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McCain Distorts Obama on Nuclear Power

By Brendan Nyhan

When are the media going to start pointing out that John McCain and his campaign are misrepresenting Barack Obama's position on nuclear power?

On Monday, McCain said "[Obama] doesn't want nuclear power" and claimed that "[Obama] continues to oppose the use of nuclear power." Similarly, during a press conference yesterday, McCain adviser Douglas Holtz-Eakin claimed "[Obama] has said no to nuclear power."

However, as Time's Michael Scherer points out, these claims are all false:

Does Obama oppose the "use of nuclear power"? No. But he is more cautious about expanding nuclear (which would require significant federal spending, say most analysts) than McCain.

Here's what Obama's position paper on energy says (PDF):

Safe and Secure Nuclear Energy: Nuclear power represents more than 70 percent of our non- carbon generated electricity. It is unlikely that we can meet our aggressive climate goals if we eliminate nuclear power from the table. However, there is no future for expanded nuclear without first addressing four key issues: public right-to-know, security of nuclear fuel and waste, waste storage, and proliferation.

And here's what he said in New Hampshire last year:

On one specific energy matter that is important to many in New Hampshire, he would not pledge to stop all new nuclear power plants.

"When you're a politician, you're always tempted to get some applause, but on this one I have to be more qualified," Obama said.

"We shouldn't simply remove nuclear power from the equation," Obama said. "But there has to be a high standard and a high threshold. ... I'm not going to automatically rule it out as a reasonable option."

None of this is particularly hard. Yet the New York Times failed spectacularly at fact-checking McCain today, referencing McCain's misrepresentation of Obama's position in an oblique, "he said"/"she said" aside:

Even before Mr. McCain left South Dakota, where he campaigned at the freewheeling Sturgis Motorcycle Rally on Monday night, and headed to the plant in Michigan, Mr. Obama's campaign had put out a statement rebuffing what it called Mr. McCain's misrepresentation of Mr. Obama's position on nuclear power."

The Times then quotes the passage from Obama's policy paper above. However, the reader is not told what McCain said or why Obama's campaign alleged that he was misrepresented. And the wording used by the Times ("what [the Obama campaign] called Mr. McCain's misrepresentation of Mr. Obama's position") offers no indication that McCain actually did misrepresent Obama's position.

Brendan blogs regularly at Brendan-Nyhan.com