We’re darn near six years into this nonsense, but still the White House can beat the press corps like a drum. I’m referring to Cheney’s comment that waterboarding detainees was a “no brainer,” which the White House has managed to turn into a story about what Cheney really said or what he really meant by what he said.
There’s no legitimate doubt about what Cheney said and what he meant. Cheney knows it. The President knows it. So do Tony Snow and the whole White House press corps. Yet we have this spectacularly silly dance–clever people being too clever by half: Snow and Cheney’s staff cleverly parsing the interview, and the press cleverly trying to trip up the parsers.
The whole episode has been converted from a story about torture to another in the endless series of stories about the strange relationship between the press and this White House.
The Vice President’s comments came in a radio interview on Tuesday. Jonathan Landay of McClatchy Newspapers was the first to report its significance in a story late Wednesday that was straightforward and direct, unburdened by the clever word games that would come later.
The Washington Post didn’t run its first story on the interview until its Friday edition. Its follow-up piece today is headlined “Cheney Defends ‘Dunk the Water’ Comment.” I don’t know how denying he meant what he said constitutes defending his own comment, unless running fast and far in the opposite direction no longer constitutes a retreat. The story also describes what it calls “ambiguities in the waterboarding debate.” The “debate” referred to is not about whether torture is moral or lawful, but whether Cheney actually meant waterboarding or merely a “dunk in the water.”
The New York Times‘ first report on the interview didn’t appear until today, in a story that deals almost exclusively with Snow’s Friday press conference and the fallout associated with Cheney’s remarks. It’s a story about the White House “fending off” questions, as if the center of gravity in this historic departure from democratic norms were the White House press room instead of the dank corners of secret prisons or the solemn enclaves of our courts.
No thinking person believes Cheney was referring to anything other than waterboarding. The White House is unable to explain what else Cheney could have been referring to. Yet the leading papers are unable to cut through the malarkey.
I suppose the only thing we work harder at being in denial about than Cheney’s comments is the fact that we have used waterboarding and other forms of torture. Every thinking person knows that to be true, too, and it shouldn’t take Cheney’s slip of the tongue to convince us.