Mondays are normally a target rich environment for television talk show hosts that, like most Americans, take weekends off. After all, they’ve got more days to cover than normal. And, given a major East Coast snowstorm, a Congressional report on how the three levels of government handled the Katrina disaster, two air marshals facing drug charges, Saddam returning to trial, Alabama church burnings, the United Nations calling for the closure of the detention center at Guantanamo Bay, clashes in Haiti, and Tehran threatening to abandon a nuclear treaty, you would think that there was a lot for any member of the press to really sink his/her teeth into today. Yet, for some reason, Chris Matthews decided to spend the better part of three quarters of Monday’s 7PM EST installment of “Hardball” discussing a quail hunting accident the vice president had this weekend.
Matthews began: “Questions, questions, questions. The vice president of the United States shoots someone in the face late Saturday afternoon. Why didn`t he tell us? Why did Cheney wait until today, Monday, to talk to the president?”
In reality, it seemed that Matthews was the one with questions, and was thoroughly annoyed that the vice president of the United States, after accidentally shooting a close friend while hunting, didn’t immediately call a press conference to alert the media. This indignation went so far that NBC News chief White House correspondent David Gregory and Matthews actually discussed whether or not the vice president was calling the shots, and, therefore, had too much power. From closed captioning:
Matthews: How much power does the vice president have?
Gregory: I think he has a lot of power. And apparently enough power to set the ground rules for how the public is notified about his activities even when it is apparently at odds with how the White House communications staff likes to involve and inform the public about the president.
Matthews: Did he ask permission to handle it this way? Did he simply tell the president by fiat, “I'm handling this with Katherine Armstrong, my hostess, and that's what it will be. Get with the program.” I'm getting this, listening to you and all the other reports, mainly yours, that he simply informed the president how he would handle it.
Gregory: I mean, frankly, it is not even clear that the president was directly informed how the press strategy would unfold here.
Luckily, former Wyoming senator Alan Simpson was available to offer some sane perspective in the midst of the ranting and raving:
“I tell you, if I had a ranch and I had a hunting party out there and there was an accident in the hunting party, let me tell you -- I wouldn`t want to say anything. That`s the way it really is in a ranch, especially a big ranch where you`ve invited people, they are your guests, and you don`t want to say, ‘There`s been a terrible accident at my ranch,’ so obviously the hostess didn`t want to tell that and I doubt that Cheney was going to interfere and tell it. But it will never be told that way. Let me tell you, if you owned a ranch and you had a bunch of horseback riders, one of them gets bucked off and break their neck, what are you going to do, call the local paper? You don`t. You try to get things sorted out and that`s what they did. But it will never be portrayed that way.”
Matthews then asked the question that has been clearly bothering him since this story broke, and Simpson adroitly answered:
MATTHEWS: Yes, well then he`s -- I mean, I just think that`s a question people say, "Doesn`t he have a special responsibility to somebody in line to be president and vice president of the United States, to let people know that something this serious happened this Saturday?"
SIMPSON: Nothing happened to the vice president, so what did the people of America need to know? Nothing happened to the vice president, nothing.
MATTHEWS: But he was the shooter in an accident that shot a guy.
SIMPSON: That`s right.
MATTHEWS: You don`t think that`s newsworthy?
SIMPSON: I -- all I know, Chris, after a life in Washington, Dick Cheney, and I`m not paranoid, is not popular with the media. They don`t like him because he`s aloof and he doesn`t answer their questions and sometimes he tells them to stuff it. And so any time Dick Cheney makes a fluff, it`s going to be the news of the day. I have been called by 20 different news agencies today as if they had bombed Iraq again. I mean, this is nuts, absolutely nuts.
Yes, Senator, it sure is.