Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Cheney Front and Center

This morning's flap was a Politico story giving full publicity to Dick Cheney's latest anti-Obama rants. Putting aside the substance of Cheney's views (apparently everything was going just perfectly in Afghanistan until Obama took office) and the pathetic claims he's making (Cheney really can't be taken seriously when he's babbling about Obama's decision to follow standard diplomatic protocol as if it were either novel or important), I think the more important question is whether Politico and the press in general are doing something wrong by giving Cheney a platform. Cheney opponents -- here's Greg Sargent, Steve Benen, and Andrew Sullivan. As Benen says:
So, why is Cheney's 90-minute tirade against the president the lead Politico story today?
OK, I have an answer for that.

First of all, it is the press's obligation to give a platform to both parties.

Second, each party should have the opportunity to determine its own positions on issues of public policy, and which people should give voice to those positions.

For the in-party, that's easy: clearly the main people the press should give platforms to include the president and his designated spokespeople, the Speaker of the House, the Majority Leader of the Senate, and relevant committee chairs.

For the out-party, it's more complicated. Cheney (and Bush, who isn't talking) have some credentials to speak for the Republicans; so do McCain and Palin; so do Boehner and McConnell; so do the leading presidential candidates for the next cycle, and the relevant committee ranking members. I suppose I should add that mad bloggin' Michael Steele (update: nothing for the last eight days). American parties aren't set up the way that many world parties are organized, with a clear leader of the opposition and shadow ministers who are the recognized leaders on various topics. Instead, it's a mishmash.

So, how can we tell if journalists get it wrong? That's fairly easy: it's the job of the out-party to keep them honest. If Politico tried to pass off someone from Obama's collection of retired GOP officials who support health care reform as the Official Voice of the Republicans, we would know they got it wrong from the howls of protest from current Republicans, including rapid policy contradictions.

Where does that leave Cheney -- and McCain, who Benen also complains about, or even talk-show faves Giuliani and Gingrich, who get tons of air time despite minimal and aging credentials? Apparently, reporters are doing little wrong by using them for the Republican party line. After all, the complaints, as far as I can tell, exclusively coming from opponents of the Bush/Cheney administration. Those complaints are wrong: opponents of the Republicans don't get a vote on which Republicans should get quoted. Moreover, Republicans do seem to follow Cheney's lead, whether it's on his complaints about torture, the KSM trial, or "dithering."

However, it's possible that things are changing. Greg Sargent reports that Republicans are now complaining off the record about Cheney. That's interesting, as it hints at the possibility that there may be considerable inner conflict among Republicans about their current public leadership. But it also makes it clear that, for now at least, Cheney is winning that battle. Republicans could isolate him overnight by dismissing him, publicly (including refusing to quote his lines and subscribe to his positions and arguments), and by making it clear to reporters privately that he doesn't speak for them, but that's not what's happened so far.

Quick summary: Republicans are entitled to be heard, and Republicans, not their opponents, get to decide who represents them.

If they want someone who sounds like a "random right-wing radio loudmouth in a third-tier market," well, that's their choice.


  1. "it is the press's obligation to give a platform to both parties."

    I'd say it is the press's obligation to inform the public. Obviously, that includes information about the major political parties. But I don't think the press is obligated to "give a platform" to them ... that sounds too cozy, and doesn't leave much room for political news that exists outside of those parties.

  2. A couple of issues here...first, "outside of those parties." I think I'm going to disagree, mostly. Yes, in principle I think the press should make the views of small minorities visible, but I don't think it's the press's job to pick and choose, and I have no problem with using election results as a decision rule: the two parties that combine to win practically every office and well over 90% of the votes are the parties that the press need to inform the public about. Of course, in areas where that description doesn't apply, the press should react accordingly. But nationally...yeah, I'm mostly OK with it.

    Also, if there's significant disagreement within a party (as there was within the Democratic party in 2002-3 about Iraq, for example), then the press has an obligation to let us know about that, and sometimes they're going to have to make tough calls. I don't think that applies with Cheney & the GOP right now.

    "Cozy." I'm of two minds on it. As I said in the next post, I do think part of the press's job is to be critical, but overall I think the job of letting the parties get their views out is probably at least just as important.

    I would say that it depends a bit on the technology of information. During the Big Three Network era, the parties didn't really have a way to reach mass electorates except through TV. Now, that's no longer true, and it seems it's getting less true every year. To the extent that continues, the neutral press will have less of an obligation to let the parties say their piece. Also, I have no objection if the press uses the current technology of information to publicize minor parties, but I don't think that, say, the Libertarian Party and the Republican Party should be treated as equals.

  3. To be honest, I'm less concerned with expanding the outlets for minor parties and more concerned with the Coziness Factor.


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