Media failed to report contradiction in Cheney's and Armstrong's alcohol claims

››› ››› SIMON MALOY

Reporting on Vice President Dick Cheney's admission that he had consumed "a beer at lunch" prior to accidentally shooting a hunting companion, numerous media outlets failed to report that Cheney's admission contradicted earlier statements by Katharine and Anne Armstrong, co-owners of the ranch where the accident occurred, who had said that Dr. Pepper was served with lunch and "heavily implied," according to The New York Times, that "no alcohol was served at all."

In reporting on Vice President Dick Cheney's February 15 admission that he had consumed "a beer at lunch" prior to accidentally shooting Texas lawyer Harry Whittington during a February 11 hunting trip, numerous media outlets failed to report that Cheney's admission contradicted earlier statements by Katharine and Anne Armstrong, co-owners of the ranch where the accident occurred, who had said that Dr. Pepper was served with lunch and "heavily implied," according to The New York Times, that "no alcohol was served at all." The Washington Post went so far as to report that Cheney's account "largely squared" with Katharine Armstrong's.

Katharine Armstrong was the first person to alert the press that the incident had occurred and, according to a February 13 article in The Washington Post, Cheney's office directed reporters to Armstrong for an eyewitness account of the incident. Moreover, Cheney acknowledged in his February 15 interview with Fox News host Brit Hume that he agreed with Armstrong that she should be the one to inform the press because "the accuracy was enormously important."

Cheney, during his interview with Hume, claimed that he drank "a beer at lunch," hours before the accident happened. But, as The New York Times reported on February 16, Cheney's admission was inconsistent with earlier statements made by other members of the hunting party who denied that alcohol was involved at all. From the February 16 New York Times:

Until Mr. Cheney acknowledged having had a beer at lunch, members of the hunting party had been adamant that no alcohol was involved. Katharine Armstrong, whose family owns the ranch, had said in interviews that Dr Pepper was served at lunch and that no one was drinking. In interviews with The Times and other papers, Ms. Armstrong heavily implied that no alcohol was served at all.

"No, zero, zippo, and I don't drink at all," she said in an interview published on Monday in The Corpus Christi Caller-Times, the paper she initially called. "No one was drinking."

Anne Armstrong was quoted in the February 14 Los Angeles Times saying that the hunting party "broke for a lunch of antelope, jicama salad and camp bread, washed down with Dr. Pepper." Also, as the ThinkProgress weblog noted in a February 15 entry, the Armstrongs' media accounts of the incident changed on a daily basis -- from claiming that nobody was drinking (February 13), to acknowledging that beer was available (February 14), to telling CNN that Cheney had a cocktail after the accident (February 15).

Nevertheless, The Washington Post reported on February 16 that Cheney's account of the incident "largely squared" with Armstrong's:

The 27-minute interview, in Cheney's ceremonial office in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, was a remarkable moment in modern politics as a vice president described shooting another person. Cheney's account largely squared with that of Katharine Armstrong, one of the owners of the huge Armstrong Ranch in southern Texas where the vice president was hunting Saturday. But, in his own reserved way, Cheney sounded emotional about what happened.

Other news outlets, such as the Associated Press, USA Today, the Los Angeles Times, the CBS Evening News, and NBC's Nightly News reported that Cheney admitted to drinking a beer but failed to note the contradiction with Armstrong's statements.

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