Cheney's Rules for the Press

By Dan Froomkin
Special to
Wednesday, February 28, 2007; 2:26 PM

After nine days of almost completely ignoring the small pool of reporters who diligently followed him around through seven countries, Vice President Cheney yesterday finally agreed to a short group interview. But only on one condition: The reporters would have to agree not to tell anyone that the person they talked to was him.

Cheney's insistence on being identified as a "senior administration official" -- even when the transcript shows he spoke in the first person -- is in some ways laughably trivial.

But in other ways, the vice president's decision to extort reporters into a ridiculous agreement reflects the contempt Cheney has for the press corps.

Chicago Tribune reporter Mark Silva, for instance, filed a slew of informative, detailed and richly textured pool reports about the trip -- most of them reposted on the Tribune's Washington-bureau blog, The Swamp.

In one pool report last week, Silva slapped down as absurd rumors in the blogosphere that an earlier briefing he described as being from an administration official had actually been from Cheney himself. "I do not use that term when describing the vice president," Silva wrote.

But yesterday, when Silva and others were summoned to the front of Cheney's C-17 cargo plane on the flight out of Afghanistan, he found himself forced to change his policy.

"Sometimes, the rules in which we are confined by the White House throw all good reason to the wind," Silva wrote in an e-mail to me early this morning. "I had two options, not to report what the SAO said or to report it by the rules. Felt it was more important to report what was said."

As it turns out, this particular case was so absurd that some reporters -- who weren't directly a party to the agreement -- have blown Cheney's cover sky high.

David E. Sanger writes in the New York Times: "Vice President Dick Cheney, thinly veiled as a 'senior administration official,' told reporters on his plane on Tuesday that it was not correct that he 'went in to beat up on' the Pakistani president, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, for failing to confront Al Qaeda and the Taliban.

"'That's not the way I work,' said Mr. Cheney, violating the first rule of conducting a background interview: never refer to yourself in the first person, when it makes it obvious who is talking. 'The idea that I'd go in and threaten someone is an invalid misreading of the way I do business.'"

Terence Hunt writes for the Associated Press: "Who was the mystery official on Vice President Dick Cheney's plane? There were plenty of clues about his identity if you read a transcript of his remarks. . . .

"The transcript did not spell out why the official on Cheney's plane would not be quoted by name."

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