On the occasion of President Obama reversing course on plans to release photographs "depicting the abuse of detainees," a decision wildly unpopular on the hard left, The Washington Post's lead story Thursday was "As Cheney Seizes Spotlight, Many Republicans Wince." There's only one obvious problem with Dan Balz's front-pager. Those "many Republicans" are too timid to attach their names to all the wincing.
Balz is left with a weak story with on-the-record Cheney defenders, on-the-record Democrat Cheney-bashers, and Republican "strategists" who "are not willing to take him on in public."
Question for the Post: how do we know these "Republicans" aren't strategists for Arlen Specter? We don't. They're anonymous. How many is "many" if they're too afraid to go public? We're left with quotes like this:
Cheney remains powerful enough that most of his GOP critics are not willing to take him on in public. "The fact that most people want to talk [without attribution] shows what a problem it continues to be," said one Republican strategist who spoke on the condition of anonymity in order to be candid. "Cheney continues to be a force among many members of our base, and while he is entirely unhelpful, no one has the standing to show him the door."
But wait: how is someone both candid -- and anonymous? Will they be candid enough to offer their services to candidates with resume lines like "willing to stab you in the back once the media's decided you should be unpopular"?
We don't even know who this allegedly candid "strategist" has worked for. They could be 23 years old. They might have voted for Obama in the last election, like Colin Powell. Here's another:
Another GOP strategist, who also spoke on the condition of anonymity, pointed out the conundrum for Republicans over the former vice president's current role. "Even if he's right, he's absolutely the wrong messenger," this strategist said. His main worry, he added, is that Cheney keeps the public focused on the past, rather than the future. "We want Bush to be a very distant memory in the next election. The more Cheney is on the front burner, the more difficult it's going to be."
That's a fair argument, if it's made fairly: by someone willing to put a name and a face to it. But there's another argument: that allowing Democrats to demonize Bush and Cheney endlessly is a recipe for sustained defeats.
The Post also published a chart to accompany the Balz story, making a big deal out of the fact that Cheney's appeared four times on Sunday talk shows in the first five months of 2009, more "than in any year since 2002."
This story shows bias by story selection. By choosing this date to publish this story, right next to the Obama-infuriates-MoveOn.org story, reeks of politics. Scott Wilson's front-page story on Obama's shift on detainee photos carries absolutely no political or polling analysis on whether his "war on terror" action or inaction is a political danger for the Democrats. "Many Democrats Wince" was not the Post's theme.