On October 5, four years ago, in the hour following the vice presidential debate, NBC was the only network to run a segment “truth-squadding” the candidates. Lisa Meyers captained the squad, supported by what she called “our crack team of political researchers and producers who have been checking the candidates’ facts throughout the debate.” Meyers’ “crack team” managed to scrounge up three brief examples of how the candidates took “a few liberties with the truth.”
In the hour after Vice President Cheney and Sen. Edwards faced off Tuesday night, it was another story. Three of the five networks offered viewers truth-squadding of one sort or another: ABC, CNN, and NBC/MSNBC (CBS and Fox News didn’t).
Since truth-squadding seems suddenly to be all the rage at this late moment in the campaign season, Campaign Desk took a look at the various offerings from Tuesday night’s network broadcasts and several of Wednesday morning’s major newspapers — and how they compared to similar, albeit more anemic, efforts of four years ago.
NBC’s truth squad found itself under new leadership Tuesday night with Tom Brokaw’s pending replacement, Brian Williams, taking over as “precinct captain.” Williams focused on three specific claims. First, he used Cheney’s sound bites from a September 14, 2003 “Meet the Press” segment to put the lie to the vice president’s statement Tuesday night that he had never “suggested there is a connection between Iraq and 9/11.” Next up, Williams disputed Sen. Edwards’ claim that Halliburton received a “no-bid contract” in Iraq. As Williams pointed out, and Factcheck.org confirms, according to the nonpartisan Government Accountability Office, Halliburton was the only company “in a position to provide the services within the required time.”
Williams closed with the dispute over what percentage of allied casualties in Iraq are incurred by United States troops, noting that “each [VP candidate] uses the available stats from Iraq,” and affirming that Edwards’s claim that American soldiers have been 90 percent of coalition casualties was correct. Cheney, Williams told viewers, had factored Iraqi security force deaths into his total, but even using that formulation, he was wrong to claim that Iraqi troops and police had incurred 50 percent of all such deaths. As Factcheck.org wrote yesterday, available statistics show only 38 percent of allied casualties have been suffered by Iraqi security forces.
Over on ABC, Jake Tapper made an appearance beside a running “Fact Check” banner to sort out the dispute over the cost to date of US military action in Iraq. Tapper correctly identified Edward’s $200 billion figure as hyperbolic; Cheney’s $120 billion price tag is closer to the truth. Like NBC, Tapper also highlighted Cheney’s previous statements connecting Iraq and 9/11 — something he now likes to say he never said.
Shortly before midnight, ABC’s Peter Jennings chimed in on the somewhat less important — and yet, so very popular with the press — Cheney statement that, even though he is the presiding officer of the Senate, and Edwards is a senator, he, Cheney, had never met Edwards until the moment Edwards walked out onto the debate stage Tuesday night. “A lot of us were surprised about Vice President Cheney saying he had never met Sen. Edwards before,” Jennings said. “We speculated maybe they met once or twice, but apparently not.” ABC fact-checked nothing on this one — as it quickly became apparent when Democratic rapid response operatives crowed that the two men sat together at a prayer breakfast in 2001, among other “casual encounters” that even Republicans now acknowledge.
CNN, during its post-VP-debate discussion four years ago, got bogged down in tax policy, forcing a ruffled Judy Woodruff to admit she was “lost in the numbers.” Ostensibly neutral political analyst Bill Schneider stepped in and offered this helpful summary: Republicans offer control (over how you use your money, for example); Democrats offer security.
Four years later, Schneider is once again the go-to-guy on CNN, offering Tuesday night a more evolved fact-check segment. Unlike Williams and Tapper, Schneider paid no heed to Cheney’s risen-from-the-dead claims about a 9/11-Iraq connection, choosing instead to clarify both the correct price of US efforts in Iraq and the percentage of allied dead in Iraq that came from US forces. On the latter point, Schneider — like NBC’s Williams — expressed disapproval by characterizing Cheney’s tactic of switching the “base of that calculation to include Iraqi security forces” as off-target.
And instead of truth-squadding Tuesday night, both CBS and Fox trotted out campaign surrogates live from “spin alley” to avow victory and spew talking points.