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If Only Jon Stewart Had Interviewed Dick Cheney

CNN let Cheney get away with spouting gross inaccuracies and weak excuses. They should have gone for the jugular, Jon Stewart style.

Jon Stewart's Jim Cramer interview was a pivotal moment -- not just for Stewart, Cramer, and CNBC but also for journalism. It was a bracing reminder of what great research and a journalist more committed to getting to the truth than to landing the big get -- and keeping the big get happy, and ensuring future big gets -- can accomplish.

Stewart kept popping into my head as I watched John King interview Dick Cheney on Sunday. Each time King let Cheney get away with spouting gross inaccuracies and revisionist history, I kept thinking how different things would have been had Stewart been asking the questions. Stewart without the comedy and without the outrage -- just armed with the facts and the willingness to ask tough questions.

King opened the interview by showing clips of President Obama saying that his administration had "inherited an economic crisis" and "inherited a big mess." He then asked Cheney: "Did you leave him a mess?"

"I don't think you can blame the Bush administration for the creation of those circumstances," responded Cheney. "It's a global financial problem... So I think the notion that you can just sort of throw it off on the prior administration, that's interesting rhetoric but I don't think anybody really cares a lot about that."

"You are pretending that you are a dew-eyed innocent," Stewart might have said, as he did to Cramer. But even without Stewartesque flourishes, shouldn't King have challenged Cheney's ludicrous claim with some facts about how the fervor for financial deregulation championed by the Bush administration fueled the economic meltdown? Instead, King let Cheney off the hook: "We may get back to how we got here. But let's talk about where we are."

But what's the point of having one of the architects of how we got here on your show if you're not willing to ask them questions about it?

Is there any sentient human being -- other than Bush apologists -- disputing that the Bush administration left Obama a mess? And that for 8 years, the Bush administration promoted the financial deregulation that led to the meltdown? Indeed, as recently as last spring, Hank Paulson was calling for less supervision of Wall Street.

What if King had asked Cheney to respond to the way the SEC was dismantled under his watch, citing quotes about SEC chair Chris Cox from former SEC officials. Here are three King could have picked from: "[Cox] in many ways worked to dismantle the SEC"; "It was like someone poured molasses on the enforcement division"; "Cox worshiped at the same altar of deregulation as the rest of the Bush administration worshiped at."

After all, even Cox, testifying in front of the Senate Banking Committee in September, admitted that deregulation was the cause of the crisis.

But we got none of that from King. Instead, Cheney was allowed to deliver the fully discredited GOP talking points that try to pin the blame for the economic crisis on Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. "As best I can tell," Cheney told King, "from looking at the evidence, the failure of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac was one of the key ingredients that caused the subsequent financial problem and economic recession... and I think the collapse of those two institutions, as much as anything, contributed to the financial difficulties we've been living with since."

I could just hear Stewart saying: "But Fannie and Freddie were specifically prohibited from the kind of subprime lending that was at the heart of the meltdown. In fact, Fannie and Freddie could only buy mortgages issued to borrowers who made substantial down payments and carefully documented their incomes, which is the exact opposite of a subprime loan. So, could you tell us exactly what 'evidence' you have been 'looking at' that would lead you to say they 'caused' the financial crisis?"

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