Cheney talks

Cheney with Hume

While oozing contempt

On Wednesday, four days after he "sprayed" his friend with birdshot, Vice finally deigned to tell his story. He chose for this revelation, an exclusive one-on-one interview with Brit Hume of Fox News conducted in the Executive Office Building.

By now, everyone has heard the sound-bites of the interview:

But the image of him falling is something I'll never be able to get out of my mind. I fired, and there's Harry falling. And it was, I'd have to say, one of the worst days of my life, at that moment.

And there's no -- it was not Harry's fault. You can't blame anybody else. I'm the guy who pulled the trigger and shot my friend. And I say that is something I'll never forget.

Fox News milked their exclusive for all it was worth. News items that Cheney would "break his silence" on Fox News ran on the websites of all the major newspapers. And all afternoon, long before anyone could see the actual interview in its entirety, Hume was all over the afternoon cable news telling us how deeply affected Vice obviously was, how sorry he was, et cetera, et cetera, ad nauseum. On Fox, the Bush apologists — Neil Cavuto, John Gibson, and the like — all did their part to help paint a picture of Vice as someone to whom we should show compassion, pity perhaps, for having undergone this traumatic episode.

If Vice thinks seeing Harry Whittington fall is "one of the worst days" days of his life, how does he think the 19- and 20-year olds in Iraq — thanks largely to Cheney's relentless drive to war — feel seeing their friends fall, not from birdshot, but from roadside bombs, mortars, and automatic weapon fire? Sure Harry got "peppered," but the guys in Iraq are losing their arms and legs and getting their bodies blown to smithereens.

Sorry, Vice, I'll save my pity for those who deserve it.

On the matter of why it took so long for news of the accident to be published, Cheney was obdurate in insisting that it was "the right call" to have the ranch owner contact a friendly reporter at the local Corpus Christi Caller-Times the next day instead of having the White House put out the story Saturday night.

Listen to the rationale:

  • "And Katherine suggested, and I agreed, that she would go make the announcement, that is that she'd put the story out. And I thought that made good sense for several reasons. First of all, she was an eye-witness. She'd seen the whole thing. Secondly, she'd grown up on the ranch, she'd hunted there all of her life. Third, she was the immediate past head of the Texas Wildlife and Parks Department, the game control commission in the state of Texas, an acknowledged expert in all of this."
  • "And it was also important, I thought, to get the story out as accurately as possible, and this is a complicated story that, frankly, most reporters would never have dealt with before, so --"
  • "I still think that the accuracy was enormously important. I had no press person with me, I didn't have any press people with me. I was there on a private weekend with friends on a private ranch. In terms of who I would contact to have somebody who would understand what we're even talking about, the first person that we talked with at one point, when Katherine first called the desk to get hold of a reporter didn't know the difference between a bullet and a shotgun -- a rifle bullet and a shotgun. And there are a lot of basic important parts of the story that required some degree of understanding. And so we were confident that Katherine was the right one, especially because she was an eye-witness and she could speak authoritatively on it. She probably knew better than I did what had happened since I'd only seen one piece of it."

The story was too complicated, beyond the expertise of reporters, he had no press people with him—

What a pile of bullshit! What arrogance! What contempt! For reporters. For the Bush White House. For the American people.

It is perfectly clear that Cheney believes he is not accountable to anyone, not even his boss, and certainly not to the American people.

And despite the angst and handwringing that this "firestorm" caused all around, it has actually worked out quite well for the administration. For every moment that we spent thinking and talking about how they could be such boneheads to not just put the story out there and get it over with, there are a lot of other things we did not spend time thinking and talking about:

  • The scathing report that a House committee of all Republicans is issuing about the botched response to Katrina
  • The relevelation that Scooter Libby says he was authorized by "his superiors" to leak classified information (and we all know who an ex-Chief of Staff to the Vice President means by "superiors")
  • The Bush budget that continues a relentless and heartless dismantling of the safety net for the most vulnerable and weakest of our society
  • The assertion of unchecked and uncheckable executive power by the President
  • The hunger strike going on in Guantanamo and the forced feeding of prisoners that the UN says is tantamount of torture
  • The web of corruption surrounding Jack Abramoff and the merely cosmetic response to it by the House
  • The cases of bird flu that are popping up more and more frequently in more and more locations around the world
  • The deteriorating situation in Afghanistan and Iraq

The list could go on— and on. Cheney's obstinancy has worked billiantly to change the subject, a familiar Bush strategy when things aren't going well.

A final point. The Cheney episode fits a pattern that is all too familiar for this administration. They can be relentless in pursuing a handful of goals they think are important, but they are strangely passive and incompetent when it comes to responding to unforeseen events. The post-Saddam chaos in Iraq, the rise of the Iraqi insurgency, the failure to respond to Katrina, Vice shooting a hunting companion — they're all examples of being unable to react when shit happens.

I do have to give credit to Brit Hume, however. He did conduct a good interview and did not shy away from raising uncomfortable points and questions. As much as I loathe the Opinionators on Fox, their straight news isn't that bad.

For the text of the complete interview, see the sidebar.