Cheney and the media

Andrew Ferguson devotes his latest “Press Man” column in Commentary to a discussion of former Vice President Dick Cheney’s evolving view of the media’s proper role.

He learned how to “work the press,” as he puts it, from the masters of the art. He watched with amusement the duel that played out between Daniel Patrick Moynihan and Henry Kissinger in James Reston’s New York Times column. (The weapon of choice was blind quotes at twenty paces.) He noticed the haplessness of much of the national press—the short attention span imposed by the news cycle, the susceptibility to manipulation, the craving for superficiality, the professional solipsism—but accepted it as an occupational hazard, to be endured or, if possible, deployed to his own advantage. …

… But as secretary of defense under the first President Bush, Cheney began to see that the press’s heedlessness was no longer a minor irritant when national security was involved. At several pivotal moments it became actively harmful to American military interests and imperiled the lives of American soldiers. During the 1989 invasion of Panama, to cite one often overlooked event, a group of American journalists who had entered the country on their own were trapped by Panamanian troops in the basement of a hotel. Journalists traveling with the U.S. military turned the plight of their fellow hacks into the invasion’s top story. “There were thirty-five thousand American civilians in Panama,” Cheney writes, “but the journalists at the Marriott became the center of attention.” The reporting made “it seem as if the military operation, which was generally going well, was somehow not succeeding.” …

… The experience in Panama and later during the Gulf War, Cheney writes, “deepened my conviction that the press ought not to be the final arbiter of whether we have won or lost a war”—or of how to fight it. Yet the final arbiter is precisely what today’s press yearns to be. It is a larger role than the press has traditionally filled, but the conceit is in keeping with a general process of self-aggrandizement. And it explains why Cheney, upon becoming vice president, resolved to speak with reporters as seldom as possible.

Mitch Kokai / Senior Political Analyst

Mitch Kokai is senior political analyst for the John Locke Foundation. He joined JLF in December 2005 as director of communications. That followed more than four years as chie...

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