Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain was grilled Sunday on CBS’ “Face the Nation.” Host Bob Schieffer, the self-appointed anti-smoking sheriff of America, browbeat Mr. Cain because his campaign chief, Mark Block, took a drag on a cigarette at the end of an online ad.
The 54-second spot went viral because it was so refreshing to see a candidate avoid political correctness, but Mr. Schieffer was incensed, asking, “What is the point of that - having a man smoke a cigarette in a television commercial for you?” Mr. Cain has never smoked, but he defended the commercial. “I don’t have a problem if that’s his choice,” he said. “So let Herman be Herman. Let Mark be Mark. Let people be people. This wasn’t intended to send any subliminal signal whatsoever.”
The CBS anchor wasn’t done. He went on to ask six questions about his favorite topic, spending almost twice as much network time on smoking as on Mr. Cain’s economic agenda.
This was not the first time Mr. Schieffer delivered a Sunday sermon on demon tobacco. One month before the landslide 2010 election, Mr. Schieffer asked then-House Minority Leader John A. Boehner four questions related to smoking. The Ohio Republican admitted that he smoked, saying, “I wish I didn’t have this bad habit, and it is a bad habit. … But it’s something that I choose to do.”
The CBS anchor chided Mr. Boehner for accepting campaign contributions from the tobacco industry when “cigarette smoking is the leading cause of preventable deaths in this country.” The GOP leader responded that there are “a lot of things that aren’t good for our health. But the American people ought to have the right to make those decisions on their own.”
It appears Mr. Schieffer reserves the one-two punch for Republicans and puts on kid gloves to deal with Democrats. The closest the TV host has come to criticizing a Democrat for smoking was telling then-White House senior adviser David Axelrod in October 2010 to tell the president to consider taking up a joint pledge with Mr. Boehner about quitting smoking.
A mere two months later, the anchor heaped praise on President Obama, not because he had quit smoking but for not getting caught. “We learned that the president hasn’t been seen with a cigarette in nine months,” Mr. Schieffer said, beaming. “Good on him. I hope he’s beaten it once and for all.” But the anchor again piled scorn on incoming House Speaker Boehner. “So what do you say, Mr. Boehner? Are you going to let the president one-up you on this?”
Meanwhile, on Monday, the White House released a memo from the president’s physician claiming the commander in chief is “tobacco free.” Four months ago, the White House released a photo of Mr. Obama in the Oval Office during the debt-ceiling negotiations with what appears to be a piece of Nicorette gum in front of him on his desk.
Mr. Schieffer’s partisan puffery could not be more transparent. Republican and Democratic adults can decide for themselves whether to smoke. The risks are well-known; a highly paid TV anchor sheds no new light on the issue.
Emily Miller is a senior editor for the Opinion pages at The Washington Times.