Checking Out on Challenging Cheney

Yesterday, Vice President Cheney campaigned at Boone County Lumber Co. and Boone County Millwork in Columbia, Missouri, in the heart of what’s considered a swing state. According to the Kansas City Star, the mill is owned by the Eiffert family. Those Eifferts are active in the Bush campaign, says the St. Louis Post Dispatch. And the stories drone on rather predictably, as Cheney mainly doled out the party-line talking points on the economy to “Republican loyalists” (Star) “hoping to inject the presidential race with a dose of optimism on the nation’s economic recovery” (Post-Dispatch).

While readers of the Star and the Post-Dispatch are treated to some relevant factoids of the sort provided only by a homegrown newspaper, they’re also shortchanged — big time — by both papers. The Star and the Post-Dispatch each print Cheney’s re-assertion that Saddam Hussein “had a relationship with al-Qaida” without putting the remark in context.

That failing might be expected from a struggling newspaper in a one-horse town, but the Star and the Post-Dispatch are the premier news outlets in Missouri.

And one doesn’t have to embark on a trip to the Library of Congress to find the missing context. Take a bit from the brain, mix in a little from Nexis and Google, bake at 350 degrees for ten minutes, and you get something like:

Just last month, the 9/11 commission released its interim report (the full report will be released this Thursday) finding that there was no “collaborative relationship” between Iraq and Al-Qaeda. This prompted the New York Times to run a front page story on June 17 headlined, “Panel Finds No Qaeda-Iraq Tie.” News coverage of the report and the Times headline, in particular, irked the Vice President, who characterized the response as “outrageous” and stuck to his assertion that Osama bin Laden repeatedly met with Iraqi intelligence officers. The 9/11 commission responded pointedly that it was privy to the same information as the Vice President, and it was standing by its words.

Now, if a paper prints Cheney’s comments on the Iraq-Saddam relationship that kick-started this debate (unlike the Associated Press, which ignored them altogether), why not finish the story?

Once newspapers stop doing even that, candidates are free to assert fantasy as fact — and get away with it.

Thomas Lang

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Thomas Lang was a writer at CJR Daily.