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FiveThirtyEight

Politics

Note: Second Update below contains video of Warren’s appearance today on CNN. [9:19 PM CDT]

In yesterday’s Saddleback Forum, pastor Rick Warren on two occasions referred to John McCain’s “cone of silence”, implying strongly that he had not been able to hear the questions posed to Barack Obama ahead of time — questions which were, in many cases, identical to the ones posed to McCain.

This was Pastor Warren during Barack Obama’s segment last night. Apologies for the capitalization — it is in the original transcript — but emphasis is mine:

NOW WHAT I’VE DECIDED IS TO ALLOW FOR PROPER COMPARISON I’M GOING TO ASK IDENTICAL QUESTIONS TO EACH OF THESE CANDIDATES SO YOU CAN COMPARE APPLES TO APPLES. NOW SENATOR OBAMA IS GOING TO GO FIRST. WE FLIPPED A COIN. AND WE HAVE SAFELY PLACED SENATOR MCCAIN IN A CONE OF SILENCE. EACH OF THE INTERVIEWS WILL BE SEGMENTED INTO FOUR DIFFERENT SECTIONS WE’RE GOING TO LOOK AT A FOUR DIFFERENT THINGS AND THE NUMBER OF QUESTIONS ANSWERED IN EACH SEGMENT WILL DEPEND ON HOW SUCCINCT THE SENATOR IS.

Warren again referred to the “cone of silence” at the very beginning of McCain’s segment. McCain’s response is obviously a joke, and a pretty funny one at that, but the important part is that Warren is implying that the cone of silence is an actual, physical place:

Q. WELCOME BACK TO THE SADDLEBACK CIVIL FORUM ON THE PRESIDENCY AND WELCOME SENATOR JOHN MCCAIN. NOW MY FIRST QUESTION WAS THE CONE OF SILENCE COMFORTABLE THAT YOU WERE IN JUST NOW?

A. I WAS TRYING TO HEAR THROUGH THE WALL.

However, Warren was just interviewed by CNN’s Rick Sanchez, and apparently told him that McCain was not in the church during the first half-hour of Obama’s segment. (I did not see the segment myself, nor does a transcript or video yet seem to be available). Sanchez has now suggested that Warren implied to him that he (Warren) thought McCain was in the “cone of silence” when he told the audience as much, but later learned that McCain was not.

This is highly despicable behavior, folks, on the part of McCain, Warren or possibly both. There’s simply no way around it.

UPDATE: Let me be more clear about what I am suggesting. I am not suggesting that Warren conspired in some way with McCain. In fact, I thought his questions last night were exceptionally fair — how couldn’t they be, since both candidates were asked the same questions?

However, based on Warren’s accounting of the proceedings, what we know is as follows:

1. Warren assumed that, at the time he began to interview Senator Obama, that Senator McCain had been placed into a ‘cone of silence’. Warren probably had no way to verify McCain’s whereabouts immediately before taking stage; he was, according to pictures posted at the Saddleback website, speaking with Sen. Obama in the green room.

2. However, Senator McCain was in fact not at the church or in any other quarantined location at the time he began to interview Obama; instead, he was in his motorcade on the way to the site for approximately the first half-hour of the proceedings.

3. Warren says he asked McCain whether he had heard any of the questions, and McCain said that he had not; Warren “trust[s] the integrity” of McCain’s answer.

If McCain was in the motorcade, then there would be absolutely nothing, other than his honor, that would prevent him from hearing Obama’s questions. However, it is probably impossible to verify whether McCain had in fact heard any of the questions. The only people who could say for sure were the people in the motorcade with John McCain.

What we can possibly verify is whether the McCain people had violated an implied or expressed promise to have arrived at the venue by the time that Barack Obama’s interview began. Warren implied to a national audience that McCain was in a quarantined area at the time Obama’s interview began, but in fact McCain was not.

Warren is on Larry King’s show tomorrow night; the questions that King should ask him are things like:

1) What were the rules of the game were intended to be ahead of time, particularly as it reflects the ‘cone of silence’?

2) Did he specifically request that the McCain people have their candidate show up to the event by at least the time of Barack Obama’s interview?

3) When did he learn that McCain had not in fact been placed into the ‘cone of silence’?

Whether Warren actually believes that McCain heard the questions or not is immaterial. Warren, evidently, considers both McCain and Obama to be friends, and he takes them at their word.

But the point is, there were supposed to be controls in place that prevented this situation from arising — a situation where McCain was in a position to cheat without any consequence for having done so. Those controls broke down. We need to learn more about what those controls were, and why they broke down.

UPDATE: Here’s the video.

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