(updated below - Update II - Update III)
Over the weekend, Dick Cheney -- at John King's prodding -- accused Barack Obama of, among other things, lying to the public about his proposed domestic policies, taking advantage of the financial crisis to foist enlarged government on unsuspecting citizens, and leaving us all more vulnerable to slaughter by the Terrorists. When asked about those comments, White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said: "I guess Rush Limbaugh was busy, so they trotted out the next most popular member of the Republican cabal. . . . Not taking economic advice from Dick Cheney might be the best possible outcome of yesterday's interview."
Some reporters are horrified that Dick Cheney would be spoken of with such disrespect. CBS' Chip Reid immediately objected (and the video conveys even more than the words how offended he was):
Can I ask you, when you referred to the former Vice President, that was a really hard-hitting, kind of sarcastic response you had. This is a former Vice President of the United States. Is that the attitude -- is that the sanctioned tone toward the former Vice President of the United States from this White House now?
Dick Cheney is one of the most divisive -- and disliked -- political officials in memory. Maybe Chip Reid and Rick Klein haven't heard, but he just presided over the virtual collapse of the American economy and is directly implicated in severe war crimes and other pervasive criminality. Yet they speak of him -- and demand that everyone else treat him -- as royalty: This is the former Vice President of the United States you're talking about; have you no decency?
Journalists love to depict themselves as hard-nosed, rambunctious, ornery adversaries of establishment orthodoxies and political power. The reality is the opposite: there simply is no class of people more reverent of the political establishment and more devoted to protecting and defending its prerogatives. Of all people, journalists ought to be embarrassed to publicly play the role of decorum enforcers when it comes to how the politically powerful are treated. They should be the last ones -- not the first ones -- demanding that controversial political figures be treated with the type of profound reverence typically reserved for religious leaders and monarchs. Identically, in the most minimally healthy political culture, high political leaders would be the least entitled, not the most entitled, to be shielded from cutting political criticism.
Note, too, that Reid and Klein aren't bothered by Cheney's rather extreme accusations about Obama. Only Gibbs' far more mild reply has offended their establishment-devoted sensibilities. For many of these sycophantic, needy TV journalists, Dick Cheney is still the icon of Serious Protective Republican Authority -- that which, more than anything, merits our deep respect and gratitude. We've become a society that sees the President (and those nearest him) no longer as public servants accountable to anyone, but rather, the ultimate expression of revered authority deserving of glorification and homage. And it's the "watchdog" journalists who, as a class, embrace and enforce that twisted ethos more than anyone else. They are the ultimate and most loyal servants to the political establishment.
It's hardly a mystery why most media stars refrained from criticizing, let alone investigating, the crimes of the Bush era, and it's even less mystifying why they now so vehemently oppose investigations and prosecutions. They are offended merely by insufficiently reverent comments about the "former Vice President of the United States." The idea of actually investigating him and treating him like what he is (an accused criminal) is, for them, beyond the pale of what can be considered in decent society.
UPDATE: Andrew Sullivan has more on these episodes, including a focus on John King's embarrassingly sycophantic behavior towards the Former Vice President of the United States of America. While I agree entirely with Sullivan's general analysis, I couldn't disagree more with the characterization of John King as "a usually fair and very well-informed reporter." King's behavior with Cheney (see here and here) is extremely typical. There are few more worshipful fan boys of Republican politicians and few more vapid and ill-informed TV journalists than he. He and King-clone David Gregory were promoted more or less at the same time and there is great cosmic meaning in that parallel.
UPDATE II: In 2007, Jimmy Carter -- a former President of the United States -- harshly criticized the Bush administration and this is how the Bush White House responded:
But, in a break with this norm, Mr. Carter delivered a blistering critique of President Bush in two interviews released Saturday. And, on Sunday, the White House responded in kind, calling his comments “sad” and Mr. Carter himself “irrelevant”. . . .
The deputy White House spokesman, Tony Fratto, responded Sunday while speaking with reporters in a middle school gymnasium near Mr. Bush’s home here.
“I think it’s sad that President Carter’s reckless and personal criticism is out there,” Mr. Fratto said. “I think it’s unfortunate, and I think he is proving to be increasingly irrelevant with these kinds of comments.”
Did Rick Klein and Chip Reid -- or any other prominent journalists -- object to the outrageous disrespect shown by a Bush White House spokesman to a Former President of the United States?
Is Robert Gibbs' open disdain for Cheney acceptable to a president who promised to move beyond petty political squabbling? And does the president agree with Gibbs' description of the loyal opposition as "the Republican cabal"?
How bizarre that Cheney can accuse of Obama of the most heinous acts (and, in my view, Cheney is perfectly within his rights as a citizen to do so), and the glorified gossip columnists who play the role of journalists on TV (what Walsh calls "prissy hall monitors") can hardly contain their anger over Gibbs' far more mild response.
More to the point: imagine what things might be like if TV journalists had shown just a fraction of the interest in, and outrage over, Dick Cheney's torture and chronic lawbreaking as they have for these petty offenses to his honor and good name.