As time passed, by Tuesday, February 14th - Valentines Day - it was clear the major story filling the press and spawning a thousand commentaries was still what happened three days earlier, the hunting accident where the Vice President shot a seventy-eight-year-old Austin attorney. This was the day it got more serious, when the Austin attorney was rushed back into intensive care after a "silent heart attack" - not caused by stress or age, but by irritation from a bird shot pellet lodged near his heart. Watching the news you could see, at their press conference, the attending doctors downplaying this is as manageable and not that big a deal, or see various medical folks on the talks shows saying, no, this was serious. On Chris Matthew's MSNBC political show, Hardball, he found someone to say this was a big story (David Shrum, for the Democrats) and someone had some explaining to do (the Vice President), and someone from the right saying this is a bad business, but essentially a private matter and the nation should move on. The Vice President doesn't much care to answer to anyone - never apologize, never explain - as was clear from the start of his first term, where he and the leaders of the oil and energy companies met behind closed doors and developed the nation's energy policy. Who was there and what was said is still secret. He's kind of like that. What he does is nobody's business but his own.
But if this man with the irritated heart dies, he may not be able to maintain that "I don't have to tell anyone anything" position.
A quick look here (the media clips site "Crooks and Liars") gives the state of play at the end of the day - "It's been three days now and Dick Cheney has not publicly apologized for shooting a seventy-eight-year-old man in the face. With the President's approval ratings at thirty-nine when the incident happened, even Chris Matthews noted that at this rate Bush will be in the twenties by next week." And yes, at the White House daily press briefing, Presidential spokesman Scott McClellan was cracking jokes about the shooting (here, even though he himself knew about the heart attack). It just hadn't made it into the press yet. Bizarre. And who knows what to make of this - "The sheriff's office has acknowledged that they weren't allowed to talk to Cheney for fifteen hours after the accident, but now ranch owner Katharine Armstrong has told MSNBC that people in the party were drinking (though the comment was later scrubbed from the website)."
Is something up with that? It's hard to tell, but there's a pointer to this - "ABC News just reported that White House spokesman Scott McClellan laughed today during his noon press briefing, and told the media it was 'time to move on' to other matters than the shooting, we now know that McClellan already knew that Whittington had suffered a heart attack and was now back in intensive care. Yet McClellan refused to answer reporters' questions and tried to trivialize the issue."
This just gets stranger. Ric Erickson, editor of MetropoleParis, in an email to Hollywood quotes an account of Cheney's brief and enigmatic statement regarding the heart attack - "The vice president said that his thoughts and prayers are with Mr. Whittington and his family."
Ric's comment - "He should say he's sorry instead."
Not likely. As Byron York notes over at the conservative National Review (here) -
As Kevin Drum of the Washington Monthly notes of all this in a post titled Darth Cheney -
So far, the vice president seems determined not to make any public statement about the hunting accident. Spokeswoman McBride points out that Cheney has a previously-scheduled speaking engagement this Friday, at the Wyoming state legislature. It seems likely that he would at least mention it then. But as far as today, tomorrow, or Thursday goes, there seems, at the moment at least, to be no plan to have Cheney say anything.
More than a few have speculated that, yes, this may be the thinking. It's a good-cop bad-cop hustle. Cheney is decisive, strong, and owes no one anything. And he's a tad mean. That leaves George Bush to seem compassionate by comparison. Cute. All bases are covered.
This is just flat out insane. What on earth is he thinking?
... This is now way beyond bizarre. Does the White House think that reinforcing the VP's "Darth Cheney" image is helpful in some way? That it's better if the world thinks he's callous and insensitive? Or what?
And that makes this from administration critic Andrew Sullivan seem whiney, childish, and stupid -
Well, who is Andrew Sullivan? Cheney chose himself for the job and gets things done. He sets policy and pulls the strings. Of course it's his presidency, not that of the figurehead-cipher who knows little and can't be bothered with detail and mangles the language because he has no idea what he's saying. This is the face of real power, and when you have real power you don't have to explain anything.
Just a word, if I may. You are employed by the American people. You are not a monarch; and you are not a Pope. You have seriously wounded another human being. The news was kept from the public for a day. The man is in intensive care. There are many serious questions about the incident: How did it happen? What happened immediately thereafter? Why the decision to keep it secret for so long? The least the American people deserve is your own account in public in front of the press corps. Who are you hiding from? And who on earth do you think you are?
