As expected, Saturday’s Republican presidential debate began with discussion of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia’s death earlier in the day. But the opening minutes also featured something more surprising — an apology from CBS moderator John Dickerson to Ted Cruz.
Dickerson was leading a round-robin Q&A on whether Scalia’s successor ought to be nominated and appointed before the end of President Obama’s term, when he came to Cruz last. The Texas senator began by stating that there is an 80-year precedent of not confirming justices in an election year. That’s not quite accurate, however, as Dickerson pointed out.
DICKERSON: But Kennedy was confirmed in ’88.
CRUZ: No, Kennedy was confirmed in ’87.
DICKERSON: He was appointed in ’87, but he was confirmed in ’88. That’s the question — is it appointing or confirming?
CRUZ: In this case, it’s both. But if I could — could I answer the question?
DICKERSON: Sorry. All right. Just want to get the facts straight for the audience. But I apologize.
The audience didn’t seem to appreciate Dickerson’s concern for their understanding of the facts. The crowd booed, and Cruz didn’t exactly bail Dickerson out. Eager to answer the question a moment earlier, he paused to let the boos rain down and even seemed to glare at the moderator.
Dickerson, quite simply, shouldn’t have apologized. He had his facts straight and was right to call out Cruz’s misstatement. Saying "sorry" opened the door for Cruz and his backers to complain — and who’s to say they’re wrong when the moderator himself felt the need to apologize?
I guess I will. The history was important here because it formed the foundation of Cruz’s argument about eight decades of precedent. Dickerson certainly wasn’t obligated to let him continue making the argument on a faulty premise, especially since Cruz insisted he was right. When Dickerson initially corrected him, Cruz might have just said he misspoke and meant "nominated," instead of "confirmed," and moved on. Instead, he stated falsely that Anthony Kennedy was confirmed in 1987.
Dickerson's obligation was to do exactly what he did — interject and set the record straight. There was nothing to apologize for.