It's a wonder that millions of TV screens didn't shatter as U.S. Vice-President Dick Cheney's nose poked right through them last night. Just as he has in many, if not all, of his TV appearances since the terror attacks of 9/11, Cheney lied again during his 90-minute debate with Democratic vice-presidential contender, North Carolina Senator John Edwards.
Cheney even lied about lying about Iraq's supposed stores of weapons of mass destruction, Saddam Hussein's supposed ties to Al Qaeda, and just about everything else in this supposed "war on terror" — not to mention the illicit activities of Halliburton, the oil field supply corporation he used to run in the 1990s.
"The senator has got his facts wrong," Cheney said after the first of many times Edwards hammered him on Osama bin Laden. " I have not suggested there's a connection between Iraq and 9/11, but there's clearly an established Iraqi track record with terror."
If this column had a video component, right now we'd be rolling back the tape to show Cheney on CNBC's The Capital Report, as recently as last June, lying to host Gloria Berger. He denied what he said on Meet The Press in 2001, that it was "pretty well confirmed" that lead 9/11 hijacker Mohammed Atta had meetings with Iraqi intelligence.
"No, I never said that. ... Absolutely not," he told her — although he did.
That's also how it went last night when Edwards rat-tat-tatted on Halliburton's tax loopholes and deals with Saddam Hussein, Libya and Iraq.
Cheney coolly accused him of "trying to throw up a smokescreen" and making charges that are false. He then directed viewers to go to http://www.factcheck.com for the truth.
Trouble is, that website is owned by billionaire philanthropist George Soros, who has been bankrolling the anti-Bush movement. Ironically, the site is headed "Why we should not re-elect President Bush."
So Cheney couldn't even get that straight.
What he was really referring to is www.factcheck.org, maintained by the Annenberg Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania. Still, it only deals with charges that Cheney continued to profit from Halliburton, which won no-bid contracts for the reconstruction of Iraq, after he was elected. Meanwhile, the allegation that his company did business with the so-called "axis of evil" remains undisputed.
You have to hand it to him: He's got, um, nerves of steel.
Meanwhile, Edwards stayed on message, and stayed the course of acting as attack dog, nipping away at the Bush-Cheney record in a way that presidential candidate John Kerry could not last Thursday. That's because he was going head-to-head with the president — and in the current political climate, it would probably not be a good tactic to be seen attacking George W. Bush.
So Kerry was left acting "presidential" and statesman-like while Edwards made full use of his 20 years of trial lawyer experience, making the case over and over again, almost to the point of overkill, that the Bush-Cheney crew messed up on everything from tax cuts to health costs and, especially, the war in Iraq.
Of course, Cheney kept honing in on the "experience gap" that Edwards, who has yet to complete his first Senate term, has.
In perhaps the most awkward blooper of the evening, Cheney told Edwards to his face that they had never met before the debate, despite evidence they had. Edwards' campaign later provided a transcript of a February 2001 prayer breakfast at which Cheney began his remarks by acknowledging the North Carolina senator. The campaign also said Cheney, in his capacity as Senate president, had sworn in Edwards.
Cheney was trying to make the point that Edwards was an absentee senator.
But, when Cheney compared his administration's experience with that of the Kerry-Edwards' team, Edwards had the ready comebacks: "Mr. Vice-President, I don't think the country can take four more years of this kind of experience."
Whether that kind of political sniping will register with voters will be revealed in the polls. But what was revealing of the media was what CNN did right after the debate. Instead of performing the promised "fact-checking" on Cheney's claims, anchor Wolf Blitzer asked campaign operatives to comment on the vice-president's charges that Edwards lacked experience.
Later, when correspondent Bill Schneider showed up to actually check a few facts, he zeroed in on Edwards' assertion, which was also made by Kerry last week, that 90 per cent of the coalition casualties suffered in Iraq were American casualties.
Schneider found Edwards' contention not quite accurate — while avoiding Cheney's lies.
Which is why American viewers should be pathetically grateful for The Daily Show With Jon Stewart: It the only program that consistently rewinds the tape to expose the lies and the liars who spout them.
And it's supposed to be the "fake news show."
© 2004 The Toronto Star