There is a certain logic at play here. Those who buy into the fear of the bad guys they're selling, who want a strong daddy figure, will eat this up, or putting it sarcastically, there's this at "Wonkette" -
And so it goes.
Dick Cheney is a badass, and we love him. He's like America's abusive father - we're terrified of him, we hide under our beds when we smell whiskey on his breath, but we crave his attention. We need him to tell us we've been good. We have a sick admiration for him that we'll be describing to our therapists for years.
Do Vice Presidents have term limits? Can he please be our Vice President-for-life?
We shudder just thinking that we were almost stuck with that pretty-boy Edwards.
How do we break out of this madness?
The media may be useless here. They have become either cheerleaders for the odd couple in the White House (Fox and talk radio) or have been stunned and frightened into just reporting he-said she-said accusations and counteraccusations, and calling it balance. The facts don't matter any longer. Someone reports the president walks on water and turn water into wine, and you report that and hunt down someone with the opposite point of view (didn't and can't happen), and sit them down for a chat, but you don't take sides. That wouldn't be objective. Kerry was a coward and the medals from the Vietnam War awarded in some vast plot. Hillary Clinton is "angry," and thus unwomanly and this unfit to be president. Report it. Dig up someone who disagrees. Stand back. But don't ever, ever say "but that cannot be true." You'd be biased.
Where do you go for some sense? You could spend your day reading the press on the net, seeing how the same story is reported sixteen different ways, and do some tables and diagrams, and plot out what's really what. Who has the time for that?
Funny thing - some people will do it for you. Peter Daou here suggests that there's a whole bunch of citizen-journalist researchers on the web doing just that - several dozen major political or news web logs, tens of thousands of minor ones, and more than twenty-seven million web logs all told. His comments are on the major progressive "netroots" sites, the kind that were the driving force behind the Howard Dean presidential campaign.
First he cites Digby over at Hullabaloo saying this in Dispatches From The Fever Swamp -
Well, someone had to say something when the press was under pressure to be "patriotic" and all that. And Daou himself has said this -
I know that without us there would have been virtually no critical voices during the long period between 2001 and the presidential primary campaign during 2003. We were it. The media were overt, enthusiastic Bush boosters for well over two years and created an environment in which Democratic dissent (never welcome) was non-existent to the average American viewer. In fact, it took Bush's approval rating falling to below 40% before they would admit that he was in trouble.
I believe that if it had not been for the constant underground drumbeat from the fever swamps over the past five years, when the incompetence, malfeasance and corruption finally hit critical mass last summer with the bad news from Iraq, oil prices and Katrina, Bush would not have sunk as precipitously as he did and stayed there. It literally took two catastrophes of epic proportions to break the media from its narrative of Bush's powerful leadership. And this after two extremely close elections - and the lack of any WMD in Iraq.
So it's the age of the amateurs, doing what the professionals won't do? Something like that.
I have written before about this and made it clear that I do not wish to destroy the mainstream media. I do not believe that this country can do without a credible press. But after waiting in vain for more than a decade for the press to shake off its torpor and exert its prerogatives as the fourth estate, I reluctantly came to the conclusion that our (and their) only hope was to join the fray and pull as hard as we can on the opposite end of the rope.
I see that the press does not know what to make of this. And I see that many Joementum Democrats don't get it either. They remain convinced that the country will wake up one day and see that our arguments are superior. They are wrong. This political era will be remembered for its brutal partisanship and sophisticated media manipulation in a 50/50 political environment. Democrats have been at a huge disadvantage because of the Republican message infrastructure and the strange servility of the mainstream press. So, we are pushing back with the one tough, aggressive partisan communication tool we have: the blogosphere.
The mainstream press is going to have to get used to us because we aren't going anywhere... It's a new day. We angry denizens of the fever swamps have emerged from the slime to fight back. We couldn't wait any longer for the professionals to get the job done. At the rate they're going we'd be extinct within the decade.
But he does note the other side of what is called "the blogosphere" - the conservative amateurs.
What are they up to? He quotes Glenn Greenwald here on the "Cult of Bush" - the "legions of Bush apologists masquerading as conservative bloggers" -
Truth-telling has a self-sustaining power? Perhaps that is wishful thinking, but those amateurs who cover events, the press, who said what and what seems to be the underlying facts, are up to something.
