It was news when Vice President Dick Cheney came out of his bunker to blast Barack Obama before he was even inaugurated as president. There was Cheney, on PBS Jan. 14, insisting Obama would "put the nation at risk" if he kept his promise to discontinue Bush-Cheney interrogation/torture policies. Never in modern history had a sitting vice-president attacked a new administration so harshly before it even got started. But the interview made headlines, deservedly. "NewsHour" anchor Jim Lehrer asked tough questions and got interesting answers. It was good journalism.
Less than a month later, Politico went back to Cheney, and the former V.P. made similar shrill allegations. He blasted Obama for pledging to close Guantánamo prison, and distorted Obama's position: "When we get people who are more concerned about reading the rights to an al-Qaida terrorist than they are with protecting the United States against people who are absolutely committed to do anything they can to kill Americans, then I worry," Cheney said. On March 15, Cheney raised the alarm level with CNN's John King. "President Obama campaigned against it all across the country, and now he is making some choices that, in my mind, will, in fact, raise the risk to the American people of another attack."
OK, got it. Cheney's regime was repudiated by Obama and the American people, Cheney's not happy about it, he makes hysterical accusations; next story. Three months, three crazy charges. But Cheney kept popping out of his hole and repeating his rants, and it started to seem like "Groundhog Day": New morning, same story, the alarm goes off and Cheney's still singing. But the coverage didn't stop. Some of it was from right-wing outlets: Sean Hannity in April, radio talker Scott Hennen in May.
Also in May there was a CBS "Face the Nation" interview and a speech to the conservative American Enterprise Institute. All of Cheney's specious, tedious attacks got covered widely, as though they were news, when they were not.
The silliness continued all year, with Cheney making headlines for the same charges (as well as an idiotic attack on Obama for bowing, ignoring the bow his old boss Richard Nixon gave to then-Japanese Emperor Hirohito). But this bogus story reached its low point Dec. 1, with yet another breathless Politico interview: "Dick Cheney slams President Obama for projecting 'weakness'" – on the eve of Obama's speech announcing an escalation in Afghanistan. Back in the day, Cheney and friends would have called that kind of criticism traitorous, especially at such a crucial time. But Politico just transcribed Cheney's rant and ran it as its top story.
A lot of liberals blast Politico for carrying the GOP's water, and its symbiosis with the Drudge Report seems beyond dispute. To be fair, it also breaks some news. So it was sad to see top editors John Harris and Jim Vandehei serving as Cheney's stenographers on one of the most bogus stories of the year. They have the resources to do better; let's hope they do in 2010.