MSNBC's Post-Debate Coverage Measures Strength, Not Facts
Most of the major networks -- NBC, CNN, ABC -- seemed to suggest last night's vice-presidential debate was a draw.
But not the folks at MSNBC.
"It was an extraordinarily strong performance by Dick Cheney," said Joe Scarborough, MSNBC host and former Republican congressman.
"Will the liberal press admit that Cheney won? That's a very good question. I think that the vice president did very, very well. He turned in a strong and serene performance, compared to Edwards," said Jon Meacham, Newsweek Managing Editor.
"I don't think the well-rehearsed and well-briefed senator from North Carolina was ready for the assault," said Hardball's Chris Matthews.
The other networks also had fact checkers at their disposal. MSNBC used correspondent David Schuster to count "buzzwords" from the candidates, like "Iraq" and "Kerry."
Matthews was particularly impressed with Cheney suggesting he'd never met Edwards -- a statement that Edwards (after the debate) said was wrong, and other observers said was untrue, citing several meetings of the two, including a prayer breakfast and the swearing-in of Sen. Elizabeth Dole (R-NC).
"It was all the points about attendance record— that's tremendous amount of homework the Republican candidate for V.P. did here.," Matthews said last night. Remember, Matthews is paid to make blustery snap judgments. Facts be damned, it sounded good, he essentially told his audience.
Matthews' cohort, Andrea Mitchell, made a similar statement, when she offered: "I think Dick Cheney did awfully well at, first of all, putting John Edwards in his place, saying that I have been presiding over the Senate and I didn't meet you until tonight."
Maybe it would be tough to know immediately whether Cheney's statement on Edwards' attendance record was true. That might take some researcher a few minutes to look up (although responsible journalists might have waited to comment until they knew the accuracy of the claim).
But are the folks at MSNBC really paid to tell an audience that Cheney looked strong and serene? Isn't their job to fact-check, to fill in the gaps when either candidate utters a half-truth? Isn't that the very basis of analysis?
The New York Times this morning tallied up more than a dozen half-truths or misrepresentations from Cheney. Edwards, who on several occasions during the debate suggested Cheney was being misleading, was only cited a couple of times by the Times.
And yet, Matthews and company didn't see fit to discuss factual errors -- from either candidate -- in the initial thrust of their post-debate coverage.
Had Cheney never beofre suggested a connection between Iraq and 9/11? That seems easy enough to fact-check. The Times knew the statement was at best a half-truth, but Matthews and company were too busy complementing Cheney's strength and serenity.
Will 900,000 businesses be negatively affected by the Kerry tax proposals? Again, it would be easy to find an expert to say this is untrue. The Times cited the Tax Policy Center, for example.
Was Edwards wrong to cite Halliburton being under investigation. Does Edwards -- as Cheney suggested -- "know the charges are false"? The Times knew that Edwards was correct in his assessment. MSNBC didn't care.
Was Cheney correct to say -- as he and Bush have said numerous times on the campaign trail -- that Kerry voted for 98 tax increases? Certainly, the MSNBC crowd should have seen this one coming, and if they'd done their homework, they would have concluded, as the Times did, that this is a misleading claim -- including multiple votes within the same legislation. Edwards said that Kerry had voted or supported 600 measures to cut taxes. I don't know if that's true or not, but MSNBC wasn't interested in covering that either.
Finally, Edwards reeled off a list of votes from Cheney's term in the House. He didn't support Head Start, Meals on Wheels, the release of Nelson Mandela, etc. Pretty scathing stuff. The sort of red meat that could have been discussed by Matthews and company. Or Matthews could have found a GOP spinner to defend those votes.
But Matthews and Scarborough, et al, were too concerned with Cheney's strength and serenity to notice.
And they wonder why voters are uninformed and uninterested in the process ...