Vice President Dick Cheney, who was forced to leave Yale University because his penchant for late-night beer drinking exceeded his devotion to his studies, and who is one of the small number of Americans who can count two drunk driving busts on his record, was doing more than hunting quail on the day that he shot a Texas lawyer in the face.
The vice president has admitted that he was drinking on the afternoon of the incident. He claims it was only a beer, according to the transcript of an interview with Fox New Wednesday. But the whole discussion about how much drinking took place on the day of the fateful hunt has been evolving rapidly since Katherine Armstrong, the wealthy Republican lobbyist who is a member of the politically connected family that owns the ranch where Cheney blasted his hunting partner, initially claimed that no one was imbibing before the incident.
Armstrong later acknowledged to a reporter from the NBC investigative unit that alcohol may have been served at a picnic Saturday afternoon on the dude ranch where Cheney shot Harry Whittington.
According to the report, which appeared briefly Tuesday on MSNBC, Armstrong peddled the line that she did not believe that alcohol played a part in the shooting accident. But, she admitted, "There may be a beer or two in there, but remember not everyone in the party was shooting."
The MSNBC story, which appeared only briefly before the website was scrubbed for reasons not yet explained, has been kept alive by the able web investigators at TheRawStory and other progressive blogs. And so it should be, as the prospect that alcohol may have been a factor in the shooting incident takes the story in a whole new direction.
Cheney's admission that he was drinking, along with Armstrong's clumsy attempts to downplay the alcohil issue raises more questions than it answers about an incident involving a Vice President who, like George W. Bush, was a heavy drinker in his youth, but who, unlike Bush, never swore off the bottle.
As with her over-the-top efforts to blame Whittington, the victim, for getting in the way of Cheney's birdshot blast, Armstrong's line on liquor smells a little more like an attempt to cover for the Vice President than full disclosure.
This is where the hunting accident "incident" becomes a serious matter. The role played by the Secret Service in preventing questioning of Cheney on the evening of the shooting takes on new significance when drinking is at issue. If Cheney was in any way impaired at the time of the shooting, it was certainly to the Vice President's advantage to put off the official investigation until the next morning.
Cheney claims that he downed beer hours before he shot Whittington. But he now has a lot more explaining to do than what was seen during the "softball" interview on Fox News, the Administration's house network, which the White House crisis management team arranged for him to do Wednesday.
When legitimate questions arise regarding the role that the Secret Service might have played in undermining the investigation of a shooting in order to protect the vice president from embarrassment, and possible legal charges, those issues have to be addressed fully and completely. And they must be addressed in a setting where reporters are able to press the notoriously cagey Cheney to actually answer all of the questions that are asked.
Up to now, the whole "hunting-accident" controversy has been little more than a diversion from more serious matters involving Cheney--not least among these, the investigation into whether the Vice President authorized the release of classified information as part of a scheme to discredit critics of the Administration's rush to war. But if Cheney used his Secret Service unit to prevent a necessary and proper official inquiry at a time when it might have uncovered relevant information regarding his condition when he shot a man, then the Vice President has abused his office in a most serious manner.
The prospect that such an abuse occurred requires Cheney and any White House aides who were involved in "managing" the story--put Karl Rove at the top of this list--to stop stonewalling and provide a detailed explanation of their actions in the hours that followed the shooting incident. This is certainly not the only issue on which the Vice President needs to come clean, but it is no longer a joking matter--or, more precisely, it is no longer merely a joking matter.
John Nichols's book The Rise and Rise of Richard B. Cheney: Unlocking the Mysteries of the Most Powerful Vice President in American History (The New Press) is available nationwide at independent bookstores and at www.amazon.com. Publisher's Weekly describes it as "a Fahrenheit 9/11 for Cheney" and Esquire magazine says it "reveals the inner Cheney."
