Why weren't we informed? Isn't it obvious?

Posted: Feb 17, 2006 12:05 AM

There are few less edifying sights than Terry McAuliffe in full battle cry. But alas there was no avoiding him after the Cheney hunting accident. There he was demanding to know why the vice president waited 22 hours before informing the press and shouting that if Al Gore had done something like this he'd be in Leavenworth by nightfall (a dubious if pleasing supposition). The White House press corps was even more insufferable. One reporter asked, "Is it proper for the vice president to offer his resignation or has he offered his resignation?" Another demanded, "Scott (McClellan), would this be much more serious if the man had died?" Our pressies asked dozens of questions about the timing of the disclosure -- some wondering aloud whether the White House purposely delayed the announcement to avoid its becoming Topic A on the Sunday morning chat shows. One particularly eager journalist asked, "Under Texas law, is this kind of accidental shooting a possible criminal offense?" The transcript does not indicate whether he was rubbing his hands together at the time.

Is there something missing in the mental architecture of reporters? When they get credentialed, do they lose ordinary human reactions?

An ordinary person, hearing about such an accident, would respond as follows: How horrible! Cheney must be in agony. What's the prognosis on Whittington?

I honestly don't see why it was so essential that the press be informed about the accident immediately. Admittedly, if the vice president had shot someone in the Oval Office, or better yet, in the pressroom, that would be a story. But these kinds of things happen all too often when people hunt. It is terrible for the two men involved and for their families, but it has zero public relevance. The shooting apparently happened around 5:30 in the evening. Maybe Cheney decided, after Whittington was safely hospitalized in Corpus Christi and his children notified, that he'd try to catch a few hours sleep before dealing with the inevitable onslaught from the press. Is that such a big deal?

We are seeing in this episode another of our periodic culture clashes between those who came of age before the '60s and those who came after. Cheney was born in 1941 and reached mature adulthood before it became the fashion for men to bare their souls, emote and talk talk talk. Cheney is like a brainy Gary Cooper. He's everything a Wyoming male was supposed to be -- self-contained, serious and unflappable. But here's a hint for the flower children: That doesn't mean he has no feelings. Of course he is devastated by what he did. He said as much to Brit Hume. The image of his friend Harry falling is one he cannot get out of his mind.

Cheney's kind of emotional reserve and privacy is pretty much a lost virtue in our flamboyantly demonstrative age, and that's unfortunate. Those who easily showcase their feelings are often charlatans and manipulators (Oprah, call your office). The more we demand that people -- particularly men -- share their deepest fears and regrets, the more we will be inviting the worst sort to lead us.

The press loves any story that potentially involves misbehavior on the part of those in power -- and it's all the more piquant if the offender is a conservative Republican. To a point, this is a healthy check on abuse of power. But all too often it is merely a lazy press corps's short cut to airtime or front page placement.

The Whittington shooting was an accident. That's it. Meanwhile, the Iranians are working on a nuclear bomb, Muslims worldwide are still rioting over a bunch of editorial cartoons and swearing to behead us, and the United Nations is demanding that we shut down Guantanamo prison. Drop the Cheney story; you're embarrassing yourselves.