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TIMOTHY’S CHOICE! Russert knew that Cheney had lied. And Russert knew not to tell you: // link // print //
THURSDAY, OCTOBER 7, 2004

TIMOTHY’S CHOICE: Tim Russert makes a good place to start. Tuesday evening, in real time, Russert knew Cheney’s claim was bogus—and he also knew enough not to say so. During the vice presidential debate, Cheney had icily turned to John Edwards and said the two had never met. And omigod! Russert knew this was false! He said as much the following day, speaking with Today’s Katie Couric. Here’s how his confession began:
COURIC (10/5/04): The vice president said he had never met John Edwards until tonight, talking about pretty much being an absentee senator, but you say that's not true.

RUSSERT: No, it's not true. In fact, on April 8th of 2001, they were on Meet the Press together. Dick Cheney first, and then John Edwards after him.

COURIC: Well, why did he say that?

RUSSERT: And they stopped and shook hands. They were at a prayer meeting together. I think what he was trying to—maybe he didn’t remember—but he clearly is trying to give the impression that John Edwards is a young ambitious man in a hurry who just doesn't stop by the Senate and do his job in a serious way...

Even here, Russert’s admission is a bit hard to follow. In fact, he is describing two different meetings between Cheney and Edwards, not just one, although his jumbled construction makes that hard to discern. But one of these meetings was on Meet the Press, Russert’s own program. Did Russert remember this meeting on Tuesday night, even as Cheney made his attack? Couric knew enough not to ask. But as he continued, Russert made it clear—he knew that Cheney’s statement was bogus even as Cheney was making it:
COURIC: On the other hand, if you—if you misspeak like that and, and are dishonest about it, that can backfire, right?

RUSSERT: Sure. I wish—I thought that John Edwards would call him on it right at that very moment. I still don’t know why.

“I thought that Edwards would call him on it right at that very moment,” Russert said. In short, Russert knew Cheney’s statement was false. And Guess what? To all appearances, he also knew that he mustn’t say so as he reviewed the debate Tuesday night.

Indeed, Russert’s silence on Tuesday night is nothing short of remarkable. In the wake of the Great Veep Debate, his NBC/MSNBC colleagues couldn’t wait to tell the world that Cheney had cleaned Edwards’ clock. Pundits said it; reporters implied it; between giggles, a vacuous “liberal” blogger confirmed it. And Cheney’s biting attack on Edwards—I’ve never met you before this night—well, it was widely flogged as Exhibit A of the VP’s brilliance.

Wow! What a chance for Russert to score a Big Scoop! The kind of scoop all journalists long for! In tandem with bossman Tom Brokaw, Russert appeared on MSNBC shortly after 11 PM Eastern. The debate had before over for about half an hour. And, with apologies for the length of our excerpt, here are the first remarks Russert offered. You’ll note that Russert highlighted Cheney’s attack. And yes, you’ll notice something else. You’ll notice that Russert never mentioned the fact that Cheney’s statement was bogus:

RUSSERT (10/4/04): I thought Senator Lindsey Graham, the Republican from South Carolina, had a very interesting point, Tom. He said that last Thursday was not George Bush's best night.

BROKAW: Right.

RUSSERT: And they were very much afraid that if this debate went the same way as last Thursday's, there would be an extraordinary momentum for the Kerry-Edwards ticket going into Friday.

They do believe that tonight they blunted some of that momentum, because Dick Cheney was able to rally the Republican base, at least, by putting forward a very instructive and heartfelt case for the Bush-Cheney administration. I think John Edwards, when he said, you are not being straight on Iraq, was trying to frame this campaign on Iraq, and Dick Cheney kept saying, it's broader than Iraq. It's the war on terror. And if you want to win the war on terror, you have got to reelect George Bush.

And then when he turned to John Edwards and basically said to him, “You know what, you are a young man in too much of a hurry, I never met you before in my life until you walked on the stage tonight,” it was basically saying to the American people, you may disagree with me, but I am steady and I am resolute, and I have a lot of experience, and you don't have to worry about the government if I am a heartbeat away.

Amazing, isn’t it? Russert highlighted Cheney’s remark, and presented an heroic portrait of what Cheney was telling the voters. According to Russert, Cheney was saying, “I am steady and resolute—if I’m in charge, you don’t have to worry.” But in fact, Cheney was lying through his teeth to those voters when he launched this attack on Edwards. And yes—Russert knew that Cheney was lying. And he also knew enough not to tell.

