This is understandable, but not really justifiable. If the public had the right to know eventually -- something even Cheney does not question -- that right is not dependent on the firmness of the information.
Cheney understandably wanted to control the situation, to know what he was dealing with, before having to confront the world about the accident. Perhaps he also wanted to give the victim, the victim's family, his host and the other guests an overnight respite before the inevitable media circus arrived at their door.
If there was a sin against the public interest, it was in the desire to retain control over what was a still-chaotic situation. But it is a minor sin. There was no cover-up, nothing to cover up. There was no scandal. It hardly merited the quite overwrought charges of excessive secrecy, imperial arrogance, abuse of power and other choice selections from the lexicon of Nixoniana.
Secrecy? This was hardly an affair of state. And it was hardly going to be kept secret. Arrogance? The media laying these charges are the same media that just last week unilaterally decided that the public's right to know did not extend to seeing cartoons that had aroused half the world, burned a small part of it and deeply affected the American national interest. Having arrogated to themselves the judgment of what a free people should be allowed to see regarding an issue that is literally burning, they then go ballistic over a few hours' delay in revealing an accident with only the most trivial connection to the nation's interest or purpose.
Cheney got a judgment call wrong, for reasons that are entirely comprehensible. The disproportionate, at times hysterical, response to that error is far less comprehensible.
Charles Krauthammer is a 1987 Pulitzer Prize winner, 1984 National Magazine Award winner, and a columnist for The Washington Post since 1985.
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