I’m in London. I meet a friend for lunch and am told, conspiratorially, that Dick Cheney is actually running the US government because while you can see the White House in detail in Google Earth, The Naval Observatory where Cheney lives is pixelated. Who says, and what’s one got to do with the other, I ask? “The Guardian wrote that in an article,” I am told. Sure enough, here it is in a piece from last Monday, which begins:
Is this the real president of the United States?
He rarely speaks in public and closely guards his privacy. But there’s a growing consensus in America that it’s Dick Cheney who calls the shots at the White House, on everything from the war in Iraq to climate change policy. Ed Pilkington reports
Monday July 23, 2007
It is a party trick well known to curious teenagers across America. Zoom down on Washington via Google Earth and you get an extraordinary eagle-eyed view of the world’s greatest powerhouse. There’s the White House and its West Wing. There’s the spot where they put the national Christmas tree festooned with lights. Sweeping south-east across the Potomac you soar above the pentagon of the Pentagon; then back up a bit north and you can sit for hours counting the tiles on the roof of the Lincoln memorial. But there is one thing you can’t do. If you scroll over the site of the vice-president’s official residence, all you will see, mysteriously, is a blurry fuzz.
The 46th vice-president of the US, Dick Cheney, has a fondness for remaining invisible. It doesn’t matter whether it’s Google Earth or a bank of television cameras, he won’t play ball. He rarely presents himself to the media, and when he does so he likes to keep it in the family.
I think we can safely conclude that it is now received wisdom that Dick Cheney has had that imagery censored. After all, not only have Maureen Dowd and Jon Stewart said as much, we now have reputable British newspapers stating this as a fact. Never mind, of course, that you can buy uncensored versions of the imagery for $35 online, or for $0 if you are willing to live with “preview” watermarks. Google is just using an outdated dataset, is all.
It’s sort of depressing to watch a lack of understanding about how such imagery is captured, processed and published turn into an baseless urban legend, mostly among those who at the same time accuse the Bush administration of having rushed to judgment on Iraq without first considering the evidence.