COHEN GETS MENDACIOUS ABOUT MENDACITY….It’s tempting to skip past Richard Cohen columns just as a matter of habit, but today’s op-ed is so odd, one wonders how Washington Post editors even let it run.

The piece, ostensibly, is about taking Barack Obama to task over a misleading statistic he used in a speech. But the piece starts out badly and goes downhill from there:

John Edwards lied about the cost of his haircuts. Fred Thompson lied about lobbying for a pro-choice outfit. John McCain insists that the United States was founded as a “Christian nation.” Mitt Romney concocted the story about how his father marched with Martin Luther King Jr. And Rudy Giuliani is a one-man fib machine — everything from why he had to provide police protection for his then-mistress to the survivability rates for prostate cancer in Britain….

The irony is rich. Cohen wrote a piece about the importance of accuracy, and the first nine words — “John Edwards lied about the cost of his haircuts” — are false. If Cohen wants to raise a fuss about the cost of Edwards’ haircuts, that would merely be annoying (though it would be consistent with the Post’s disconcerting obsession with the subject). Instead, the columnist emphasizes the importance of getting the details right, while making up a “lie” that never happened.

The McCain example is also bizarre. Yes, the Arizona senator claimed we were founded as a “Christian nation,” and we were not. But that’s not an example of mendacity; it’s an example of ignorance. McCain wasn’t lying; he was just foolishly pandering to the religious right with nonsense. That’s worthy of criticism, of course, but for different reasons.

If Cohen really wanted to throw McCain into the mix, he could have at least found some actual examples of the senator’s mendacity, such as McCain’s lies about his criticism of the Rumsfeld policy, or his spectacular lies about going for a safe stroll in a Baghdad market in March.

One gets the impression that Cohen, who’s been around long enough to know better, just casually threw in some accusations of dishonesty in the hopes of achieving some kind of “balance.” Regrettably he did so a) without getting his facts straight; and b) in a column about the importance of people getting their facts straight.

It’s really not a good way to start out the new year.

Steve Benen

Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.