Today is Valentine's Day, which on campus means V-Day--over 1,000 productions of The Vagina Monologues will be taking place across the nation to raise funds for battered women's shelters and other projects that fight violence against women. V-Day is popular and successful and feminist--it's even been produced in some Catholic colleges. So naturally the ladies over at the Independent Women's Forum hate it. Every year they go on a tear about how The Vagina Monologues is ruining romance and sending Cupid packing. "V-Day is not celebrated with flowers or chocolates," grouses IWF Director of Policy Carrie L. Lukas. "Young men do not pay graceful tribute to young ladies on V-Day."
What, no chocolate? This sounds serious! Something tells me the folks at Godiva and Hallmark aren't too worried.
For the IWF, feminists just can't get it right: when they're not ruining romance by being puritanical killjoys, they ruin it by being raunchy and gynecological. But V-day isn't the only organization with big plans for Valentine's Day. There's also the conservative Christian Liberty Counsel, which is promoting February 14th as an annual Day of Purity, "when this nation's youth can make a public demonstration of their commitment to remain sexually pure, in mind and actions." You can order Live Pure t-shirts and wristbands, just to let the whole world know you are not, not, not thinking about sex. One question: The website urges young people to see abstinence before marriage as "countercultural"--but, um, how does that fit with the official proclamation of the Day of Purity by the Governor of Ohio? Is he some kind of hippie sex hermit?
(For more on P-day, go to feministing.com)
The New York Times has an interesting story on street fiction, the ever-rising genre of "urban" (read: Black) fiction that is moving from stalls on Brooklyn's Fulton Street to Manhattan publishers' desks. Long popular in prisons (especially with incarcerated Black men) and with Black women (women are historically bigger readers than men), some of these writers have become mini-empires unto themselves. Most white people have probably never heard of her, but Teri Woods, featured in a Salon story last year, has done millions in sales and attracted the attention of Random House. (She's also in the process of turning one of her books into a film, which may feature actors Hassan Johnson and Michael K. Williams, who play Wee-Bay and Omar on the best-show-of-all-time, HBO's The Wire ).
The Times story focuses on DeWitt Gilmore, the author of books like Push, Topless, and Platinum Dolls, who writes under the pen name Relentless Aaron. He has just signed a six-figure deal with St. Martin's.
According to the Gray Lady, "Mr. Gilmore's prison pedigree gives him a street credibility that is almost as vital as his written word," Ms. Patterson [Monique Patterson, a senior editor at St. Martin's] said. Readers of the genre want to feel that the author is drawing upon his own hard-knock experience as grist for his books.
'He's really writing about what he's been through," she said. "It's similar to the way hip-hop appealed to a mainstream audience.'"
Riiight. Cause hip-hop artists are totally known for really writing about what they've been through. Cause 50 Cent knew druglords Pappy Mason and Supreme, and Jeezy's been cooking crack for days, and Tupac didn't go to a performing arts high school. Is it that an African American experience that isn't ghetto isn't real, or just that it won't sell?
I don't really know what to think about "street fiction" --- on the one hand, it glories in misogyny and violence, passing itself -- and those things, too -- off as "gritty" and "real." On the other, it's pure entertainment, and it's reading, right? (As someone who has been known to very much enjoy listening to music about drugs and guns, it's really hard to point any fingers here.) Besides, Mr. Gilmore has gone from a convict to a six-figure deal, and you've got to give him some credit for that. But look at that Times quote again: "Mr. Gilmore's prison pedigree gives him a street credibility that is almost as vital as his written word...Readers of the genre want to feel that the author is drawing upon his own hard-knock experience as grist for his books."
It's not just readers of "street fiction" or hip-hop fans who want to feel that the artist is drawing upon his or her own life. It's all readers, and all viewers, and all listeners. It's why we have reality television and it's the cause of people's tiresome obsession with James Frey. We don't really care about telling stories anymore unless they're extreme real-life stories, unless they feature "viewers like you."
