Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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January 1, 2008

COHEN GETS MENDACIOUS ABOUT MENDACITY....It's tempting to skip past Richard Cohen columns just as a matter of habit, but today's op-ed is so odd, one wonders how Washington Post editors even let it run.

The piece, ostensibly, is about taking Barack Obama to task over a misleading statistic he used in a speech. But the piece starts out badly and goes downhill from there:

John Edwards lied about the cost of his haircuts. Fred Thompson lied about lobbying for a pro-choice outfit. John McCain insists that the United States was founded as a "Christian nation." Mitt Romney concocted the story about how his father marched with Martin Luther King Jr. And Rudy Giuliani is a one-man fib machine -- everything from why he had to provide police protection for his then-mistress to the survivability rates for prostate cancer in Britain....

The irony is rich. Cohen wrote a piece about the importance of accuracy, and the first nine words -- "John Edwards lied about the cost of his haircuts" -- are false. If Cohen wants to raise a fuss about the cost of Edwards' haircuts, that would merely be annoying (though it would be consistent with the Post's disconcerting obsession with the subject). Instead, the columnist emphasizes the importance of getting the details right, while making up a "lie" that never happened.

The McCain example is also bizarre. Yes, the Arizona senator claimed we were founded as a "Christian nation," and we were not. But that's not an example of mendacity; it's an example of ignorance. McCain wasn't lying; he was just foolishly pandering to the religious right with nonsense. That's worthy of criticism, of course, but for different reasons.

If Cohen really wanted to throw McCain into the mix, he could have at least found some actual examples of the senator's mendacity, such as McCain's lies about his criticism of the Rumsfeld policy, or his spectacular lies about going for a safe stroll in a Baghdad market in March.

One gets the impression that Cohen, who's been around long enough to know better, just casually threw in some accusations of dishonesty in the hopes of achieving some kind of "balance." Regrettably he did so a) without getting his facts straight; and b) in a column about the importance of people getting their facts straight.

It's really not a good way to start out the new year.

Steve Benen 1:55 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (29)

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Comments

Just more proof that op-ed pundits are no better at researching facts than your average college sophomore trying to crank out a term paper in an afternoon.

Posted by: idlemind on January 1, 2008 at 2:01 PM | PERMALINK

All of Steve's points are valid but what is MOST infuriating about the editorial is that its built around a so-called lie about Obama's use of prison statistics without EVER citing the "accurate" numbers or sources. Who says Obama is lying? Cohen? What are the facts? What are the correct numbers? Is Obama off by a percentage point? Ten percentage points? Ten people? You have no clue after reading this editorial. You just have to take Cohen's word for it. But after the dishonest and inaccurate opening, I am hesitant to do so - more so because I feel Obama's intentions (accurate or otherwise) are important and moral. I certainly can't say the same about Cohen's.

Posted by: Augie on January 1, 2008 at 2:02 PM | PERMALINK

How is "The United States was founded as a Christian nation." not a lie?

Posted by: Boronx on January 1, 2008 at 2:05 PM | PERMALINK

Cohen should always check the toilet bowl for grey matter. It's obviously leaking out of him from one of his orifices.

-GSD

Posted by: GreGSD on January 1, 2008 at 2:09 PM | PERMALINK

Someone still reads Richard Cohen? I had no idea.

Posted by: redterror on January 1, 2008 at 2:13 PM | PERMALINK

You don't have to be a total douchebag to work for the WaPo, but it sure seems to help.
And I'm with GSD.

Posted by: Gore/Edwards 08 on January 1, 2008 at 2:19 PM | PERMALINK
It's really not a good way to start out the new year.

No, but this is:

http://www.correntewire.com/obama_stump_speech_strategy_of_conciliation_considered_harmful

I don't know who this lambert is, but he/she is one smart cookie.

