Krugman in the NYT:
"In Tuesday’s Republican presidential debate, Mitt Romney completely misrepresented how we ended up in Iraq. Later, Mike Huckabee mistakenly claimed that it was Ronald Reagan’s birthday.
Guess which remark The Washington Post identified as the “gaffe of the night”?
Folks, this is serious. If early campaign reporting is any guide, the bad media habits that helped install the worst president ever in the White House haven’t changed a bit."
More below the fold.
"You may not remember the presidential debate of Oct. 3, 2000, or how it was covered, but you should. It was one of the worst moments in an election marked by news media failure as serious, in its way, as the later failure to question Bush administration claims about Iraq.
Throughout that debate, George W. Bush made blatantly misleading statements, including some outright lies — for example, when he declared of his tax cut that “the vast majority of the help goes to the people at the bottom end of the economic ladder.” That should have told us, right then and there, that he was not a man to be trusted.
But few news reports pointed out the lie. Instead, many news analysts chose to critique the candidates’ acting skills. Al Gore was declared the loser because he sighed and rolled his eyes — failing to conceal his justified disgust at Mr. Bush’s dishonesty. And that’s how Mr. Bush got within chad-and-butterfly range of the presidency.
Now fast forward to last Tuesday. Asked whether we should have invaded Iraq, Mr. Romney said that war could only have been avoided if Saddam “had opened up his country to I.A.E.A. inspectors, and they’d come in and they’d found that there were no weapons of mass destruction.” He dismissed this as an “unreasonable hypothetical.”
Except that Saddam did, in fact, allow inspectors in. Remember Hans Blix? When those inspectors failed to find nonexistent W.M.D., Mr. Bush ordered them out so that he could invade. Mr. Romney’s remark should have been the central story in news reports about Tuesday’s debate. But it wasn’t. (...)
Thus most analysts declared Mrs. Clinton the winner in her debate, because she did the best job of delivering sound bites — including her Bush-talking-point declaration that we’re safer now than we were on 9/11, a claim her advisers later tried to explain away as not meaning what it seemed to mean.
Similarly, many analysts gave the G.O.P. debate to Rudy Giuliani not because he made sense — he didn’t — but because he sounded tough saying things like, “It’s unthinkable that you would leave Saddam Hussein in charge of Iraq and be able to fight the war on terror.” (Why?)
Look, debates involving 10 people are, inevitably, short on extended discussion. But news organizations should fight the shallowness of the format by providing the facts — not embrace it by reporting on a presidential race as if it were a high-school popularity contest.
For if there’s one thing I hope we’ve learned from the calamity of the last six and a half years, it’s that it matters who becomes president — and that listening to what candidates say about substantive issues offers a much better way to judge potential presidents than superficial character judgments. Mr. Bush’s tax lies, not his surface amiability, were the true guide to how he would govern.
And I don’t know if this country can survive another four years of Bush-quality leadership."
I mentioned this earlier, but on reflection I think I'll post this little exchange from CNN's post-debate coverage. They're talking about this statement by Mitt Romney, who has been asked whether it was a mistake to invade Iraq: "if you're saying, let's turn back the clock, and Saddam Hussein had opened up his country to IAEA inspectors, and they had come in, and they had found that there were no weapons of mass destruction, had Saddam Hussein therefore not violated United Nations resolutions, we wouldn't be in the conflict we're in." It's a long excerpt, but what the heck, this is below the fold. In what follows, note two things. First, Murphy's point is completely irrelevant to Romney's argument. All Murphy is doing is trying to create the appearance that there's a debate about whether Romney made a huge mistake. He's spreading confusion, like a squid squirting ink. Second, and most important, Anderson Cooper, the alleged mediator of this debate, faced with a situation in which one party is just wrong, just says: "COOPER: We're not going to get this resolved tonight." -- If the press abdicates its responsibility to present the facts, we won't ever get this resolved.
Here's the commentary. Personally, I think that Murphy and Cooper should be ashamed, in different ways. Read it and weep.
