It may not be much, but the mainstream media appear dedicated to beating the Cheney hunting accident story into the ground. On CNN's American Morning today, anchor Miles O'Brien interviewed New York Daily News gossip columnist Lloyd Grove about it.
O'Brien wanted to make sure viewers realized the delayed reporting on the misfortune is all part of a much bigger scheme: "And setting this all in the context of the issues that the Bush administration has been dealing with, the wiretapping issues, the CIA leak case, all of this I think raises some serious credibility issues among people."
Naturally, Grove agreed, saying that Cheney's "gone into the bunker" and that the relationship between the president's staff and the vice president's staff "goes downhill." O'Brien completed the segment by asking Grove to provide guidance to Mr. Cheney: "If you were offering advice right now, would you say get before the cameras as soon as possible, Mr. Cheney, and make a statement?"
Grove wants considerably more than that: "Get out there yesterday. Do an interview with -- if not someone from CNN, with Barbara Walters and cry."
Good Morning America's third day covering Vice President Dick Cheney's hunting accident was its biggest to date. On Monday's show, the 7:00 half hour started with three straight Cheney stories, followed by two more on Tuesday. This morning, GMA devoted its first four items to the hunting accident. At one point, viewers were shown live video of the four reporters as Diane Sawyer informed, "Our reporters, our team standing by to cover all the angles this morning from the medical condition to political and even potential legal fallout."
In the third story, Claire Shipman's hot pursuit of Cheney led to bizarre lecturing from Senator Hillary Clinton and Joe Lockhart, former press secretary to President Bill Clinton. Despite their affiliation with a presidency known for its own cover-ups and practice of releasing information on late Friday afternoons, Shipman treated both Clinton and Lockhart as paragons of forthrightness.
Once it was clear that the man sprinkled with birdshot would survive, Vice President Cheney’s hunting accident was widely expected to become a late-night comedian’s bonanza, a frenzy like Wal-Mart shoppers scrambling for $29 DVD players.
As “Today” replayed the comedian clips on Tuesday, NBC’s Matt Lauer asked, “Had a feeling that was coming, didn’t you?” Katie Couric replied: “Well I mean when you heard the story you just knew they were gonna go crazy with it, so they did.”
With apologies to the Cheney friend who received the pellet facial, the incident was funny. Now we learn the vice president received a warning citation from a Texas Ranger for not buying a $7 hunting stamp in advance. As a friend e-mailed me, “Where else can you shoot a lawyer in the face with a shotgun and get off with just a warning?”
John Dickerson of the Washington Post-owned webzine Slate wrote a piece, posted Monday night, about the Dick Cheney shooting incident. Here's one of Dickerson's paragraphs:
And at some point Cheney's starchy behavior is also insulting. Shouldn't there be some minimum level of explanation he's willing to offer as the second-highest ranking public official? When you nearly commit manslaughter as a public official shouldn't the honor of your office compel you to stand up and explain yourself in some fashion, at least say something in a press release and not just whisper it to a Texas rancher? [Emphasis added.]
Keith Olbermann’s first question to his first guest on Tuesday’s Countdown: “Do the changes in his [Harry Whittington’s] health alter how the event is viewed legally and, under the worse case scenario, could negligent homicide actually come into play?" The guest, Texas Monthly magazine Executive Editor Paul Burka, rejected the supposition: “I would doubt it, because a hunting accidents are seldom treated as homicides.” Olbermann proceeded to suggest Vice President Cheney may have been drunk at the time of the accidental shooting. Olbermann pointed out how the local sheriff's office “issued a statement last night” and it “said no alcohol had been involved.” The MSNBC host ruminated: “But how would they know that? The sheriff's office did not interview the Vice President until 14 hours after all this happened. And the lower ranking sheriff's officers who did not know about the scheduling of that interview for Sunday morning, had been turned away when they tried to talk to Mr. Cheney on Saturday night." (Transcript follows)
The three broadcast network evening newscasts all led Tuesday night with the minor heart attack suffered by the victim of Vice President Cheney’s hunting accident, but all gave equal time to, for the second night in a row, obsessing over the snubbing of the White House press corps -- this time how Scott McClellan didn’t inform them of Harry Whittington’s complication. ABC co-anchor Charles Gibson teased: “The man Vice President Cheney accidentally shot, today suffers a minor heart attack as the White House faces new questions about its silence.” NBC’s Brian Williams teased from Torino: “There are more questions tonight about who knew what and when." Elizabeth Vargas, ABC’s other anchor complained about how “today the White House, once again, chose not to tell the public about a major development in this story.” ABC reporter Martha Raddatz recited “stinging” criticism of the White House from former GOP press secretaries before she concluded by fretting about how Cheney’s “staff has still not answered detailed questions about this incident...And it's not clear they ever will."
