Jonathan Alter Endorses the Fox "Bonnie & Clyde" Analogy

February 25th, 2006 12:15 PM

Newsweek Senior Editor and columnist Jonathan Alter has been inflating the Bush-Cheney duo into an Evil Empire of sorts, utterly undeserving of office (and acting "like a dictator." ) His column this week was titled "The Imperial Vice Presidency," which would have been a laughable headline in the pre-Cheney days. Alter began by endorsing the wild rhetoric of CNN's biggest hothead: 

Fox News's exclusive interview with Vice President Dick Cheney was, as CNN's Jack Cafferty sniped, "like Bonnie interviewing Clyde," but Brit Hume posed some good questions.

From there, Alter spun the theory that the modern presidency (and vice-presidency) must submit to press scrutiny, for the press is a proxy for the public: 

Then, in 1933, Franklin D. Roosevelt instituted twice-weekly press conferences and transformed the idea of accountability in Washington. Politicians have felt obligated to accept the press as proxy for the public ever since. President Nixon had to put up with Dan Rather, President Reagan with Sam Donaldson. Bill Clinton learned the hard way that presidents don't get a private life.

Alter doesn't answer the question: what happens when the "proxy for the public" is instead a proxy for the liberal fraction of the public, as in the Clinton years. Who in the press wanted to make sure Clinton didn't "get a private life"? They went limp-noodle soft on any question of Clinton's sexual misadventures. They didn't want to believe the Flowers story, so they didn't push. They didn't want to believe the trooper story, so they didn't push. They didn't want to believe the Paula Jones story, and wow, was Newsweek really awful to her when they didn't want to believe her. Alter tries to argue that the size of your traveling retinue is the size of your accountability to the press:  

Their taxpayer-funded traveling retinues have become so large (Cheney even travels with his own medical team) that pretending to be normal citizens wouldn't wash. When Al Gore said there was "no controlling legal authority" on his fund-raising, it was at a hostile press conference, not an interview with The Harvard Crimson.

But by that standard, when Clinton's Energy Secretary Hazel O'Leary went to South Africa with a retinue the size of a football team, she should have been treated like a President? No. Alter senses great hostility from Cheney to the people's so-called representatives:  

His message to the Washington press corps is the same as the one he delivered to Sen. Patrick Leahy in the Senate cloakroom, when the Democrat had the temerity to criticize him: "Go f--- yourself." By not holding a press conference since 2002, Cheney is telling the men and women assigned to cover the White House that they are irrelevant. No wonder they went crazy after learning of the shooting accident from a Texas paper.

First of all, it's quite silly to insist that a vice president should hold regular press conferences. In Cheney's case, wouldn't that only underline the idea that he's really in charge, and Bush is the second banana? This line, that the media is treated as irrelevant and unworthy, can easily be turned around on the liberal media. What is your attitude toward your conservative critics? Is it any warmer than a "GFY"? Not at Newsweek, who when pressed, says only "grow up," and claims the need to wear a button saying, "Yeah, I'm In The Media, Screw You!"  Then Alter demonstrates a lack of media sophistication:

Was his contempt for the "MSM" (mainstream media) so over the top that it will create a backlash against future White House efforts to keep reporters at bay? Or perhaps we are witnessing a variation on the "K Street Project," where congressional Republican leaders would deal only with lobbyists loyal to the GOP. We'll see how Sean Hannity likes it when a future Democratic president or vice president gives interviews only to NPR and The Nation.

Has a Democratic president ever given an exclusive interview to The Nation? That line is just weird. The point is, a Democratic president has a plethora of friendly liberal ("objective") outlets to choose from -- the Big Three, the major newspapers, those lefty news magazines, NPR, PBS -- and a Republican president has the demonized conservative media like FNC and the Washington Times. Alter then defends making mountains out of molehills if it lets the press make a nasty point:  

When the press believed that Reagan was tilting toward the rich with his hard-to-explain tax policy, Nancy Reagan's acceptance of expensive White House china briefly became an issue. These feeding frenzies are unattractive, but the alternative is worse—reporters knowing an important truth about politicians and not letting the public in on it.

He concludes with his snottiest line, one that Rich Noyes thought was worthy of the dishonor of a Notable Quotables citation:

The shooting could hardly be a better metaphor for Cheney. It neatly packages his faulty judgment, insularity and arrogance in a story that is not cataclysmic on its own terms but will prove hard to forget. That's too bad for Cheney, and certainly for Harry Whittington. But it is a blessing for anyone hoping to restore some accountability to a government that increasingly believes it is a law unto itself.