The vice presidential debate was quickly followed by the usual fascination with style ("Nice Guy vs. The Ice Guy," said USA Today) and the equally customary lack of interest in facts.
A glaring example was Sen. Edwards' startling comment that "Half of African-Americans are dropping out of high school. Half of Hispanic-Americans are dropping out of high school." That may have been an effective debating point, but doesn't anyone care if it's true? If untrue, it seems to me a nasty slur on black and Hispanic parents who supposedly let their kids drop out.
Searching Goggle, LexisNexis and Factiva the following day, I could not find a single news source questioning this dropout claim. One AP story quoted Alice Theis of Leavenworth, Kansas, who "was impressed with the facts or the figures that Edwards ... threw out with the school dropouts." Another AP story quoted Frisco Rose, a student at North Carolina State. But the figures Edwards threw out needed to be thrown out.
Childrensdatabank.org reports that, "In 2002, 7 percent of non-Hispanic whites were not enrolled in school and had not completed high school, whereas 12 percent of blacks and 26 percent of Hispanics had dropped out." The latter figure does not mean 26 percent of Hispanics are "dropping out" of U.S. schools. "The high rate for Hispanics is in part the result of the high proportion of immigrants in this age group who never attended schools in the U.S."
Even as recently as 1980, the numbers of young people who had not completed high school was above 11 percent for whites, 19 percent for blacks and 35 percent for Hispanics. As in the case of jobs and incomes, things that are getting better are being described as getting worse.
I have no idea where Edwards got the idea that half the black and Hispanic kids "are dropping out of high school," but such wanton carelessness says something about his credulity and credibility. It also says something about the U.S. media that few reporters, if any, questioned even such an extreme remark.
Some newspapers did catch a few other factual bloopers. Vice President Cheney came in for justified criticism about his enthusiasm and excuses for the Iraq war. But such exercises in hindsight leave little to choose between the two major parties when it comes to getting out of Iraq gracefully, unless voters imagine France and Germany are lying when they say they won't get involved no matter who wins.
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