The Magazine


Looking for the party line on Cheney? Here it is.

Dec 29, 2008, Vol. 14, No. 15 • By CHRISTOPHER WILLCOX
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Then there is the use of the unattributed quotation when a sharp knife is required. One commission insider, a Cheney admirer who did not want to be named, said the vice president and his staff "had their plans" for presidential succession "and their plans were going to be by fiat." This comes at the end of a chapter alleging the vice president's efforts to get the speaker of the House removed from the chain of succession should the president and vice president be incapacitated in a terrorist attack.

There is the cherry-picking of evidence. Much is made, for example, of an Australian intelligence report debunking the purchase by Saddam Hussein's Iraq of electronic maps of the United States and of the doubts regarding aluminum tubing suspected of being useful in making centrifuges for a nuclear bomb. Angler reflects almost none of the fairly consistent foreign intelligence agreement that Saddam had, or was close to having, weapons of mass destruction. The fact that Saddam used such weapons on the Kurds is not even mentioned.

And finally, there is the use of political enemies to skewer the prey. Every sentient being inside the Beltway knows that former Majority Leader Dick Armey hates Cheney, so who does Gellman call for the money shot on the Cheney legacy? Here's Armey on Cheney: "I think that most of the time history is about a presidency, and a president. And the vice president is almost always a footnote in that story. But I believe that in this case history is going to treat both the president and the vice president unkindly almost in equal part."

History may well judge this vice president and his boss harshly. They certainly were dealt a turbulent eight years, and historians will be sifting the evidence for years to come. But Angler won't be a must-read for historians. Perhaps some fair-minded journalism professor will serve it up someday as a case study in media bias.

Christopher Willcox, former editor in chief of Reader's Digest, was deputy assistant secretary of defense during 2001-05.