John P. Wheeler as 'Outer Planet'

Several readers have written to ask -- some genially, some less so -- why I sounded so peeved about the Fox News headline on news of Jack Wheeler's death. "Cops: Former Bush Aide Killed, Found in Landfill."

No doubt part of it is general frayedness on my side, but the rational part of me was -- and is -- objecting to the oversimplification and (I think) revealing political reductionism of this presentation. As I mentioned yesterday, Wheeler had in fact worked as a second-tier appointee during the GW Bush administration-- a Special Assistant, for logistics, to the Secretary of the Air Force. But this amounted to being a "Bush Aide" about as much as his service as a SEC junior lawyer during the Carter Administration made him a "Carter Aide."* To me the test would have been: if you'd gathered 100 people who knew Wheeler and asked each of them to write 100 descriptions of him, I bet that exactly zero of the results would have been "Bush Aide." But this was the lens through which one major organization immediately and instinctively saw this news item; that's what I found noteworthy.

Mark Thompson, at Time's Swampland site, did a far better job of coming up with a two-word epithet, when he presented Wheeler as an "outer planet" in the Washington solar system. His portrayal of Wheeler today is unromanticized but realistic, in suggesting the passions, oddities, and principles of the man. I am sorry for and still puzzled by Jack Wheeler's death but welcome accounts like this of his varied parts.
* Yes, I realize that Special Assistants are usually Schedule C "political" appointments and staff attorneys are not, but no one has previously imagined that a special assistant to a service secretary is a "presidential aide."