One of the problems we have as a government is our inability to keep secrets."
--- Vice President Dick Cheney, to Brit Hume Wednesday on Fox News Channel.
I know you're tired of reading about it. I'm almost tired of writing about it.
But I can't let the vice president's recent comments on his shooting accident pass without noting the conduct of the source he chose to deliver his mea culpa -- Fox News Channel.
It is nice that the Veep decided to put the brakes on a spin strategy that involved blaming he 78-year-old victim for getting shot. And it wasn't news that Dick Cheney would defend his decision not to tell the national media of the incident for a day -- the purpose of this interview, after all, was to speak directly to those conservatives who were starting to question the V.P.'s secretive, non-sensical disclosure decisions. Throwing his supporters a few bones to help spin this issue, Cheney artfully blamed Elitist Eastern Media for the controversy, suggesting the New York Times is mostly upset over being scooped by the Corpus Christi Caller-Times.
But even given Fox News Channel's reputation as a conservative haven, I was a bit surprised by interviewer Brit Hume's spin in favor of preserving Cheney's reputation. Speaking with Shepard Smith soon after interviewing the vice president Wednesday, talking up clips of the interview which would play in full on his own 6 p.m. show, Hume began to sound a bit like the Mary Matalins and Fay Buchanans who have been trying for days to put the best face on this awful situation.
"One may not be as quick to blame him, as he is," noted Hume of Cheney's statement taking responsibility for the shooting, not so willing to absolve Whittington of blame in the accident. "Obviously, he (Cheney) didn't do it on purpose."
Obviously. But tough questions remain. Why didn't he speak to police until the next day? Why haven't police filed an official report yet? Why hasn't Whittington's blood alcohol level been released or discussed? Why would he think that having the ranch owner speak to a local newspaper was the best venue to announce the vice president had accidentally shot someone?
These questions weren't directly asked. But viewers did get a dose of Hume's view of how the incident affected Cheney -- a humanizing effect that was also the likely intent of the interview. "My sense was that he is shaken...I've known him a long time, we're not close. He's not an outwardly emotional man...but he was, he's disturbed about this. He's troubled. This is a worried man."
Hume also made it clear that he wasn't asking about Cheney's delay in telling the press about the incident because he was interested in the issue: "If this is the only appearance he's going to make, I felt some obligation to ask as many questions as others might want asked. Responsible questions."
But of course. The whole sad display, which was repeated on John "Fighting the War on Christmas" Gibson's show an hour later, only highlighted what a sad political spectacle this event has become -- partisan to the point that even the guy who was shot has PR people from the hospital telling reporters this is "much ado about nothing."
But journalists' problem is that it isn't really "nothing." The vice president shot a man who later had a mild heart attack from his injuries. And the vice president apparently didn't disclose important information about the incident to the White House for many hours, didn't talk to the police for 14 hours and didn't make a public statement for four days.
As a metaphor for the Bush administration's other problems with imperiousness, secrecy and disclosure, it's irresistible. And it has consumed much of the White House press corps attention because Dick Cheney had to be forced by a tsunami of reaction into the most basic public disclosures about what happened -- including a brief admission that he did consume a beer at lunch on the day of the accident.
Unfortunately, Hume was too busy making a striking point -- a journalist in Washington defending Cheney's decision to keep the press in the dark for nearly a full day after the shooting -- to press on these other issues.
Hume's take: "It's fun to talk about the (American people as Cheney's) employers across the nation, and in sort of a broad constitutional sense that's true. If my email is any guide---I don't think much of the nation feels particularly deprived that they found out about this on Sunday afternoon or Sunday evening instead of Saturday night or Sunday morning...It's a question of timing...This is a private hunting accident."
I can only assume the next time a Washington politician makes a mistake in a private setting, Hume will be as accommodating in curbing his journalistic curiosity.