Putting Words in the Candidate’s Mouth

President Bush made himself available for a few questions from the press this morning, and, not surprisingly, reporters were champing at the bit to talk about John “charming, engaging, a nimble campaigner, a populist, and even sexy” Edwards.

When asked how the aspiring veep stacks up against the present vice president, the president was brief: “Dick Cheney can be president. Next.”

When CNN played the clip of Bush’s answer this afternoon, Judy Woodruff chimed in, “That’s all about Edwards’ experience, clearly.” For its part, Reuters sang the same song, producing a piece with the headline, “Bush Raises Issue of Edwards’ Experience to Be VP.”

Did we miss something? At first, we figured that Bush must have addressed the issue of Edwards’ experience at another point. So we checked the entire transcript. And we found…very little. At no point does Bush talk about Edwards’ experience, or lack thereof.

Clearly, Bush’s statement was an implicit criticism of Edwards. But for what? Bad judgment? Legislative record? Policy differences? Lack of experience in foreign affairs?

The truth is, we don’t know. And neither does Judy Woodruff. So why are she and Reuters putting words in Bush’s mouth? Could it be because, ever since Kerry announced his veep pick, the RNC opposition research machine (as opposed to Bush himself) has been relentlessly attacking Edwards as “unaccomplished and inexperienced?”

With this sort of instant extrapolation of an unfinished thought, the press joins forces with the oppo research camps of the political parties in doing the dirty work that the candidates don’t want to touch themselves.

That’s the kind of “public service” we could all do without.

Brian Montopoli

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Brian Montopoli is a writer at CJR Daily.