Vice President Dick Cheney thought he could deflect a Democratic attack on Halliburton Co. by referring viewers to a nonpartisan Internet organization that supported his views on the controversial government contractor.
But because of a slip of the tongue, Cheney’s move backfired Tuesday night. Viewers were directed to a website that opposes President Bush’s reelection, and even people who found the correct site saw that it was filled with criticism of Bush-Cheney campaign commercials.
The curious episode unfolded during the vice presidential debate after a tense exchange between Cheney and Sen. John Edwards (D-N.C.) over Halliburton. Edwards raised questions about alleged wrongdoing at the company, and about its dealings with Libya and Iran, during the years Cheney led it as chief executive.
“They know the charges are false,” Cheney said of Democrats. “They know that if you go, for example, to factcheck.com ... you can get the specific details with respect to Halliburton.”
Late Tuesday night and on Wednesday, people who went to www.factcheck.com were automatically routed to www.georgesoros.com -- run by billionaire and Democratic donor George Soros.
“Why we must not reelect President Bush,” the Soros website reads at the top of its page. “President Bush is endangering our safety, hurting our vital interests and undermining American values.”
Factcheck.com is owned by an online advertising company called Name Administration Inc., based in the Cayman Islands.
John Berryhill, a Philadelphia-based attorney for the company, said the owners, who do not support Bush, were so overwhelmed by unwanted visitors at their website that they decided to reroute them to Soros.
“They had to throw the traffic somewhere,” Berryhill said. “They thought Soros would be kind of cute.”
A Soros spokesman, Michael Vachon, said the billionaire was surprised to learn about the existence of the link to his site.
The address Cheney meant to cite, factcheck.org, is a website run by the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania. So many people took his suggestion to visit FactCheck that the site repeatedly crashed on Wednesday.
The website displays two articles that rebut certain Democratic claims about the Bush administration’s connections to Halliburton. Cheney’s ties to the company have become an issue in the campaign as critics question the firm’s role as a government contractor -- and a no-bid deal it was given for war-related work in Iraq.
But the FactCheck website is also replete with articles that shoot holes through many of the strongest claims Republicans have made this year against Democratic presidential nominee John F. Kerry.
“Bush mischaracterizes Kerry’s health plan,” says one recent article. “Bush ad twists Kerry’s words on Iraq,” says another.
Hours after the debate, FactCheck posted an analysis faulting Cheney and Edwards for various inaccurate or misleading statements.
The analysis, written by veteran Washington journalist Brooks Jackson and overseen by Annenberg director Kathleen Hall Jamieson, faulted Cheney in particular for implying that FactCheck had defended his tenure as Halliburton CEO. Instead, FactCheck’s earlier articles had focused on Halliburton-related matters during the Bush presidency.
FactCheck is funded, Jamieson said, by an Annenberg Foundation endowment. Launched last year, the website has posted more than 100 articles on campaign-related charges and claims. Many journalists have cited FactCheck’s work.
Frequently, FactCheck has accused Democrats and Kerry of overstatements, distortions or puffery. But a large number of its articles have skewered claims made by the Bush campaign, for instance, about Kerry’s record on taxes, defense and Iraq.