Media overlook unanswered questions and inconsistencies in Cheney shooting disclosure

››› ››› ANDREW SEIFTER

Media reporting on the delay between when Vice President Dick Cheney accidentally shot one of his hunting partners and the public disclosure of that information have overlooked unanswered questions and inconsistent accounts of how the incident was revealed to the press.

In recent days, media reporting on the delay between when Vice President Dick Cheney accidentally shot one of his hunting partners and the public disclosure of that information have overlooked unanswered questions and inconsistent accounts of how the incident was revealed to the press. Many media outlets have uncritically repeated the White House claim that the Vice President's Office was solely responsible for the delayed announcement of the accident, without noting that White House senior adviser Karl Rove discussed the accident with his longtime friend Katharine Armstrong, the host of the hunting expedition, the night before she disclosed it to a Corpus Christi, Texas, newspaper. Other media reported that Armstrong said she conferred with Cheney before disclosing the story but failed to note that this account conflicts with initial reports that Armstrong said Cheney was not aware that she was going to contact the local media.

  • Media overlooked Armstrong's conflicting accounts of whether she coordinated with Cheney

Many news outlets uncritically reported Armstrong's claim that she obtained Cheney's approval before revealing the story to the Corpus Christi Caller-Times on February 12, without mentioning that this version of events conflicts with initial reports that Armstrong said Cheney had been unaware that she was going to contact the local media about the accident. For example, a February 14 New York Times article reported that Armstrong "said Mr. Cheney participated in discussions on Sunday morning about disclosing the incident, agreeing that it should be made public but deferring to the Armstrong family on how to do so." A February 14 Washington Post article similarly reported:

In a telephone interview, Armstrong said that she, her mother and her sister, Sara Storey Armstrong Hixon, decided on Sunday morning after breakfast to report the shooting accident to the media. "It was my family's own volition, and the vice president agreed. We felt -- my family felt and we conferred as a family -- that the information needed to go public. It was our idea," Armstrong said.

As Media Matters for America has documented, CNN White House correspondent Suzanne Malveaux reported on February 13 that Armstrong "told CNN that she did not believe the Vice President's Office was aware that she was going to go to the local press." Malveaux challenged White House press secretary Scott McClellan to why Armstrong's account differed from that of the White House, which claimed that Armstrong had coordinated with Cheney before contacting the press. By contrast, National Review White House correspondent Byron York wrote that day that Armstrong told National Review Online that "she did not coordinate with the vice president's office before calling the Corpus Christi paper," but later simply printed an "author's note" relaying the administration's account without indicating any attempt to resolve the apparent discrepancy. Media Matters also documented that CNN White House correspondent Dana Bash -- while reporting the White House claim that Armstrong went to the press only after conferring with Cheney -- failed to note the apparent contradiction her colleague Malveaux had identified.

  • Media ignored Rove's involvement while reporting that Vice President's Office was solely responsible for delayed disclosure

Several outlets reported that White House officials acknowledged that Rove, widely seen as the Bush administration's public relations and political guru, discussed Cheney's hunting accident with Armstrong the night before Armstrong told the Corpus Christi Caller-Times about it. For example, The New York Times reported on February 14 that Rove "called Ms. Armstrong to ask about the incident," while The Washington Post reported the same day that Rove was "told of the shooting Saturday night but deferred to Cheney on providing information to the public, White House aides said."

Another report, citing unnamed Republican officials, suggested that Rove was indeed involved in discussing how information about the accident would be released but ultimately deferred to Cheney. In a February 13 Web exclusive report for Time magazine, White House correspondent Mike Allen cited unnamed "Republican sources" to report that Cheney "overruled the advice of several members of the White House staff" -- including Rove -- by "insist[ing] on sticking to a plan for releasing information about his hunting accident that resulted in a 20-hour, overnight delay in public confirmation of the startling incident."

Other evidence suggests that Rove had an established personal relationship with the Armstrong family before his call to Katharine Armstrong over the hunting flap. According to an article in the May 12, 2003, edition of The New Yorker, Armstrong's father, Tobin Armstrong, was "an early financier" of Rove's first business venture:

Rove had the imprimatur of Texas's Republican aristocracy from the beginning, through his connection to the Bush family and to [Governor Bill] Clements. An early financier of Karl Rove + Company was Tobin Armstrong, the owner of a Texas ranch (it was on land leased from Armstrong Rove and Bill Frist were planning to go hunting) and the husband of Anne Armstrong, a former Republican Cabinet officer.

Despite the fact that Rove -- who serves as President Bush's primary political adviser -- spoke with Armstrong before she notified the media of the shooting, many in the media have simply accepted the White House's claim that Cheney's office was completely responsible for determining when and how the press would be notified. For example, on the February 13 broadcast of CBS Evening News, White House correspondent Jim Axelrod neglected to mention Rove's involvement in the story while reporting that "the decisions affecting who knew what when" were "being made on the ground in Texas by the vice president," and that "the decision to have the ranch owner [Armstrong] call her local paper to let the general public know of the shooting, that was Mr. Cheney's choice as well."

Posted In
Government, The Presidency & White House
Network/Outlet
The New York Times, CNN
Stories/Interests
Cheney hunting accident, Propaganda/Noise Machine
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