A Day After the Veep Debate, Chris Matthews Still Finds Cheney Lie "Powerful"
A whopping 44 million people watched the debate between Vice President Cheney and Senator Edwards. The smidgen that watched MSNBC -- about 1.5 million -- saw Hardball's Chris Matthews and his cohorts laud Cheney for his strength and serenity. And unlike their contemporaries at CBS, NBC, ABC and CNN, the Matthews crew scored it as a decisive victory for the vice president.
Cheney's factual miscues, at least in the initial discussion, were overlooked.
A day later, to be fair, Hardball did take a closer look at misleading statements from each debater. And although Matthews wouldn't say it, an impartial observer would conclude that Cheney offered more half-truths and mis-statements than Edwards.
But amazingly, Matthews was willing to buy the GOP spin for the mis-statement that got the most press in the news cycle after the debate -- Cheney's incorrect claim that he'd never met Edwards before the debate.
Speaking with Democratic strategist Steve McMahon early on in the show, Matthews blustered: "I thought Edwards looked slammed on that issue, 'I‘ve never met this young man before.'"
Just to be clear, Hardball officially noted the wrong claim made to 44 million viewers. David Shuster reported:
SHUSTER: The vice president‘s most powerful (claim) came when (he) slammed John Edwards‘ Senate attendance record.
CHENEY: Now, in my capacity as vice president, I am the president of the Senate, and 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 walked on the stage tonight.
SHUSTER: The problem is that Cheney and Edwards met at the very least, at a prayer breakfast three years ago. Not to mention at the swearing in of North Carolina Senator Elizabeth Dole.
But Matthews was apparently looking for the nuance of Cheney's claim, a trick that conservatives blast John Kerry for, even as they commit the act themselves.
Here's the exchange Matthews had with conservative Wall Street Journal columnist John Fund:
MATTHEWS: What did you make of his assertion that he had never met him before? That was a powerful moment in the debate as we watched it.
FUND: It was clever.
MATTHEWS: It seemed like a thunderous blow against a new arrival on the scene, someone who hadn‘t really earned his papers yet, more or less. Do you think it worked?
FUND: Here‘s the significance of that. Obviously, it‘s not quite true, because they appeared together at a prayer breakfast in early 2001. But for purposes of business on the Senate floor, Cheney was correct. The real interesting thing is, regardless of what the technical accuracy is, Edwards did not respond to it. He left it on the table. He sounded like someone who realized it wasn‘t in his talking points, but he couldn‘t react properly.
MATTHEWS: In other words ... it was close enough to the truth.
I don't know if Matthews has kids, but if he does, I hope they learn their lesson. It's okay to lie, if it's close to the truth. It's okay to lie, if you do so powerfully.
If that isn't the definition of being an apologist for Cheney, I don't know what is.
For what it's worth, the Democrats may have gotten a bounce out of the veep debate. Rasmussen, which offers a daily tracking poll of likely voters, has Bush leading Kerry by an average of 1% -- roughly 48-47 -- in the three days after the debate. The lead was roughly 3.5% -- about 48.5-45, in the three days prior to the debate.
So whether Cheney had met Edwards on the Senate floor, at a prayer breakfast, or anywhere else might not ultimately matter in the presidential campaign. As has been said many times, very little in a veep debate affects the final tally -- not even Lloyd Bentsen's devastating "you're no Jack Kennedy" line at Dan Quayle's expense in 1988, or Geraldine Ferraro's scolding of a patronizing George H.W. Bush in 1984.
I have to assume that the people Rasmussen is polling know better than to watch Chris Matthews.