One of the principles we hold dear in the United States is freedom of the press--an idea Thomas Jefferson listed in his 1801 Inaugural Address as one of the basic concepts on which this nation was founded:
About to enter, fellow-citizens, on the exercise of duties which comprehend everything dear and valuable to you, it is proper you should understand what I deem the essential principles of our Government, and consequently those which ought to shape its Administration. I will compress them within the narrowest compass they will bear, stating the general principle, but not all its limitations. Equal and exact justice to all men, of whatever state or persuasion, religious or political; peace, commerce, and honest friendship with all nations, entangling alliances with none; the support of the State governments in all their rights, as the most competent administrations for our domestic concerns and the surest bulwarks against antirepublican tendencies; the preservation of the General Government in its whole constitutional vigor, as the sheet anchor of our peace at home and safety abroad; a jealous care of the right of election by the people -- a mild and safe corrective of abuses which are lopped by the sword of revolution where peaceable remedies are unprovided; absolute acquiescence in the decisions of the majority, the vital principle of republics, from which is no appeal but to force, the vital principle and immediate parent of despotism; a well-disciplined militia, our best reliance in peace and for the first moments of war till regulars may relieve them; the supremacy of the civil over the military authority; economy in the public expense, that labor may be lightly burthened; the honest payment of our debts and sacred preservation of the public faith; encouragement of agriculture, and of commerce as its handmaid; the diffusion of information and arraignment of all abuses at the bar of the public reason; freedom of religion; freedom of the press, and freedom of person under the protection of the habeas corpus, and trial by juries impartially selected. These principles form the bright constellation which has gone before us and guided our steps through an age of revolution and reformation. The wisdom of our sages and blood of our heroes have been devoted to their attainment. They should be the creed of our political faith, the text of civic instruction, the touchstone by which to try the services of those we trust; and should we wander from them in moments of error or of alarm, let us hasten to retrace our steps and to regain the road which alone leads to peace, liberty, and safety.
Dick Cheney, apparently, has no time for Jefferson.
In his press "availability," today--part of his surprise visit to Baghdad--the Vice President let it be known that there are rules he defines and that the press must follow. In other words, Dick Cheney believes in freedom of the press, so long as they do what he says.
For a long time, many in the Vice President's press corp have been doing just that--following Cheney's rules and, as a result, forfeiting Jeffersonian principle in the process.
But not today. Hats off to Associated Press reporter Tom Raum, who asked a question of Cheney, today, that apparently broke the rules--a question about "benchmarks" in Iraq.
Raum's question was the first of the day--both its wording and Cheney's response are telling:
QUESTION: Mr. Vice President, did you hear anything today that
makes you believe that the benchmarks that have been set up are getting
met any quicker than earlier? And if so, is there any possible
(inaudible) tie the performance at meeting these benchmarks to getting
funds from Congress, as some Democrats have suggested?
And General Petraeus, you said a few weeks ago in
Washington that regardless of how things went, it would take an enormous
commitment of time and effort on the part of the United States before
things are stabilized. Do you still believe that?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: I'm not sure that was consistent with the
rules, Tom, but what the heck. You got the first one, so we'll go with
With respect to the question of benchmarks, we still believe that
it's important that funding for the supplemental for operations here in
Iraq not contain conditions that limits either the flexibility of our
commanders on the ground in Iraq or interferes with the President's
constitutional prerogatives as Commander-in-Chief, which is the general
principle that we've adhered to and it's one of the reasons the
President vetoed the original bill.
I do sense today a - I think a greater awareness on the part of the
Iraqi officials I talked to of the importance of their working together
to resolve these issues in a timely fashion. I think they recognize
that it's in their interest as well as in our interest that they make
progress on the political front just as we deal with the security
So, it would seem that the "rules" reporters were asked to follow--and which Raum broke--was not to ask Cheney about benchmarks or negotiations on the supplemental bill from Congress or holding Iraqi's accountable for progress. All these, of course, are pretty much the only topics on everyone's mind. But Cheney has his rules, and he reminded Raum--not unlike a homeroom teacher reminds her kindergarten class--that breaking the rules is not OK.
Cheney then responded anyway--responded with the all-too-familiar rhetoric that any interest of Congress in Iraq is somehow equivalent to gagging and tying our "commanders" on the ground, and that the only person who can talk to the commanders is the Commander-in-Chief. You're not a commander? Well, then, you don't have a say. A ridiculous and feeble argument from America's symbol of violence and arrogance--Dick Cheney.
But Raum broke Cheney's rule. He chose in that moment to remember Jefferson's principle instead of following Cheney's dictum.
We can only hope that more reporters follow suit.
(cross posted from Frameshop)