You'd think that an administration that's losing credibility fast on the big issues would be careful to keep things straight on the small ones. Yet on what seems like such a simple question -- what was Vice President Dick Cheney doing at a hospital in Vail, Colo., Friday? -- Arianna Huffington says that it's awfully hard to get a straight answer.
Huffington tells this story on her blog:
When Huffington arrived in Vail Friday afternoon for a conference there, she saw the vice president's airplane on the tarmac near hers. And when the man who picked her up at the airport said that he'd seen Cheney's motorcade race off for the local hospital, Huffington decided that she'd go to the hospital, too. Upon arriving there, she says she found a whole lot of security and a general lack of information about whether the vice president was inside the hospital or not. "But," Huffington writes, "one hospital staffer, obviously not schooled in the secretive ways of Cheney, let it slip: 'Hes no longer here.'" Huffington engaged in the sort of sharp deductive reasoning that marks fine reporting everywhere: "Since you cannot 'no longer' be someplace youve never been, we can deduce -- though not confirm -- that Cheney did, in fact, pay a visit to the local hospital."
The hospital denied it. At about 4:35 p.m. Friday, a hospital spokeswoman told the news editor at the Huffington Post that Cheney had not "checked in or out" of the hospital. When the news editor asked whether and how Cheney could have been inside the hospital somehow Friday without checking in or checking out, the hospital spokeswoman told her that a lot of famous people visit Vail and that it's hard to keep track of all of them.
Late in the evening, however, the vice president's office confirmed that Cheney had in fact been inside the hospital. Cheney spokeswoman Lea Anne McBride told the Associated Press that the vice president, who was in Vail for an American Enterprise forum, had met with Dr. Richard Steadman to evaluate an old football injury to his knee.
But that doesn't square with the story Huffington was hearing in Vail. In a follow-up post, Huffington says her sources tell her that, after Cheney checked in with Steadman, he paid a visit to a Dr. Jack Eck in the hospital's cardiac unit and that he had a prophylactic EKG there.
"So now in the space of 48 hours, we have three stories," Huffington writes. "Why all the secrecy? And if this was only a routine knee check-up, why check in under a false name, Dr. Hoffman -- which sources tell us is the name of the vice presidents doctor in Washington. And if it was a routine knee exam, why not have Dr. Steadman go out to Beaver Creek, where Cheney was staying? And why is the White House so forthcoming with health details about President Bush, including his cholesterol increasing from 167 to 170 and his body fat percentage increasing from 14.5% to 18.25%, but somehow the nation doesn't have the right to know what exactly the vice president was doing at the Vail hospital?"
How much stock you put into Hufffington's story depends pretty much entirely on how much credence you give to the stories she's hearing from her sources. If Cheney visited a cardiologist and got an EKG, then Huffington has begun to uncover some kind of cover-up. If he didn't, then all we've got here is a hospital sort of denying that the vice president was in its midst -- the sort of lie by omission you hear all the time from cops and other locals who have been told that they're not supposed to say anything about the whereabouts of a visiting dignitary.
The thing is, you just don't know. And given the dissembling and stonewalling that have become the stock in trade of this administration -- not to mention the complacency of the national press -- you're probably never going to. As Huffington herself says, there are "so many questions," and yet "so little leveling with the American people."