As we suggested yesterday, the NBC/MSNBC coverage of this debate was little short of astonishing. Media Matters has offered an instructive synopsis, but even their worthy precis fails to capture the full extent of the network’s remarkable spinning for Cheney. It was done by reporters; it was done by pundits; and yes, the anchors were spinning hard too. But gaze on the work of this horrid man, Russert, as he vouches for a man he knows to be lying. How have we reached the Fallen State where millionaire pundits abuse you this way? More on NBC’s conduct tomorrow. But do you see why we incomparably say that it’s time for Tim Russert to go?

BEYOND BELIEF: Try to believe—just try to believe—the way Russert concluded this Tuesday appearance:

RUSSERT (10/5/04): Chris, I think the bigger spotlight on Friday will be on George Bush. He needs a good debate performance.

BROKAW: Right.

RUSSERT: Republicans want that. Swing independent voters who are undecided want that. He has to go out, much like Ronald Reagan in 1980, after a dismal first debate, go out on the second debate and make an emphatic case that he should in this case remain as commander in chief and president of the United States.

MATTHEWS: That was against Fritz Mondale. Right. Thank you, Tom Brokaw and Tim Russert.

Astonishing! Obviously, Republicans want a good performance from Bush. But according to Russert, independents want Bush to do well too! Russert has been astounding for years, but anyone with an ounce of sense can see him writing Friday’s script with this bizarre bit of exhortation. Russert has been astounding for years, but after this oddball performance on Tuesday, it’s time for this bloated multimillionaire to retire to the island where he can hang with his multimillionaire friends, discussing how tough they all had it. It’s time for this fake man to go.

More—much more—on NBC’s amazing performance tomorrow.

BUSH LIES, PRESS CORPS SIGHS: But let’s face it—they’ve now been reduced to endless lying. On Tuesday night, Cheney said this in the Great Debate:

CHENEY (10/5/04): Gwen, the Kerry record on taxes is one basically of voting for a large number of tax increases—98 times in the United States Senate.
Sadly, Cheney’s claim is false. On Wednesday, Glenn Kessler of the Washington Post summarized FactCheck.org’s assessment: “Nearly half [of the 98 votes] were not for tax increases and many others were [votes] on procedural matters.” But that’s barely the start of the kooky dissembling coming from the Bush-Cheney camp. How kooky has the Bush camp become? Here at THE HOWLER, we awoke Wednesday morning to an ad on MSNBC which revived an earlier, grosser deception. In Tuesday’s Boston Globe, Rick Klein described the new ad to which we awoke:
KLEIN (10/5/04): [Bush’s] campaign is underscoring that contention in the new advertisements. One says “John Kerry and the liberals in Congress” have voted for higher taxes 350 times.
Ah yes, back to that phony number! As Klein explains, the figure “includes many instances where Kerry voted for a smaller tax increase instead of a larger one that was being offered, according to the Bush campaign.” And as FactCheck.org explained long ago, the figure also includes at least 70 instances in which Kerry voted for a tax cut! For a bit of background on this absurdly misleading claim, see THE DAILY HOWLER, 4/7/04.

So just drink in the kookiness. Voters are met with a pair of bogus claims—bogus claims which are, on their face, contradictory! Kerry voted for tax increases 98 times! And not only that—he voted for higher taxes 350 times! The first claim is simply false, FactCheck says—and the second claim is absurdly misleading. And yes, there’s a word for a world which accepts such twin claims. That word, of course, is “insanity.”

Kerry voted for tax increases 98 times! No, he voted for higher taxes more than 350 times! The claims are being made simultaneously, and even the smaller claim is just wrong. Meanwhile, out in LA,. Michael Kinsley boo-hoo-hoos. He doesn’t know how to address such deceptions, the fallen star sadly says. See THE DAILY HOWLER, 10/6/04.

VANDEHEI V. KINSLEY: Boo-hoo-hoo-hoo-hoo-hoo-hoo! Kinsley doesn’t know what to do when Big Pols go out there and tell him big lies. Luckily, the Post’s Jim VandeHei does. This morning, he reports Bush’s speech in Wilkes-Barre:

VANDEHEI (10/7/04): After a contentious debate Tuesday night between Vice President Cheney and Sen. John Edwards, Bush picked up the assault on Kerry's record with sharp and sometimes misleading criticisms designed to reverse the gains Kerry has made since winning the first debate last week in Florida.
Poor Kinsley! Weeping in the Hollywood hills, he can’t see how easy VandeHei makes it. Later on, the Post scribe offers another free lesson:
VANDEHEI: Bush reached back to comments from the early 1970s to portray Kerry as someone who would bow to international pressure and require a "global test" before protecting the nation. In doing so, he misrepresented Kerry's stated position: the Democratic nominee has repeatedly said he would consult with but never allow other nations to veto U.S. actions.
Boo-hoo-hoo-hoo-hoo-hoo-hoo! When pols say things which are false or misleading, reporters can simply sit down and say so.!At Malibu, Kinsley stares far out to sea. It’s time for him to go too.