The blind faith placed in the Federal Government, and particularly in our Commander-in-Chief, by the contemporary "conservative" is the very opposite of all that which conservatism has stood for for the last four decades. The anti-government ethos espoused by Barry Goldwater and even Ronald Reagan is wholly unrecognizable in Bush followers, who - at least thus far - have discovered no limits on the powers that ought to be vested in George Bush to enable him to do good on behalf of all of us.
And in that regard, people like Michelle Malkin, John Hinderaker, Jonah Goldberg and Hugh Hewitt are not conservatives. They are authoritarian cultists. Their allegiance is not to any principles of government but to strong authority through a single leader...
And as excessive as the Bush Administration's measures have been thus far - they overtly advocate the right to use war powers against American citizens on American soil even if Congress bans such measures by law - I am quite certain that people like John Hinderaker, Jonah Goldberg and Jeff Goldstein, to name just a few, are prepared to support far, far more extreme measures than the ones which have been revealed thus far. And while I would not say this for Jeff or perhaps of Jonah, I believe quite firmly that there are no limits - none - that Hinderaker (or Malkin or Hewitt) would have in enthusiastically supporting George Bush no matter how extreme were the measures which he pursued...
If it now places one "on the Left" to oppose unrestrained power and invasiveness asserted by the Federal Government along with lawlessness on the part of our highest government officials, so be it. The rage-based reverence for The President as Commander-in-Chief - and the creepy, blind faith vested in his goodness - is not a movement I recognize as being political, conservative or even American.
The attempt to marginalize progressive bloggers as part of an angry, unwashed, irrational mob is in full swing, but truth-telling has a self-sustaining power. Bloggers will continue to cut through the fabricated storylines, providing clarity, sanity, honesty, and an abiding loyalty to the Constitution and to the principles our country is founded upon.
History will look kindly on them.
But the deck is stacked. As Media Matters reports here -If It's Sunday, It's Conservative: An analysis of the Sunday talk show guests on ABC, CBS, and NBC, 1997-2005 - dry stuff, with tables. But then, as we went to war, and as we were at war, something curious was going on, and Kevin Drum notes here -
Yeah, well, something thinks that's crap, one of the citizen-journalist researchers on the web, Tristero, here (emphases added) -
One of the things they note is that although 23% of senators voted against the Iraq war resolution, only 11% of the senators who appeared on the Sunday shows before the invasion were anti-war. Why did the anti-war side get shunned so badly by the talk shows?
I suspect the chart [at the link] contains the answer. Aside from documenting the insane love affair that Sunday hosts have with John McCain, it shows that eight of the ten most popular Sunday talkers were senators and every single one of them voted for the war resolution. The reason that anti-war senators didn't get much air time was just simple laziness: the talk show bookers kept booking their favorites regardless of what was happening in the outside world and regardless of whether that meant they were shortchanging their viewers. They were on autopilot.
But, but... the press is supposed to play gadfly? The days of Mencken reporting on the Scopes trial are long gone. The press - the news media - are owned by a handful of major corporations - George Stephanopoulos' Sunday morning show, "This Week," airs on ABC, a division of Disney, for example. Russert and Mathews are on NBC, ultimately owned by General Electric. CNN is AOL Time-Warner. CBS is Viacom. This is not gadfly territory. The bottom line doesn't permit that.
Laziness doesn't explain why George Stephanopoulos failed to mention on the proceeding Sunday show in February that millions of people in the United States marched the day before to oppose Bush's insane plans for war. Oh, he mentioned Europe but not a word about the US marches. That's right, Kevin: Stephanopoulos failed to mention what was almost certainly the largest US demonstration in history the day after it happened. That wasn't laziness. And it's not laziness that the February and March '03 marches been all but eliminated from the official memories of 2002/2003. (Except to bring up ANSWER's involvement in organizing them and dismiss all those millions of mothers, fathers, and kids as green-haired goofballs.)
