While other reporters flocked en masse to Denver for the Democratic National Convention, one of Washington’s leading wordsmiths/anglers, Weekly Standard senior writer Matt Labash, flyfished with Vice President Dick Cheney on the South Fork of the Snake River in Idaho.
“At the risk of being publicly ridiculed, quarantined, or stoned, I’ll just say it straightaway: I really like Dick Cheney,” Mr. Labash confesses. “In fact, many of the parts of Cheney’s public persona that repel others, I rather enjoy.
“I’ve always liked his ruthless non-sentimentality in an age of lip-biters and te a rsquir ters. I like that you’re never apt to hear him invoke ‘the children’ as a reason for peddling some unrelated initiative. (‘I’m not a baby kisser,’ he once said on the campaign trail.) I like that he doesn’t seem to care about being liked, which is lucky for him, since his approval rating hovers at 18 percent.”
Obviously, it could not have been easy talking Mr. Cheney into embarking on a 10-mile float trip through God’s country with a Washington reporter sharing his boat.
“Many had warned me of Cheney’s lust for silence on the river,” notes Mr. Labash, recalling diplomat and journalist Ken Adelman once writing: “Despite pleas over the years, [Mr. Cheney] adamantly refused to take me fly-fishing in Wyoming. When pressed, he finally explained, ‘You talk too much to go fly-fishing.’”
Still, the vice president, who likens fishing to a religion, was assured by his handlers that Mr. Labash was so obsessed with catching fish on a fly that he slept in his fishing vest while spooning his fly rod. Regardless, the scribe would have to tread — and cast — carefully.
“He winces when I pull my tape recorder out of my chestwader pouch,” recalls Mr. Labash at one point, at which time Mr. Cheney admits: “You know the only reason I agreed to this? I wanted to see what kind of reporter had the cojones to convince his editors to pay for him to come fish the South Fork.”
Mr. Labash took the opportunity to lunch with Jack Dennis, a longtime friend and fishing guide of Mr. Cheney who has introduced fly-fishing to everyone from Harrison Ford to Arnold Palmer.
“Perhaps the strangest moment for Dennis,” Mr. Labash now reveals, “was one afternoon on the river, just days after Cheney had a heart defibrillator implanted. Dennis says Cheney was reclining in the boat with ‘his head leaned back — he’d never done anything like that. I went back to look and see if he was breathing.’ Cheney popped open one eye and asked, ‘What are you doing?’
“ ‘I’m checking to see if you’re breathing,’ Dennis said.
“ ‘Well, so what?’ Cheney snapped back. ‘What would happen if I wasn’t? Will you just not worry about me? Leave me alone and whatever happens happens. I can’t think of a better place to
die than right here.’”
Vice President Dick Cheney is said to liken fishing to a religion, and he prefers to fish in silence.