BUT WHO WILL FACT-CHECK THE FACT-CHECKERS: Good Lord! How odd is your Washington press corps? Try to believe the press corps’ bizarre reaction to John Edwards’ accurate statement.

On Tuesday night, Gwen Ifill asked a question about Cleveland’s “thirty-one percent jobless rate.” What will you do about it? she asked Cheney and Edwards. Cheney spoke about education. In rebuttal, Edwards talked about jobs—and he stated an accurate fact:

EDWARDS (10/5/04): Gwen, your question was about jobs?

IFILL: It was about jobs, and it was about poverty.

EDWARDS: I thought it was about jobs and poverty...Here’s what's happened: In the time that they have been in office, in the last four years, 1.6 million private sector jobs have been lost, 2.7 million manufacturing jobs have been lost. And it's had real consequences in places like Cleveland.

Edwards stated an accurate fact. “In the time that [Bush and Cheney] have been in office, in the last four years, 1.6 million private sector jobs have been lost,” he accurately said.

But you now live in Bizarr-o World—a world where Russert will cover up for false statements, where big news orgs will go after Edwards for daring to say something accurate. Whatever’s to blame for all those lost jobs, Edwards’ factual statement was accurate—1.6 million private-sector jobs have been lost since Bush took office. As we’ll see, no one really disputes that fact; it’s an official US Government number. Is it Bush’s fault that these jobs have been lost? That, of course, is a matter of judgment. But Edwards’ number was right on the mark. As a matter of fact, it was accurate.

But so what! Instantly, major news orgs got busy, correcting Edwards’ accurate statement!

Let’s start at the New York Times. While Russert was covering up for Cheney, the Times’ David Rosenbaum was composing a fact-check. “In a debate laden with detailed assertions and rebuttals more than by rhetorical flashes, Vice President Dick Cheney and Senator John Edwards often stretched the facts last night,” he began. But weirdly, in a section called “Jobs,” Rosenbaum started with this:

ROSENBAUM (10/6/04):

Jobs

Mr. Edwards said that the nation has lost 1.6 million private-sector jobs since Mr. Bush took office, while Mr. Cheney said the nation has added 1.7 million jobs in the past year.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the number of payroll jobs has declined by about 900,000 since Mr. Bush took office. Mr. Edwards's higher number comes from isolating private-sector jobs, not taking into account increases in state, local and federal government jobs.

Say what? According to Rosenbaum, Edwards’ statement about private-sector jobs “comes from isolating private-sector jobs!” Only at the New York Times could you find such a risible statement. No, Rosenbaum doesn’t say that Edwards’ statement is false, but it takes a careful reader to see this. Meanwhile, the scribe rushes to say that Mr. Cheney was just plain correct:
ROSENBAUM (continuing directly): Mr. Cheney was correct in saying that the nation has added about 1.7 million jobs in the past year. What he did not say is employment has yet to return to its level before the recession of 2001 and the sharp decline in manufacturing employment that continued nearly two years after the recession officially ended in November 2001.
But there’s an obvious problem in rushing to say that “Mr. Cheney was correct” in this exchange. In fact, Mr. Cheney made another statement in response to Edwards—a statement which was blatantly false. Here is Cheney’s full rebuttal to Edwards’ remark about jobs:
CHENEY (10/5/04): Gwen, we've got 111 million American taxpayers that have benefitted from our income tax cuts. We've got 33 million students who've benefitted from No Child Left Behind.

We've got 40 million seniors who benefitted from the reform of the Medicare system. The Democrats promised prescription drug benefits. For years they've run on that platform. They never got it done. The president got it done.

We also dropped 5 million people totally off the federal income tax rolls, so they no longer have to pay any federal income tax at all.

So the story, I think, is a good one. And the data he's using is old data. It's from 2003. It doesn't include any of the gains that we've made in the last years. We've added 1.7 million jobs to the economy.

“The data he’s using is old data,” Cheney said. “It doesn’t include any of the gains that we’ve made in the last years.” But uh-oh! That statement by Cheney was blatantly false. Edwards’ job-loss number is right up-to-date, as Rosenbaum himself makes quite clear.

So here’s what happened in this exchange—and here’s how Rosenbaum handled it. First, Edwards made an accurate statement. In reply, Cheney made a blatantly inaccurate statement—and he said something that was correct. Rosenbaum’s approach? First, he fails to mention Cheney’s misstatement—wipes the misstatement right off the map. Then, he makes it sound like there’s something wrong with Edwards’ accurate claim—after which he explicitly says that Cheney’s job-statement “is correct.”

