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Posted at 6:00 AM ET, 05/ 1/2008

Guilt by Association

By Michael Dobbs

Has Hamas endorsed Obama?

"It's just a fact that Hamas, apparently their North American spokesperson, is endorsing Senator Obama. People can make their own judgment from that."
--Sen. John McCain, conference call with bloggers, April 25, 2008.

"What Senator McCain has said repeatedly is that these candidates cannot be held accountable for all the views of people who endorse them or people who befriend them...When somebody endorses you or befriends you, they're embracing your views, the candidates' views, not the other way around."
--McCain senior adviser Charlie Black, interview with MSNBC. March 14, 2008.

The McCain campaign has been making a lot of Sen. Barack Obama's friends and acquaintances recently, seeking to tar the Illinois senator with the opinions of his former pastor Jeremiah Wright, the former Weather Underground member Bill Ayers, and even the radical Islamic group Hamas. The guilt-by-association claims seem to run counter to McCain's own denunciation of such tactics. Some are a considerable stretch, resting on twisted logic and/or exaggerated rhetoric.

The Facts

To hear McCain tell it, Obama is the friend of unrepentent terrorists and wacko preachers who see no difference between the al-Qaeda flag and the American flag. His foreign policies are "a radical departure" from the American political mainstream. If the Illinois senator is elected president next November, he would arrange a meeting with a man (the president of Iran) who "denies the Holocaust, threatens to wipe Israel off the map, funds terrorists and sends weapons to Iraq."

It is equally accurate to say that McCain has proudly accepted the endorsement of anti-Catholic preacher, Pastor John Hagee, who believes that Hurricane Katrina was a response by God to a Gay Pride parade in New Orleans. The man McCain describes as his "spiritual adviser" believes that nuclear war with Iran is "a certainty" and that "all Muslims have a mandate to kill Christians and Jews."

The McCain camp correctly lambasted Obama for twisting his words about a possible U.S. military presence in Iraq for another 100 years or more into the claim that McCain is willing to fight a "100-year-war." Two Pinocchios from the Fact Checker.) But the Arizona senator has been equally slipshod and imprecise in his own use of language, putting the worst possible spin on remarks by Obama's "supporters."

Wright has made a lot of highly controversial statements. But he never said that "al-Qaeda and the American flag are the same flags," as he has has been quoted as saying by McCain. What he actually said, in an April 2003 sermon, is as follows: "They call it jihad....We call it crusade when we turn right around and say that our God condones the killing of innocent civilians as a necessary means to an end. We say that God understands collateral damage. We say that God knows how to forgive friendly fire. ...We cannot see, however, what we are doing is the same thing al-Qaeda is doing under a different colored flag, calling on the name of a different God to sanction and approve our murder and our mayhem."

Wright's opinion -- equating an Islamic "jihad" with a U.S.-declared "crusade"--may be repugnant to many Americans. But it is not the same thing as saying that the American and al-Qaeda flags are "the same."

Similarly, it is an exaggeration to say that the extreme Hamas faction in Gaza has "endorsed" Obama for president. This claim rests on an April 13 interview that a senior Hamas adviser, Ahmed Yousef, gave to WABC. In the interview, Yousef said in passing that "we like Obama and hope that he will win the election." The word "endorsement" is too formal to describe the positive opinion of a Hamas adviser about Obama. Obama has said that he would not negotiate with Hamas which he has described as "a terrorist group intent on Israel's destruction."

The Pinocchio Test

Despite condemning the practice of "guilt by association," John McCain has been using the tactic a lot on the campaign trail. Through subtle exaggerations and selective quotations, he has portrayed Obama's "associations" in the most negative possible light.

(About our rating scale.)

By Michael Dobbs  | May 1, 2008; 6:00 AM ET
Categories:  2 Pinocchios, Barack Obama, Candidate Record, Candidate Watch, War on Terror  
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