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February 20, 2006
On Saturday, February 11, Vice President Dick Cheney accidentally shot a hunting partner, 78-year-old Texas attorney Harry Whittington. Despite the fairly straightforward nature of what happened, numerous media outlets and commentators have gone to great lengths to avoid using some version of the simplest construction: Cheney shot Whittington (subject -- transitive verb -- direct object). Instead, the media have come up with alternative formulations that have the effect of distancing Cheney from the incident. These include casting Whittington as the subject ("A Texas man who caught a load of Vice President Cheney's birdshot ...") and making the bird pellet Cheney fired the perpetrator ("It [the birdshot] peppered Whittington in the face, neck, and chest"). Media Matters for America has compiled some examples of these syntactic acrobatics:
Commentators have found creative ways to describe the accident. In his February 14 syndicated column, L. Brent Bozell III referred to Whittington as the man "sprinkled with birdshot" and "the Cheney friend who received the pellet facial." Wall Street Journal deputy editorial page editor Daniel Henninger referred to the incident in a February 17 column as "Dick Cheney catching a hunting buddy with some birdshot."
Newspapers also employed complicated variations of "Cheney shot Whittington" in their lead sentences. For example, the Houston Chronicle opened its initial February 13 report with a sentence in the passive voice that had Whittington as its subject:
A prominent Austin lawyer was listed as "very stable" at a hospital here today after being accidentally shot and slightly injured by Vice President Dick Cheney during a quail hunt on a South Texas ranch.
In an early version of its February 13 article, USA Today opted to replace the word "shot" with "peppered," which was used by Katharine Armstrong, owner of the ranch where the incident took place and the designated media contact:
Vice President Cheney accidentally peppered a hunting companion with pellets during a quail hunt on a Texas ranch over the weekend, sending the 78-year-old man to the hospital with injuries to his face and chest.
Later, the article described exactly how the shooting occurred:
Cheney spotted a quail and swung to shoot. His shotgun blast sprayed Whittington, who was knocked to the ground.
Although many anchors for major news programs explained the story as a "shooting," some on-the-scene television reporters chose to portray the incident with less direct language:
CHARLES GIBSON (co-host): But we're gonna start, [co-hosts] Robin [Roberts] and Diane [Sawyer], with this bizarre story of Vice President Cheney shooting a hunting buddy. It happened on Saturday afternoon.
GIBSON: But first, ABC's Mike von Fremd is in Corpus Christi, Texas. He's outside the hospital where the victim is being treated. And Mike, the man's daughter says his -- her father's face looks like he has chicken pox.
MIKE VON FREMD (correspondent): It sure does, I'll get to that, Charlie.
VON FREMD: As you say, his daughter says his face looks like he has chicken pox as he walked directly into Dick Cheney's line of fire.
JULIE CHEN (co-host): But first we want to get right to our other big story this morning, Vice President Dick Cheney's hunting mishap. The vice president accidentally shot a fellow hunter over the weekend in Texas. CBS News correspondent Kelly Cobiella is live in Corpus Christi with the very latest. Kelly, good morning.
COBIELLA: When he went back to join them, the 78-year-old Texan came from the wrong direction at the wrong time.
COBIELLA: The vice president is a life-long hunter, and the ranch owner says both he and Whittington were wearing orange vests. Getting sprayed with pellet shots, she says, is the bird hunter's occupational hazard.
LEE COWAN: The man who found himself at the wrong end of the vice president's 28-gauge shotgun is up and joking with hospital visitors tonight. Doctors say 78-year old Harold Whittington is making a speedy recovery, but he will likely walk out of the hospital with most of the bird shot the vice president gave him.
ZAHN (host): And Ed Lavandera is in Corpus Christi, Texas, near the scene of the accident. And he has just filed this report.
ED LAVANDERA: On a 50,000-acre ranch in South Texas, Harry Whittington was enjoying the final hours of a daylong quail hunt with Vice President Dick Cheney. But the last shot of the day didn't bag a prized bird. It peppered Whittington in the face, neck and chest.
CAMERON: They don't consider it a delayed story. They believe that what they did ultimately was due diligence in terms of making sure all the facts were clear and that Mr. Whittington, the guy that got shot, got the necessary medical attention.