But Rosenbaum’s work is a model of sanity compared to what appeared in the Post. Here’s what Glenn Kessler reported in his own fact-check piece:

KESSLER (10/6/04): Edwards asserted that "in the last four years, 1.6 million private-sector jobs have been lost." The actual number is close to 900,000 and will likely shrink further when Friday's jobs reports is released, though Bush is the first president in 72 years to preside over an overall job loss.
Uh-oh! By all accounts, Kessler is wrong (full data below). But so what! Last night, Hardball’s David Shuster also reported that Edwards invented his fact:
SHUSTER (10/6/04): Edwards also overstated the number of U.S. jobs lost by the administration.

EDWARDS (videotape): In the time they've been in office in the last four years, 1.6 million private sector jobs have been lost.

SHUSTER: The actual number is 900,000.

Shuster doesn’t know his keister from a man-hole cover. But so what! The scribe was speaking on MSNBC, where Russert covered up for Cheney and where every hireling seemed to be scripted to say how the Great Cheney won. Full examples tomorrow.

So let’s summarize. Edwards makes an accurate statement. Cheney responds with a plainly false statement. But so what! The New York Times made it sound like Edwards misspoke, and the Post and Hardball flatly say that he was wrong. Meanwhile, Cheney’s plain error is sent down the hole. But then, right is wrong and up is down inside your crazy, crackpot “press corps.” Can you see why we often incomparably say that it’s time for this whole gang to go?

FULL FACTS: No, this really isn’t hard, unless you’re Rosenbaum, Kessler or Shuster. For example, Janet Hook made it look easy in the Los Angeles Times:

HOOK (10/6/04): On the economy, both candidates cited employment figures that suited their purposes. Edwards referred to the loss of 1.6 million private-sector jobs during the Bush administration. But the more commonly used measure of employment looks at all jobs, which produced the less dramatic job loss of 900,000.
We wouldn’t frame it that way ourselves, but at least her figures were accurate. But alas! Even Hook deep-sixed Cheney’s false statement—his false claim that Edwards was “using old data.” You know the rules, the old Bush-Gore Rules. In these debates, the Rep gets to call the Dem a Big Liar. And yes, they’re allowed to misstate when they do it. All good pundits know not to notice. By law, the Rep gets to yell it loud: Phony numbers! And oh yes: Fuzzy math!!

At any rate, if it’s facts you want, here’s Kathleen Hays, on last night’s Paula Zahn Now:

ZAHN (10/6/04): All right, Kathleen Hays, your turn. Listen to what both candidates said about jobs.

EDWARDS (videotape): In the time that they have been in office in the last four years, 1.6 million private sector jobs have been lost; 2.7 million manufacturing jobs have been lost.

CHENEY (videotape): The data he's using is old data. It's from 2003. It doesn't include any of the gains that we've made in the last year, as we've added 1.7 million jobs to the economy.

ZAHN: All right, Kathleen, old data, new data. Who got the numbers right?

HAYS: Well, we talked to the Labor Department. There's a lot of truth, but each side chooses its math rather conveniently.

True, as John Edwards said, total private sector jobs lost since January 2001 when the president took office, 1.65 million. But add back in 737,000 government jobs added since then, the net loss is smaller, 913,000. No doubt, manufacturing job losses have been severe, Paula, since Jan 2001, 2.67 million.

As to Dick Cheney's point, well, total jobs added since August 2003 when the economy started adding jobs, 1.686 million.

Omigod! She called the Labor Department! She actually got the real facts! But even Hays seemed to know that she mustn’t respond to Zahn’s simple question: “Old data, new data—who got the numbers right?” Uh-oh! Cheney’s “old data” charge had plainly been wrong. But Hays side-stepped Zahn’s direct question. Even Hays knew not to tell.

THE IRONY: How uninformed can our Major Scribes be? At several web sites, scribes have criticized Kerry all year for his technical errors on this subject. Throughout the year, Kerry has publicly noted the number of jobs lost in the private sector. But when he has given this number, he has generally failed to make the distinction his running-mate made; he has failed to say that he’s talking about private-sector jobs, not about jobs in general. This has always struck us as another odd bungle; in fact, it sounds better, from the Democratic perspective, to say that this many jobs have been lost in the private sector, where Bush’s policies are supposed to be king. At any rate, we saw the inevitable after Tuesday’s debate. Edwards, correcting his boss’ error, made the accurate statement about jobs—and was slammed for a misstatement all the same! This mini-dispute has been out there all year. What have Kessler and Shuster been doing? And can explain that oddball construction in the great New York Times?