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The McCain-Palin Lies and the Neil Armstrong Principle

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If John McCain and Sarah Palin were to say the moon was made of green cheese, we can be certain that Barack Obama and Joe Biden would pounce on it, and point out it's actually made of rock. And you just know the headline in the paper the next day would read: "CANDIDATES CLASH ON LUNAR LANDSCAPE."

Why doesn't somebody call Neil Armstrong? He's been there. Or go to the Smithsonian and open the glass case that contains a piece of the moon. The moon is a rock. That's a fact, Jack.

Facts are indeed stubborn things, but the McCain-Palin lies are more stubborn still.

In the face of demonstrable, provable, incontrovertible evidence to the contrary, McCain and Palin continue to assert that Gov. Palin opposed the infamous "Bridge to Nowhere." They do so in their speeches and ads, and their supporters say so on television until their pants are on fire. McCain and Palin also claim the Alaska governor opposes earmarks -- despite the fact that she's gotten her state so much pork she's at risk for trichinosis.

I was in the middle of a Neil Armstrong Moment when I was on CNN Tuesday morning. Rather than let McCain and Palin get away with their lie, anchor John Roberts played a videotape of Sarah Palin in a 2006 gubernatorial debate in which she endorsed the bridge from Ketchikan to Gravina Island saying, "I'm not going to stand in the way of progress that our congressional delegation and the position of strength that they have right now." Perhaps her supporters, noting Palin's support for banning books, teaching creationism and doubting global warming will argue that for her, calling the bridge "progress" was her way of saying she was against it.) But the Anchorage Daily News forecloses that option, reporting, "In September, 2006, Palin showed up in Ketchikan on her gubernatorial campaign and said the bridge was essential for the town's prosperity."

After the videotape ran, I said the media was at fault for letting Palin and McCain get away with "flat out lies." GOP strategist Alex Castellanos manfully tried to shine a cow patty, saying, "The amazing thing about Sarah Palin is when she became governor she actually stood up and said no."

Increasingly frustrated, I pointed out that just was not true, and the "debate" continued.

Most of political debate is subjective: who's more qualified, who's more compassionate, whose experience is more relevant, who has better ideas on health care or energy or global warming or the economy? There is no Objective Truth on those matters, and debate -- even when voices are sometimes raised -- can help voters decide who they agree with. On those matters of subjective judgment it's perfectly appropriate for the media to hold the coats of the candidates and let them fight it out.

But facts ought not be debatable. The media have an obligation to point out when a politician is lying about a matter of fact, but the right-wing attack machine has so cowed some of them you can almost hear them moo. Steve Schmidt, McCain's top dog, is a brilliant and audacious strategist. His candidate has had the most favorable press coverage of any politician of the last century -- fawning, adoring, sycophantic press coverage. And yet he is brutalizing the press, waterboarding them into pretending that whether Gov. Palin supported the "Bridge to Nowhere," or hired an Abramoff-connected lobbyist to secure massive earmarks are somehow debatable.

The real debate is over whether the media will be vigilant watchdogs, sounding the alarm when McCain and Palin lie, or fall back to the role they've played for most of McCain's career: lapdog.