Thursday, February 16, 2006

You're paying for it

Time and space constraints in a daily newspaper often make it difficult to address all pertinent matters. Such was the case in the piece that I wrote today. Here's something I didn't address:

Vice President Cheney suggested, during his visit to the friendly confines of Fox News, that the hunting accident was nobody's business because it happened on a private ranch during his private time in the presence of his private friends. Yet, at the same time, he commended his medical team for speedily dealing with the fallen Harry Whittington ("I've always got a medical team, in effect, covering me wherever I go"). The relevent fact is that his medical team - as well as his security team, communications team, and transportation - are financed by the American taxpayer. That would appear to define Cheney as a public official, whether he is sitting at a desk or wielding a shotgun.

Such an argument probably won't sit well with the vice president's defenders, many of whom are asking (me, at least) why the press hasn't sought to "balance" its coverage of the Cheney incident with retrospective coverage of the Ted Kennedy Chappaquiddik scandal 37 years ago. It is irrefutably true that Kennedy acted irresponsibly (he had to plead guilty to a charge of leaving the scene of the accident). But I would ask the Cheney defenders why they didn't complain in 1998 when the press failed to "balance" its coverage of Bill Clinton's sexual indiscretions with retrospective coverage of Republican Warren G. Harding's jazz-age sexual indiscretions.

Maybe we should give the last word (for now, anyway) to Peggy Noonan, the Republican speechwriter, who thinks the Cheney incident is "a great story" worthy of mass coverage (no matter what Cheney's defenders may think), and who suspects that, in the deepest regions of the Bush administration, there is a private yearning to send Cheney packing. She writes:

It's not the shooting incident itself, it's that Dick Cheney has been the administration's hate magnet for five years now. Halliburton, energy meetings, Libby, Plamegate. This was not all bad for the White House: Mr. Cheney took the heat that would otherwise have been turned solely on George Bush. So he had utility, and he's experienced and talented and organized, and Mr. Bush admires and respects him. But, at a certain point a hate magnet can draw so much hate you don't want to hold it in your hand anymore, you want to drop it, and pick up something else. Is this fair? Nah. But fair has nothing to do with it.