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Politico's Cheney Coverage: Editor Defends Its Stenography

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Over at The Plum Line, Politico editor John Harris attempts to explain how it came to pass that his paper spent the entire past year taking dictation from former Vice President Dick Cheney, and never challenging him on any of his broad stated contentions, which include things like "I don't think you can blame the Bush administration for the creation of [the] circumstances [that led to the financial collapse of 2008]" and "[W]e are at war and when President Obama pretends we aren't, it makes us less safe."

Harris is under fire after MSNBC host Chris Matthews confronted Politico's White House correspondent Jonathan Martin with the accusation that the paper just allows Cheney to "use you like he'd use Drudge or somebody."

If it were possible to, say, hog-tie John Harris with Wonder Woman's truth-compelling Golden Lasso, here's what he'd say about the Politico and Dick Cheney: the paper and the former vice president are in a co-dependent, enabling relationship. Cheney is willing to provide the paper with exclusive commentary on topics of his choosing, that Politico can then use to garner page views and attention from other media outlets, who deem the things Cheney says to be newsworthy. The cost that Cheney exacts from Politico is the promise to not apply any sort of critical thought to his ramblings. And so, the two combine to create mutually beneficial, journalism-like word salsa, contrived and calibrated for maximum attention-getting.

Then, Cheney goes back to his hidey-hole, where he can avoid confrontation. And Mike Allen can sit back in his basement and wait for his mom to send down some buffalo wings, or something, for lunch. Everybody wins!

Anyway, that is an honest characterization of this relationship. But, yeah, Harris' spin on the matter is still pretty entertaining! He mounts a three-pointed defense, couched in semi-logic:

1. I thought the Cheney comments were newsworthy, which is why they drew such notice by other news organizations and columnists. In fact, it seemed to me that the people who found Cheney's comments most objectionable were the ones who found them most newsworthy.

See: IT'S EVERYONE ELSE'S FAULT, FOR DEEMING CHENEY NEWSWORTHY. I mean, isn't this just a brilliant elocution of the whole, "Let's toss turds at the wall" approach, here? But this ignores something essential. Let's cast our minds back to December 1, 2009, and the piece of stenography that contained this paragraph:

Cheney was asked if he thinks the Bush administration bears any responsibility for the disintegration of Afghanistan because of the attention and resources that were diverted to Iraq. "I basically don't," he replied without elaborating.

What Harris neatly glosses over is that the most "newsworthy" thing about this exchange was how "objectionable" it was, from a journalistic standpoint.

2. If you look at the other stories we ran at the same time as the Cheney quote there was a Josh Gerstein piece leading the site comparing Obama's response to Bush's after the 2001 shoe bomber and debunking the notion that Obama's response was more sluggish. We also had a piece looking at GOP politicization of national security.

So, you're telling me that you RAN STORIES IN ADVANCE OF THE CHENEY INTERVIEW that could have been fodder for a substantive line of follow-up questions, that you ignored, but now want credit for after the fact? Why isn't THAT journalism privileged over Cheney stenography? What was the point of it, if it doesn't inform your reporting, going forward?

3. Trying to get newsworthy people to say interesting things is part of what we do. Also in December we had a long Q and A with the other prominent former vice president Al Gore. That story might also have looked to some like providing an uncritical platform if you viewed it only isolation.

So, it's okay to give out free passes as long as you give them out ecumenically? Also, is it really hard to get Dick Cheney to say "interesting things?" Seems like he's been mounting a pretty fulsome campaign of saying stuff without the Politico's assistance. The value that Politico offers Dick Cheney is that they won't offer up any obstacles.

I tell you what! That Gerstein piece and that Al Gore Q&A are sure doing some heavy lifting, as far as a counterbalance to Dick Cheney goes. As Alex Pareene documented, the Politico/Cheney relationship has become one of the paper's main features over the past year, including the most recent piece, in which Cheney tried to set a record for the number of times he could use the word "war" in a single article.

Anyway, it's telling that Harris cites a Gerstein piece and a Q&A with Al Gore as instances of counterbalance. To be able to say, "Here are some examples of articles where our reporters turned a critical eye to Dick Cheney's claims," his reporters would have had to have done this. Maybe they have! But John Harris sure didn't notice, and if he values his exclusive relationship with Dick Cheney, he won't start doing so now.

RELATED:
Politico Editor Defends Platform Granted To Cheney [The Plum Line]
Chris Matthews Questions Cheney-to-Politico Batphone Set-up [Ana Marie Cox]
A Treasury of Terrifying Hyperbole by Dick Cheney [Gawker]

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