Last thing: A while back Gawker linked to an item about Marc Gerald , 50 Cent's literary agent (What, you didn't hear about G-Unit Books?). Gerald used to run an imprint for Norton called "Old School" that specialized in "gangsta-lit novellas" that are presumably kin to what 50 will oversee. The project is rumored to have fallen apart not only because writers were grossly mistreated, but because manuscripts were "blackened" with "ghetto" language. It will be interesting to note how Mr. Gilmore's writing fares under St. Martin's, and how he's pimped out for the public --- sorry, I meant marketed.
In my post on Sunday, How The Mainstream Media Is Missing What's Mainstream, I referred to a forthcoming Media Matters report on skewing to the Right on our Sunday talk shows. The report was released this morning. It's worth checking out and reading more on how to take action.
THIS JUST IN: Harry Whittington suffered a minor heart attack on Tuesday morning due to bird shot from Cheney's gun that migrated into his heart. Click here.
I posted this first at www.davidcorn.com....
Kudos to my friend Ken Bazinet, a White House correspondent for the New York Daily News. Yesterday, I was wondering whether Cheney had obtained the proper hunting license before going off to hunt quail and shoot a buddy. It turns out he had not. And Bazinet seems to have confirmed this first. At least, he's the first reporter I've seen who has the story. Read about it here. He wrote:
Vice President Cheney had no license to kill--quail, that is.
After the White House reluctantly conceded yesterday that it sat on the blockbuster news that Cheney shot a hunting buddy Saturday, the veep's office revealed he didn't even have the proper $7 stamp on his hunting license to shoot quail in Texas.
"The staff asked for all permits needed, but was not informed of the $7 upland game-bird stamp requirement," Cheney's office said in a statement last night.
Although he was hunting illegally when he blasted Austin millionaire Harry Whittington, Cheney will get off with a warning from the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, his office said.
Cheney and Bush sure know how to succeed despite breaking or bending the rules. Bush had one DWI; Cheney had two. Bush went MIA in the National Guard; Cheney took five military deferments. This is a rules-don't-matter duo, a shoot-and-don't-tell couple. Kids, pay attention, you can mess up and still become millionaire-leaders of the free world.
These past two days it sure has seemed that Scott McClellan has not enjoyed working for Bush and Cheney. He faced a fusillade of questions yesterday and refused to give a straightforward accounting of why it took so long to disclose the hunting accident. It didn't take much imagination to suspect that Cheney and/or the White House initially considered hiding the event from the press and the public. Today, McClellan relied on one of his favorite evasive maneuvers. When reporters asked him to address remaining questions, he said (repeatedly), "we went through that yesterday." Actually, he had not. That's why these queries were being hurled at him today. But he often resorts to this dodge. I'm guessing he thinks it might cause some of the viewing public to think that the reporters are piling on. ("Oh, that poor Scotty McClellan. Look at that; those nasty reporters are asking him question he's already answered.")
Before the reporters today could finish hurling questions that would not be answered by McClellan, he called a halt to the press briefing, noting, "it's time to focus on the priorities of the American people." Perhaps he had in mind the war that most Americans no longer believe was worth it.
McClellan is a puppet, a beard. He's fronting for others. Still, he keeps generating his own credibility problem. (Remember when he said that neither Karl Rove nor Scooter Libby were involved in the CIA leak?) It may seem that White House reporters give him a tough time on occasions such as these. But it's not nearly as tough as he deserves. The journos at 1600 Pennsylvania ought to consider guerilla action of some sort. For instance, if McClellan won't answer a question, then every reporter in the room ought to ask it--one after another. Politely. It would be an I-am-Spartacus moment. But given the needs and personalities of White House reporters, orchestrating something like that would be akin to getting a covey of quail to sit still for a vice president.
