The Debate Over McCain's Black Debate Partner

It seems like Democrats these days love few things more than accusing Senator McCain and his supporters of being racists. Not necessarily cross-burning, hood sporting Bible belt bigots, but rather the type of out-of-touch crackers who prefer not sharing golf courses and neighborhoods with minorities.

So when the Wall Street Journal printed yesterday that former Maryland Lieutenant Governor Michael Steele – a black man – was playing Barack Obama in McCain’s preparatory debates, lefty bloggers jumped on it like a Google-sponsored convention buffet. Never mind that Obama planned to joust with an old white guy, or that Joe Biden found an aesthetically comparable femme to play Sarah Palin.

Whatever fun the left had with the news, though, mostly stopped late yesterday when the Wall Street Journal retracted the information (note – The Phoenix ran the correction on its Talking Politics blog). But for obvious partisan reasons neither bloggers nor their newsroom counterparts were as eager to advertise the McCain campaign’s denial as they were to shank him one day earlier for what many perceived as veiled out-of-touch bigotry (and for his not choosing the always mock-able Alan Keyes as a debate partner instead).  

It’s too bad that reporters didn’t follow the retraction, because it looks like the real scoop is on the back end. Either the Journal made the whole thing up (Monica Langley initially reported that “McCain will spar this week in mock debates” with Steele, who will “use many of [Obama’s] speaking patterns, tactics and body language”), which is doubtful, or Republicans realized that the news made them vulnerable and bailed out with a line of nonsense.

Today’s New York Sun quoted Steele aide Belinda Cook saying: “The Journal called last week and we told them that was false.” In a follow-up e-mail asking which reporter called and when, Cook wrote The Phoenix: “Call came in last week – couldn’t find source of rumor.” The Phoenix reached out to Langley for the Journal side of the story, but have not heard back yet (will post update as soon as comment arrives).

Is this a big deal? No – not for anyone who’s accustomed to political cover-ups and bloggers’ tendency to latch on to bullshit buzz stories much faster than they are to dismiss them. The point is: whether McCain’s operatives did or didn’t plan to use Steele for practice, and whether they lied about it once the blogs hit the fan, Wonkette had a headline (“Debate Prep: John McCain To Practice With One Black Guy He Knows”) and they’re sticking to it.

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