I was just commenting on Roger Simon's blog about the Cheney hunting accident, and had some thoughts that I wanted to expand a little.
To me, the most interesting --- albeit sort of frustrating --- thing about this whole kerfluffle is the degree of ignorance it reveals. Not 100 percent --- I saw someone on (I think) MSNBC last night demonstrating what happened and explaining why it's no big deal. (Clearly David Gregory wasn't watching just then.) But I've heard at least a dozen examples of completely ignorant statements like "shot him with 28 gauge buckshot."
Probably the silliest one was in correspondence with a conservative writer. I made the same complaint about the underlying ignorance of the press, and he responded "but it was the Vice President and a rifle" --- which (for the city folks) pretty much settled my point: a shotgun isn't a rifle. (In fact, I told my elderly, infirm, and somewhat demented mother this and she immediately responded "but it wasn't, it was a shotgun." She may have trouble remembering what day it is, but that struck her instantly.)
When I pointed this out, the conservative city boy writer responded that at least he could read Proust. In French.
Now, what is the lesson of this? Here's what it looks like to me.
First, it's another demonstration that not only do you not necessarily have to know anything about anything to be a "journalist", but increasingly it doesn't occur to them that they even need to learn anything about a topic in order to report on it. We see it regularly with the military, where the most astonishing absurdities are reported as fact, and we're seeing it now, with statements like "28 gauge buckshot".
You might properly ask what difference it makes, and I would suggest this: if you don't know enough to understand the story when you report it, what are the chances that what you report will be correct?
Second, there was this hilarious assumption that if you do know the difference between a rifle and a shotgun, you wouldn't have read Proust. (I pointed out that while I hadn't read Proust in French, I read Goethe in German and Sunzi in Chinese.. That'll teach him to try to pull intellectual rank.)
Third, this ignorance and contempt isn't a "liberal" vs. "conservative" thing, or a party thing. There are as many people saying silly stuff on the right as on the left.
Finally --- maybe most importantly --- is that this is the most glaring example I've ever seen of the aggressive and adversarial approach the press is taking. Questions like "is Cheney going to resign?" are so excessive and over the top that they're hard to explain, even for the scandal-prone press. Combine that with the showboating anger of David Gregory --- how dare Cheney not call an immediate press conference --- and it doesn't make a pretty picture.
If the press is both arrogantly ignorant, and on the hair-edge of shouting anger, what kind of filter is there on other things we're hearing?