Jack Kus has surveyed the reporting in our mainstream papers on Dick Cheney's visit to McChord Air Base and the Hyatt Regency Bellevue on Monday, Dec. 22, and he is distinctly unimpressed...

LOCAL REPORTERS AWED BY VISIT OF VICE PRESIDENT

By Jack Kus

December 24, 2003

With the notable exception of Seattle Post-Intelligencer columnist Joe Connelly, Puget Sound reporters were as cowed by the majesty of a visiting vice president and his lady as muzhiks glimpsing the passage of the czar.

Puget Sound reporters dutifully repeated Dick Cheney's rehearsal of his tired old lines to his agents and his patrons. The rest of us -- the public, the ordinary citizens whose taxes pay his salary -- had no opportunity to visit with the vice president, a fact that not one reporter mentions, oddly enough.

There was the tired old line about the Iraq war being needed to protect Americans against "the bad guys," for example. No reporter -- not even Connelly -- thought to mention the implausibility of this notion. It was never very likely, and the fact that no unfabricated evidence of ongoing Iraqi support for anti-American terrorism has been discovered during the eight months of US occupation doesn't make it any more plausible.

Even Dick Cheney's capacity for prevarication has its limits, though. Our local papers report no more talk of those frightening nuclear weapons that the vice president was so certain Iraq possessed back on August 26, 2002, when the public relations campaign building up to the war began. Have our local reporters really forgotten the day Cheney told the VFW in Nashville that Iraq posed a "mortal threat" to the United States? Have they forgotten that on that warm late summer day the vice president of the United States told the world in no uncertain terms that Iraq would have nuclear weapons "fairly soon," that "there is no doubt that Saddam Hussein now has weapons of mass destruction," that and that "there is no doubt that he is amassing them to use against our friends, against our allies and against us"? Don't they remember? Don't the read the papers?

Apparently not. The only mention of weapons of mass destruction in the local press (with the exception of Joe Connelly's piece) appeared in a typical line reported by Christian Hill of the Olympian: "'We've made major progress against these guys, but they're still out there,' [Cheney] said. 'They're still doing everything they can to acquire deadly weapons to use against us.'" That any attentive observer should consider Dick Cheney to have credibility on this issue defies understanding.

But it's not only the details of the vice president's policy positions that the local press has forgotten or chose to ignore. They also seem blissfully unaware of all the interesting things the average reader of the press these days knows. Except for Connelly, not one local reporter found a way to mention Iraqi oil, or Halliburton, or neoconservatism, or the Project for a New American Century, or Dick Cheney's famous penchant for secrecy.

And no one (except Connelly) seems to have heard of how two weeks ago Cheney flew to "Mellon (i.e. Gulf Oil) country" in southwestern Pennsylvania to spend some time relaxing with unnamed cronies at the ultra-elite Rolling Rock Club, founded almost a century ago with big-oil money. There, like the true death-dealing creature he is, the vice president enjoyed personally massacring 70 of the 500 briefly liberated pheasants that private gameskeepers released for his morning's entertainment. (After lunch he went out and killed some ducks, too.)

When this embarrassing story found its way into the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette on Dec. 9, with the detail that late in the afternoon the VP had carried the already plucked, gutted, and vacuum-packed carcasses back to the nation's capital with him on Air Force Two, it must have provoked some anxiety. But the staff had learned from the master, and Cheney spokespersons fabricated a fantastical tale of pheasants being donated to local soup kitchens. No doubt our national security precluded identifying which soup kitchens received the birds, since the vice presidential staff refused to name any. This was all detailed in a sly New York Times piece by Elisabeth Bumiller on Dec. 16. But only Joe Connelly mentioned it in the papers around here.

Dick Cheney: vice president, former oil executive, former secretary of defense, hawk, hunter, neoconservative, secrecy maven and national security obsessive-compulsive... What possibilities this rich mix offered local reporters! How inspired they should have been as they contemplated Monday's visit by Dick Cheney to western Washington! Yet what a sorry failure of imagination the writing in Tuesday's mainstream papers represents!

No, I can't recommend that you bother reading any of their articles. But having taken the trouble to survey the pallid production of our local reporters, let us allocate some awards anyway.

