WASHINGTON -- Look who's talking. Vice President Dick Cheney is accusing the press of "cheap-shot journalism" in covering the Bush administration, claiming "people don't check the facts."
Cheney is miffed over a raft of stories about his ties to Halliburton Co., a Houston-based energy conglomerate, which is a major recipient of U.S. contracts to rebuild Iraqi.
While he's lecturing about accuracy, Cheney should do some fact-checking of his own statements about Iraq's weapons of mass destruction. The vice president's pre-war chant about such weapons helped lead the nation into war.
Now, despite an intense hunt for that arsenal since the U.S. military took over Iraq last spring, the vice president is having difficulty accepting the reality that those weapons were a fantasy of the administration's pro-war hawks.
It appears that even David Kay, who heads the U.S. weapons hunters scouring Iraq, is about to throw in the towel.
Cheney gave his press critique in an interview with conservative commentator Armstrong Williams.
The vice president conceded that a free press is "a vital part of society" but he added: "On occasion, it drives me nuts." What drives him nuts, he continued, is "when I see stories that are fundamentally inaccurate."
"It's the hypocrisy that sometimes arises when some in the press portray themselves as objective observers of the passing scene, when they obviously are not objective," he said.
"Not everybody is guilty," he said, "but it happens."
Let's see what the vice president is upset about. Well, for one thing, the news media keep pointing out that Cheney had served for five years as CEO of Halliburton, which has received $5 billion in government contracts -- many of the no-bid variety -- for Iraqi reconstruction.
Cheney still has financial ties to Halliburton, despite his denials. He continues to receive deferred compensation from the company, including payments of about $150,000 in 2001 and $160,000 in 2002. Additional payments are forthcoming.
In addition, the vice president has some 433,000 shares of unexercised Halliburton stock options, due to expire between 2007 and late 2009. Cheney has said he will donate the options to charities. But the options will have value only if Halliburton's stock price improves.
This is the same Halliburton that has been accused by a Pentagon audit of overbilling the U.S. military by $61 million for gasoline.
"There are a lot of people in the press who don't understand the business community," Cheney said.
He scoffed that only the administration's political opponents have accused Halliburton of "favoritism" in getting those contracts.
"There is no evidence to support anything like that," Cheney said, "but if you repeat it often enough, it becomes a sort of article of faith." Cheney could have been explaining his repetitious line to the American public about Iraq's weapons of mass destruction. If you repeat it enough, it becomes accepted truth.
In August 2002, Cheney told the Veterans of Foreign Wars: "Simply stated, there is no doubt that Saddam Hussein now has weapons of mass destruction, no doubt that he is massing them to use against our friends, against our allies and against us."
In the same speech, he warned that Saddam, "armed with an arsenal of weapons of terror, and seated atop 10 percent of the world's oil reserves ... could subject the United States or any other nation to nuclear blackmail."
Last March 16, the vice president said on NBC-TV's "Meet the Press" that "we believe (Saddam) has, in fact, reconstituted nuclear weapons."
Cheney later tried to slide off that statement. He did "misspeak," he said, and that what he really meant to say was that Iraq had "weapons capability," rather than actual weapons.
The vice president's salute to a free press is undercut by his intensive campaign to keep secret the names of those he consulted with when he was designing the administration's energy policy. This information should be in the public domain.
Conservation groups have complained that their views on energy were largely ignored.
Judicial Watch and the Sierra Club have sued for access to that information. A federal court ruled in favor of discovery and the court of appeals agreed. The U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to hear his appeal.
Maybe Cheney has forgotten that he no longer works for a private corporation and that, instead, he is a public servant, doing the public's business that should be conducted in the daylight.
Since he took office as vice president, Cheney has operated in the shadows, being very careful not to leave fingerprints.
He has little accountability and zero credibility when it comes to Iraq. He limits his public speeches to conservative groups and Republican fund raisers. When the administration is pushing its war theme, he is farmed out to the televised Sunday talk shows to repeat his now discredited arguments for war.
And so we catch occasional glimpses of the person many people believe is the real power in the White House.
But when it comes to Cheney's advice to the media, the vice president would be well advised to follow his own recommendations.
We check our facts, Mr. Vice President. You should, too.
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