Meanwhile, why won't Cheney be a man and stop hiding behind McClellan? He should hold a press conference and announce he will answer every question about the hunting accident. Let's see if he has the chutzpah to blame Harry Whittington for having gotten in the way of his shot, as some Cheney comrades have already done. As the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department points out on its website, "The primary reason for Texas hunting accidents remains swinging on game outside a safe zone of fire. This happens when a person points a firearm at another hunter while following a moving target, such as a flying game bird." That sure seems a reasonable explanation for why Whittington ended up with a face full of pellets. Texas PWD spokesman Tom Harvey tells me that there is no state law that compels the investigation of hunting accidents that don't produce a dead body. Most accidents are reported voluntarily, says Harvey, who as of Tuesday had received about 200 calls from various media outfits. And there is no punitive action for accidents that involve no criminal wrongdoing. The errant hunter can get a license next time. (Quails of Texas, watch out for the return of Cheney.) But there is a health and safety law that requires doctors to report gunshot wounds.
So with no official investigation under way, there's no reason why Cheney cannot come before the press, sit in front of a blackboard, and explain all. I'm not sure if real men hunt. But real men do take responsibility for their actions.
In her "Editor's Cut" call for the establishment of an independent commission to investigate war profiteering by U.S. corporations -- operating on the ground in Iraq and on the homefront -- Katrina vanden Heuvel makes reference to the role U.S. Senator Harry Truman played in cracking down on war profiteering during World War II.
The Truman model is a good one for today's muckrakers.
The senator from Missouri was blunt. Truman did not fall for the line that words needed to be watched in wartime. Rather, he accused corporations that engaged in war profiteering of "treason."
He was also proactive. When Truman heard rumors of war profiteering, he got into his Dodge and, during a Congressional recess, drove 30,000 miles across the U.S., paying unannounced visits to corporate offices and worksites. The Senate committee he chaired launched aggressive investigations into shady wartime business practices and found "waste, inefficiency, mismanagement and profiteering," according to Truman, who argued that such behavior was unpatriotic. Urged on by Truman and others in Congress, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt supported broad increases in the corporate income tax, raised the excess-profits tax to 90 percent and charged the Office of War Mobilization with the task of eliminating illegal profits.
Truman, who became a national hero for his fight against the profiteers, was tapped to be FDR's running mate in 1944.
As has been duly noted, it is unlikely that Republican leaders in the Senate will allow a Truman-style committee to operate under the Capitol Dome. But that does not prevent an intrepid contemporary pol from following Truman's lead.
But who will go down the trail Truman blazed?
Why not John Edwards? He's a skilled trial lawyer who knows how to go after corporate misdeeds. As a former member of the Senate Judiciary Committee and a former presidential and vice presidential candidate, he's prominent enough to draw media attention to the hunt for profiteers. And Edwards has been on the right side of this issue for a long time.
When he was campaigning for the 2004 Democratic presidential nod, Edwards delivered a stump speech featuring a riff on war profiteering that was well received by voters in early caucus and primary states.
"We need to end the sweetheart deals for Halliburton and stop the war profiteering in Iraq," declared Edwards, who made pointed references to Vice President Dick Cheney's former firm but also to a list of other defense contractors that have contributed heavily to George w. Bush's campaigns and that have profited heavily from his war.
"The American people know there is something wrong going on with war profiteering and Halliburton and the contracts in Iraq," said Edwards, who promised to examine every contract handed out by Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and his aides "with a magnifying glass" in a hunt to halt "the fleecing of the American people."
Edwards wanted to wield the magnifying glass as president -- and it is no secret that he is still interested in occupying the Oval Office.
What Edwards needs ought to recognize is that the best way to get there is to go down the road Truman took.
Edwards should hop in his Dodge, or, better yet, his hybrid, and take that 30,000 drive across the country. He should bang on the doors of Halliburton and the other profiteers. Sure, critics will call him ambitious. But they said the same thing about Harry Truman. Truman didn't care. He just kept banging away at the profiteers, and the American people kept cheering him on -- the way they always do when a prominent figure has the courage and the conviction to defend the national treasury against the ravages of corporate criminals who use the excuses of wartime to line their deep pockets.
