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Reframing the Cheney Shooting Incident

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California State University, Dominguez Hills
University of Wisconsin, Parkside
Created: February 16, 2006
Latest Update: February 16, 2006

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Index of Topics on Site A Minor News Story or A Pattern of Denial of Transparency

First, I want to say that the Cheney shooting incident was a tragic accident, and I'm willing to extend my empathy to both the shooter and the victim. I didn't like Maureen Dowd's column in the New York Times on Wednesday, in which she said imagined Cheney off shooting Democrats, including Hillary Clinton. Cheney didn't intentionally shoot his friend. This, at least, is a moment for illocutionary understanding.

There's enough serious content here, that I'd prefer to leave that kind of sniping to the comedians, from whom the exaggeration of comedy is expected and far more appropriate.

We spent considerable time on Wednesday discussing the incident. Not denigrating the really tragic aspects of such an accident, but looking at the pattern recognition provided by the reporting of the incident.

Remember pattern recognition? Remember our boxes, from which we learned to recognize the pattern of squares that kept reoccuring and the ways in which pattern recognition made it easier to learn to make our boxes?

When we read the news, we need to read past the simple news stories, to notice patterns that tell us much beyond the original story. That's what the press corps was doing this week, as things grew more intense between the Vice President and his Aides and the White House news corps.

Cheny took the position that this was a private tragedy, and that he expected and meant to keep it private. We hear that from famous people all the time. But these weren't paparazzi chasing him. As Vice President of the United States he is the second most powerful man in the world, and that carries great responsibilities along with the title. One of those responsibilities is to behave in responsible ways, in both his actions and his consideration of the facts which lead to those actions.

The privilege Cheney holds as office holder does respect his privacy, and it does respect the need for national security, but it does not include the suppression of newsworthy events which are not covered by tradition.

This is only the second occurence of someone of such prominence in our government shooting anotehr person. That alone raises it to the rank of newsworthiness. Yet the news was suppressed. None of the requests for news were suggesting that the Vice President had done something wrong. They were asking for information. The information, when it was provided, was provided to a small local newspaper, and the media were limited to what they could glean from that source. That violates our expectation of free access for our press to our government to report information we need to govern well as citizens. And it continued to violate that expectation when the Vice President refused to make himself available to the media to answer their questions. The appearance on Fox, a Republican, conservative voice, did not bring the Vice President back in line with expectations, since no member of the media, not specifically ideologically aligned, has been permitted to question him.

I've highlighted sections of two articles in the Los Angeles Times to reframe this question as an issue of transparency. The only way we can hold our government accountable is if we know what it's doing. We have to know what policies are being followed. In this case, the way that decision-making was handled about releasing facts to the press, violated our strong expectations of transparency. That is, our strong demands to receive both the facts and the policies that guided the decisions.

In the shooting incident we know what happened at this point. We do not know how the decision was made to downplay both the seriousness of the accident and the right of the public to know about it.

In the first reports, we were told that the accident was minor. We were also told, by one of the women who was a member of the hunting party that the accident was the fault of the lawyer who was shot. She said he came up behind the Vice President and did not announce his presence. We now know that he had gone off to pick up a quail, and was returning to the group. We now know also that he was coming up behind Cheney, and that Cheney turned to shoot 180 degrees to shoot. Cheney himself has told us that in the Fox interview. He also sais specifically that he pulled the trigger and that he bore the responsibility.

That is in keeping with hunting tradition. But now we have different reports of guilt. Both of which have appeared on television, as well as in printed media. Transparency could have avoided such conflicts. Leaving all questions unanswered until Wednesday, when the shooting occurred on Saturday, left room for others to step up and make confusing claims.

Comments on Readings on Cheney Incident

  • Backup of Cheney Says He's to Blame in Shooting of Fellow Hunter
    • "This is a complicated story that, frankly, most reporters would never have dealt with before," Cheney said.

      I see this statement as suggesting that only reporters who are hunters would know how to report on a hunting accident, and I find such an idea wholly inaccurate and arrogant. The more he says in his defense of not reporting the incident, the less confidence I have in his decision-making. jeanne

    • "Obviously there's an extreme deference to his own opinion" . . .

      I see this statement as suggesting that the President is not strong enough, not aggressive enough, to take over when someone under his command insists on taking his own path. In this case, it is reported that the President and his aides thought the Vice President should report the incident, but the Vice President's decision prevailed. Maybe that means that Cheney is more arrogant than Bush, and more insistent upon his privilege. But I'm not happy with that because I see Bush as one of the most arrogant, demanding of "privilege," presidents we've ever had.

  • Backup of Critics See a White House Failure to Communicate

    1. Not open to hearing all validity claims.

      Brownstein and Wallsten draw parallels to Bush's reputation for "doggedly follow a path to achieve" to achieve his goals.

      I see that statement as suggesting along with someone who is persistent, someone who is not open to listening to any Other.

    2. Not able to respond effectively and quickly to unexpected events.

      "But Bush and his White House often seem to struggle when pressed to react to unexpected events"

      I see this statement as telling me that these people are most effective when they can control events. Within a corporation one can pretty much control what happens, which is why we hold the CEO responsible for what happens on his/her watch. That suggests they may be better suited to private enterprise than to public governance. Hmmm???

    3. Don't respect the partnership of government and private enterprise.

      "how the White House shares information with elected officials and the public"

      I see this statement as telling me that when private CEOs enter government partnerships, as Bush and Cheney have, they retain the sense that they have greater privilege than other governement officials, by virture of their private connections.

    4. . . .

How about I leave the rest of Backup of Critics See a White House Failure to Communicate up to you? What do these analyses say to you about the Cheney incident? What other articles or stories have you seen that tell you something about how you feel about the decision-making that surrounded this incident?


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