For a few weeks now, the media has been running, over and over again, the Dick and Liz Cheney Show, and it's been like bad dinner theatre without the bad dinner -- a weak and repetitive entertainment that leaves you craving something substantive. It's a play in three acts:
ACT ONE: President Obama or the White House says something about the War on Terror or foreign policy.
ACT TWO: Dick Cheney -- one-time media averse Vice President turned anointed antagonist -- SPEAKS OUT!
ACT THREE: Liz Cheney arrives on the scene, to express the fact that she finds her own father's arguments surprisingly compelling. OMG! TWIST ENDING!
Somewhere in there there's a tap break or something. Curtain call, and...SCENE.
Now of course, I find the whole matter to be the gift that keeps on giving! But at the same time, I find myself reading more and more accounts of people who sort of wish that maybe someone would push back on the Les Dickandlizerables in real time. Such as: Steve Benen, who, back in late May was discovering how often this show had appeared in the media's repertory:
That's 12 appearances, in nine and a half days, spanning four networks. (On today's "Morning Joe," Liz Cheney was on for an entire hour -- effectively becoming a co-host of the program.) And this is just television, and doesn't include Liz Cheney's interviews on radio or with print media.
There's no modern precedent for such a ridiculous arrangement. Dick Cheney launches a crusade against the White House, and major outlets look for analysis from Cheney's daughter? Who everyone already realizes agrees with everything he says about torture?
This is just crazy.
MSNBC is shrugging off the growing criticism of the extensive airtime the network has granted Liz Cheney to mount a political defense of her father and a political offensive against the Obama administration, with a network spokesperson saying, "Liz is a great guest."
As more critics are beginning to notice, Liz Cheney is not an ordinary GOP commentator. She is an active spokesperson on her father's behalf at a time when questions about how to handle the Bush torture program are actively being debated by the White House and Congress. Her appearances are not comparable to those of conventional GOP guests.
Yet as Steve Benen, David Kurtz, and others have pointed out, Liz Cheney has been granted a near-constant platform on MSNBC to act as her father's chief defender and go after Obama, often without meaningful challenge from either a co-guest or from anchors.
I can see Sargent's point, but to me, the greater issue here is the sudden and unquestioned elevation of the Cheneys, and the way in which they have been subsequently cast as the equals to the President of the United States. Let's recall that Dick Cheney was never anyone's idea of a media gadfly. He studiously avoided the spotlight for years. He's surged back to the forefront in an attempt to defend various controversial policies -- torture, GITMO, renditions -- but no one seems to be able to point out the irony here: he's claiming the spotlight only after the fact. When these controversial policies were in play, Cheney wasn't out there in the public eye, building a case for them, or celebrating their efficacy.
In a similar vein, how on earth has the Dick and Liz Show come to be elevated as equally important to the President of the United States? They aren't even remotely equivalent. Remember how a few weeks ago, the media was just consumed with the idea that a "great debate" on foreign policy was going on between Cheney and Obama? Some "debate!" On one hand, you had a public servant, elected with a mandate to plot a new course in the war on terror, doing his sworn duty and laying out policy. On the other hand, you had a former vice-president who's never been the apple of the public eye giving a paid speech in front of a room full of cronies. This is not -- in any way, shape, or form -- a debate.
If you want to sum up Cheney's motivations, circa now, here you go: Dick Cheney wants to receive CREDIT for "keeping America safe" without having to take RESPONSIBILITY for the means by which this supposed "safety" was achieved. No one questions this. And no one seems to realize that at one end of the scale, we have people like General David Petraeus, interrogator Matthew Alexander, al Qaeda infiltrator Ali Soufan -- people who fought for the United States and trod actual war zones -- who speak forthrightly about the fact that torture didn't work, that Abu Ghraib and GITMO actively feed the jihad machinery. On the other end, you have Dick Cheney, and his daughter, telling us that if you cherrypick just the right combination of phantom documents, it will prove that the testimony on the other side is wrong. That is literally the only unique argument they have. It's fine if that's what the Cheney's want to say. It's fine if the media wants to report it! But this little act of theirs belongs a lot lower on the marquee.
UPDATE: Media Matters has updated their count of appearances from Liz Cheney: 22 appearances in the past month. That includes ten appearances on Fox, six on MSNBC, four on CNN, and two on ABC.