By Michael D. Shear
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, September 17, 2008
The campaign of Sen. John McCain wanted to be clear yesterday: The Arizona Republican did not help create the BlackBerry.
That message came after McCain's top economic adviser said that the senator had, in fact, helped bring about the handheld device, comments that the campaign later called a "boneheaded joke."
At a briefing for reporters yesterday morning, Douglas Holtz-Eakin held up his BlackBerry in an attempt to prove that his boss, the former chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee, has economic know-how.
"He did this," Holtz-Eakin informed them. "Telecommunications of the United States is a premier innovation in the past 15 years -- comes right through the Commerce Committee -- so you're looking at the miracle John McCain helped create, and that's what he did."
Thus began the breakdown -- at least for a day -- of the new discipline of the McCain campaign's message machine.
Holtz-Eakin's gaffe was soon followed by another from Carly Fiorina, the former chief executive of Hewlett-Packard and a senior McCain adviser.
Asked on KTRS Radio in St. Louis whether she thinks Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin "has the experience to run a major company, like Hewlett-Packard," Fiorina answered directly.
"No, I don't," Fiorina responded. "But you know what? That's not what she's running for."
Fiorina tried to revise and extend her remarks during an interview with NBC's Andrea Mitchell a few hours later. But that didn't go overly well either, providing more grist for Democrats -- not to mention late-night comedians.
"Well, I don't think John McCain could run a major corporation," she said. "I don't think Barack Obama could run a major corporation. I don't think Joe Biden could. But it is not the same as being the president or vice president of the United States."
Later, on Fox, she accused Obama's campaign of "flooding the zone with nonsense" and said that Palin and McCain "are very fast learners."
McCain also tripped up yesterday, claiming that "I was chairman of the Commerce Committee that oversights every part of our economy." In fact, the committee's scope legally excludes "credit, financial services, and housing" -- the very areas now in crisis.
But it was the BlackBerry claim that had folks buzzing, given its similarity to the urban legend that Al Gore once said he invented the Internet.
The Obama campaign jumped on the remark. "If John McCain hadn't said that 'the fundamentals of our economy are strong' on the day of one of our nation's worst financial crises, the claim that he invented the BlackBerry would have been the most preposterous thing said all week," said Obama-Biden spokesman Bill Burton.
Liberal blogs also quickly pointed out a survey he filled out in the last year in which he claims: "Under my guiding hand, Congress developed a wireless spectrum policy that spurred the rapid rise of mobile phones and Wi-Fi technology."
Whatever his role in the technology, McCain has already admitted to being less than a proficient user. In a July 11 New York Times interview, McCain was asked, "Do you use a BlackBerry or e-mail?"
"No," McCain said, but then explained, according to the paper: "I use the BlackBerry, but I don't e-mail. I've never felt the particular need to e-mail."