Thursday, February 16, 2006

Media narrative, or Facts matter

Peter Daou shows how the coverage of the Cheney shooting has largely drawn on pro-GOP talking points. Nonetheless, Revka says (and I quote at the risk that she'll tell her mommy on me):

What the story should be about is how the press is so heartless, callous and just plain old hateful. They would sell their souls for a story. Cheney isn't like them, he rises above the fray.
Indeed, the story is almost exactly that Cheney did rise above the fray. He shot a man, a friend, "No, an acquaintance" and 78 year-old Republican lawyer, in the face. Then where you and I would stay and chat with the police, then issue a press release explaining the situation, Dick Cheney went back to the ranch of the fundraiser he was staying with, had a cocktail, and went on with his business. The next day, he got up, chatted with the police, visited his friend at the hospital, did some errands, refused to let the White House make a statement, and then let his friend mention something to a local newspaper.

That seems to define "above the fray."

This story has not been reported using anti-Cheney language. It's been reported based on various GOP frames (e.g., Cheney is a real man, not like John Kerry). The problem isn't the presentation, it's the underlying facts. The Vice-President of the United States, a man widely seen as running the White House, a man who lead the push into a war with Iraq, a man elected to his office by the American people, shot a 78 year-old lawyer in the face, then hid the fact that he'd been drinking earlier and didn't feel any responsibility to inform the people who elected him that he shot a man.

Those are the underlying facts. Saying that he feels bad (Revka: "This man is deeply hurting") is nice. But not shooting a man in the face would be nicer. Not hiding himself from sheriff's deputies and the American people would be nicer, too. But that ship sailed.

This story is bad for Cheney. It isn't the framing, it's the facts. The media narrative has been as pro-Cheney as the facts would permit. But unless he wants to cozy up with Barbara Walters and weep about the agony of the moment, the story Revka wants to tell isn't the story. It isn't that Cheney is heart-broken ("Well, I saw him fall, basically. It had happened so fast. … You know, we canceled the Sunday hunt. I said, look I'm not -- we were scheduled to go out again on Sunday and I said I'm not going to go on Sunday, I want to focus on Harry.") The story is that he shot a man. In the face.

On its own, that isn't much of a story. I said that on day two, when it was first announced. The story could easily have been made to go away. Dick Cheney, his wife Lynne, and Mrs. Whittington stand together, Dick says he's sorry, he expresses sympathy for his acquaintance and fellow heart-attack sufferer and his wife and family. He announces he's going to do some PSAs on hunting safety or whatever and life moves on.

But by stonewalling, he turned this into an ever more perfect allegory for the Bush administration. Rather than admitting an error up front, fixing what can be fixed and trying to prevent a repeat performance, there's a long proxy battle in the media. Surrogates speak out defending the administration, insisting nothing was done wrong. Colossal failure was unforseeable. Then it's learned that warning signs existed. (Cheney had a beer, maybe he had more, maybe he sobered up, we'll never know. The warnings that Katrina would cause levee breaches may or may not have helped, we'll never know.)

Then, rather than sitting down with Barbara Walters and weeping a little about "the worst day of his life" (worse than any of the heart attacks), he decided to sit down with Brit Hume on Fox News. As always, Cheney meets with GOP insiders and rallies his base, rather than rallying the nation. The aim is to put spin on the story, not to address the underlying facts (beer drunk, man shot, long time delays before the shooter discusses the events with the police).

And this is the Bush/Cheney way. It isn't a good way. It doesn't prevent more debacles (Iraq, Plame outing, Medicare prescription drug mess, failed Social Security privatization, Whittington shooting). It divides the nation.