CAMERON: So as things stand right now, Mr. Whittington is still in the hospital. He got pretty much peppered, according to Ms. Armstrong, with .28-gauge bird shot, which are tiny, little pellets. He got hit from about 30 yards. And the argument is that he stepped into the line of fire because he didn't announce to his hunting party that he was returning with some game that he picked out of the tall weeds just immediately preceding the shooting.
Television hosts and anchors
Sometimes, the hosts or anchors themselves contorted sentences to distance Cheney from the act of pulling the trigger:
WOLF BLITZER (host): We begin with that hunting accident involving Vice President Dick Cheney, who wounded a companion while firing birdshot at some quail this weekend in Texas. Harry Whittington, a Texas Republican activist, was hit in the face, neck and chest.
SEAN HANNITY (co-host): Texas attorney Harry Whittington is in stable condition tonight after being hit by shotgun pellets fired by Vice President Dick Cheney while the two men were hunting on Saturday.
BRIT HUME (host): A Texas man who caught a load of Vice President Cheney's birdshot on Saturday is hospitalized in stable condition tonight, but the fact that the White House press corps was not immediately informed of the incident put spokesman Scott McClellan in the line of fire today.
JOE SCARBOROUGH (host): But, first, John Lennon once sang that happiness is a warm gun, a sentiment shared by millions of Americans across Middle America, if not Mr. Lennon's family or one Harry Whittington, Texas millionaire attorney and hunting partner of Vice President Dick Cheney's.
Whittington was sprayed by a .28 shotgun -- .28-gauge shotgun from the vice president himself this past weekend in an incident that has launched a media feeding frenzy.
BRIAN WILLIAMS (anchor): A bizarre story took an even more bizarre turn today when a man hospitalized in Texas suffered a mild heart attack because of a birdshot pellet that moved into his heart. The birdshot came from a gun fired by the vice president of the United States. And this story, a scenario beyond the imagination of most of us, which has generated so much talk and so much interest, continued to play out today, and the questions continue for the White House.
Commenting on the use of the word "peppered" by Armstrong to describe the shooting, host Jon Stewart noted on the February 13 edition of Comedy Central's The Daily Show: "Peppering is what you do to a Caesar salad. He shot that dude."
Media pronounce Cheney shooting story "over"; declare he "stopped the political damage," despite lingering questions, contradictions
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 (documented by Media Matters for America here, here, and here) regarding the incident and contradictory statements (documented by Media Matters here, here, and here) offered by Cheney and hunting party host Katharine Armstrong, whom Cheney said he designated to first report the incident. These media figures have cited several specific events as marking the end of the story's newsworthiness: Cheney's February 15 interview with Fox News' Brit Hume, in which Cheney recounted the shooting and took responsibility for it, stating: "You can't blame anybody else. I'm the guy who pulled the trigger and shot my friend"; President Bush's February 16 pronouncement that he is "satisfied with the explanation he [Cheney] gave" of the incident; and the Kenedy County, Texas, sheriff's February 16 announcement that no charges will be filed relating to the shooting. Following these events, two Fox News commentators have argued that any further effort by the press to pursue the story can only be motivated by a desire to embarrass the White House. Hume argued that "[t]he controversy over how Vice President Dick Cheney handled disclosure of his hunting accident last weekend seems to have begun to subside following his interview," and Fox News' Carl Cameron stated that "the hunting story seemed to be losing steam with the White House press corps in the wake of the vice president's interview with Fox News." Additionally, ABC News chief Washington correspondent George Stephanopoulos argued that Cheney had "stopped the political damage" by coming forth with his version of events, ignoring the unanswered questions regarding the story and the contradictions between Cheney's and Armstrong's accounts.
On the February 17 edition of Fox News' Fox News Live (noon E.T. hour), host Bill Hemmer interviewed syndicated columnist Michelle Malkin because, he explained, "Now, we are wondering about where the story goes next, and whether there's another branch on this tree or not. Syndicated columnist and Fox News contributor Michelle Malkin can answer that." The interview featured an onscreen graphic that read: "The Cheney Incident: Time to Let It Go?"
