Framing Cheney

Oh, to be a fly on the wall when the right-wing noise machine is in full gear! To hear them paint liberals as angry. To hear them say we're soft on terror. To hear them call us unpatriotic.

While numerous important questions remain in the wake of Vice President Cheney's shooting of hunting companion Harry Whittington, the official Republican frame of this story is emerging: Blame the media.

Blame them, as several Fox News hosts have, for making a mountain out of a molehill. Blame them, as Rush Limbaugh did, for wishing Whittington dead to further persecute the administration. Blame them, as Cheney did, for being angry about being scooped by a Texas newspaper.

"I had a bit of the feeling that the press corps was upset because, to some extent, it was about them - they didn't like the idea that we called the Corpus Christi Caller-Times instead of The New York Times," Cheney said Wednesday. While that's a nice line and I credit Mary Matalin for an excellent turn of the phrase, what Cheney said just isn't true. The media "don't like the idea" that there's a gap between when the shooting occurred and when the vice president spoke with authorities. They also "don't like the idea" that there's an even longer gap between when the shooting occurred and when the story was first reported, and by whom. And they "don't like the idea" that their jobs are being made harder because the administration has dishonestly withheld information from them.

Above all else, the reason the media are continuing to pursue this story is that, quite simply, parts of it don't pass the smell test. Take the evolving story about the role of alcohol in the incident. What first began as no drinking became a beer at lunch. Further, a CNN article quotes ranch owner Katharine Armstrong as saying she didn't see Whittington or Cheney "drink at all on the day of the shooting until after the accident occurred, when the vice president fixed himself a cocktail back at the house."

What, may I ask, is up with that? Talk about compassionate conservatism. The vice president shoots a man in the face and follows it up by fixing himself a cocktail? So much for Scott McClellan's"making sure that Mr. Whittington has the care that he needs" argument. I suppose the vice president's post-shooting priorities were:

  1. Make sure the man I shot is well cared for
  2. Fix self a Highball
  3. ?
I had a professor in college who once told us, "There's no such thing as one beer." I'm inclined to agree. No wonder Team Cheney wanted to wait until the next day to speak with authorities. And no wonder Whittington's doctors continue to stonewall questions about the patient's blood alcohol level at the time of his arrival.

But back to the Corpus Christi Caller-Times scooping, in Cheney's mind, the New York Times. When, under this administration, would anyone in the White House call the New York Times first? It's not like Judith Miller works there anymore. And Times publisher Arthur Sulzberger wasn't receptive the last time the West Wing did call - when the administration wanted the paper to kill the NSA domestic spying story.

The Limbaughs of the world should be thanking their lucky, drug-addled stars that the Washington press corps is focused almost exclusively on the Cheney story. Why? Because every minute spent talking about the vice president is a minute not spent discussing the disastrous war in Iraq. Or new photos from Abu Ghraib and new charges of torture at Guantanamo Bay. Or new allegations of domestic spying. Or that the government kicked thousands of Hurricane Katrina victims out of their hotels this week. Or that, in the wake of the Sago mine disaster, the site where 12 individuals died last month is again being cited for safety violations. Sure, the Cheney shooting makes the White House look bad. But not as bad as everything else. The right should be careful about what it wishes for.

In the final analysis, the context of this story as is important as the details. Look at what's happened so far. Someone in the administration acted negligently and illegally. Then, those investigating find roadblocks placed in their way. Further, it appeared as though the White House was more concerned about keeping the story from getting out than answering questions. All the while, partisan allies blamed the victim. Sound familiar? It should, because it has been at the core of every Bush-era debacle.

For this administration, the shooting was business as usual.

Tags: Dick Cheney, Fox News, Rush Limbaugh (all tags)

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