Cut Cheney a break?

This commentary originally appeared on the Huffington Post.

The Cheney shooting is inspiring many reporters to finally confront the Bush Administration. White House press briefings are newly "combative," reporters are shocked the White House kept them in the dark about something, and TV anchors sound like they won't let this story be stonewalled to death. But just as things are heating up, some critics want to contain this rare outbreak of assertive journalism.

And not just Cheney apologists, who whine that the "Cheney-hating press corps" should cover other news and the shooting "affects no one," but serious writers like HuffingtonPost's Robert Schlesinger. He argues this exercise will only distract from more important issues, so people should give Cheney "a break."

Now I also wish the media confronted Bush's policy failures with same vigor it covers shark attacks and hunting accidents, but that's no reason to give the Vice President "a break" when he shoots someone in the face, refuses to disclose it, sends out surrogates to joke about it, and now, after causing two trips to the ICU, still won't come before the public to answer questions on the growing scandal. (Even the Wall Street Journal editorial board is worried this "cover-up is worse than the crime.")

Of course, the shooting is not as constitutionally damaging as illegal domestic surveillance. It's not as deceitful as the lies that led us to war in Iraq. It's not as scary as Cheney's support for torture. All those issues merit more public outrage and media coverage. But they are not in direct competition for a finite amount of outrage and coverage. If anything, a sustained public discussion of one problem is likely to lead into others. For journalists, this could encourage a reassessment of how to cover this dishonest Administration, or at least unloading the emotional "baggage" of being bullied for so long, as Arianna proposed." For citizens, one salient incident can become a constructive metaphor for larger failures. Craig Gordon explores this idea in today's Newsday, with some hard data to explain the opinion landscape:
Already, some are questioning whether Cheney's accidental shooting of Austin lawyer Harry Whittington on Saturday will harden into metaphor, like Jimmy Carter confronting a rabbit on a golf course or Gerald Ford's stumbling - relatively insignificant events that crystallize the public feelings about a presidency. In this case, secrecy surrounding wiretaps and questions of competence surrounding Hurricane Katrina and Iraq could become wrapped up in the errant shot of a vice president whose approval ratings are among the lowest in the administration - just 24 percent in a recent CBS News-New York Times poll.
So the next time you hear this scandal is not receiving the perfectly proportional amount of coverage it deserves, don't sweat it. Cheney is finally in a corner for something, and he deserves every minute of it.

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