One one level, a reader must give credit to the Washington Post for its four-part series on the power and practices of VP Dick Cheney: It is an incredibly richly reported series, with lots of detail and thoroughness. BUT, and this is a big “but,” it has some important flaws. First is the overall tone, aided and abetted by the Post’s notoriously biased headline writers, that pretty much beats the reader over the head with the notion that Cheney is virtually the spawn of Satan. (One day’s headline, for example: “the Unseen Path to Cruelty.”) Second is the amazing feat of spending dozens and dozens of column inches on the development of interrogation practices for unlawful enemy combatants without a single mention that the Pentagon conducted an extensive review of the same and that the resultant standards for interrogation came nowhere near what any rational being would describe as “cruelty.” (For that matter, the leader of the review, Defense Counsel Jim Haynes, is mentioned only once in the series, portrayed as one of only two loan holdouts in favor of cruelty or even torture–even though, again, Haynes [a Cheney ally] was the one most responsible for LIMITING the ultimate harshness of the methods.)
Then there is this paragraph from the first day’s report: Even talking points for reporters are sometimes stamped “Treated As: Top Secret/SCI.” Experts in and out of government said Cheney’s office appears to have invented that designation, which alludes to “sensitive compartmented information,” the most closely guarded category of government secrets. By adding the words “treated as,” they said, Cheney seeks to protect unclassified work as though its disclosure would cause “exceptionally grave damage to national security.”
To read this, one would think this is some sort of regular practice of the VP’s office, a policy emanating from Cheney himself that has been formalized, etc. Well, I have no independent way of double-checking this, but I am told that the only person in the VP’s orbit who might have used the “Treat as Secret” designation was former aide Scooter Libby, and even if that was so, it was not anything formal. Regardless, an administration official told me, point blank and emphatically, that such a designation “is not a practice” — and, then for emphasis: “is not an authorized practice in the Office of the Vice President and is not currently being used.”
I have no reason to doubt this official. And while it is only a minor point in a much, much longer series of news stories, it is symptomatic of how the Post reporters continually make a big deal over little things (even, according to my source, their own false representation of little things) in a way that always, ALWAYS, portrays the vice president as being almost frighteningly obsessed with secrecy. In this way does otherwise rich reporting struggle so hard to pigeonhole everything into a pre-conceived storyline as to turn its subject into the exact opposite of a fully, richly described figure, instead making him into a caricature of the media’s own devising.
One of these days I look forward to the news story that tells about all of this from a point of view sympathetic to Mr. Cheney. But I doubt it will be coming from the Post.