Washington Post pundit Richard Cohen says John Edwards and Barack Obama are liars. The first sentence of his first column of 2008 reads: “John Edwards lied about the cost of his haircuts.” Cohen presents no evidence for this comically ridiculous accusation and does not refer to it again in the rest of the column. But since I’d never heard it before, I e-mailed Cohen to ask him to substantiate it. I received no reply. When it comes to calling John Edwards a liar in the Post, evidence is apparently unnecessary.
As for Obama, Cohen writes that his “lie or fib or misstatement–call it what you want” is the following: “more young black men are in prison than in college.” Here, Cohen cites the Post’s “lonesome but formidable truth squad, Michael Dobbs,” who, he says, “brought this to the attention of the Obama campaign” but “got the brushoff.” One reason Dobbs might have been brushed off is that Obama was telling the truth. Mark Kleiman, who teaches courses on crime control and drug policy at UCLA and ran the policy shop in the criminal division of the Justice Department under Ronald Reagan, explains that according to US Census figures, 810,000 black males are behind bars at any one time in this country, while only 410,000 are enrolled in four-year colleges or graduate school. In order to disprove Obama’s contention, it is necessary, Kleiman explains, to include every black male taking a course at almost any post-secondary educational institution. Otherwise, Cohen and Dobbs are the liars. Kleiman says he contacted Cohen and Dobbs but got the brushoff.
I contacted Dobbs as well, this time about Edwards. I asked him for evidence for his insistence–also made on the Post‘s front page–that when Edwards claimed that NAFTA has cost Americans “millions of jobs,” this was “demonstrably false,” an assertion Dobbs did not bother to support anywhere in the article. Dobbs ignored my request, but searching for evidence myself I found his argument on his Washington Post “factchecker” page. There’s an argument there, sure, but on the Economic Policy Institute’s website, I also found figures supporting the claim that NAFTA has displaced approximately a million jobs. What’s more, I found a video on YouTube in which Edwards can be seen to claim that “NAFTA, CAFTA and other trade agreements cost us millions of jobs.” So what Dobbs uses to paint Edwards as a liar is really nothing more than Edwards saying “millions” when he meant “about a million” or forgetting to add “CAFTA and other trade agreements” when discussing the issue.
What is most interesting here is the confidence enjoyed by these two Washington Post writers as they smear Democratic candidates on the basis of nitpicky or nonexistent evidence. After all, this is the same paper that regularly relays George W. Bush’s lies with uncritical, near-stenographic accuracy. Yet Obama and Edwards are called liars when they tell the truth.