Reporter: 'We Took Sides, Straight and Simple' Against Palin

On AOL Politics Daily, long-time White House reporter Carl Cannon bluntly declared that the political press gave Sarah Palin a raw deal in the 2008 campaign, and seriously failed to scrutinize Joe Biden, especially his fact-mangling and odd statements in the vice presidential debate. Cannon summed up:

In the 2008 election, we took sides, straight and simple, particularly with regard to the vice presidential race. I don't know that we played a decisive role in that campaign, and I'm not saying the better side lost. What I am saying is that we simply didn't hold Joe Biden to the same standard as Sarah Palin, and for me, the real loser in this sordid tale is my chosen profession.

Cannon suggested female journalists failed to make up for male sexism in Palin coverage because she didn’t match the kind of Hillary Clinton candidate they wanted to represent women in politics:

From the beginning, and for the ensuing 10 months, the coverage of this governor consisted of a steamy stew of cultural elitism and partisanship. The overt sexism of some male commentators wasn't countered, as one might have expected, by their female counterparts. Women columnists turned on Sarah Palin rather quickly. A plain-speaking, moose-hunting, Bible-thumping, pro-life, self-described "hockey mom" with five children and movie star looks with only a passing interest in foreign policy -- that wasn't the woman journalism's reigning feminists had envisioned for the glass ceiling-breaking role of First Female President (or Vice President). Hillary Rodham Clinton was more like what they had in mind – and Sarah, well, she was the un-Hillary.

But the most eye-opening part of Cannon’s piece looks at the vice-presidential debate. He chronicled some of Palin’s mistakes on that night, but then made a list of Biden’s egregious errors that were overlooked by a supportive media elite:

Sen. Biden, however, was in a place by himself when it came to bogus claims, absurd contentions, and flights of rhetorical fancy. He threw out several assertions that were so preposterous that – had Palin made them – they would have prompted immediate calls for McCain to dump her from the ticket.

The good senator from Delaware warmed up slowly, erroneously claiming that McCain voted with Obama on a budget resolution, and asserting wrongly that Obama wanted to return to the Reagan-era marginal income tax rates. He also embarked on an appallingly wrongheaded monologue about the constitutional history of the vice presidency. But when the talk turned to national security, presumably Biden's purported area of expertise, he went completely off the grid.

• "John McCain voted against a Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty that every Republican has supported," Biden stated. (Actually, in a 1999 vote in Congress, McCain sided with 50 other Republicans to kill the treaty. Only four joined the Democrats.)

• "Pakistan already has deployed nuclear weapons," Biden said. "Pakistan's weapons can already hit Israel and the Mediterranean." (Pakistan has no known intercontinental missiles. The range of its weapons is thought to be 1,000 miles – halfway to Israel.)

• "When we kicked -- along with France -- we kicked Hezbollah out of Lebanon, I said and Barack said, 'Move NATO forces in there. Fill the vacuum, because if you don't...Hezbollah will control it.'" Biden recalled. "Now what's happened? Hezbollah is a legitimate part of the government in the country immediately to the north of Israel." (Except that the U.S. never kicked Hezbollah out of Lebanon or anywhere else. They've been entrenched in Lebanon since 1982. Actually, Hezbollah, insofar as it was responsible for the 1983 suicide bombing at the Marine barracks that killed 241 U.S. servicemen, kicked America out of Lebanon, not the other way around.)

• "The president...insisted on elections on the West Bank, when I said, and others said, and Barack Obama said, 'Big mistake. Hamas will win. You'll legitimize them.' What happened? Hamas won," Biden said. (Only the last two words of Biden's strange soliloquy are true. The rest are false. For one thing, Fatah controls the West Bank. Biden was thinking of Gaza. Secondly, neither Biden nor Obama predicted the 2006 victory for Hamas in Gaza's legislative elections. Third, McCain and Obama – but not Biden -- signed a letter urging the president to pressure Palestinians to require that candidates adhere to democratic principles before being allowed to run for office. Fourth, Biden served as an election observer and later wrote an article expressing high praise for Bush's actions. To sum up: One factual error and three fibs in only 31 words. Pretty impressive, in its way.)

• "With Afghanistan, facts matter...we spend more money in three weeks on combat in Iraq than we spend on the entirety of the last seven years that we have been in Afghanistan. Let me say that again..." (He did say it again, but that didn't make it true. It's wildly and weirdly off the mark. Yes, facts matter. The facts here were that at the time Biden was speaking, the U.S. had spent $172 billion in Afghanistan. The Iraq War consumes between $7 billion and $8 billion every three weeks. Biden's math was off by 2,000 percent.)

• "Can I clarify this? This is simply not true about Barack Obama. He did not say (he'd) sit down with Ahmadinejad." (He most certainly did. And among those who criticized him at the time for it was Joe Biden, who told Byron York of National Review that the idea of a president meeting with the likes of the Iranian president or Hugo Chavez was "naVve.")

Those were alarming mistakes. To me Biden's most discordant claims concerned his Animal House-like history lecture about the office of the vice president. It came while Biden was dressing down Dick Cheney, who was not present, for supposedly being unfamiliar with the Constitution. "The idea (that) he doesn't realize that Article I of the Constitution defines the role of the vice president of the United States – that's the executive branch – he works in the executive branch," Biden said. "He should understand that. Everyone should understand that. And the primary role of the vice president of the United States is to support the president of the United States of America, give that president his or her best judgment when sought, and, as vice president, to preside over the Senate, only in a time when in fact there's a tie vote. The Constitution is explicit....He has no authority relative to the Congress. The idea he's part of the legislative branch is a bizarre notion invented by Cheney to aggrandize the power of a unitary executive, and look where it has gotten us."

Lord, would Tina Fey have had fun with this jumble of misinformation – if only Palin had said it! Article I defines the legislative, not executive, branch. The vice president is, indeed, mentioned there. What Biden finds "explicit," hasn't been so to previous vice presidents or to most constitutional scholars. Prior to the 20th century, vice presidents didn't even have offices at the White House compound – they were housed in the Capitol. The notion that a veep's constitutional authority is to provide advice to a president springs from Biden's brow; it certainly isn't mentioned, or even contemplated, in the Constitution, which doesn't even say whether the vice president should receive a salary.

Should Joe Biden have known this stuff? Since he chaired the Senate Judiciary Committee, you'd hope so. But even if he didn't, you'd think it would be news when he unleashed a veritable fount of misinformation to impugn Palin's knowledge of the federal system while attacking a sitting vice president. It barely rated a mention in the collective mainstream media.

Facts matter, the man said. But they didn't in 2008, not when it came to Joe Biden (our guy) against Sarah Palin (odd outsider). The ladies and gentlemen of the press were more interested in her hair, her glasses, her wardrobe, he accent, her sex life, her kids' sex lives, and her hunting habits than in whether her opponent knew anything about foreign policy, the Constitution of the United States, or the job he was running for. They still are. The relentlessly negative coverage of Palin goes on unabated -- she's the subject of a much-ballyhooed hatchet job in Vanity Fair this month -- even as Biden makes minor news from time to time by continuing his penchant for gaffes, this time while serving as the second most powerful person in the federal government.

Tim Graham
Tim Graham
Tim Graham is Executive Editor of NewsBusters and is the Media Research Center’s Director of Media Analysis