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Where’s the follow-up question?

The gaffe should have been all John McCain’s. But CBS News’ shoddy editing left what certainly sounded like a misstatement (endemic in this election season) from the presumptive Republican nominee on the cutting room floor. It also enabled the McCain campaign to deflect attention away from his circuitous surge timeline when the Obama campaign inevitably called attention to it.

Katie Couric’s 14-minute interview with McCain – which was cut down for the CBS Evening News on Tuesday – included Couric querying McCain about Barack Obama’s assertion that improved security was already afoot in Iraq before President Bush announced, in early 2007, his plan to send additional troops there (known as the surge).

In the unexpurgated interview, McCain called Obama’s characterization “a false depiction of what actually happened” and then went on to say that the surge of early 2007 “began the Anbar Awakening.”

Technically, the Anbar Awakening began in the fall of 2006.

CBS News edited out that part of McCain’s response and inserted an answer to an earlier question, which should be verboten according to long-held broadcast news standards.

Paul Freidman, senior vice president of CBS News said in a statement that the bad editing “did not in any way distort what Senator McCain was saying” while acknowledging that a mistake was indeed made. “The report was edited under extreme time constraints and one piece of tape was put in the wrong order,” he said in his statement.

News divisions have an ethical obligation to keep questions and answers together and they usually exercise considerable care with heads of state and political leaders.

But watching the entire interview as it unfolded, CBS News’ editing error would likely not have happened if only Couric had challenged McCain on his Anbar Awakening/Surge timeline. 

She didn’t.

But it would have made for good TV – and not have ended up on the cutting room floor.