Few events are as tailor made for Comedy Central's The Daily Show as Dick Cheney's accidental shooting of 78-year-old Harry Whittington, a moment that had Jon Stewart exclaiming "Thank you Jesus!"
Stewart, via Crooks & Liars:
Don't let your kids go hunting with the Vice President. I don't care what kind of lucrative contracts they're trying to land or energy regulations they're trying to get lifted. He'll shoot them in the face.
Though there were more than a few bird jokes, the show's Vice Presidential Firearms Mishap Expert Rob Corddry invoked an eerily similar Administration defense:
Jon, tonight the Vice President is standing by his decision to shoot Harry Whittington. Now according to the best intelligence available, there were quail hidden in the brush. Everyone believed at the time there were quail in the brush. And while the quail turned out to be the 78 year old man, even knowing that today, Mr. Cheney insists-he still would have shot Mr. Whittington in the face.
He [Cheney] believes the world is a better place for spreading buckshot throughout the entire region of Mr. Whittington's face.
In a post 9/11 world, the American people expect their leaders to be decisive. To not have shot his friend in the face would have sent a message to the quail that America is weak.
Paul Hackett, who has dropped out of the race for the Democratic U.S. Senate nomination with his usual theatrical flourishes, says he quit the contest because of the pressure he claims he felt from national Democratic bigwigs.
That may well have been a factor in Hackett's decision.
But it appears that an even bigger factor was a poll that showed Hackett trailing far behind his progressive primary opponent, U.S. Representative Sherrod Brown. With the filing deadline for the May Democratic primary rapidly approaching, Hackett was confronted with new numbers from his own pollster, which showed Brown was ahead among likely voters by an almost 2-1 margin -- 46 percent for the congressman to 24 percent for Hackett.
Despite the fact that Hackett had been campaigning for the Senate seat since last fall -- while Brown had been tied up in Washington leading the fight against the Central American Free Trade Agreement and other administration initiatives -- the poll, details of which were obtained by the Cleveland Plain Dealer, revealed that Hackett had made few inroads among Democrats outside his southern Ohio base.
This is not to say that Hackett was a bad candidate.
An Iraq War veteran gained national attention with his blunt criticism of President Bush during the campaign for an Ohio U.S. House seat that he almost won in a special election last summer, Hackett would have been serious contender in a Senate race against just about anyone else. But Hackett had a hard time convincing most Ohio Democrats -- particularly more liberal voters in the northern Ohio counties where the party is strongest -- that he would be a bolder or better candidate than Brown, an early and consistently outspoken critic of the Bush administration's rush to war in Iraq who is one of the House's leading foes of corporate excess.
The White House press corps, taking a break from its usual stenography duties, actually roused itself to ask truth-impaired spokesman Scott McClellan some tough questions about Dick Cheney. Unfortunately, while it was good to see a few reporters rise from their bended knees, they were asking the wrong questions about the wrong issue.
What got the press corps all hot and bothered was the fact that Cheney and his aides kept details about the vice president shooting a man secret for the better part of 24 hours, and then slipped the story to a local paper in the city nearest the Texas dude ranch where the incident took place.
Most of Monday's 41-minute-long White House press briefing was taken up with questions about the gun-slinger-in-chief's penchant for secrecy and the bloody details of the shot Cheney's hunting buddy took to the face. But what was especially clear was that the members of the press corps do not like to get scooped on the story of a vice presidential shooting sprees by the Corpus Christi Caller-Times.
McClellan was peppered with pointed questions and sharp asides from the likes of NBC reporter David Gregory, who grumbled about the fact that: "the vice president of the United States shoots a man, and he feels that it's appropriate for a ranch owner who witnessed this to the local Corpus Christi newspaper, not the White House press corps at large or notify the public in a national way."
When Gregory accused McClellan of "ducking and weaving," rather than responding frankly to the questions he is paid by the taxpayers of the United States to answer, the press secretary suggested the NBC reporter was grandstanding.