When Hemmer asked Malkin if "the media overdid it" in pursuing the Cheney shooting story, Malkin replied that there was "[n]o question about it," adding that "the White House press corps, for the most part, was trying to embarrass the White House over this." When Hemmer asked Malkin if Cheney was likely to mention the shooting incident in a press conference scheduled for later that afternoon, Malkin replied: "Yes, and I hope he does. ... And I think with the [hunting partner Harry] Whittington press conference coming up shortly here on Fox News that, hopefully, this will cause a ceasefire once and for all." She added: "The mania -- and the circus journalism -- is just absolutely out of control."
From Malkin's interview on the February 17 edition of Fox News' Fox News Live:
HEMMER: Tough week for Scott McClellan at the podium there, the White House spokesman earning his paycheck on Monday and again on Tuesday, and actually on Wednesday and Thursday as well. The media turning that press conference into a bit of a feeding frenzy over this hunting incident here. Now, we are wondering about where the story goes next, and whether there's another branch on this tree or not. Syndicated columnist and Fox News contributor Michelle Malkin can answer that. Michelle, good afternoon to you. How are you doing?
MALKIN: Good. How are you, Bill?
HEMMER: I'm doing fine. You think the media overdid it this week. How so?
MALKIN: No question about it, Bill. Look, this wasn't an apocalypse. It was a hunting accident. And there was no Nixonian-proportioned cover-up here. It was a minor press bungle. Could the vice president's office have handled it better? Yes. But I think that the White House press corps, for the most part, was trying to embarrass the White House over this. And in the end, it ended up only embarrassing itself.
HEMMER: One thing we're hearing, Michelle, is that the vice president may make mention of this at 1:00, in the 1:00 hour in that speech, do you anticipate that?
MALKIN: Yes, and I hope he does. I think the vice president's office understood that it should have handled things better. And I think with the Whittington press conference coming up shortly here on Fox News that, hopefully, this will cause a ceasefire once and for all.
MALKIN: The mania -- and the circus journalism -- is just absolutely out of control.
Similarly, on the February 16 edition of Fox News Live, syndicated columnist and Fox News contributor Robert D. Novak stated that he doesn't "think you can keep beating this totally dead horse over and over again. This story is really over, and I think what's left is the Cheney-bashing by people who don't like him."
From Novak's interview on Fox News Live (10 a.m. ET hour), hosted by John Scott:
SCOTT: Bob -- I don't know, I guess I have something of a public position. If I had done exactly the same thing, I wouldn't want the whole world knowing about it. If you're the vice president -- I mean, has he come to learn or does he know that this kind of thing ought to be covered, deserves to be covered?
NOVAK: Look, [former Sen.] Al Simpson [R-WY], former -- his buddy from Wyoming, former Senator, said it the other day very candidly that Dick Cheney doesn't like the press anymore -- used to like the press, but he detests them. And he is not going to make anything easier for them. I don't think there's any question, of all the Republicans I have talked to, several people in the administration, they said that immediately the information should have been given to the media and that the vice president didn't want to do it. And he -- as Marvin [Kalb, Fox News contributor] says, he is autonomous, but for goodness' sakes, I think -- I don't think you can keep beating this totally dead horse over and over again. This story is really over, and I think what's left is the Cheney-bashing by people who don't like him.
Additionally, on the February 16 edition of Fox News' Special Report with Brit Hume, Hume asserted: "The controversy over how Vice President Dick Cheney handled disclosure of his hunting accident last weekend seems to have begun to subside following his interview yesterday in which he took full responsibility for wounding his fellow hunter." During a report on the hunting story, Cameron stated: "After three days of feisty [White House] briefings, the hunting story seemed to be losing steam with the White House press corps in the wake of the vice president's interview with Fox News." During the program's "All-Star" panel discussion, Hume asked NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson if the "hunting accident controversy" was "largely over," to which she replied: "I think it's probably just about run its course," adding, "I don't think this does lasting damage to the White House." When Hume asked Liasson, "Has the Republican heartburn subsided?," Liasson responded: "Yes, by now, probably. It's subsiding."
From the February 16 edition of Special Report with Brit Hume:
HUME: The controversy over how Vice President Dick Cheney handled disclosure of his hunting accident last weekend seems to have begun to subside following his interview yesterday in which he took full responsibility for wounding his fellow hunter. But there was still some noise on the issue today. And as Fox News Chief White House Correspondent Carl Cameron reports, this afternoon President Bush broke his public silence on the issue.
CAMERON: After three days of feisty briefings, the hunting story seemed to be losing steam with the White House press corps in the wake of the vice president's interview with Fox News, though there were attempts to link the accident to Iraq.
