ABC & CBS Move On; NBC Again Leads with Cheney & Raises Alcohol Consumption

ABC and CBS largely moved on from the Dick Cheney hunting mishap story Thursday night as, for the first time this week, they led with other subjects. Both held their Cheney coverage to short items on President Bush expressing satisfaction with Cheney’s Wednesday explanation to FNC’s Brit Hume. But for the fifth straight day, the NBC Nightly News led with the topic with reporter Kelly O’Donnell stressing Cheney’s alcohol consumption. Anchor Brian Williams set up her piece by asserting “the questions that continue tonight have to do mostly with the damage this bizarre accident has caused.” O’Donnell zeroed in on how the local sheriff’s department report relayed how victim Harry Whittington “called it an accident and told investigators, 'foremost there was no alcohol during the hunt.'” O’Donnell, however, raised doubts about such a conclusion: “The report makes no other reference to any drinking or that any blood alcohol tests were ever done. The Vice President did say in his Fox TV interview that he had a beer at lunch, noting that was hours before the shooting.”

She then moved on to how “observers say the whole ordeal has weakened Mr. Cheney's influence." Her “observers”? One soundbite from David Gergen. O’Donnell concluded with how “senior advisors make the claim that because the White House has now answered some questions, the American people should be satisfied, too.” (Transcript follows.)

ABC’s World News Tonight led with, in the words of co-anchor Elizabeth Vargas: “President Bush asks American taxpayers for another $65 billion for operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. The total is approaching half a trillion dollars.”

The CBS Evening News began, as announced by anchor Bob Schieffer: “The United Nations says the American prison at Guantanamo Bay violates international law and should be shut down."

ABC’s short item on Cheney and Bush’s comments, as handled by Elizabeth Vargas:
"Also in Washington, President Bush weighed in for the first time today on Vice President Cheney's hunting accident, saying Mr. Cheney had, quote, 'handled the issue just fine. '"

George W. Bush, in the Oval Office: "It was a deeply traumatic moment for him and obviously for the, it's a tragic moment for Harry Whittington. And so I thought his explanation yesterday was a very strong and powerful explanation, and I'm satisfied with the explanation he gave."

Vargas: "The sheriff's office in Texas announced today that it has closed its investigation into the hunting accident, and that no charges will be filed. Diane?"

Co-anchor Diane Sawyer then chipped in:
"One more note on that story, Elizabeth. The man the Vice President accidentally shot, Harry Whittington, remains in stable condition in a Corpus Christi hospital. And doctors say he's in good humor and could go home in the next few days."

Over on the CBS Evening News, Bob Schieffer related:
"President Bush made his first public comment today on the hunting accident involving his Vice President. The President said he believes Mr. Cheney handled the issue, quote, 'just fine.'"

George W. Bush, in the Oval Office: "And so I thought his explanation yesterday was a very strong and powerful explanation, and I'm satisfied with the explanation he gave."

Schieffer: "The man the Vice President shot on Saturday, Harry Whittington, remains in stable condition in a hospital. Doctors say he could go home in a few days."

Now, as provided by the MRC’s Brad Wilmouth, a full transcript of the lead story on the February 16 NBC Nightly News. Brian Williams, in opening teaser, with “Case Closed?” on screen:
"Case closed? Tonight, President Bush says he is satisfied with the Vice President's explanation about his hunting accident. Also, the Texas sheriff says there will be no charges filed."

Williams, in Torino, opened his newscast:
"Good evening. The White House made it very clear today, in their view, this story is over. The Vice President, after all, has taken full responsibility for the accidental shooting of a hunting partner who continues to improve in a Texas hospital. No charges will be filed in the case, and today the President spoke for the first time about the incident that has drawn a lot of unwanted attention to his number two man. The questions that continue tonight have to do mostly with the damage this bizarre accident has caused. We begin once again at the White House tonight with NBC's Kelly O'Donnell."

Kelly O'Donnell: "From the Oval Office, the President's first word on the Cheney shooting."

George W. Bush: "And I thought his explanation yesterday was a powerful explanation."

O'Donnell: "Mr. Bush offered sympathy for both the shooting victim and the Vice President."

Bush: "And it was a deeply traumatic moment for him and obviously for the, it's a tragic moment for Harry Whittington."

O'Donnell: "While in Texas today, the last word from authorities who investigated the hunting accident."

Chief Deputy Gilberto San Miguel, Jr., Kenedy County Sheriff's Department: "The case is closed, like I said, and no criminal charges and that's going to be the end."

O'Donnell: "Today the sheriff's department in Kenedy County, Texas, released a two-page incident report with the descriptions of official interviews conducted with the Vice President Sunday and the first account from shooting victim Harry Whittington, taken Monday morning at the hospital. The report says Whittington ‘requested not to be recorded due to his voice being raspy.’ The wounded 78-year-old expressed ‘concern this incident would bring a bad image to hunting in Texas.’ Whittington called it an accident and told investigators, 'foremost there was no alcohol during the hunt.' The report makes no other reference to any drinking or that any blood alcohol tests were ever done. The Vice President did say in his Fox TV interview that he had a beer at lunch, noting that was hours before the shooting. Observers say the whole ordeal has weakened Mr. Cheney's influence."

David Gergen, former presidential advisor: "My expectation is that Condi Rice's authority will go up and the Vice President's authority may diminish some."

O'Donnell concluded, from the White House lawn: "Trying to bring to an end days of criticism and distraction, President Bush said he is satisfied with Mr. Cheney's handling of the situation, and senior advisors make the claim that because the White House has now answered some questions, the American people should be satisfied, too. Kelly O'Donnell, NBC News, the White House."
Brent Baker
Brent Baker
Brent Baker is the Steven P.J. Wood Senior Fellow and VP for Research and Publications at the Media Research Center