CBS anchor Bob Schieffer asserted, “Then there's the other question hanging over this: Why has the Vice President remained silent?” Gloria Borger chipped in with how someone “close to this administration” just happened to see the situation and administration incompetence the same way as the White House press corps: “‘It's no longer about indulging Dick Cheney's views of press management.' Instead, he says, ‘it's now about Iraq and Katrina and a range of other issues that play into the public's views of this administration's arrogance.'” Schieffer asked that, since “nobody's going to ask the Vice President to quit,...do you suppose that we'll see the role of the Vice President changing?...Maybe back to the funeral beat is what Vice Presidents used to do before this Vice President came along." Back to NBC, David Gregory, the most prolific antagonist to McClellan at the Monday and Tuesday press briefings, insisted that “there are still unanswered questions surrounding Saturday's shooting.” He proposed two: “Why did the local sheriff in Kenedy County, Texas wait 14 hours to interview the Vice President?” And: “Did the Vice President follow hunting safety guidelines?” (Transcripts follow.)
Thirty-six minutes into tonight's Hardball, host Chris Matthews finally permitted a Cheney defender, former Cheney aide Ron Christie, to grace his program. Even then, Christie was denied an unobstructed opportunity to make his case, having to share the segment with hyper-partisan Dem consultant Bob Shrum - he of the record-breaking number of losing presidential campaigns - who tried to drag in everything from Iraq to Hurricane Katrina.
Until Christie's belated appearance, Hardball was an absolutely ceaseless cavalcade of criticism heaped on the Veep and his handling of the shooting incident that included:
clips of NBC reporter David Gregory haranguing Scott McClellan;
file footage of Gloria Borger supposedly tripping up Cheney over the Saddam/Al-Qaeda connection;
MSNBC reporter David Shuster's decidedly downbeat portrayal of events;
a grim assessment from Washington Post reporter Jim Vandehei;
a pessimistic view of Whittington's medical situation by former NIH director Bernadine Healy; and finally
a panel discussion with former Clinton Press Secretary Dede Myers and DC factotum David Gergen
The negative portrayal of the Vice-President and of the administration's handling of the matter was absolutely unrelenting.
MSNBC’s Chris Matthews seriously asked on the 5pm EST edition of Tuesday’s Hardball, about media coverage of the Cheney hunting accident: “Has the press been playing this down?” Matthews exclaimed that he was “shocked” at how “this was bottom of the fold in the New York Times and the Washington Post yesterday.” He went on to claim: “I've talked to experts, they can't believe that the papers treated this as such a light issue.” Turning to guest Dee Dee Myers, Matthews contended: “I was kind of surprised, to put it lightly, to see that the major newspapers on the East coast had buried this story below the fold and it was only today that they brought it up above the fold." Matthews’ thesis was too ludicrous even for an astounded Myers, President Clinton’s one-time Press Secretary, who countered with common sense: "I don't think putting it on the front page is burying it, Chris, I think that was an appropriate placement for the story.” (Fuller transcript follows.)
Imagine you're a member of the media, and in your heart you believe that a major official wouldn't mind seeing you burn to death. Think that might affect the way you cover him?
A comment on this morning's "Early Show" by veteran CBS reporter Bill Plante, while perhaps intended to be light-hearted, pulled back the curtain on just how antagonistic the White House press corps believes VP Cheney to be toward them. But more importantly, it suggests how antagonistic they likely feel in return.
The topic was the Veep's accidental shooting of hunting partner Harry Whittington, and more particularly the very contentious press conference yesterday between the White House press corps and presidential spokesman Scott McClellan. Windows Media or Real Player
Mondays are normally a target rich environment for television talk show hosts that, like most Americans, take weekends off. After all, they’ve got more days to cover than normal. And, given a major East Coast snowstorm, a Congressional report on how the three levels of government handled the Katrina disaster, two air marshals facing drug charges, Saddam returning to trial, Alabama church burnings, the United Nations calling for the closure of the detention center at Guantanamo Bay, clashes in Haiti, and Tehran threatening to abandon a nuclear treaty, you would think that there was a lot for any member of the press to really sink his/her teeth into today. Yet, for some reason, Chris Matthews decided to spend the better part of three quarters of Monday’s 7PM EST installment of “Hardball” discussing a quail hunting accident the vice president had this weekend.
Matthews began: “Questions, questions, questions. The vice president of the United States shoots someone in the face late Saturday afternoon. Why didn`t he tell us? Why did Cheney wait until today, Monday, to talk to the president?”