HUME: Mara, your view of this hunting accident controversy. Is it in your judgment largely over?
LIASSON: I think it's probably just about run its course. For those -- for opponents of the administration, this is a metaphor for Cheney's disproportionate power, the fact that he kind of runs an entity unto himself and isn't subject to the rules of the White House and doesn't consult with anybody and decides for himself and, in this case he was seeded a tremendous amount of power, as he has been all along. So that becomes a metaphor. I don't think this does lasting damage to the White House. I think the way it was handled, to Cheney, it doesn't matter. Cheney is not going to run for anything. He doesn't really care about his favorability ratings. I do think, though, that it made a lot of Republicans worried and nervous about how it was handled. Not about the incident itself, but just it didn't seem it was handled very professionally. It caused a lot of unnecessary --
HUME: Has the Republican heartburn subsided, in your judgment?
LIASSON: Yes, by now, probably. It's subsiding.
MSNBC conservative commentators Joe Scarborough and Tucker Carlson have also pronounced the shooting story dead. On the February 16 edition of MSNBC's Scarborough Country, which featured Steve Rendall, a senior analyst at Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting, Scarborough announced: "It certainly sounds to me, if you listen to the news coming out of Texas, that this story is over":
SCARBOROUGH: Let me start with you, Steve. It certainly sounds to me, if you listen to the news coming out of Texas, that this story is over. Do you agree with that?
RENDALL: Well, I'm not sure it's over. I think the thing that you have to take into account here is, you have the most secretive official in what might be the most secretive administration ever, who appoints a private citizen, Katharine Armstrong, to take care of the press business of the White House.
And on the February 16 edition of MSNBC's The Situation with Tucker Carlson, Carlson asserted that given Bush's statement that he is "satisfied" with Cheney's explanation of the shooting, and the Kenedy County sheriff's decision not to file charges against Cheney, "[t]he three-day story is over":
BUSH [clip]: And so, I thought his explanation yesterday was a very strong and powerful explanation, and I'm satisfied with the explanation he gave.
CARLSON: President Bush, as you just heard, pronounced himself one satisfied customer today. The local sheriff's department is satisfied with Dick Cheney's story, too. Law enforcement officials in Texas closed the hunting accident case today without filing any charges against the V.P. The three-day story is over.
Further, on the February 15 edition of ABC's World News Tonight, Stephanopoulos stated that Cheney "stopped the political damage" by "giv[ing] out his whole side of the story," an assertion that can only prove true if journalists like Stephanopoulos stop pursuing the unanswered questions concerning the story, and if they fail to scrutinize the contradictions between Cheney's statements and those of Armstrong. World News Tonight anchor Elizabeth Vargas noted one of these contradictions immediately before Stephanopoulos stated that Cheney had "stopped the political damage":
VARGAS: But there is still a contradiction, isn't there? I mean, he says it was the right decision to let Katharine Armstrong give that version of events, while saying it was his responsibility, and her version of events placed responsibility squarely on -- squarely on Mr. Whittington's shoulders.
STEPHANAPOLOUS: It did, and you know, the fact that he thought she was going to be the more credible witness is undercut right now. But now, he's given out his whole side of the story. And as long as his story is not contradicted by Mr. Whittington or the sheriff's report, and as long as Mr. Whittington doesn't take a turn for the worse, I think he's stopped the political damage. And most Republicans and Democrats I talked to today agree.
As Media Matters noted, some of Armstrong's statements regarding the consumption of alcohol by the hunting party and Whittington's ability to speak after the February 11 incident have been contradicted by Cheney. Additionally, other statements by Armstrong raise questions about whether she saw the actual shooting, as she claims. Salon.com writer Tim Grieve outlines several of the unanswered questions regarding the shooting incident and the subsequent investigation here (subscription required).