"COOPER: Joining us again, Paul Begala -- political strategists Paul Begala and Mike Murphy, Democrat and Republican, respectively, and Amy Holmes, conservative analyst and speechwriter for Bill Frist back when he was in the Senate.
You say that Romney made a big mistake tonight on Iraq.
BEGALA: A huge mistake, a gaffe that -- that's, if this were a general election debate, would be a disqualifier.
He said -- we just heard the bite -- he said that, if Saddam Hussein had allowed IAEA, International Atomic Energy Agency, inspectors into his country to ascertain whether we had weapons, we wouldn't have had this war.
He did. On September 17 of 2002, the Iraqi government, under Saddam Hussein, allowed IAEA weapons inspectors into their country. Over 250 of them went, led by Hans Blix. They searched the whole countryside and found nothing.
While they were still searching, on March 17 of 2003, George W. Bush told them to get out, because he was starting a war. And, on March 20, we started the war.
You can't get something like that wrong. I mean, that's like -- that's like saying the Mexicans bombed Pearl Harbor.
MURPHY: This is an absolute pro wrestling stranglehold on context my friend Begala has just pulled off here.
BEGALA: No, it's a simple matter of fact.
MURPHY: Yes. Well, but they were thrown out earlier, Paul. They thrown out in '98, which started the whole U.N...
BEGALA: Yes, they were. That's not what Mitt Romney was talking about.
MURPHY: Well, that's what you didn't -- you didn't mention about.
HOLMES: And the point being that Saddam Hussein was flouting...
MURPHY: That started the...
HOLMES: ... a U.N...
BEGALA: You're entitled to your own opinion...
MURPHY: And that's...
BEGALA: ... but you're not entitled to your own facts.
MURPHY: Yes, but let me finish. Let me finish.
BEGALA: It's a matter of fact that U.N. weapons inspectors were there.
BEGALA: And Saddam let them in. And Bush kicked them out.
HOLMES: And Saddam was supposed to be giving...
BEGALA: Romney stood that on its head.
MURPHY: Look... (CROSSTALK)
HOLMES: Saddam was supposed to be giving documentation, which he did not.
MURPHY: Saddam didn't...
BEGALA: I can't believe you guys are defending this.
HOLMES: But we shouldn't be re-litigating this.
BEGALA: No. Yes, we should.
MURPHY: Wait a minute. Let me ask you a question.
BEGALA: The man said we went to war because they didn't let inspectors in.
HOLMES: Let's talk about Iraq.
BEGALA: They let inspectors in.
HOLMES: Let's talk about Iraq.
COOPER: This is the most exciting thing that has happened tonight. So, I'm just letting it go.
MURPHY: One question for you, one question for you -- let me get in a word edgewise if I can. If that's true, if the weapons inspectors were in there and they said there were no weapons, why did Hillary Clinton vote for the war?
BEGALA: She was wrong. I didn't like her vote. But I can't help that. It's...
MURPHY: But her argument, most of the Democrats in the Senate was that everybody, the foreign intelligence services thought there were weapons there, and Saddam did not cooperate.
Now we can argue about he didn't throw them out in 2001. He threw them out in '98, which started the U.N. compound and all the pressure. But if Saddam had let the weapons inspectors prove there were no weapons, there would have been a war. Saddam is the bad guy, not George Bush.
BEGALA: In fact, that's what Hillary said to Hunt (ph). She said...
MURPHY: I think she's right about that.
BEGALA: ... No, but Hillary said, "I want these weapons inspectors to continue to do their work to see whether there are weapons of mass destruction." That's why she said she voted for it. I disagreed with that vote. She wanted those weapons inspectors to continue to work.
MURPHY: And Saddam was resisting it.
HOLMES: Saddam was not handing over material.
BEGALA: There weren't any weapons. What could he hand over?
COOPER: We're not going to get this resolved tonight.
BEGALA: Go look at the CNN.com archives for September 17th of 2002. The big headline, it says "Iraq Allows Weapons Inspectors In".
MURPHY: He's got you on this one, Paul.
BEGALA: Come on!
COOPER: How tied -- how tied is John McCain to what happens in Iraq? "