In reality, it seemed that Matthews was the one with questions, and was thoroughly annoyed that the vice president of the United States, after accidentally shooting a close friend while hunting, didn’t immediately call a press conference to alert the media. This indignation went so far that NBC News chief White House correspondent David Gregory and Matthews actually discussed whether or not the vice president was calling the shots, and, therefore, had too much power. From closed captioning:
On Monday night, both the NBC Nightly News and the CBS Evening News, led with Vice President Cheney’s accidental shooting of a hunting companion, treating it as the most important news of the day as they focused on journalistic upset with how the late Saturday afternoon shooting wasn’t disclosed until noontime Sunday -- and then to a local reporter instead of to a member of the White House press corps. "What took so long?” anchor Brian Williams demanded as he teased the NBC Nightly News from Torino. “Tonight, the White House under fire over the Vice President's hunting accident." Williams soon echoed his earlier demand: "Tonight, what happened and why didn't the public learn about the accident sooner?" NBC reporter David Gregory, a prime antagonist at Monday’s White House press briefing, complained: “The Vice President's office would only confirm the story when asked about it some 18 hours after the incident occurred. At today's often contentious press briefing, the question remained: Why did the Vice President sit on this information?" Gregory ended by asserting: "Another serious question tonight, of course: Did the Vice President follow hunting safety standards?”
Anchor Bob Schieffer applied an historic clarion call as he teased the CBS Evening News: “It was the shot heard around the world, or at least around the country. Vice President Cheney wounds a companion in a hunting accident...” Jim Axelrod marveled, “Think about it: The Vice President of the United States shoots someone, and the general public doesn't find out for 21 hours. Now that's the recipe for an uproar." Axelrod also found it remarkable that for “two and a half hours...no one told the President Mr. Cheney had shot someone.” ABC’s George Stephanopoulos suggested the shooting “could become just a metaphor. You know, you’re already seeing the jokes about competence, the gang who couldn’t shoot straight. It brings up other questions where the White House's credibility has been called into question in the past.” (Transcripts follow.)
Let the record show that it took the MSM less than a day to float the possibility that Dick Cheney intentionally shot Harry Whittington.
And who better to surmise that the Vice-President might have been trying to bump off his buddy than Ron Reagan, that primetime speaker at the Kerry convention who moonlights as an MSNBC "political analyst"?
Reagan appeared on tonight's Hardball with Chris Matthews, and in decrying the fact that the Secret Service apparently denied local law enforcement immediate access to Cheney, said the following:
"Law enforcement is entitled to investigate this case, to find out what happened, to find out if he had anything against Mr. Whittington, and to find out - again I don't mean to suggest anything - to find out if anyone had been drinking . . ."
From today's Washington Post online chat with Howard Kurtz, where even he grew tired of the conspiracy theorizing:
Bethesda, Md.: Noon tv news said that the Cheney shooting was "accidental". Shouldn't that be allegedly accidental? How do we know its accidental without an investigation? What are "good" media rules on this?
Howard Kurtz: I think this will require a special prosecutor.
Remember back in October when Al Franken joked with David Letterman about Karl Rove and I. Lewis Libby being executed for treason? Well, Franken is at it again with a blog entry Sunday evening at the Huffington Post. This time, the target of his tasteless satire is Vice President Dick Cheney who accidentally shot his hunting partner on Saturday:
“Over the weekend, Vice President Dick Cheney shot a man in Texas. Asked why he shot the man, the Vice President said, ‘Just to watch him die.’"
Much like other members of the media, Franken saw a bizarre connection to a previously documented hunting trip that the vice president went on: “You know who's doing a ‘there but for the grace of God go I?; Scalia.”
Then, Franken painted a sophomoric picture of what would happen if Bush and Cheney went hunting:
Good Morning America took a double-barrelled blast at Vice President Cheney this morning over his accidental shooting of a quail-hunting companion, suggesting the White House might have tried to cover up the incident and calling into question a witness's version of events.
GMA did at first describe the accident as having occurred because the victim, attorney Harry Whittington, failed to observe the quail-hunting rule by which hunters remain in a single line as they advance, indicating that the accident occurred after Whittington left the line to retrieve a bird from the tall grass.
But GMA host Charlie Gibson later claimed that there was "growing political fallout" from the incident, wondering:
In the midst of ABC's lead story Sunday night about how Vice President Dick Cheney had, on Saturday afternoon, accidentally hit hunting companion Harry Whittington with shotgun pellets while he was aiming at some quail, reporter John Yang resurrected a two-year-old media-created scandal which amounted to little at the time: How Cheney invited Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia along on a hunting trip while the court was facing a decision on a lawsuit involving the Vice President's official duties. Yang brought up Cheney's affiliation with the NRA and then asserted: “His hunting made headlines in 2004. He took Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia on a duck hunting trip to Louisiana on board Air Force Two, at a time when the court was considering a case filed against Mr. Cheney by environmental groups." The Supreme Court sided with the VP's office, which sent the case back to a federal appeals court which rejected, 8-0 in 2005, the Sierra Club's request to learn what advice industry experts gave Cheney's energy task force. (2005 AP story.) (Brief transcript follows.)