An angry Gregory retorted, "Don't accuse me of trying to pose to the cameras. Don't be a jerk to me personally when I'm asking you a serious question.''
McClellan told Gregory not to yell. The reporter then pointed to the press secretary's lectern and shouted, "If you want to use that podium to try to take shots at me personally, which I don't appreciate, then I will raise my voice, because that's wrong.''
The pair sputtered back and forth until, finally, McClellan said, "I'm sorry you're getting all riled up about," to which Gregory replied: "I am riled up, because you're not answering the question."
More power to Gregory, and to several other members of the usually somnambulant White House press corps, for trying to get McClellan to answer a few questions about the misdeeds of the most powerful vice president in American history.
The only frustrating thing is that Gregory and his compatriots were all excited about the secretive handling of details regarding a hunting accident that – while troubling – can hardly be described as the most serious matter of concern with regard to Cheney.
To be sure, a trigger-happy vice president makes for good feature stories – not to mention good comedy. But where were the demands for answers, where was the cries for accountability, where were the shows of righteous indignation last week, when it was revealed by the National Journal that Cheney's former chief of staff, I. Lewis (Scooter) Libby, had told a federal grand jury he was "authorized" by Cheney and other White House "superiors" to disclose classified information to journalists as part of a plot to defend the Bush administration's manipulation of prewar intelligence to make the "case" for going to war with Iraq.
In the scheme of things, the many unanswered questions about whether the vice president of the United States engaged in a conspiracy to deceive Congress and the American people about reasons for entering a war that has now killed more than 2,200 Americans and tens of thousands of Iraqi civilians would seem to be a bigger deal than the same vice president's involvement in a hunting accident.
True, it would be foolish to assume that Scott McClellan would be any more forthcoming about the administration's manipulation of pre-war intelligence -- and evidence of Cheney's involvement in efforts to attack those who exposed that manipulation – than he has been about the manipulation of information regarding the vice president's gunplay.
But if the press corps is going to rise from its slumber when it comes to Dick Cheney's secrecy and chicanery, would it make sense to get excited about the Constitutional crisis – as opposed to the veep's itchy trigger finger?
John Nichols' book, The Rise and Rise of Richard B. Cheney: Unlocking the Mysteries of the Most Powerful Vice President in American History (The New Press) is available nationwide at independent bookstores and at www.amazon.com. Publisher's Weekly describes it as "a Fahrenheit 9/11 for Cheney" and Esquire magazine says it "reveals the inner Cheney. The Rise and Rise of Richard B. Cheney includes an interview with Joseph Wilson and details the inner workings of the vice president's office at the time of the Plame-Wilson leak.
In a larger sense, I think Dick Cheney's hunting accident is emblematic of the staggering, reckless incompetence that has been the hallmark of this administration. It is also emblematic of how Bush & Co. have worked to manipulate and suppress news--usually in the belief that they can pretty much get their way--and always to the detriment of public record and interest.
As the Frank James of the Chicago Tribune points out, "When a vice president of the US shoots a man under any circumstance, this is extremely relevant information. What is the excuse to justify not immediately making the incident public? Why did the VP's office not immediately report this--but, instead, wait 24 hours?" And now we learn that in this security-obsessed administration, the president did not know the shooter was Cheney until Sunday morning? Then there is the striking disdain for accountability which Cheney (Dick, Cheney, n: lesser of two evils) has come to embody. As Sunday's New York Times editorial stated, "There is a gaping trust gap when it comes to this administration."
Doug Ireland noted today, "The entire Cheney hunting incident story stinks." (Check out his blog for the explanation.)
Why was there a 24 hour delay in reporting the news? Was Cheney drinking, or under the influence of (we-trust-prescribed) drugs, which marred his judgment?
How could it be that in a security-obsessed country, the President didn't even know--until Sunday morning--that his VP had shot a man on Saturday afternoon?
And doesn't Texas law--as in many states--require that hospitals report gunshot victims to police--immediately?