Howard Fineman of Newsweek recently ratified the conventional media wisdom on the vice president. "Dick Cheney isn't running for anything, which, of course, gives Dick Cheney a lot of scary freedom in people's eyes."
What is it with the press and Cheney? Why do they insist he sit in his Naval Observatory quarters and obsess about his low approval rating rather than execute his responsibilities? Why do they feel a vice president serves at the pleasure of the media, and not at the pleasure of the president?
There is a lot of scary freedom going on, of a different sort.
Author Stephen Hayes has a new book out simply called "Cheney." The veep gave him 30 hours of interviews. One theme that emerges is that Cheney's opinion of the press corps has deteriorated just as much as their opinion of him. They clearly think Cheney doesn't operate by professional norms. But as the book documents, it is the professional norms of journalism that are often tossed overboard by reporters out to get him.
In May 2003, Cheney spoke at Southern Methodist University in Dallas as a guest of Hugh Sidey, the former Washington bureau chief of Time magazine. The session was officially off the record, not to be quoted by the press. The ruling established, Cheney could be more forthcoming, and among other things, he told the gathering that he thought they had killed Saddam Hussein on the first night of the war in Iraq.
You can only imagine his reaction the next day when the Dallas Morning News, which co-sponsored the SMU event, ran a story quoting Cheney, blatantly violating the journalistic rules established. The reporter even acknowledged in his piece that: "Before Mr. Cheney's remarks, university officials announced late Tuesday afternoon that the session would be considered off the record." But that sacred rule was violated -- because it was Cheney.
In pursuit of their Great White Whale, the Republican menace of the moment, it's quite clear the liberal media don't feel a responsibility to observe the niceties of their own profession. It's their own version of "scary freedom."
Hayes also reminds us of Washington bigfoot Bob Woodward, another reporter who makes up the rules as he goes along. Cheney refused to grant an interview for Woodward's Bush-bashing book "State of Denial." But then former president Gerald Ford called Cheney in his last months to ask him to cooperate with Woodward for another book on the Ford administration. Cheney obliged his old boss and friend.