Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Freedom of the Press Release

I hate having to defend someone I don’t like.

I don’t particularly like Vice-President Cheney. In my opinion, the modern-day purpose of a Vice-Presidential candidate is to look good, shore up support for the Presidential candidate in a different home region, and, in the case of a former challenger for his party’s nomination, provide some extra electoral votes for the big guy. Dick Cheney doesn’t look good. He’s from Wyoming, a state tied with six others for the least electoral votes – even the CITY of Washington, D.C. has the same number! To make it worse, Mr. Cheney is from the same general region as Mr. Bush – the West. And certainly, Mr. Cheney was never even vaguely a contender for the Presidential nomination.

For Mr. Bush to select Mr. Cheney as a running mate required that he give up all these potential advantages that another person might provide. There has to be some compensating advantage or reason – and when I think about that, the words “kingmaker” or worse, “puppeteer” leap to mind. I am very uncomfortable with the thought that my President, my Commander-in-Chief, might be little more than a mouthpiece for his Vice-President. Still worse when that Vice-President gives the appearance of being deeply beholden to various special and corporate interests, especially the oil and defense industries.

With all that in mind, you can imagine how much it bugs me to be forced to defend Mr. Cheney. But the press has the wrong end of the stick this week, and I don’t see many people stepping up to say so. Dick Cheney went out this past weekend on a hunting trip with a friend. The trip held no particular political importance, wasn’t an official function, and wasn’t related to his duties. It turns out that he made a tragic mistake in the course of the day that has hospitalized that friend. This is news – not because it is politically important, but because the Vice-President is an inherently newsworthy figure, so anything he does is news, especially something unusual and tragic. (All the more so that it includes so many comedic elements – political humorists are having a field day.) I don’t see any problem with the media reporting the incident, or with the satirists poking fun at it – that’s part of the deal when you accept the office, or even when you hang around with the VP.

The press corps, however, seems to believe that they were entitled to full details provided directly from the White House as soon as the incident occurred. There’s been a few editorials on the subject batting about the terms “cover-up” and “withholding information.” Alan Dershowitz hints that Cheney may have been drunk at the time. But worse than the editorials have been the so-called “balanced” news stories that take their pot shots by publicizing the “media’s reaction.” For example:

“Amid criticism of the White House for waiting to announce the shooting accident…”

“US media slams Dick Cheney” and “The Vice President seems to be avoiding the press, however, that hasn't stopped the media from taking pot shots at him.”

“The accident raised questions about …the White House's failure to disclose the accident in a timely way.”

I read editorials frequently, but I prefer that they be labeled correctly. Constant mentions of “press reaction” by the press itself strike me as a way to cover opinion with a patina of honest reporting.

But why is the press so upset in the first place? Because they weren’t given the full story right away. The reporters seem to have forgotten a basic truth – the freedom of the press is a freedom for them to publish and for them to go find out, not a guarantee that they’ll be handed every story on silver platter. A government cover-up of official actions is one thing, but this incident was a private matter. It could later become a civil or criminal matter, if Mr. Whittington should decide to sue or press charges, but right now it is purely private. Mr. Cheney and the White House were under no obligation to say anything.

In fact, it might be better for us all if the media stopped depending on press conferences, releases, and handouts for our news, and went out there and looked and told us what they found.

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