MSNBC Anchors Lash Out at Cheney; Wonder If He’s of a ‘Rational, Healthy Mind'

MSNBC anchors David Shuster and Tamron Hall on Thursday lashed out at a speech Dick Cheney gave that was critical of Barack Obama, speculating on whether the Vice President is of a "rational, healthy mind." Attempting to attack the Bush administration’s handling of Afghanistan for eight years, News Live co-host Tamron Hall dismissed, "Is it selective amnesia?"

Shuster and Hall seemed particularly upset over Cheney’s speech on October 21 where the Vice President accused Obama of "dithering" on an Afghanistan strategy and also being "afraid" of making a decision. Talking to Newsweek reporter Michael Isikoff, Hall bristled, "As a woman, of course, I read in all kinds of machismo with this language, you are afraid to come out with a decision, almost taunting there."

The liberal Shuster could barely contain himself. Commenting on Cheney’s frail physical condition, he taunted, "What do you think he is after here, assuming that he is of some sort of rational, healthy mind?"

Dropping all pretense of objectivity, Shuster inserted this aside about the ex-VP and whether or not he should be speaking out about Afghanistan: "Vice President Cheney got, what is it four, five deferments that kept him out of serving in Vietnam?" Continuing his open cheerleading, he said of the Obama administration’s response: "And the White House is talking about Dick Cheney, a man who is reviled so in so many parts of this country."

MSNBC certainly does nothing to negate its image as reflexive defenders of everything the President does. Shuster and Hall seemed to take great offense at Cheney’s offense of speaking out.

A transcript of the News Live segment, which aired at 3:16pm EDT on October 22, follows:

TAMRON HALL: And former Vice President Dick Cheney has surfaced again to accuse President Obama of, quote, dithering on a new strategy in Afghanistan.

DAVID SHUSTER: Tamron, last night in a speech to a conservative group called Keeping the Flame, Cheney said President Obama is putting American troops and the country in danger. Cheney defended torture, attacked President Obama's decision to scale back the missile shield in Europe and suggested President Obama is scared to make a decision.

DICK CHENEY: Having announced his Afghanistan strategy in March, President Obama now seems afraid to make a decision and unable to provide his commander on the ground with the troops he needs to complete the mission. It's time for President Obama to make good on his promise. The White House must stop dithering while America's armed forces are in danger.

SHUSTER: Today, White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs noted it was the Bush administration, not President Obama, that took its eye off of Afghanistan.

WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY ROBERT GIBBS: I think it’s pretty safe to say that the Vice President was, for seven years, not focused on Afghanistan. Even more curious, given the fact that an increase in troops sat on desks in this White House, including the Vice President's, for more than eight months. A resource request filled by President Obama in March.

SHUSTER: Michael Isikoff joins us now. He is an MSNBC contributor and investigative reporter for Newsweek. Uh, Michael, I’ve had Republicans from across the spectrum today say that Cheney shouldn't have weighed in, should have butted out to. One Republican even suggested it was so bizarre for Cheney to be the one making this argument and noted that Cheney didn't look well, that maybe there's something medically wrong with the Vice President or his emotional state. Do you know of anything that's happening with him?

MICHAEL ISIKOFF (Newsweek): No. I mean, he has obviously had plenty of health problems in the past. But- And, you are right, just in that brief clip you showed, he didn't sound at his best but certainly the words were vintage Dick Cheney.

SHUSTER: What do you think he is after here, assuming that he is of some sort of rational, healthy mind? What is he after by putting himself in to this?

ISIKOFF: The same thing he was after all year in the multiple speeches and comments he has made attacking President Obama's policy, vindication. He sees Barack Obama's election last year and the platform he ran on as a repudiation of eight years of the Bush/Cheney administration as a rejection of the policies that they adopted. And Cheney seems to be on a crusade to show that he was right and everybody else was wrong.

HALL: That he is right and everyone else is wrong. Is he- is it selective amnesia? The last eight years of what happened there and that even the troops on the ground believe that it was the forgotten war by the Bush administration?

ISIKOFF: Right. I mean, it is very hard for Dick Cheney to take this argument too far because, after all, if Afghanistan is a mess, and most everybody now agree it is is a mess, it didn't become so in the- in the nine months of the Obama administration. Clearly the problem was there at the time President Obama took office. One thing that Cheney didn't mention in his speech last night, there was a National Intelligence Estimate at the end of last year that found Afghanistan was in a downward- downward spiral. That was under the Bush administration. Now, he is right that the- as things began to deteriorate last year, the Bush White House undertook a review and a comprehensive review and reported on the need to do something about Afghanistan when Obama took office. But that begs the question of how did it it get to become such a mess?

HALL: And there was also a very curious use of words in his remarks, Michael, when he said that the administration was afraid to do something. As a woman, of course, I read in all kinds of machismo with this language, you are afraid to come out with a decision, almost taunting there.

ISIKOFF: Right. Well, look, very clearly, the Cheney strategy, which is to a great extent the Republican Party strategy, is, no surprise, to depict Obama as weak on national defense, as being unable- not muscular enough to defend the country. This is a traditional Republican line of attack. It is worth remembering this was Karl Rove's essential line of attack for the entire Bush administration on Democrats. It’s how the Republicans kept control of the congress in 2002 and in very- in very many ways, was able to push through its- the congressional authorization to invade Iraq. They put Democrats on the defensive. If you dare to vote against this, we are going to show you as weak. We’re going to show you as not strong enough to defend the country against evil terrorists. So, you know, that basic line of attack is now we are just hearing echoes of what we have heard for many years before. Whether it is going to be as effective now against President Obama, given the mounting public questioning about the war in Afghanistan remains to be seen. There is a lot of public discontent out there about whether we should be getting deeper involved, more deeply involved in Afghanistan, risking more American casualties or not and it makes the politics very dicey.

SHUSTER: And speaking of it all, Michael, there are a number of lawmakers, Democrats and Republicans, who actually served in the military, who argue there should be more troops sent to Afghanistan? Vice President Cheney got, what is it four, five deferments that kept him out of serving in Vietnam? What has been the political reaction today to Vice President Cheney, essentially, sucking up the air, the oxygen in this room on the debate? People aren't talking about John McCain's position today. And the White House is talking about Dick Cheney, a man who is reviled so in so many parts of this country.

ISIKOFF: Look, the White House loves if they can depict this as Barack Obama against Dick Cheney. Cheney's poll numbers are about as low as you can get. I think from Cheney's perspective, they think they have got the better of the issue of this, that if Obama doesn't grant General McChrystal's request for more troops, he is going to be vulnerable. We don't know about that as I said before, the politics of this are very dicey. But it's the issue, the merits of the issue versus the political match up. And I think the White House would much prefer this to be a -- about Barack Obama versus Dick Cheney than the specifics of the argument itself.

SHUSTER: Yeah. You almost wonder, Michael, if there is somebody at the White House who is secretly encouraging Vice President Cheney to take the stage at every opportunity. Mike Isikoff, thanks so much. We appreciate it.

Scott Whitlock
Scott Whitlock
Scott Whitlock is the senior news analyst for the Media Research Center and a contributing editor for NewsBusters.org