Kevin, I read somewhere that at least one of the networks began planning a year before the invasion to cover it (I'll try to look it up if you don't believe me). Meanwhile the voices opposed to war - and there were millions - were systematically excluded. Think about it. "Fuck, Saddam. We're taking him out," Bush joked (ha ha) a year before. It was in no one's interest in the media to include serious dissent to rush to war. Not only on Sunday bloviations, but throughout the week, the token representatives of opposition to Bush that were permitted on the major shows were ridiculed and smeared. Hey remember Scott Ritter, that shrill, hysterical, obnoxious guy who seemed slightly crazed? Laziness doesn't explain why Ritter's personal problems suddenly followed him whenever he confidently asserted that Saddam couldn't possibly have WMD - problems that, while no doubt truly ugly, didn't in any way disqualify his expertise. Remember when a liberal meant Michael Moore and only Michael Moore, a comic filmmaker who voted for Nader? The genuine major voices opposed to war weren't permitted anywhere near an effective microphone, but they were known. When Jessica Mathews of Carnegie Endowment - as sober an American as one could ask for and certainly known within the media - started to make a convincing case on NPR that democracy by invasion was a crazy pipe dream, even that relatively unimportant network was too big. William Kristol personally called up and horned in on her time with ludicrous assertions designed to prevent the conversation from touching upon the substantive issues at stake.
Hey, do you remember the Turkey angle, Kevin? Boy, I do. By that time, I was trying full time to understand why my country had gone insane. In the months before invasion, the press in the US was reporting a "coalition" attack - i.e. US - from Turkey was a done deal. But I smelled a rat. I asked friends for translations of articles overseas, including from Turkey. My, my what a different picture one got of that done deal! We were lied to and laziness doesn't explain that. It couldn't possibly happen given some 95% of the country was opposed to the US invading from Turkey. We were lied to. The press lied to the American people.
That is the truth. Oh yes, the press was, and is lazy. In booking guests on Sunday or reporting the news from Turkey. But that was hardly what uniquely characterized 2002/2003. What happened was that the press became an active collaborator in the single worst decision ever made by a United States president. Ever. A decision my nine-year-old daughter will have to endure the consequences of, in ways large and small, every day for the rest of her life.
Laziness excluded anti-war voices on Sunday shows? After what we've all seen of the Bush/Cheney obsession with information control? Laziness? Please, Kevin. You're smarter than that. And you know you're smarter than that, as your half-hearted attempt to make nice all-but-concedes.
Before Bush/Iraq, it may have seemed cleverly political - cute - to take your tack, to not blame the press but ever so gently suggest they are getting bored with the same tired faces. It lets them save face after all and accomplishes the same thing. But after Bush/Iraq, it's gonna take a lot more than kind gentle suggestion to make sure that the US press never, ever deliberately abandons its gadfly role out of fear of retaliation from any presidency whose lust for power and control is well-nigh psychotic. As the current presidency is. And was particularly successful at enforcing in the prelude to disaster... sorry, I meant the war.
It's going to take an angry, assertive polis fully prepared to take on the establishment press and hold both its lazy foot AND its sycophantic foot to the fire. And do whatever it takes - even if it leads to resignations and reorganizations - to ensure the American people get the information it must have to govern itself.
Laziness. Yeah, right.
The gadflies are elsewhere. They're just not in the press anymore. One example is this - Al Gore goes to Saudi Arabia and says we haven't been very nice to Arab-Americans recently (here), and there's a lively discussion of treason. Gladly versus gadfly. This is where the actions is. The press is elsewhere.
Cheney's silence? The mainstream press will be polite, and puzzled. The amateurs will figure it out.
The Nation - posted February 8, 2006 (February 27, 2006 issue) - A Letter to the American Left - Bernard-Henri Lévy, translated from the original French by Charlotte Mandell -
He wasn't surfing the net.
Nothing made a more lasting impression during my journey through America than the semi-comatose state in which I found the American left.
I know, of course, that the term "left" does not have the same meaning and ramifications here that it does in France.
And I cannot count how many times I was told there has never been an authentic "left" in the United States, in the European sense.
But at the end of the day, my progressive friends, you may coin ideas in whichever way you like. The fact is: You do have a right. This right, in large part thanks to its neoconservative battalion, has brought about an ideological transformation that is both substantial and striking.
And the fact is that nothing remotely like it has taken shape on the other side - to the contrary, through the looking glass of the American "left" lies a desert of sorts, a deafening silence, a cosmic ideological void that, for a reader of Whitman or Thoreau, is thoroughly enigmatic...
Image: Corporate News, as seen from the Hollywood Hills, looking North -