The White House press corps, taking a break from its usual stenography duties, actually roused itself to ask truth-impaired spokesman Scott McClellan some tough questions about Dick Cheney. Unfortunately, while it was good to see a few reporters rise from their bended knees, they were asking the wrong questions about the wrong issue.
What got the press corps all hot and bothered was the fact that Cheney and his aides kept details about the vice president shooting a man secret for the better part of 24 hours, and then slipped the story to a local paper in the city nearest the Texas dude ranch where the incident took place.
Most of Monday’s 41-minute-long White House press briefing was taken up with questions about the gun-slinger-in-chief’s penchant for secrecy and the bloody details of the shot Cheney’s hunting buddy took to the face. But what was especially clear was that the members of the press corps do not like to get scooped on the story of a vice presidential shooting sprees by the Corpus Christi Caller-Times.
McClellan was peppered with pointed questions and sharp asides from the likes of NBC reporter David Gregory, who grumbled about the fact that: "the vice president of the United States shoots a man, and he feels that it’s appropriate for a ranch owner who witnessed this to the local Corpus Christi newspaper, not the White House press corps at large or notify the public in a national way."
When Gregory accused McClellan of "ducking and weaving," rather than responding frankly to the questions he is paid by the taxpayers of the United States to answer, the press secretary suggested the NBC reporter was grandstanding.
An angry Gregory retorted, "Don’t accuse me of trying to pose to the cameras. Don’t be a jerk to me personally when I’m asking you a serious question.”
McClellan told Gregory not to yell. The reporter then pointed to the press secretary’s lectern and shouted, "If you want to use that podium to try to take shots at me personally, which I don’t appreciate, then I will raise my voice, because that’s wrong.”
The pair sputtered back and forth until, finally, McClellan said, "I’m sorry you’re getting all riled up about," to which Gregory replied: "I am riled up, because you’re not answering the question."
More power to Gregory, and to several other members of the usually somnambulant White House press corps, for trying to get McClellan to answer a few questions about the misdeeds of the most powerful vice president in American history.
The only frustrating thing is that Gregory and his compatriots were all excited about the secretive handling of details regarding a hunting accident that – while troubling – can hardly be described as the most serious matter of concern with regard to Cheney.
To be sure, a trigger-happy vice president makes for good feature stories – not to mention good comedy. But where were the demands for answers, where was the cries for accountability, where were the shows of righteous indignation last week, when it was revealed by the National Journal that Cheney’s former chief of staff, I. Lewis (Scooter) Libby, had told a federal grand jury he was "authorized" by Cheney and other White House "superiors" to disclose classified information to journalists as part of a plot to defend the Bush administration’s manipulation of prewar intelligence to make the "case" for going to war with Iraq.
In the scheme of things, the many unanswered questions about whether the vice president of the United States engaged in a conspiracy to deceive Congress and the American people about reasons for entering a war that has now killed more than 2,200 Americans and tens of thousands of Iraqi civilians would seem to be a bigger deal than the same vice president’s involvement in a hunting accident.
True, it would be foolish to assume that Scott McClellan would be any more forthcoming about the administration’s manipulation of pre-war intelligence — and evidence of Cheney’s involvement in efforts to attack those who exposed that manipulation – than he has been about the manipulation of information regarding the vice president’s gunplay.
But if the press corps is going to rise from its slumber when it comes to Dick Cheney’s secrecy and chicanery, would it make sense to get excited about the Constitutional crisis – as opposed to the veep’s itchy trigger finger?
John Nichols’ book, The Rise and Rise of Richard B. Cheney: Unlocking the Mysteries of the Most Powerful Vice President in American History (The New Press) is available nationwide at independent bookstores and at www.amazon.com. Publisher’s Weekly describes it as "a Fahrenheit 9/11 for Cheney" and Esquire magazine says it "reveals the inner Cheney. The Rise and Rise of Richard B. Cheney includes an interview with Joseph Wilson and details the inner workings of the vice president’s office at the time of the Plame-Wilson leak.