Obama's trip cost a big, fat lie

I will tell you a true story, but first I will tell you the point, in case you fail to make it to the bottom.

The point is that the right-wing conspires to poison our political dialogue with lies, and that the people who get lied about inevitably lose the debate by merely denying the lies rather than by conspiring to tell their own symmetrical whoppers.

So here's the story:

On the night after the big Republican takeover, CNN's Anderson Cooper interviewed U.S. Rep. Michelle Bachmann, a Republican from Minnesota.

Cooper asked Bachmann a perfectly fair and even compelling question about where Republicans were going to make these budget cuts they had promised the voters.

Bachmann responded -- which is not to say answered -- by saying we ought to look to President Obama's trip to India. Why, she said, this gallivanting was costing the taxpayers $200 million a day, $2 billion altogether.

That was it. All she offered in the way of an idea for reducing the federal budget was criticism of supposedly lavish forthcoming one-time expenditures for a presidential trip.

In a matter of hours this allegedly obscene waste for this presidential trip was being reported and decried by Limbaugh, Hannity and Beck, the latter of whom explained that 34 Navy warships were being diverted.

Cooper decided to delve into this $2 billion figure for his next evening's show.

The White House was saying the number was outrageously exaggerated, but that, for security reasons, it never discussed financial details of such trips. A Pentagon spokesman was saying he normally declined to discuss such things, and could not be specific either, but that this business about $2 billion and 34 warships was comically absurd.

It turned out, Cooper reported, that the $200 million-a-day figure could be traced to an anonymous Indian source speaking to an Indian wire service.

It turns out that the war in Afghanistan costs less per day than what these critics were saying the president's trip cost.

Bill Clinton's trip to Africa in the late 1990s, at a similar distance and for a similar duration, cost $5.2 million a day.

Cooper interviewed Andrew Card, former chief of staff to President George W. Bush, who said no trip his boss took as president cost remotely that and that these reports obviously were over the top.

But then Card, standing up for the right wing from whence he came, scolded Cooper for making so much of this. It was bad behavior, Card believed, for Cooper to be so smug and sanctimonious about fairness and accuracy.

So I got a phone call from a man peeved that I had called Fox News the disgrace that it is. It was Fox, this man said, that reported the $2 billion price tag for the socialist's trip, and it was the liberal media of which I was a part that covered it up. I replied simply to say, yeah, but Fox lied.

My caller's response was to ask whether I had a cost figure on the trip. I said I did not. So he shot back that, with all due respect, he would believe the source giving a specific figure, thank you, rather than a critic of that source providing no countering specific figure.

In other words, victory goes to the bogus report because it was detailed, while defeat is assigned to the one declaring the bogus report bogus but having no symmetrically countering detail on account of choosing not to do any whole-cloth manufacturing of his own.

OK, then. I say the president's trip cost $3.42. There is your symmetry. There is free and fair dialogue for you. There is something for Olbermann to run with. There is some noble service to our democracy.

John Brummett is an award-winning columnist for the Arkansas News Bureau in Little Rock and author of "High Wire," a book about Bill Clinton's first year as president. His e-mail address is jbrummett@ arkansasnews.com.