A look inside Dick Cheney's secretive world

A summary of what's in the major U.S. newspapers.
June 24 2007 6:04 AM

Private Dick

The Washington Post leads with a looming teacher shortage, but devotes the majority of its front page to the first installment in a series examining Dick Cheney's "largely hidden and little-understood role in crafting policies for the War on Terror, the economy and the environment." The New York Times leads with a look at Cape Verde, the tiny West African nation that acts as a case study in global migration. The Los Angeles Times leads with a very long (nearly 6,000 words) report that will make you think twice before renting a U-Haul trailer. After a yearlong investigation, the Times found that "the company's practices raise the risk of accidents on the road."

In 2001, shortly after Dick Cheney took the oath of office, Dan Quayle tried to explain to him that vice presidents don't really do much. As Quayle recalls, Cheney smirked and explained that he had "a different understanding with the president." Indeed, he did. The WP notes that from the start, Cheney has had an unprecedented mandate to play a role in whatever areas of the administration he chooses. In this report, the Post goes behind the scenes and explains how Cheney's secretive maneuvering allowed him to guide the administration's policies in the war on terror. Most striking is how potential dissenters are left out of the loop. For example, as Cheney's small cadre of legal experts was drafting plans for a domestic surveillance program, they bypassed the ranking national security lawyer in the White House (as well as Congress).

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Online the WP publishes readers' comments directly below the Cheney piece. Someone named Sheri Rogers asks a particularly pertinent question: "What do we have to do to get the press to do a better job of critical reporting when it's happening instead of six-and-a-half years later?" (To its credit, the Post has broken or moved along a number of stories on the administration's more secretive programs.)

TP likes that the NYT has used its lead to look at migration from a global perspective, instead of simply focusing on America's southern border. But the topic is so broad, even with regard to Cape Verde, that the piece becomes a bit unwieldy. We meet an H.I.V.-positive man who's been kicked out of the United States, a boy studying to become a Dutch citizen, a woman who relies on her granddaughter's remittances, a child whose mother and father have emigrated, a local man whose business is failing because so many people have left the country … TP could go on. Nevertheless, if you can keep up, it's a great piece of journalism.

Complete with multiple photo galleries and an impressive interactive graphic, the LAT lead will make sure you remember the words "trailer sway" before making your next move. In the most severe cases, trailer sway (when a trailer swings from side to side) can cause you to lose control of your car and flip (see the graphic).

TP was somewhat skeptical of the LAT report when he read that since the government doesn't keep track of such accidents "[i]t is unknown how many U-Haul customers have crashed because of trailer sway." But the "statistical snapshots" provided by the company in litigation and cited by the Times are reassuring (from the perspective of a media critic … not so much as a driver). For example, in one lawsuit, "U-Haul listed 173 reported sway-related accidents from 1993 to 2003 involving a single trailer model." In other cases, the company "has listed up to 650 reported sway-related wrecks from about 1990 to 2002 involving two-wheeled trailers called tow dollies." U-Haul says people are packing the trailers incorrectly, driving too fast or doing something else wrong.

The NYT plays catch-up with a front-page story on Iran's "ferocious" crackdown on dissent. The LAT led with it two weeks ago, while the WP stuffed it last weekend. It seems the NYT has talked to the same Iran experts as the WP. The analysts describe the crackdown as either an "attempt to roll back the clock to the time of the 1979 revolution" (NYT) or an "attempt to steer the oil-rich theocracy back to the rigid strictures of the 1979 revolution" (WP). All in all, the NYT report doesn't bring much new to the table.

No matter which paper you read, the situation in Iran is pretty depressing. The government is harassing (and, in many cases, jailing) anyone who dares to challenge its policies. For a quick glimpse into the nightmare, check out the unbelievable photo that tops the NYT report (online at least). It shows a police officer forcing a man whose clothes were deemed un-Islamic—he's wearing a T-shirt—to suck on a jug that Iranians use to wash themselves after defecating. (Such photos are distributed by the government to dissuade folks from dressing in ways it considers provocative.)

The NYT fronts word that Gen. David Petraeus' progress report on Iraq will have competition, as the administration is commissioning other assessments. But perhaps the Times has buried the lede. "The reality," officials told the Times, "is that starting around April the military will simply run out of troops to maintain the current effort. By then, officials said, Mr. Bush would either have to withdraw roughly one brigade a month, or extend the tours of troops now in Iraq and shorten their time back home before redeployment."

Staying in the Middle East, Fatah has rebuffed an offer from Hamas to hold talks on re-forming the power-sharing government that was dissolved earlier this month amidst fresh violence.

The WP says the United States will soon face a teaching shortage, "[a]s hundreds of thousands of baby boomers retire and the No Child Left Behind law raises standards for new teachers." Hmm, TP has heard this one before. But the Post's report does seem to be based on empirical data. Three-quarters of public school teachers are women and one study shows that from 1964 to 2000 the share of female college graduates who became teachers dropped from 50 percent to 15 percent.

The former presiding judge of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court yesterday criticized President Bush's (or Dick Cheney's) warrantless surveillance program.

"The first comprehensive survey of 2008 battleground House seats shows Democrats holding a distinct edge," reports the WP.

Larry King will be the first to interview Paris Hilton after she gets out of the clink. But the most tempting headline of the day can be found elsewhere in the NYT: "Man Throws a Log at a Bear, Killing It."

TP's Top Five List … The top five most secretive things about Dick Cheney from the WP lead:

5. "In the usual business of interagency consultation, proposals and information flow into the vice president's office from around the government, but high-ranking White House officials said in interviews that almost nothing flows out."

4. "Man-size Mosler safes, used elsewhere in government for classified secrets, store the workaday business of the office of the vice president."

3. "Even talking points for reporters are sometimes stamped 'Treated As: Top Secret/SCI.' "

2. "Cheney declines to disclose the names or even the size of his staff, generally releases no public calendar and ordered the Secret Service to destroy his visitor logs." (Three in one!)

1. "His general counsel has asserted that 'the vice presidency is a unique office that is neither a part of the executive branch nor a part of the legislative branch,' and is therefore exempt from rules governing either."

Roger McShane writes for the Economist online.

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