Posted by: obscure on January 1, 2008 at 2:24 PM | PERMALINK

a misleading statistic he used in a speech

I find the two WaPo references to Obama's misdirection fairly misleading. They don't bother to state for the record that there are more black men in prison then in college. The excitement evidently comes down to the definition of "young black men". Apparently for Obama to be correct he has to use a definition close to 40 -- the definition of youth preferred by our President. I'm sure he'd do even better with Barbara Bush's definition.

Posted by: B on January 1, 2008 at 2:30 PM | PERMALINK

"Cohen [...] just casually threw in some accusations of dishonesty in the hopes of achieving some kind of "balance""

Or, the schmuck was picking less damaging lies for certain candidates - leaving out McCain's Baghdad stroll and subbing his Christian nation line. But that would imply some thought went into it, so dunno.

I know they are probably more lazy and stupid than we imagine, but I don't think that explains ALL of it....

Posted by: luci on January 1, 2008 at 2:49 PM | PERMALINK

I find it interesting that the word 'lie' is used in his column.

I have never read Cohen use that word in regards to the current admin.

Interesting.

Posted by: Steve kit on January 1, 2008 at 2:50 PM | PERMALINK

The "Village" is rising up and showing itself in these closing days of the Iowa campaign.

In Des Moines the paper which endorses Hillary says Barack is ahead of Edwards. It's the only poll which says that. It's just fiction, a lie.

In Washington the Post says God knows what and leaves us all wondering about the candidates. Is there some dark secret going to come out at this last moment which we need to know? Is there some reason we should change our support from one candidate to another? They want us to give them a story.

Why does the "Village" of oh so serious people do this? Money. It's always about money and power, power and money. They like to control outcomes and people.

In Iowa, ignore everybody but the candidates and make up your own minds. It's how Democracy works!

Posted by: MarkH on January 1, 2008 at 2:57 PM | PERMALINK

Cohen is useless. He is, like Broder, just in favor of "bipartisanship" for the sake of bipartisanship.

Fuck that mangy shit. We need FAR MORE PARTISANS. We need democrats with the long knives, ready to cut some throats.

Posted by: POed Lib on January 1, 2008 at 3:22 PM | PERMALINK

One gets the impression that Cohen, who's been around long enough to know better, just casually threw in some accusations of dishonesty in the hopes of achieving some kind of "balance."

This is typical of Cohen. And in the Village, he isn't just a liberal, but one of THE liberals.

And anyone who criticizes or even points out that Cohen lied in the very first sentence will be damned as an angry, unhinged blogger.

Posted by: James E. Powell on January 1, 2008 at 3:24 PM | PERMALINK

I'm not particularly an Edwards fan, but this is really egregious. The only reason we know what Edwards' haircuts actually cost is that EDWARDS TOLD US: those and numerous other expenditures were disclosed in his FEC filings.

Posted by: alkali on January 1, 2008 at 3:40 PM | PERMALINK

[Spam deleted]

Posted by: Frederick Paxson on January 1, 2008 at 3:46 PM | PERMALINK

Just goes to show that TIME's liar, Joe Klein is "not alone".

The Gothica squad = press members that passionately hate democracy and are hell bound to make-up any lie up about Edwards or any fact based truth in general in order to stop people from securing any happiness against large corporate control politics. Cohen gets his "comments" in the very same envelope passed under the table that Klein's been getting that supplement's his lack of journalistic talent.

Posted by: me-again on January 1, 2008 at 3:50 PM | PERMALINK

Just goes to show that TIME's liar, Joe Klein is "not alone".

The Gothica squad = press members that passionately hate democracy and are hell bound to make-up any lie up about Edwards or any fact based truth in general in order to stop people from securing any happiness against large corporate control politics. Cohen gets his "comments" in the very same envelope passed under the table that Klein's been getting that supplement's his lack of journalistic talent.

Posted by: It's me-again on January 1, 2008 at 3:52 PM | PERMALINK

The years have not been kind to the WaPo punditocracy. It's those darn intertubes. You can't even bullshit in an authoritative tone without some spoilsport pointing out the unfortunate conflicts with ugly facts.

