That’s the number of times the term “cone of silence” has been used in television coverage since Saturday’s Saddleback interviews, per the transcript database TVEyes.

For those of you who’ve missed out on the story that introduces this delightfully moronic term into our political vernacular, “cone of silence” refers to the Twenty One-esque isolation chamber (okay, a room with no TV or audio—which is, of course, the same thing) that Rick Warren had set up at Saddleback to keep John McCain from hearing the questions he asked Barack Obama—the same ones McCain would have to answer—in advance of his own interview. “I’m going to ask identical questions to each of these candidates, so you can compare apples to apples,” Warren told his audience. “Now, Senator Obama is going to go first. We flipped a coin, and we have safely placed Senator McCain in a cone of silence.”

Except: not cone of silence! Bus of silence! Or, rather, Straight Talk Express of Silence! Seems McCain was en route to the megachurch, rather than sequestered away in Warren’s C-O-S, while Obama was giving his interview. Which, you know—scandal. So, everyone from CNN to the NYT to Politico to the Huffington Post to the Orange County Register to the cable channels has been following the story—and thus generally referring to McCain’s disputed “cone of silence” without, alas, irony.

The Cone of Silence’s zenith as a phrase, though, had to have come yesterday, during the course of none other than Meet the Press. Here’s Andrea Mitchell discussing the “allegations” on MTP’s hallowed political ground, emphasis mine:

The Obama people must feel that he didn’t do quite as well as they might have wanted to in that context, because that—what they’re putting out privately is that McCain may not have been in the cone of silence and may have had some ability to overhear what the questions were to Obama….He seemed so well-prepared.

Wow, an appearance on MTP! For C-O-S, that’s quite a C-O-U-P. Now, it should be noted that the McCain campaign insists the candidate didn’t hear Warren’s questions in advance. “The insinuation from the Obama campaign that John McCain, a former prisoner of war, cheated is outrageous,” said McCain spokesperson Nicole Wallace. But, still: for something meant to bring silence, Warren’s cone has been making a lot of noise.


Megan Garber is an assistant editor at the Nieman Journalism Lab at Harvard University. She was formerly a CJR staff writer.