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Thursday, February 16, 2006
Noonan, Cheney and Templates
By Dr. Steven Taylor @ 11:12 am

Today in the WSJ Peggy Noonan notes that the Cheney accidental shooting story isn’t really going to wholly go away in the same way that other, in many ways inconsequential stories about other politicians have lingered:

The Dick Cheney shooting incident will, in a way, go away. And, in a way, not-ever. Some things stick. Gerry Ford had physically stumbled only once or twice in public when he became, officially, The Stumbler. Mr. Ford’s stumbles seemed to underscore a certain lack of sure-footedness in his early policies and other decisions. The same with Jimmy Carter and the Killer Rabbit. At the time Mr. Carter told the story of a wild rabbit attacking his boat he had already come to be seen by half the country as weak and unlucky. Even bunnies took him on.

Same with Dick Cheney. He’s been painted as the dark force of the administration, and now there’s a mental picture to go with the reputation.

Neal Gabler, Senior Fellow at the USC Annenberg Norman Lear Center and regular panelist on Fox News Watch, likes (ok, loves) to talk about media “templates” that get applied to stories and analysis in the mass media. He notes that the media tend to be lazy and operate in herd-like fashion. Certainly he has a point, and clearly such templates affect (and are affected by) general public perceptions.

In regards to Cheney, the template has long been that he is mean, secretive, an elitist and is part of an administration that sees itself as above the law.

Without any debate on the merits of the elements of that template, it doesn’t take a genius to see that the duck hunting story fits it perfectly.

When an event so readily converges with the prevailing notions of person, it reinforces existing stereotypes, and no amount of grousing about the fairness of that fact will stop that reinforcement. And the situation is strengthened when there are partisan element to the affair.

Not only are Noonan’s examples of Ford and Carter apt, but think about Gore and Kerry.

Gore acquired the label of a truth-stretcher and Kerry of a flip-flopper. The template in both cases rose to the point that any hint of the expected behaviors were amplified. A key example would be Kerry’s “I voted for the $87 billion before I voted against it” quote. Now, that was a huge political gaffe—indeed, a gift-wrapped sound bite for Rove & Co. Still, the resonance of the statement was radically amplified by the fact that Kerry had already been established as a Super Waffler.

Now, pro-Kerry partisans could explain it all away when plausible explanations of the nature of votes in the Senate, or simply not see the damaging nature of the quote in the first place. Nevertheless, the damage was done.

Of course, one could go on and on. How about Dan Quayle? Misspell a few words and you’re doomed (at least if the population already is questioning your intelligence).

While I am not sure that this incident will lead, as Noonan suggests it might, to the replacement of Cheney—although I do agree with her, it is almost certainly a thought that has flitted across the minds of some in the White House.

At any rate, I expect this story to have a lingering effect on Cheney’s (and the White House’s) image.

As such, to treat this story as simply a normal hunitng accident that has not relevance beyond a hyperactive press is to miss the realy signifiance of the event. A mistake, for example, that Thomas Sowell makes in his column on the subject.

Filed under: US Politics, MSM | |Send TrackBack


  1. And Bill Clinton was known for…

    Comment by AllenS — Thursday, February 16, 2006 @ 7:09 pm

  2. this guy from the Lear center sounds like he’s trying to rename “framing,” which isn’t anything he necessarily came up with, but …

    The Cheney story is so overblown it’s pathetic. I read the transcript of the white house gaggle on Monday and it sounded like a bunch of spoiled children asking why they couldn’t buy the toy. Seriously.

    And then I hear daniel schorr on NPR this afternoon WASTING THREE MINUTES OF PRECIOUS PUBLIC AIR SPACE going on and on about this as if it were watergate 2,342. Reminds me why I am not a member.

    Was it “just an ordinary hunting accident?” Certainly not. But it was significantly less than it’s been made out to be by the press, which apparently can’t find any REAL NEWS to report about in Washington these days.

    Comment by bryan — Thursday, February 16, 2006 @ 7:29 pm

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