HEAD SHOT 

LOW-CAL JOURNALISM After Tuesday night’s vice presidential debate between vice president Dick Cheney and Democratic vice presidential nominee John Edwards, the instant pundits were split. The general consensus, except for a classic case of group-think on MSNBC, where Chris Mathews, Joe Scarborough, and Andrea Mitchell swallowed Cheney’s act hook, line, and stinker, was that the debate had been essentially a toss-up. Most commentators said Cheney’s best moment was when he slammed Edwards for his attendance record in the Senate: “You've got one of the worst attendance records in the United States Senate,” Cheney growled. “Now, in my capacity as vice president, I am the president of Senate, the presiding officer. I'm up in the Senate most Tuesdays when they're in session. The first time I ever met you was when you walked on the stage tonight.” What a knockout punch! Mathews, in particular, swooned. “Cheney went hunting and found a squirrel,” he smirked. Too bad the entire paragraph was a lie. Within minutes of Cheney’s making the charge, bloggers had posted photos of Cheney and Edwards together, and had googled around and found at least two other occasions when the two men were together at events, including when they shook hands before an edition of Meet the Press. MTP host Tim Russert confirmed the meeting on the Today the next morning. But even more egregious was Cheney’s contention that on “most Tuesdays” he presided over the Senate. In fact, in his three and half years in office, Cheney has presided over the Senate exactly twice --the same number of times Edwards presided over the Senate in the vice president’s absence. Again, Cheney had offered up a whopper. Again, the blogoshere caught him dead to rights within hours. The next morning, even Mathews admitted he’d been snookered by Cheney’s lies. By Wednesday evening, even the major networks were examining Cheney’s distortions and pointing them out to their viewers. So why oh why would the Memphis Commercial Appeal run a column by Cal Thomas --written the day after the debate and which contained the known falsehoods --on Thursday? From Thomas, obviously written in the immediate afterglow of the debate: “And then there was this devastating line from the Vice President: ‘In my capacity as Vice President, I am the president of the Senate, the presiding officer. I'm up in the Senate most Tuesdays when they're in session. The first time I ever met you was when you walked on the stage tonight.’ “This is the way real debaters deconstruct the credibility of their opponents,” Thomas added. “That's the way debates are won,” Thomas crowed, “and Cheney won this one. Big time.” Thomas went on to repeat Cheney’s false assertions about Edwards’ attendance record, which, over the course of his Senate career is an exemplary 95.6 percent. In other words, he’s missed 4.4 percent of Senate votes while in office. Running Thomas’ column would have been understandable on Wednesday, the day after the debate. But to publish such absurd lies and flawed analysis 24 hours after the vice president’s charges had been widely debunked is irresponsible journalism. Either the CA‘s editors were clueless about post-debate fact-checking, or they just didn’t care if falsehoods were published in the paper. I can’t decide which is worse. (Bruce VanWyngarden is the editor of the Flyer.)

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