Twisting the facts

Vice President Cheney listens to Senator Edwards during their vice presidential debate
U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney reacts to a point made by Democratic vice presidential nominee U.S. Senator John Edwards during their debate at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio, October 5, 2004.Shaun Heasley / Reuters

It was hard to miss the clashes Tuesday night between Vice President Dick Cheney and Sen. John Edwards. Both of them made statements that were strong and impressive. However, both made some charges that were misleading.

The truth got stretched more prominently by the incumbent, Dick Cheney. One major skewed statement was: “The senator has got his facts wrong. I have not suggested there’s a connection between Iraq and 9/11.”

But Cheney suggested exactly that a year ago, on "," when he described Iraq as “the geographic base of the terrorists who have had us under assault for many years, but most especially on 9/11.”

Cheney also claimed a connection between 9/11 hijacker Mohammed Atta and Iraqi intelligence agents on two earlier appearances.

  • On Dec. 9, 2001 “Meet the Press”: “It’s been pretty well-confirmed that he did go to Prague and he did meet with a senior official of the Iraqi intelligence service.”
  • Sept. 8, 2002 “Meet the Press”: “We have reporting that places him in Prague with a senior Iraqi intelligence officer a few months before the attacks on the World Trade Center.”

During the debate, the vice president’s most powerful political punch came when he slammed John Edwards’ senate attendance record.  The problem is that Cheney and Edwards did meet at the very least, at a prayer breakfast three years ago and at the swearing-in of North Carolina Senator Elizabeth Dole.

For his part, John Edwards made his own share of misleading claims, starting with Iraq. "Regardless of what the vice president says, we’re at $200 billion and counting," said Edwards during the debate.

Spending is actually at $120 billion. Another $54 billion has been allocated, but the $200 billion figure won’t be reached until next year.

Edwards also overstated the number of U.S. jobs lost by the administration. “In the time that they have been in office, in the last four years, 1.6 million private sector jobs have been lost,” said Edwards. The actual number is 900,000.

Meanwhile, as both campaigns accuse the other of making false debate claims, both campaigns are running new misleading TV commercials.

A Kerry campaign ad on the subject of stem cell research claims, “It’s time to lift the political barriers blocking the stem cell research that could treat or cure diseases like Parkinson’s.”

In fact, there is no political barrier on private research— only government-funded use of embryos.

A Bush campaign ad meanwhile claims Kerry opposes tort reform: “John Kerry and the liberals in Congress side with the trial lawyers.”

But some of the votes described were not about stopping frivolous lawsuits, and were “corporate giveaways,” as described by Democrats.

Both campaigns have more hard-hitting ads coming out Thursday. And then of course, there is another opportunity for the campaigns to twist the facts to their own benefit at the debate in St. Louis on Friday night. 

Tune into MSNBC TV for full Presidential Debate Coverage, starting at 6 p.m. ET.