Vice President Dick Cheney's recent hunting accident offered yet another example of an unmistakable pattern with the Bush administration, which few in the media have noted. When faced with potential political damage stemming from its actions or decisions, the Bush White House attacks those fomenting the criticism; Cheney or President Bush then take to the airwaves and appear to temper the debate -- while benefiting from whatever discrediting their surrogates' smears brought on their targets.
On Fox News Sunday, Brit Hume praised his own work -- the interview with Vice President Dick Cheney in Cheney's first public appearance since accidentally shooting his hunting partner -- saying "my job was to simply sit there and walk through this episode with him and ask all the relevant questions." In fact, Hume neglected to ask a number of relevant questions, as Media Matters for America has previously noted.
Numerous media outlets and commentators have gone to great lengths to avoid using some version of the simplest construction to describe Vice President Dick Cheney's accidental shooting of a hunting partner, Harry Whittington: Cheney shot Whittington. Instead, the media have come up with alternative formulations that have the effect of distancing Cheney from the incident.
In recent days, media figures pronounced the story surrounding Vice President Dick Cheney's accidental shooting of a hunting partner "over," despite several unanswered questions regarding the incident and contradictory statements offered by Cheney and hunting party host Katharine Armstrong, whom Cheney said he designated to first report the incident.
In February 17 articles about the incident last week in which Vice President Dick Cheney accidentally shot a hunting companion, The New York Times and the Los Angeles Times uncritically reported that the local sheriff department stated that the account of events offered by Katharine Armstrong, owner of the ranch where the incident happened, agrees with Cheney's version of events. Neither newspaper noted that some of Armstrong's statements regarding the presence of alcohol and Whittington's ability to speak after the incident have been contradicted by Cheney.
Rush Limbaugh falsely claimed that Vice President Dick Cheney "admit[ted] that he had a beer five hours before going hunting" on the day he accidentally shot Texas lawyer Harry Whittington. In fact, Cheney acknowledged that he "had a beer at lunch" and "didn't go back into the field to hunt quail until about, oh, sometime after 3 p.m."
Recounting an exchange with a network news "crew," Brit Hume said that crew members attributed Cheney's choice of Hume as his interviewer for his February 15 appearance on Fox News -- Cheney's first since he accidentally shot a hunting companion -- to Fox's association with "conservative causes." Hume dubiously claimed that Cheney had chosen Fox "probably because he wanted to go with ... the news channel with the largest audience." In fact, the broadcast network news programs each have at least three times Fox's highest average audience.
NBC Today host Katie Couric failed to question Republican strategist Mary Matalin regarding remarks she and other surrogates of Vice President Dick Cheney previously made absolving him of blame in the accidental shooting of his hunting companion, despite Cheney's admission that he was solely to blame for the accident.
Following Vice President Dick Cheney's exclusive February 15 interview with Fox News' Brit Hume, the media widely reported that he took "full responsibility" for accidentally shooting Harry Whittington while hunting. But numerous news outlets have ignored that Cheney's acceptance of responsibility contradicts his friends' prior statements that Whittington was to blame.
Bill O'Reilly attacked The New York Times' Maureen Dowd for criticizing the White House and Vice President Dick Cheney in her latest column because, O'Reilly said, Dowd "claims the White House is blaming the guy who got shot." In fact, as Dowd wrote, "[White House press secretary] Scott McClellan told the White House press corps that Katharine Armstrong, a lobbyist with government ties who owns the Texas ranch ... 'pointed out that the protocol was not followed by Mr. [Harry] Whittington when it came to notifying the others that he was there.' "
A February 15 USA Today article suggested that criticism of Vice President Dick Cheney's decision to withhold information concerning his accidental shooting of a hunting companion came only from Democrats. But a separate article in the same edition of USA Today noted that the conservative National Review was also critical of Cheney's handling of the shooting, and other newspapers also have quoted conservatives and Republicans criticizing the vice president.
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 airing Brit Hume's interview with Vice President Dick Cheney, Fox News omitted Cheney's comments about drinking a beer the day he shot his hunting companion. Fox News even excluded the comments from what it said was the "full interview" posted on its website.
On CNN's Live From..., anchor Kyra Phillips and White House correspondent Suzanne Malveaux reported that, in an interview conducted with Fox News that day, Vice President Dick Cheney accepted full responsibility for accidentally shooting Texas attorney Harry Whittington during a February 11 hunting expedition. However, both Phillips and Malveaux failed to note that Cheney reportedly has been telling friends privately that Whittington was at fault and that Katharine Armstrong, whom he had designated to report the incident to the media, blamed Whittington for the accident.
Media reports regarding when the Kenedy County Sheriff's department actually interviewed Vice President Dick Cheney have varied widely and have sometimes conflicted, a fact that the media themselves have largely ignored.