Vice President Cheney dropped a dot-bomb Tuesday night when he inadvertently directed millions of viewers of the vice presidential debate to an Internet site critical of the Bush administration.
After Democratic nominee John Edwards raised some nasty allegations about Halliburton Corp., the company Cheney once ran, Cheney angrily responded to the "false" charges. "If you go, for example, to FactCheck.com, an independent Web site sponsored by the University of Pennsylvania, you can get the specific details with respect to Halliburton," he said.
But when people followed Cheney's instructions, they wound up at a site sponsored by administration antagonist George Soros. "Why we must not re-elect President Bush," the site blared. "President Bush is endangering our safety, hurting our vital interests, and undermining American values."
Evidently, Cheney meant to say FactCheck.org, a site run by the Annenberg Public Policy Center. Instead, he directed the nation's attention to a Web site that refers people to sellers of dictionaries and encyclopedias -- at least at first. The company behind the site, Cayman Islands-based Name Administration Inc., which also owns sites such as Lipbalm.com and Antarctica.com, was quickly overwhelmed.
"Suddenly they had 48,000 hits in an hour, then 100 hits a second," said John Berryhill, a lawyer for the company. "They had a technical problem on their hands."
To avoid crashing, and to exact revenge on Cheney for causing it such grief, Name Administration decided to forward traffic to GeorgeSoros.com -- a site that could handle the traffic, was not soliciting funds and clearly wasn't tied to Bush. "And you got to admit it was kind of cute," Berryhill said.
Soros's Web site issued a statement saying it had nothing to do with the redirection of traffic. "We are as surprised as anyone," said Michael Vachon, Soros's chief of staff.
Gradually, people became aware of Cheney's mistake, and the White House transcript of the debate was annotated with the correct address. But, unfortunately for Cheney, FactCheck.org was not much more helpful than Soros in knocking down Edwards's charges.
Cheney "wrongly implied that we had rebutted allegations Edwards was making about what Cheney had done as chief executive officer of Halliburton," the Annenberg site wrote in a posting yesterday. "In fact, we did post an article pointing out that Cheney hasn't profited personally while in office from Halliburton's Iraq contracts, as falsely implied by a Kerry TV ad. But Edwards was talking about Cheney's responsibility for earlier Halliburton troubles. And in fact, Edwards was mostly right."