MADELEINE BRAND, host:
On the presidential campaign trail this week, Senator John McCain got a taste of how quickly an off-the-cuff remark can spread in the Internet age. In this case, the Senator from Arizona mixed foreign policy and music to mixed reviews.
NPR's Don Gonyea reports.
DON GONYEA: It was just another campaign event for John McCain, two nights ago in the retirement and tourist town of Murrells Inlet, South Carolina. Then, a man stood up and asked the senator about Iran. This is the audio from a video clip that showed up on YouTube.com yesterday.
(Soundbite of a video clip)
Unidentified Man: Now, never mind if they get a nuclear weapon. When do we send them an airmail message to Tehran?
GONYEA: In case that was a bit hard to hear, the questioner seem to suggest bombing Iran, or as he put it, sending an airmail message in Tehran. McCain, seen in grainy footage shot from well back in the hall, responds.
Senator JOHN McCAIN (Republican, Arizona): You know that old Beach Boys' song bomb Iran? Bomb, bomb, bomb...
GONYEA: Instead of Barbara Ann, McCain sings bomb Iran. The audience laughs. The McCain campaign confirms that the tape is real, that the senator did indeed sing the song, but that it was all done in jest - in response to a question that the campaign says was as somewhat in jest.
It brings to mind another joke, one uttered well before the Internet age by another prominent U.S. politician, President Ronald Reagan.
(Soundbite of archived radio address)
President RONALD REAGAN: All right, my fellow Americans, I'm pleased to tell you today that I've signed legislation that will outlaw Russia forever. We begin bombing in five minutes.
GONYEA: That was from the summer of 1984. It created quite a stir because it was spoken into a microphone by a sitting president, who thought he was doing a simple mic check before his Saturday radio address. Instead, it went out live on the air. Some saw that as a harmless joke. For others, it confirmed their worst fears of Ronald Reagan, that he was a reckless gunslinger.
As for McCain, liberal blogs cited this week's remark. On the blog Nitpicker, the headline read, Good God, John McCain is nuts, wondering how McCain might someday deal with Iran diplomatically.
But Republican consultant Bill Greener had a different view, calling McCain an irrepressible persona.
Mr. BILL GREENER (Republican Consultant): He started laughing himself and immediately transitioned, as I understand it, to what his serious point of view was on the subject. And I don't see it as a putdown of anyone. Again, I think it's very important that he, sort of, in the same breath of air, came forward with a serious position was on the topic.
GONYEA: In the serious portion of his answer, McCain said that he supports President Bush in the effort to make sure Iran does not get a nuclear weapon. And he cites Iran's relationship with terrorist organizations and worries about such weapons being shared with terrorists.
Now, don't look for this episode to have the kind of impact. Former Senator George Allen's utterance of a racial slur that had last fall, that incident, once it hit YouTube, set Allen's campaign tail spinning to defeat. But the McCain moment does serve as another reminder: if you say it, it's going to get out, and fast.
Once posted on YouTube yesterday, it wasn't long before McCain's Beach Boys moment was all over the cable TV networks. Perhaps next time, if he finds the urge to sing, the Arizona senator will stick to the Beach Boys' original lyrics.
Don Gonyea, NPR News, the White House.
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