There must be a contest in Washington to see who can come up with the flimsiest excuse. Let’s review the highlights:


Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez, in response to White House pressuring to replace “chafed” federal prosecutors, told reporters yesterday that there are 110,000 members of the Department of Justice: “I can’t know what every one of them is doing.”


Kevin Kiley, the recently departed Army surgeon general, told Congress “I live across the street, but I don’t do barracks inspections at Walter Reed.”


And last week Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid entered his submission when he wrote a letter to Marty Ryan, the executive producer of Fox News political programs, explaining why the Democrats would be pulling out of an arranged August debate in his home state of Nevada. “Comments made last night by Fox News President Roger Ailes in reference to one of our presidential candidates went too far,” Reid wrote. “In light of his comments, we have concluded that it is not possible to hold a presidential debate that will focus on our candidates and are therefore canceling our August debate.”


Canceling a debate is always bad news, so these comments must have been so insensitive, so heinous, as to warrant the censoring of dialogue.


“It is true that Barack Obama is on the move,” joked Ailes while accepting a free speech award. “I don’t know if it is true that President Bush called Musharraf and said, ‘Why can’t we catch this guy?’” (There might be a new leader in the contest because that joke mostly makes fun of the president — not Obama.)


So why did Reid really cancel the debate after saying last month, “I’m happy Fox News will be a partner”?


Yesterday the Politico reported it was prominent bloggers who pressured the Senate’s leading Democrat to withdraw: “In a 20-minute conference call, a group of bloggers told Reid an uprising was brewing over the decision by the Nevada State Democratic Party to partner with Fox for the August debate in Reno.”


Irony be damned as bloggers — from both the left and right — are now incensed at the notion that bloggers, in this case, were listened to.


“Why would you want to have a debate in front of the choir?” asked Louie_Vil_Slugger. “MoveOn and their ilk seem to be shooting their own cause in the foot by limiting their message from their candidate(s) to people who agree with them.”


Conservatives were equally disturbed. “You Dems will see how stupid you were for caving in to your extreme wing,” wrote One CA Guy, in response to the Politico article.


“You’d think the deal called for having Sean Hannity and Ann Coulter mock the candidates between comments,” editorialized the Las Vegas Review-Journal. “The approach of outfits such as MoveOn.org is so juvenile it’s laughable.”


It is not just that ignoring swing voters in the primary will make it harder to vie for their attention in the general election that creates a problem for the Democrats, but there is also a growing perception among even left-wing pundits and bloggers that the Democrats are showing weakness. “Win an away game,” admonished Bill Maher on Larry King Live. “If you can’t stand up to Chris Wallace, can you stand up to the terrorists let alone the Republican Party?”


Citing his agreement with Maher, tito blogged, “If you don’t do a debate because it’s on Fox you are pretty [much] just re-enforcing stupid conservatives’ perception of progressives as weak.”


The old adage “it’s not the crime that gets you, it’s the cover-up” is one that many bloggers feel should have been taken to heart. “The Dems should have said the truth,” wrote Scottie, “that Fox News is nothing more then a GOP mouthpiece and we don’t think it will represent us in a fair setting and we are sick of taking shots and lies from this bully arm of the GOP.”

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Dan Goldberg is a CJR intern.