Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Cheney Shoots a 78 Year Old Man in the Face

I know. That's not really new news anymore; it happened four days ago (though we didn't find out about it until 3 days ago). But still, it's pretty noteworthy. For the first time in two centuries the Vice President of the United States shot a man. It's not happened before in the lifetime of anybody alive and is unlikely to recur during our lifetimes. It's pretty newsworthy. Heck, even Cheney thinks so, saying "I've been in the business for a long time and never seen a situation quite like this. We've had experiences where the president has been shot. We've never had a situation where the vice president shot somebody." Seems odd, then, that an organization that calls itself "Fox News" would find un-newsworthy. It's just another accident, I guess. Heck, in this administration, accidents are quite common; president chokes on a pretzel, president falls off his bike, president falls off a Segway. Shooting a 78 year old man in the face might seem, to this administration and the Fox news fluffers, to be just business as usual.

Except...well, except for a few niggling details. It's nice that Deadeye Dick came out today, on Fox News, to admit that the whole thing was his fault, that he shouldn't have shot a 78 year old man in the face, but then he kept talking and ruined the whole thing. Somehow he thinks, as he wants us to believe he did over the weekend, that the best way to announce to the world that the Vice President of the United States shot a man is to have his host announce it to the local paper. Because, he said on "Fox News", "We really didn't know until Sunday morning that Harry was probably going to be OK, that it looked like there hadn't been any serious damage to any vital organ. And that's when we began the process of notifying the press." So, I guess he's saying there was no point telling anybody until they had the whole story. Wouldn't want to be leaking partial information to the press, confusing everybody. That wouldn't do. So they waited 'til Sunday, then had Katharine Armstrong, at whose blood-stained ranch Cheney shot a 78 year old man in the face, make an anouncment to a Corpus Christi newspaper. Why her, and why a local paper? Because she was an eyewitness, she grew up on the ranch, and she's "an expert in all this." Apparently a lot of 78 year old men get shot in the face on her ranch. In any case, Cheney felt that having the right person tell the story at the right time to the right news outlet would ensure that no garbled message got out. "I thought that made good sense because you can get as accurate a story as possible from somebody who knew and understood hunting and then it would immediately go up to the wires and be posted on the Web site, which is the way it went out and I thought that was the right call," Cheney said.

Except that, well, that didn't work out so well, did it? According to Cheney today, "You can't blame anybody else. I'm the guy who pulled the trigger and shot my friend. You can talk about all of the other conditions that exist at the time, but that's the bottom line and — it was not Harry's fault." Which kind of contradicted what Ms. Armstrong told the press, when she said the 78 year old face shot victim "came up from behind the vice president and the other hunter and didn't signal them or indicate to them or announce himself." This was picked up by Scott McClellan yesterday, who said, "Protocol was not followed by Mr Whittington when it came to notifying others that he was there." Maybe for the sake of getting accurate information out to the press, relying on the owner of the dark and bloody hunting ground wasn't such a good idea.

And how about that cooperation with local law enforcement. Why was Elmer Fudd not available to talk to the heat until Sunday? Could it be so that his blood alcohol level could return to acceptable levels? I know, it's not fair to speculate like that, but perhaps if Cheney hadn't been so secretive and tried to keep this out of the news and, oh yeah, talked to the police right after the "accident" as anybody else who had just shot a 78 year old man in the face would have had to, maybe then there wouldn't be so much room to speculate.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

The Glorious Press

Yesterday morning I was in a lounge in a Fullerton hotel eating breakfast and reading the newspaper with a television on in the background. As near as I can tell the television had on a news program. It’s hard to be sure, though, because for the half an hour or so that I was there, there seemed to be only two stories that were covered: a fire in Malibu and Britney Spears failing to strap her child into his child seat. At first, not paying attention, I thought the two stories were somehow related, drawing an image in my mind of Spears failing to strap the child in the seat as she hurriedly rushing away from the fire. When the program cycled back to the Spears story though, it turned out not to be even that interesting; she was allegedly fleeing papparazi. I should emphasize here that the not interesting evaluation is mine, not the station’s. Clearly they thought it one of only two stories worth covering, acing out the Anaheim Hills fire, the Corretta Scott King funeral, various Bush Administration scandals, and everything else happening in LA and the world at large other than Malibu fire.

That fire is what really grabbed their interest. In the absence of freeway chases, I imagine fires is as good as it gets on television news. It’s colorful, it crackles, it gives you spectacular sunsets, and there’s always somebody who can be portrayed as being in peril from a fire. This one had school and road closures and nice helicopter visuals showing the Pacific Ocean in the background. It didn’t have much real news value, though. Neither Highway 1 nor any of the major roads through the canyons seemed to be imperiled and from the visuals they were showing, it seemed to be a pretty small fire. After awhile the fluff heads in the “newsroom” started talking about a burned out car found on a roadway near the fire. With no apparent evidence that the fire started at the car they spent about 5 minutes speculating about how a car fire, a car fire beginning at this particular car, was the “likely” cause of this fire. As far as I could tell from what they were saying, all they knew about this car was what they could learn of it from the shots from the helicopter.

My point, such as it is, is that at 7:30 in the morning, a television station serving the second most populous city in the country could find nothing truly newsworthy to report on and on the main story it did deem fit to cover it was reduced to making things up. Apparently this is a satisfactory arrangement for the people of LA. If this is all we demand of our TV news, broadcasting on the public airwaves, is it really any wonder that we have a war in Iraq, a Governor Schwarzenegger, and a President Bush?

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Pot, Kettle

In the letter he released to the press, thereby publicly airing what had heretofore been a private dispute between he and Barack Obama, Senator John McCain (R-Ego) wrote that the Illinois Senator had engaged in "self-interested partisan posturing."

More than anybody else, McCain speaks with authority on such things.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Decision Making

Kevin Drum was surprised by this excerpt from Richard Posner, who is often thought of as a conservative judge, “The way I approach a case as a judge — maybe you think it heresy — is first to ask myself what would be a reasonable, sensible result, as a lay person would understand it, and then, having answered that question, to ask whether that result is blocked by clear constitutional or statutory text, governing precedent, or any other conventional limitation on judicial discretion.”

What surprises me here is Kevin’s surprise. When I’ve worked in labor relations, whether as an advocate or in dispute resolution, I’ve found myself employing a similar approach. When you read a grievance you first react according to what sounds right to you, then look to the law or contract to see what is technically correct, then see how you can make things fit. I imagine something like this is how most decisions get made.

About 10 years ago I took the Myers Briggs test and was shocked to find that, according to the test, I made decisions intuitively. I’d always thought of myself as a rational person. When I examined that, though, I found that what I typically do is make a decision intuitively and then try to come up with a rational justification for it. Sometimes that fails and I’m forced to either change my initial decision or abandon trying to rationalize it. I thought at the time that this decision making “process” was probably unique to my type of personality. Reading Malcolm Gladwell’s “Blink,” however, it seems that it is in fact very common. We make decisions and judgments immediately, based on our store of knowledge and experience, and then, if necessary, sort through that knowledge and experience to try to explain the decisions.

So I guess what’s surprising about what Posner wrote isn’t so much that that’s how he approaches cases, but that he would admit to it.
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