On the February 16 edition of NBC's Nightly News, NBC News chief Pentagon correspondent Jim Miklaszewski uncritically reported White House press secretary Scott McClellan's response to a new United Nations report on the treatment of detainees at the U.S. military's Guantánamo Bay prison facility, which alleges that "some interrogation techniques [practiced at the facility] are actions amounting to torture." Even though McClellan's assertion -- that the report is "a rehash of allegations from prisoners who are trained by Al Qaeda to make false claims about being tortured" -- has been undermined by a 2004 International Committee of the Red Cross report and internal U.S. government emails, Miklaszewski did not mention any of the substantial evidence that refutes McClellan's assertion. Miklaszewski also failed to challenge McClellan's claim that all of those held at Guantánamo "are dangerous terrorists" and "people that are determined to harm innocent civilians or harm innocent Americans," even though a recent National Journal report and a Seton Hall University School of Law study have concluded that the government has only scant or weak evidence against many of those held at the Guantánamo naval base, which is located at a U.S.-controlled port in Cuba.
Allegations that prisoners at Guantánamo have been tortured have not come just "from prisoners who are trained by Al Qaeda to make false claims about being tortured" as McClellan asserted, but have been documented in FBI emails, in which, as Media Matters for America has noted, FBI agents described graphic instances of abuse by interrogators at Guantánamo that the agents personally witnessed. In one email, an FBI agent described the interrogation methods employed by Department of Defense officials as "torture techniques." T.J. Harrington, the FBI's deputy assistant director for counterterrorism, detailed in an email several agents' accounts of abusive treatment, including one in which a female sergeant "grabbed [a] detainee's thumbs and bent them backwards and indicated that she also grabbed his genitals." The sergeant, according to Harrington, warned her subject that past interrogations had left other "detainees curling into a fetal position on the floor and crying in pain." Harrington also included an account of a detainee being "subjected to intense isolation for over three months ... in a cell that was always flooded with light," which led to him "evidencing behavior consistent with extreme psychological trauma (talking to non-existent people, reporting hearing voices, crouching in a corner of the cell covered with a sheet for hours on end)." A third FBI document described a detainee "chained hand and foot in a fetal position to the floor" and who was subjected to food deprivation and temperature extremes. "The detainee was almost unconscious on the floor, with a pile of hair next to him," the FBI agent wrote. "He had apparently been literally pulling his own hair out throughout the night."
A November 30, 2004, article in The New York Times reported: "The International Committee of the Red Cross [ICRC] has charged in confidential reports to the United States government that the American military has intentionally used psychological and sometimes physical coercion "tantamount to torture" on prisoners at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba," based on visits to the prison by ICRC staff and interviews with Guantánamo detainees. According to the Times article, the ICRC "has been conducting visits to Guantánamo since January 2002," and that "[i]ts officials are able to visit prisoners at Guantánamo under the kind of arrangement the committee has made with governments for decades. In exchange for exclusive access to the prison camp and meetings with detainees, the committee has agreed to keep its findings confidential."
McClellan's claims that "[w]e know that these are dangerous terrorists. They're being kept at Guantánamo Bay. They are people that are determined to harm innocent civilians or harm innocent Americans," are contradicted by a February 3 report in the National Journal that documented the apparent lack of evidence against many of the detainees:
Some of the men [Defense Secretary Donald] Rumsfeld described [in a June 27, 2005, statement] -- the terrorists, the trainers, the financiers, and the battlefield captures -- are indeed at Guantanamo. But National Journal's detailed review of government files on 132 prisoners who have asked the courts for help, and a thorough reading of heavily censored transcripts from the Combatant Status Review Tribunals conducted in Guantanamo for 314 prisoners, didn't turn up very many of them. Most of the "enemy combatants" held at Guantanamo -- for four years now -- are simply not the worst of the worst of the terrorist world.
Many of them are not accused of hostilities against the United States or its allies. Most, when captured, were innocent of any terrorist activity, were Taliban foot soldiers at worst, and were often far less than that. And some, perhaps many, are guilty only of being foreigners in Afghanistan or Pakistan at the wrong time. And much of the evidence -- even the classified evidence -- gathered by the Defense Department against these men is flimsy, second-, third-, fourth- or 12th-hand. It's based largely on admissions by the detainees themselves or on coerced, or worse, interrogations of their fellow inmates, some of whom have been proved to be liars.
Even as the CIA was deciding that most of the prisoners at Guantanamo didn't have much to say, Pentagon officials were getting frustrated with how little the detainees were saying. So they ramped up the pressure and gave interrogators more license.
The questions to the detainees about 9/11 and Al Qaeda and about each other were so constant, so repetitive, so oppressive that some prisoners, out of exasperation or fatigue or fear, just gave in and said, sure, I'm a terrorist. False confessions and false accusations are rampant, according to the lawyers and the Defense Department records.
