Wednesday, February 15, 2006

When the story is the story

So Dick Cheney shot a guy accidentally. Y'all hear about that? The guy, fortunately, is going to recover and get back out there (though, since he's 78, a slight change in room temperature could set him off, one would think).

The thing is, this is a one day story. Since it was an accident (and no one but the MOST malicious factions of the left-wing Internets suggests otherwise), there's "nothing to see here" beyond an update when the guy leaves the hospital. But it's stretched on for almost half a week. Why?

In most cases, the temptation would be to blame the media (in most cases, that temptation would be correct). But every so often, politicians just hand the media a story on a platter. This is one of those occasions.

When you look at the truly great presidential scandals of the last 50 years or so, the ones that really WENT somewhere, you're looking at instances where the media was led down rabbit trails full of suspicious looking stuff. Watergate wouldn't have become Watergate if Woodward and Bernstein weren't blocked at every track by the White House. The Lewinsky affair might have died down if Bill Clinton had just initially told the press that he HAD, indeed, had sex with that woman.

And look outside of the political realm. How much disgrace has been heaped upon Barry Bonds and Mark McGwire? I don't mean to say that their alleged drug use would have been laughed away, but America appreciates honesty more than trying to cover your tracks. And think of all of the celebrity scandals that could have been averted by simply telling the truth from the outset.

The Cheney thing BECAME a story because the Bush administration acted like it had something to hide. No matter how innocent the story is, if you sock your guy away, try to blame the other guy, fail to report the issue for some amount of time and switch up your story several times, you're going to look like you've got something to hide.

I really, really, really highly doubt Cheney has anything to hide. Had he just come clean initially, had he gotten on TV and said, "I shot that man accidentally, and my thoughts and prayers are with him. I feel terribly about this," he would've escaped the worst of this non-story story. He would have been mocked on late night television, of course, but who isn't nowadays?

When you are the subject of a story, what is said about you (after the initial story breaks) can still be controlled by you to a very real degree. Americans want to feel you're telling the truth. Clinton figured that out, and that's why his poll numbers rebounded (you may feel he was still lying, but the majority of Americans didn't at the time). Nixon could never wrap his head around that.

So there you go. If you ever accidentally shoot a major donor to your political party, just come clean. I know you want to look perfect, but save yourself the grief.

ETA: I just saw the Cheney interview that happened today. It was well done and adequately explains away most questions. I would not be surprised if the story died down now. However, since it's really out of the White House's control now, I would not be surprised if it kept going either.

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