspapers do you read?” was an unfair trick question…




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  36. MarkedMan says:

    @JKB: The “s” was a slip of my fingers, but I don’t see its relevance anyway. Here is his quote:

    The government gives them the drugs, builds bigger prisons, passes a three-strike law and then wants us to sing “God Bless America”. No, no, no, not God Bless America. God damn America — that’s in the Bible — for killing innocent people. God damn America, for treating our citizens as less than human. God damn America, as long as she tries to act like she is God, and she is supreme.

    How exactly is that different than something your average sweaty white Jeebus preacher trots out?




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  37. pylon says:

    Yeah, associations with a populist minister, a political activist and a former radical (in the 60s) turned tenured professor.

    Much worse than mobsters (both Russian and domestic), mercenaries, white supremacists, and political dirty tricksters.




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  38. HarvardLaw92 says:

    @TM01:

    The big thing is that Palin terrified the left, which brought out the Democrat Hate Machine, all guns blazing.

    You have got to be joking here. You can’t possibly actually believe that.

    The only reaction Sarah Palin ever instigated with Democrats was (and is) howling, derisive laughter.




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  39. Hal_10000 says:

    Ah, Sarah Palin. That brings back memories. Thank the maker we would never elect that kind of shallow ignoramus just because her ignorant oral emissions strike as “telling it like it is” and …

    Oh.




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  40. teve tory says:

    HarvardLaw92 says:
    Monday, May 7, 2018 at 18:34
    @TM01:

    The big thing is that Palin terrified the left, which brought out the Democrat Hate Machine, all guns blazing.

    You have got to be joking here. You can’t possibly actually believe that.

    Keep in mind HL, For every Albert Einstein on the far right side of the bell curve…




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  41. Just 'nutha ig'nint cracker says:

    @Paul L.: Your comment only establishes that the citizens of your “kingdom” are voting Republican.




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  42. HarvardLaw92 says:

    @teve tory:

    Truth 😀




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  43. Not the IT Dept. says:

    Trumpturds aside, it is an interesting counterfactual history question: would Sarah Palin have been able to tap into the same feelings in 2012 that Trump did in 2016?

    My answer is “no” for various reasons, but I’m curious what others might say.




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  44. Paul L. says:

    @wr:
    Too bad, Katie Couric could not have edited in a eight-second pause for “dramatic effect” like she did in Under the Gun.

    What newspapers does Obama read?




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  45. Not the IT Dept. says:

    There was no editing, Paul-L. Palin really was that stupid.




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  46. al-Ameda says:

    @Paul L.:

    Too bad, Katie Couric could not have edited in a eight-second pause for “dramatic effect” like she did in Under the Gun.

    Katie should have known better, Sarah does not read.




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  47. wr says:

    @Paul L.: “What newspapers does Obama read?”

    Congratulations. This is quite possibly the dumbest “whatabout” in the history of the internet.

    But in case this is a serious question — I know, I know — I will say that I have no idea what newspapers Obama read, but that if asked he would have been able to name them, explain what he found valuable in each, describe his approach to reading and analyzing news stories, and done a comparison between them.

    As opposed to saying “um, all of them?”




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  48. Eric Florack says:

    @inhumans99: the GOP certainly would have put a woman in the White House given who they would have been running against.

    And, Lose the sexism Crutch, would you please?




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  49. Paul L. says:

    @al-Ameda:
    I was hoping a defense of the Right wing smear against Katie Couric, Stephanie Soechtig and the excellent factual Gun Documentary Under the Gun over a unintentional minor editing mistake using audio that was the result of illegal wiretapping/eavesdropping performed by Radical Far right Anti gun safety extremists.

    The 8 second insignificant edit of the two-hour acclaimed above reproach GunDocumentary Under the Gun film, that the NRA is unfairly fixated on, “did not represent editing someone’s sentences, there was no factual error, this is not a mistake that is a substantive mistake. It could have been avoided. This was a poor decision that was made and it involves silence.”




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  50. Kylopod says:

    @Paul L.: Due to the recent E. coli outbreak, I would advise against using any romaine lettuce in your word salad.




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  51. Paul L. says:

    @Kylopod:
    Progressives like to use the term word salad when I use their default Political Science talking point boilerplate.

    Hint those were arguments from defenders of Couric’s edit.




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  52. Kylopod says:

    @Paul L.:

    Progressives like to use the term word salad when I use their default Political Science talking point boilerplate.

    Actually I was using the term “word salad” the way it’s actually defined in dictionaries: “A confused or unintelligible mixture of seemingly random words and phrases.” Which is exactly what you just admitted to doing.




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