One man slammed his hands on the table during an especially long interrogation and yelled, "Fine, you got me; I'm a terrorist." The interrogators knew it was a sarcastic statement. But the government, sometime later, used it as evidence against him: "Detainee admitted he is a terrorist" reads his tribunal evidence. The interrogators were so outraged that they sought out the detainee's personal representative to explain it to him that the statement was not a confession.
The National Journal reported that, according to Michael Scheuer, former head of the CIA's "bin Laden unit," "[b]y the fall of 2002, it was common knowledge around CIA circles that fewer than 10 percent of Guantanamo's prisoners were high-value terrorist operatives."
In addition, a February 8 review of government documents by the Seton Hall law school found, among other things, that "[f]ifty-five percent (55%) of the detainees are not determined to have committed any hostile acts against the United States or its coalition allies" and that "[o]nly 5% of the detainees were captured by United States forces. 86% of the detainees were arrested by either Pakistan or the Northern Alliance and turned over to United States custody. This 86% of the detainees captured by Pakistan or the Northern Alliance were handed over to the United States at a time in which the United States offered large bounties for [the] capture of suspected enemies."
From the February 16 edition of NBC Nightly News:
MIKLASZEWSKI: Four years after the detention camp at Guantánamo Bay first opened, there's increasing international pressure now to shut it down. Today at the United Nations, Secretary General Kofi Annan told the U.S., all Guantánamo prisoners must be granted a fair trial or released.
ANNAN [clip]: And I think it would be up to the government to decide hopefully to do it as soon as is possible.
MIKLASZEWSKI: In Brussels today, the European parliament passed a resolution also urging the U.S. to close Guantánamo, calling it symbolic of all that's wrong in the U.S. "war on terror." The fresh demands followed today's release of a UN report which claims violent force-feeding of prisoners on hunger strike, and some interrogation techniques are actions amounting to torture. But UN investigators never visited Guantánamo because they were denied permission to question the detainees themselves. And today, the White House shot back, calling the UN report a rehash of allegations from prisoners who are trained by Al Qaeda to make false claims about being tortured.
McCLELLAN [clip]: We know that these are dangerous terrorists. They're being kept at Guantánamo Bay. They are people that are determined to harm innocent civilians or harm innocent Americans.
MIKLASZEWSKI: Now, military tribunals may soon begin for only a small handful of prisoners at Guantánamo Bay, but some Pentagon officials already say that it's likely many may never have a day in court.
During the February 15 broadcast of his nationally syndicated radio show, Rush Limbaugh claimed that President Bush's warrantless domestic surveillance program monitored Americans that "have to be getting or placing phone calls to terrorists overseas," while Fox News chief Washington correspondent Jim Angle similarly described the NSA program as "listen[ing] in on terrorists" during the next day's edition of Fox News' Special Report with Brit Hume. But as Media Matters for America has previously noted, media reports cite administration officials who characterize the wiretapping program as having cast a broad net, monitoring the communications of thousands of people with no terrorist connection.
Limbaugh criticized Washington Post staff writer Charles Babington while reading portions of Babington's February 15 article on the Senate Intelligence Committee's deliberations into whether to investigate the program, suggesting that Babington and the Post were not "accurately presenting the facts to the readers" in stating that the NSA program "eavesdrops on an undisclosed number of phone calls and e-mails involving U.S. residents without obtaining warrants from a secret court." In doing so, he repeated, along with Angle, the defense of the program advanced by members of the administration that it targets suspected terrorists and not ordinary Americans.
That defense, however, is undermined by numerous media reports. A February 5 Washington Post report quoting "current and former government officials" said that "[i]ntelligence officers who eavesdropped on thousands of Americans in overseas calls under authority from President Bush have dismissed nearly all of them as potential suspects after hearing nothing pertinent to a terrorist threat." The New York Times similarly reported on January 17 that "[m]ore than a dozen current and former law enforcement and counterterrorism officials," some of whom knew of the domestic spying program, "said the torrent of tips [from NSA wiretapping] led them to few potential terrorists inside the country they did not know of from other sources and diverted agents from counterterrorism work they viewed as more productive." As the Post also reported, out of up to 5,000 Americans whose communications have been monitored by the NSA over the past few years, less than 10 per year have aroused enough suspicion that federal courts granted permission for monitoring of their purely domestic communications.
