Tuesday, February 14, 2006

I've been somewhat surprised at how much attention the mainstream press is paying to the Cheney shooting story, but I suppose I shouldn't be.

The press cares for two reasons: First, this is a national news story that's very much like a local news story, the sort of thing you'd see at 11:00 P.M. between a fatal house fire and a fatal drunk-driving accident. It involves simple human interactions that put someone in the intensive care unit -- no tedious legislation or ideology to explain. I don't know how many of you even bother to watch the national news on the networks or CNN, but national news on TV is becoming the national local news, full of stories like this. And that seems to be a big part of what's driving this.

The second reason reporters care is that this is about them. They're upset because they feel they were entitled to be fed this story by the White House immediately -- they weren't being serviced, dammit. That's the bargain: When there's a story, the White House is supposed to tell them what it is and they're supposed to transmit it (marbled with a bit of "balance," of course). I think this may be why the bored reporters in Crawford last year surprised us by taking Cindy Sheehan seriously -- she felt she was entitled to what reporters feel they're entitled to: access. They related to her. If Bush had met with her, it wouldn't have mattered what sort of BS he told her -- she'd have had her face time and the story would have been over. There'd have been very little follow-up.

The press doesn't ask for much. You don't even have to tell them the truth. Just give them a story they can file without having to work too hard.


ON THE OTHER HAND: Republicans who think this is all unfair need to remember four words: "Jimmy Carter" and "killer rabbit." I just shake my head at the thought that the most powerful nation in the world picks its leaders in part because of matters like this:

While home fishing in Georgia during a summer when his popularity was at low tide, President Jimmy Carter's small boat was "attacked" by a mysterious swimming rabbit, which the president warded off with a paddle. Once leaked into print by Brooks Jackson of the Associated Press, the bizarre story captured the press's and the public's imagination, becoming a metaphor for Carter's hapless, enfeebled presidency. The incident encouraged Massachusetts Sen. Edward M. Kennedy's primary challenge to Carter's renomination, and it became a symbolic preamble to Carter's landslide loss in November 1980.

It's interesting to note that the high-minded mandarin who now helps run the Annenberg School's FactCheck.org is the guy who brought us that story. Oh, and here are a couple more fun facts about the April 1979 incident, from a book by Carter's press secretary, Jody Powell:

The story ran for more than a week. The President was repeatedly asked to explain his behavior at town hall meetings, press conferences, and meetings with editors.

There was talk of a suit under the Freedom of Information Act to force release of the picture showing the President, paddle and rabbit in close proximity.

Shortly after the Reagan administration took office, they stumbled upon a copy of the picture -- apparently while searching for a foreign policy -- and reopened the old wounds by releasing it to the press.

Sounds like the attack-dog Republican Party we know and love today, especially the kicking of Carter's political corpse by the administration of that nice old man Ronald Reagan.


But I'm not gleeful about all this because I think the attention this story is getting is eventually going to be turned around by the Republicans, in the usual Karl Rove/Karen Hughes way. If Cheney refuses to be more forthright, expect to see Lynne and the damn grandkids everywhere you look very, very soon. Plus, they'll get Whittington to walk out of the hospital and denounce everone who's questioned Cheney, or, if he won't do it, some member of his family will turn this into Stop Picking on My Dad/Granddad/Father-in-Law. The next sound you'll hear after that will be the press beating itself up for asking so many questions. And life will go on.


ANOTHER UPDATE: Harry Whittington's "minor" heart attack does change things quite a bit -- though if he pulls through in reasonably good shape, watch for a "clarification" explaining that it wasn't really a heart attack.

No comments: