A tough new Dick Cheney biopic is triggering some conservatives. Have they learned nothing?
So instead, I am summoned to a more urgent, if distasteful, task: to try and explain why anyone in the conservative movement (or anywhere else) would want to normalize Dick Cheney—let alone flat-out cheer for him. After all, this was a man who left office with an approval rating as low as 13 percent.
.. That’s lower than Richard Nixon when he resigned, lower than Jimmy Carter when he was replaced by Ronald Reagan. It’s as low as Herbert Hoover during the Great Depression and as low as Barack Obama among Republicans and conservatives.
Even today, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump both have triple the approval ratings that Cheney left office with.
.. To plagiarize what Andrew Sullivan famously said about Hillary, anyone with Cheney’s destructive track record towards his own movement should have been drummed out “under a welter of derision.”
.. We don’t have to be “ordered” to remember and revere historical figures like Reagan, MLK, and JFK, or be shamed into doing so. But who the heck did Dick Cheney ever benefit outside of the corporate-crony one percent?
- What small, non-monopoly business did he ever give a chance to grow?
- What did he do to improve our schools and police?
- What did he do for balanced-budget conservatism, as he overruled Alan Greenspan and his own treasury secretary, gloating that “deficits don’t matter”?
- How did Cheney make us more secure, with Iraq and Afghanistan all but ruined, Iran and Syria feeling stronger every day,
- and ISIS having wrought its destruction—and with Osama bin Laden still livin’ large for two-and-a-half years after Cheney retired?
- How do you defend someone who literally went to the Supreme Court to keep the minutes of his infamous 2001 energy task force meetings secret (they were co-chaired by Kenny-Boy Lay during the height of Enron’s rape of California’s power grid),
- while at the same time suggesting the outing of a truly top secret CIA agent (Valerie Plame) just to get revenge on her journalist husband?
- How did Cheney uphold Ronald Reagan’s mantra of curbing big government excesses when he justified warrantless surveillance and straight-up torture?
- And what lasting benefit did Dick Cheney bestow on the conservative or Republican brand, with Barack Obama winning the biggest landslides since Reagan and Bush Senior?
It was my respected colleague Kelley Vlahos who solved the mystery of why some members of the Beltway press just can’t quit Cheney: “because they still won’t admit that the war was wrong.” Bingo. Expecting the U.S. to export insta-democracy to decidedly non-Western cultures? Putting overwhelmingly Christian and Jewish “viceroys” in charge of historically Muslim nations? Gee, what could possibly go wrong…
.. As chilling and thrilling as Christian Bale is as Dick Cheney, perhaps no scene in Vice is as squirmy as Richard Dreyfus’s impersonation of Cheney in Oliver Stone’s W., when he stands in front of a CGI map in the War Room and smirkingly announces, “There is no exit strategy. We STAY!” (If that scene didn’t actually take place, it might just as well have.)
.. Still, there are scenes in Vice that come close. For a biopic about a man who defined the adage “personnel is policy,” it’s fitting that director Adam McKay, who has a strong comedy background, chose actors who are known for being funny just as much as for their work in dramas. Those include Sam Rockwell as George W., Tyler Perry as Colin Powell, and Steve Carell as Donald Rumsfeld. (Reuniting Bale and Carell also indicates that McKay rightly sees Vice as an unofficial prequel to his financial meltdown dark farce The Big Short.) Like the aforementioned W., McKay’s Vice is a sometimes frenetic, sometimes eerily calm black comedy satire. And like Josh Brolin in W., Sam Rockwell plays George Jr. as an easily played and comical doofus. There’s no doubt in this film as to who the real president was from December 2000 to the end of 2008
.. Watching Bale as a terse, leering, manipulative young reactionary as he grindstones and plays people against each other from the late ‘60s to his Bush-Cheney heyday, one is struck by his shameless entitlement. Cheney uses movement conservatism and old boy connections as his own Uber. If Christian Bale is a slim and athletic man trapped in a fat and ugly body, Cheney sees himself as the Richelieu or Machiavelli of his own real-life movie, trapped just one step behind the real decision-makers—until he finally gets that chance to ride his horse from Aqueduct to Santa Anita.
.. The other key role among these garbage men is Amy Adams’ take-no-prisoners performance as Lynne Cheney. Mrs. Cheney had the straight-A brains and Ph.D.-level drive to be a powerful judge or executive in her own right, and was, according to Adams, a better “natural politician” than her husband. But as a card-carrying member of the Phyllis Schlafly/Anita Bryant/Beverly LaHaye-era Right from rural Wyoming, Lynne had less than zero plans to transform herself into another bra-burning icon. Instead, “she lived her [considerable] ambitions through her husband,” as Adams said. Adams even added that compared to the iron-fisted Lynne, her husband Dick might have been the “velvet glove”!
.. And as these Cheney-rehabilitating articles prove, Lynne wasn’t the only one who got off on Dick’s raw exercise of power and privilege. Watching Dick Cheney at work must have been intoxicating for a Dwight Schrute or Montgomery Burns in his small pond, for someone who coveted the kind of vulgar bullying power that Cheney wielded. It was no accident that Stephen Bannon famously and semi-humorously put Dick Cheney in his own hall of heroes, behind only Darth Vader and Satan, citing Cheney’s peerless talent at “disrupting” established orders... And if you’re a Never Trumper, just recall that a key reason Trump and Ted Cruz were the last Republicans standing in 2016 was because Cheneyism had so discredited the old “conservative” establishment... Sorry, I’m just not there for conservative writers infantilizing Cheney and going all triggered snowflake at what big meanies the Hollywood libr’als are being to him. Christian Bale said it himself: “[Cheney’s] a big boy…he says himself he has no remorse, no regrets, he’d do everything again in a minute.” Exactly.
“We’re a no-fluff, very fast-paced live news service meant to inform,” said Charles Herring, Robert’s son and president of Herring Broadcasting, which owns One America. “News anchors are not allowed to express opinions. They simply deliver the news and we leave it up to the viewers to decide. It’s not our family’s mission to determine the news.”
Nonetheless, Robert Herring has repeatedly shaped the news on OAN. During the campaign, for example, he banned stories about polls that showed anyone other than Trump in the lead, according to emails and interviews with OAN journalists.
.. Early one morning in March 2016, Herring emailed producers with a directive, two hours before former GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney was to denounce Trump as “very, very not smart”: “Do not carry the Romney speech live,” Herring wrote. “Romney has no standing. . . . He is a loser. We will let the people decide.”
.. “The owner of the company became the de facto news director,” said a former OAN producer who quit because the coverage of Trump had become “too slanted.” “He has a ton of influence over every aspect of the newscast. He has stories written on his whim.”
.. “We started out with the premise of news straight down the middle,” said Cassie Leuffen, an anchor at OAN from its birth through the 2016 election. “But the bias does reveal itself in the story selection. The owner really felt this was what was needed. He saw the popularity of Trump before almost anybody, and Trump became our bread and butter.”
.. “We looked at MSNBC and Fox and I kept thinking that Rachel Maddow and Bill O’Reilly had the same format — one person spending an hour beating three or four subjects to death. CNN was moving in the same direction, away from hard news. There was a lane for us to hit the news down the center and lean right.”
.. Robert Herring’s idea was to provide something that had gone missing from the cable news landscape — a basic headline service covering national and international news.
.. The channel he created is a rapid-fire cavalcade of headlines. Most stories run well under a minute. Almost all of the reports are read by the anchors over video footage provided by the Reuters, Associated Press and Euronews services, as well as by RT, the Kremlin-funded news outlet that a U.S. intelligence report calls “Russia’s state-run propaganda machine.”
OAN has only four correspondents of its own, based mainly in Washington. Earlier this month, in 16 consecutive stories, those reporters interviewed only conservative lawmakers and experts — a sharp contrast from Fox and MSNBC, which, despite their overt political leanings, routinely include the other side in their reports.
.. OAN breaks its cycle of half-hour newscasts only for two hours of evening opinion shows — The Daily Ledger with Graham Ledger and Tipping Point with Liz Wheeler — both of which are guns-blazing nightly tributes to Trump. Ledger is a tough guy who takes no prisoners. Talking about people coming into the country from majority-Muslim countries, he says, “If they won’t take a bite out of a pulled pork sandwich, we probably won’t let them in the country.” Wheeler leans more on clever snark and verbal eyerolls: “How many innocent people have Islamophobes killed this week? Yeah, that’s what I thought.”
.. Charles Herring said the shows are the only part of OAN that “leans right,” a direction he said is based not on his family’s political views, but on “survey data.”
.. OAN was an exciting, attractive place for budding journalists right out of college. Here, they could skip the traditional first step of toiling in the hinterlands and move directly into work on big national stories.
.. In the channel’s first couple of years, OAN writers, producers and anchors said they were mostly left alone to determine the content of the newscasts. After Trump announced his candidacy, things changed.
“We should ALWAYS take the trump speeches live in their entirety,” executive producer Lindsay Oakley wrote to her staff early in the campaign. “I don’t want producers’ personal feelings getting in the way of the news content we provide. Trump is being treated unfairly by the mainstream media and we need to provide the other side. . . . Not to mention we have loyal viewers that tune in specifically to see the Trump speeches live because no one else carries them. We also see some of our highest ratings during the Trump speeches.”
.. OAN employees recounted receiving reprimands signed by Robert Herring or being called into his office to be dressed down for “insubordination” when they ran stories he disapproved of.
“Please please please avoid ferguson stories!!!” Oakley wrote after OAN aired a report on Ferguson, Mo.’s battle with the Justice Department over reforms to the city’s police and court systems following an officer’s shooting of an unarmed black man. A story that aired three times on the channel “made police look bad and Mr. H. has told all of us not to do that. Please just avoid ferguson stories all together.”
.. Herring ordered that OAN minimize coverage of Pope Francis’s U.S. visit in 2015 because the pope had urged comprehensive action against climate change.
.. Producers said Herring repeatedly urged against running stories critical of Russia. (Herring’s online streaming company, KlowdTV, features a package offering just Herring’s own channels and RT. Another package adds Glenn Beck’s The Blaze and Newsmax.)
.. OAN airs few commercials; the Herrings are skeptical of advertising as a prime revenue source, relying instead on subscriber fees that cable systems pay content providers for their programming.
.. “Obviously, they’re not in it for the money, because they’re bleeding money,” said Armstrong Williams, the conservative commentator and TV station owner, who gave the Herrings advice as they were launching OAN. “They’re believers; they care about balancing the media. I saw them as good guys, a little green, without a full idea of what this was going to cost. It’s amazing they’re still up and running.”
Wood, one of the channel’s first writers, said OAN is Robert Herring’s “way to hobnob with political figures and maybe have some political influence. This is one man’s hobby.”