From the February 15 broadcast of The Rush Limbaugh Show:
LIMBAUGH: "The Senate Intelligence Committee is scheduled to vote tomorrow on a Democratic-sponsored motion to start an inquiry into the recently revealed program in which the NSA eavesdrops on an undisclosed number of phone calls and e-mails involving U.S. residents without obtaining warrants from a secret court."
Why don't you finish the sentence and be accurate? Instead of acting like you're [CNN senior political analyst] Bill Schneider, Mr. Babington, Babington. Why don't you point out that these phone calls and emails involving U.S. residents also involve them getting or re -- placing phone calls to Al Qaeda or other terrorist members overseas? What's so hard about getting the story right? Oh, can't do that, because that would take us off the action line. The action line is Bush is spying on the American people. Bush is the greatest threat to national security. We've got -- Bush is a greater threat than bin Laden. Bush is a greater threat than any terrorist attack. Bush is who we gotta deal with. But in order to make that case, you have to lie about Bush and about what he's doing.
So what you have here -- the media creating another false action line, a false reality that this is all about domestic spying, just like this story leaves out the fact that the Americans involved here have to be getting or placing phone calls to terrorists overseas. Don't you think that's somewhat important here? Then -- to accurately presenting the facts to the readers of The Washington Post [laughter] -- it just -- it's just -- it's -- it -- this is -- I'll tell you what. The -- this is -- this is some of the most unprofessional work. The body of work that the mainstream press has put its name to in the last four years is some of the most embarrassing and unprofessional -- starting with Dan Rather and going through to this story and countless other examples.
From the February 16 edition of Fox News' Special Report with Brit Hume:
ANGLE: The White House has been slowly warming to the idea of some legislation, and it embraced the [Sen. Mike] DeWine [R-OH] proposal [to authorize the NSA surveillance program and add congressional oversight] today as a good idea. DeWine even said White House counsel Harriet Miers called him at home last night to talk about it. Several Republicans indicated today they had made clear to the White House that it needs to cooperate on legislation so that whatever is passed will not jeopardize the program to listen in on terrorists.
From the January 17 edition of The New York Times:
"We'd chase a number, find it's a school teacher with no indication they've ever been involved in international terrorism -- case closed," said one former FBI official, who was aware of the program and the data it generated for the bureau. "After you get a thousand numbers and not one is turning up anything, you get some frustration.
From the February 5 edition of The Washington Post:
Intelligence officers who eavesdropped on thousands of Americans in overseas calls under authority from President Bush have dismissed nearly all of them as potential suspects after hearing nothing pertinent to a terrorist threat, according to accounts from current and former government officials and private-sector sources with knowledge of the technologies in use.
Bush has recently described the warrantless operation as "terrorist surveillance" and summed it up by declaring that "if you're talking to a member of al Qaeda, we want to know why." But officials conversant with the program said a far more common question for eavesdroppers is whether, not why, a terrorist plotter is on either end of the call. The answer, they said, is usually no.
Fewer than 10 U.S. citizens or residents a year, according to an authoritative account, have aroused enough suspicion during warrantless eavesdropping to justify interception of their domestic calls, as well. That step still requires a warrant from a federal judge, for which the government must supply evidence of probable cause.
The Bush administration refuses to say -- in public or in closed session of Congress -- how many Americans in the past four years have had their conversations recorded or their e-mails read by intelligence analysts without court authority. Two knowledgeable sources placed that number in the thousands; one of them, more specific, said about 5,000.
The program has touched many more Americans than that. Surveillance takes place in several stages, officials said, the earliest by machine. Computer-controlled systems collect and sift basic information about hundreds of thousands of faxes, e-mails and telephone calls into and out of the United States before selecting the ones for scrutiny by human eyes and ears.
In February 17 articles about the incident last week in which Vice President Dick Cheney accidentally shot a hunting companion, 78-year-old Texas attorney Harry Whittington, 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 consumption of alcohol and Whittington's ability to speak after the February 11 incident have been contradicted by Cheney. The papers also failed to note that Armstrong's own statements raise questions about whether she saw the actual shooting, as she claims.
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. Cheney said 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."
