Could it be that there is hope for the Republic?
Yesterday I suggested that what people thought of the foreign policy part of the debate would depend a great deal on whether they had the facts to detect Cheney's artfully delivered deadpan mendacity. Today the media — both blogs and traditional sources — went into high fact-check mode. Summaries at Needlenose and White House Briefing.
Cheney's best zinger was the he went to the Senate to preside over it most every Tuesday and yet he'd never met Edwards before the debate. Both parts are a lie: Cheney's Senate presiding record is rather limited, and Cheney is on archival TV footage sitting next to Edwards at a dinner three years ago. (The Democrats put out a nice video about it.) And the part about Edwards's hometown paper was not real accurate either…
I think the major print and network media willingness to fact-check all of a sudden (where have they been for the past three years?) is largely due to pressure via blogs, which has served as a counter-weight to the right-wing domination of cable TV and AM radio, those modern yahoos who treat questioning the Maximum Leader as a form of treason. Now we have sane people noting that letting the Leader and Assistant Leader (however we sort the roles) lie with impunity is itself perhaps not the essence of patriotism.
Brad DeLong thinks that Cheney lying about the small stuff is major:
I believe that Cheney's loss to Edwards will, by this weekend, be seen as even greater in magnitude than Bush's loss to Kerry last Thursday. This is just too good a story not to dominate public memory.
In the future, when people talk about most devastating moments in vice presidential debates, they will not talk about Lloyd Bentsen's riposte to Dan Quayle's claim to be the second coming of JFK; they will talk about Dick Cheney's forgetting that he had ever seen John Edwards before.
In other words, the conventional wisdom is hardening that Cheney has committed a gaffe—one of those silly small things that the press pounces on and turns into a mountain when it (1) thinks the small thing is sympathetic magic for a big important thing (2) that the press believes to be true, but (3) doesn't have the guts to say directly.
Trial by gaffe is a nutty way to pick the government of the world's greatest superpower. But it couldn't happen to a nicer guy.
Update: Digby points to Just My 2 where you will find some very high-ranking Republicans who have gone on record in the strongest and most definite terms that even minor mis-statements in a Presidential debate (even something as small as where and when you were with a public official) indicate something profound and troubling about a candidate.
I’m willing to bet that Edwards thought about calling Cheney’s lie that they’d never met before, but then decided to let it pass. Why? Because he knew it was so easy to prove that it was a lie.
Think about it: within minutes of the debate’s end (if not sooner), enterprising bloggers dug up the prayer breakfast video and posted it. Reporters now read blogs and could be trusted, once they found the video captures (or were directed to them by astute campaign people), to run with it themselves. This is a favorite media game, after all– gotcha. Having an easily provable falsehood is one thing they live for, and they can glory in catching Cheney, feel a sense of accomplishment, and make this story run for several days.
Now suppose Edwards had goggled at Cheney and said something like, “Talk about losing touch with reality! We met [blah blah].” How would that be covered? Classic he said/he said, a food fight with Edwards looking like a name-calling junior high kid. No one would have gone looking for actual pictorial evidence, because that’s a different script. In this hypothetical script– he said/he said– what people actually do and say never enters the picture. That’s the Rove script.
By not answering, Edwards actually manipulated the media into finding another script, one they really love. And it’s one they’re getting a lot of new material for every day.
When we look back, we might well have to say that this was one of the most important moments in the KE campaign’s most important struggle: to liberate the media from bush’s crotch. It’s been absolutely vital that they do so, and Kerry himself has been struggling mightily to make it happen by trying to seize the initiative. He’s had some success; the best moment was probably Cleland’s visit to the bush ranch.
But nothing has gotten them out of their thralldom to the Rove narrative like this one. And the fact that KE has been working on precisely this problem is what makes me suspect that Edwards thought about responding in kind and decided not to. The media has to be taught what its job is.
On another blog, a commenter noted this choice of Edwards’ as a time-tested trial lawyer’s technique: don’t try to elicit testimony to respond to charges that can be easily disproven by other means; instead, use the time to follow new lines of inquiry and put new information into play.
Though now I wonder if typical corporate defendants throw out as much pure hooey as Cheney does….