The awards for Longest Article (1007 words), Most Vice Presidential Quotes (9), Vaguest Estimate of the Number of Demonstrators Outside the Hyatt Regency Bellevue ("several hundred"), Most Artfully Pointed Contrast between Lunch and Dinner Menus (the Cheneys ate "lamb kabobs and stuffed prawns" with rich Bellevue supporters after having partaken of "fish, succotash, and salad" with the troops at McChord), Best Reporting on the Impending Murray-Nethercutt Senate Race (Cheney's visit "came just before the filing of the [Nethercutt] campaign's end-of-the-year financial statement, a closely watched indicator of a candidate's viability," a detail that went unmentioned elsewhere), and Most Reporters on the Job (3), go to the Seattle Times team of Warren Cornwall, Ralph Thomas, and Leslie Fulbright.

The awards for Most Inflated Estimate of the Number of Military and Family Members Awaiting the Vice President's Arrival ("about 1000," almost twice other estimates), and Highest Reported Number of Medals Awarded ("nine," where others reported only eight), and Most Critical Quote from a Soldier (Pfc. Chris Bowers: "It's a political show") go to Christian Hill of the Olympian.

The awards for Shortest Article by a Major Puget Sound Daily (675 words), Worst Estimate of the Number of Demonstrators Outside the Hyatt Regency Bellevue (no estimate whatever), Most Solicitousness for the Veep's Heart Condition (Cheney ate "heart-healthy fare" at McChord), and Only Mention that Bush-Cheney Lost Washington in 2000, go to Kenneth P. Vogel of the Tacoma News Tribune.

The awards for Most Precise Estimate of the Take in Bellevue ("approximately $320,000"), Most Precise Estimate of the Number of Demonstrators Outside the Hyatt Regency Bellevue ("about 150" anti-Cheney, "about 100" pro-Cheney), Most Named Demonstrators (3), Most Named Attendees of the Fund-Raising Dinner Other Than Nethercutt and the Cheneys (2), Best (and Only) Estimate of the Number of Police on Hand in Bellevue ("75-80"), Best Explanation of What They Were Paying For ("$4,000 for one photo with Cheney and $8,000 for two photos"), and Most Telling Detail about the Bellevue Dinner ("waiters in white gloves"), go to David A. Grant of the King County Journal.

The awards for Most Interesting Musical Detail ("The 'Colonel Bogie March' struck up as Cheney and his wife made their way to a podium at the entrance to the hangar") and Most Compassionate Patriotism (for being the only article to name the three soldiers receiving Purple Hearts for wounds sustained from hostile fire in combat in Iraq) go to Mike Barber of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer.

The awards for the Most Visible Red-Baiting ("Steve Leigh, an International Socialist Organization member, had two sentences for Cheney: 'Resign. That's the least he could do.' Leigh, a 55-year-old Seattle resident, opposes the war in Iraq and believes the United States needs another political system") and Most Inflated Estimate of the Number of Republican Diners ("250-300") go to Brad Wong, of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer.

And, finally, the award for Best Article goes, hands down, to Joe Connelly of the Post-Intelligencer, for his column entitled "Cheney Epitomizes the Imperial Vice Presidency," a fine piece that has the distinction of being the only thought-provoking writing in the mainstream media that was elicited by the visit to our region by that weirdly grinning man only a heartbeat away from being our next president.

Lord help us.

[Sources: Elisabeth Bumiller and James Dao, "Eyes on Iraq; Cheney Says Peril of a Nuclear Iraq Justifies an Attack," New York Times (Aug. 27, 2002); Elisabeth Bumiller, "After Cheney's Private Hunt, Others Take Their Shots," New York Times (Dec. 16, 2003); David A. Grant, "Eastside Cheney," King County Journal (Dec. 23, 2003); Kenneth P. Vogel, "'You're Our Offense,' Cheney Says to Cheers," News Tribune (Tacoma) (Dec. 23, 2003); Warren Cornwall, Ralph Thomas, and Leslie Fulbright, "Cheney Rallies Troops, Woos Voters in 1-Day Visit to State," Seattle Times (Dec. 23, 2003); Mike Barber, "Cheney Trip 'a Morale Booster,' Service Members Say," Seattle Post-Intelligencer (Dec. 23, 2003); Christian Hill, "Cheney Praises Soldiers during McChord Stopover," Olympian (Olympia) (Dec. 23, 2003); Brad Wong, "Opinions Clash during VP's Visit, but Crowds Are Mostly Well-Behaved," Seattle Post-Intelligencer (Dec. 23, 2003); Joe Connelly, "Cheney Epitomizes the Imperial Vice Presidency," Seattle Post-Intelligencer (Dec. 22, 2003).]