Posted by: capitalistimperialistpig on January 1, 2008 at 4:04 PM | PERMALINK

SPAM alert!

"Freddie Paxson's" copy n paste is all over the nets.

Nice spammage dude.
You sure did win my vote for Fred thompson.

Posted by: YOYO on January 1, 2008 at 4:07 PM | PERMALINK

I was moved to write Cohen a little email about this very subject. This went beyond the usual Beltway wankery into outright slander.

My prediction: Cohen's next column will include something along the lines of "OK, OK, so Edwards didn't exactly lie about his haircuts. WHAT-EVER. What really matters here is that I got all this hate mail from shrill, ranting, bug-eyed Edwards minions, questioning my integrity! These people are dangerous! They will stop at nothing!"

Posted by: Uncle Kvetch on January 1, 2008 at 4:25 PM | PERMALINK

"One gets the impression that Cohen, who's been around long enough to know better, just casually threw in some accusations of dishonesty in the hopes of achieving some kind of 'balance.'"

Of course that's why Cohen cites Edwards on haircuts. We know because he says so himself. His July 24, 2007 column calls Thompson a liar and then he switches targets with the segue: "Lest you think I am some sort of partisan hack, I have similar misgivings about John Edwards..."

(Essential reading for those who want to understand Cohen's nonsense is the fact-check that Media Matters did back in July.)

Posted by: Jamie McCarthy on January 1, 2008 at 5:20 PM | PERMALINK

Steve, I've gotta agree w/Boronx. The Schmuck Talk Express(TM) knows better and so was lying.

Posted by: SocraticGadfly on January 1, 2008 at 10:05 PM | PERMALINK

Richard Cohen is a stupid hack and has been so for a long time.

Posted by: Lee on January 1, 2008 at 10:13 PM | PERMALINK

"But that's not an example of mendacity; it's an example of ignorance."

Do you mean that McCain actually believed he was telling the truth--that he thought the U.S. was founded as a "Christian nation"? Obviously, McCain did know better. Yes, he was pandering, but he was pandering with a deliberate lie. If McCain thought he was telling the truth, why is it pandering? One gets the strong impression that what really bugs you about RC is that you wish you had his job.

Posted by: Alan Vanneman on January 1, 2008 at 10:14 PM | PERMALINK

Too bad Fred Hiatt and the Post editorial page couldn't be bothered to truth-squad their cheerleading of the Iraq war.

Posted by: Bobster on January 2, 2008 at 12:08 AM | PERMALINK

Yes, but were Cohen going to use McCain's actual lies, it would make it more difficult for him to fluff the man at the end of the column.

Posted by: nitpicker on January 2, 2008 at 8:23 AM | PERMALINK

I have finally arrived at the explanation for Cohen's latest column:

He's moonlighting as a writer (under a pseudonym) for The Onion. After the Xmas staff party, in an eggnog induced daze, he shot off his parody column, but picked the wrong email address from the mailer drop-down menu, and it went to the Post by mistake.

Where they dutifully printed it verbatum, just like they do leaks from Karl Rove, err... senior administration officials.

The topic of the column being "lies", and the fact that it contains an big, gooey, blatent lie in the first sentence are dead giveaways. Read it in The Onion, and you'd laugh yourself sick. Read it in the Post, and you'll get the "sick" part, without the laughter.

Posted by: Snarkilicious on January 2, 2008 at 9:04 AM | PERMALINK

A guy says algebra is useless, it's time to stop paying attention except to make sure he hasn't started waving a weapon.

Posted by: DCBob on January 2, 2008 at 10:53 AM | PERMALINK

With Edwards surging on the Democratic side and Huckabee (GWB without the corporate facade) doing likewise in the GOP, the power structure is running scared.

Posted by: Vincent on January 2, 2008 at 11:01 AM | PERMALINK
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