However, as Media Matters for America noted, the weblog ThinkProgress documented in a February 15 entry that Armstrong's media accounts of the incident have 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). Also, Armstrong's earliest claim -- that no alcohol was present -- contradicts Cheney's admission during his Fox News interview that that he drank "a beer at lunch," the day of the accident. In fact, The New York Times reported this contradiction in a February 16 article.
Additionally, Armstrong told the Houston Chronicle that after the accident, Whittington "was immediately talking and that was the great thing." Cheney appeared to contradict that statement during the Fox News interview. When Hume asked if Whittington had said anything to Cheney immediately after being shot, Cheney replied: "He didn't respond. He was -- he was breathing, conscious at that point, but he didn't -- he was, I'm sure, stunned, obviously, still trying to figure out what had happened to him."
Nevertheless, The New York Times' Elisabeth Bumiller and Ralph Blumenthal reported on February 17:
In his account, the chief deputy, Gilberto San Miguel Jr., said he arrived at the ranch shortly after 8 a.m. Sunday and interviewed Mr. Cheney, who described accidentally shooting Mr. Whittington from about 30 yards away. The deputy then interviewed Katharine Armstrong, one of the ranch's owners, "who told me pretty much the same story."
Los Angeles Times reporter James Gersterzang noted the discrepancy between Cheney's claim that he drank prior to the accident and Whittington's claim that there was no alcohol present, but reported that Cheney, the local sheriff, and Armstrong "agree on what happened." From Gersterzang's February 17 article:
Cheney's television interview, the sheriff's report and the information Armstrong gave to the local newspaper agree on what happened Saturday: At about 5:30 p.m., the vice president turned to fire his 28-gauge shotgun, a Perazzi Brescia, at a bird flushed out of the brush, but he shot hunting partner, Harry M. Whittington. The 78-year-old lawyer was struck in the face and torso from about 30 yards.
The sheriff's report includes the first account from Whittington, which was taken at the hospital. During the interview, Whittington emphasized that "there was no alcohol during the hunt" and that everyone was dressed in hunter orange. (Cheney said in his interview with Hume that he had a beer at lunch hours earlier.)
Bumiller and Gersterzang also failed to note that Armstrong's own statements cast doubt as to whether she actually witnessed the shooting. Armstrong described the shooting to the Associated Press, which reported on February 12 that Armstrong said Whittington "came up from behind the vice president and the other hunter and didn't signal them or indicate to them or announce himself." But, as writer R.J. Eskow noted in a February 15 entry on the Huffington Post weblog, Armstrong also told the Associated Press on February 14 that when she saw Cheney's security detail running toward the scene: "The first thing that crossed my mind was he [Cheney] had a heart problem." Why would Armstrong guess that Cheney had had a heart problem when she had allegedly seen the shooting? AP reporter Nedra Pickler failed to note the discrepancy between Armstrong's statement and her alleged eyewitness account.
During the February 16 broadcast of Fox News' The O'Reilly Factor, host Bill O'Reilly claimed that "there's a deep-seated jealousy among our television competitors because we're just beating their brains in, night after night, day after day," and because of this, "they have gotten increasingly strident and hysterical." O'Reilly also stated that while he disagreed with how Vice President Dick Cheney handled the release of information regarding his February 11 hunting accident -- in which he shot 78-year-old lawyer Harry Whittington -- the rest of the media are "hostile" and "hate Bush and Cheney. Hate them." Continuing, O'Reilly stated that "the hysteria surrounding the story, once and for all, should illuminate for all of our viewers and listeners ... that you're not going to get the fair story from 80 percent of the media," but "[y]ou will get it from Fox." Further, despite Cheney's admission to Fox News' own Brit Hume that alcohol was consumed the day of the hunting trip, O'Reilly declared that if viewers heard anyone "saying that Cheney was drunk or possibly drunk ... you've got to click that off and never watch them again, because there you have defamation -- character assassination based on nothing."
Viewers following O'Reilly's advice would presumably have to refuse to watch Fox political analyst Dick Morris ever again. Later that same evening, during an on-air discussion with co-host Sean Hannity on Fox News' Hannity & Colmes, Morris noted that "alcohol was involved," and that "none" of the eyewitnesses to the shooting "will come forward."
O'Reilly made his comments during a phone interview in which he called into The O'Reilly Factor from Florida to speak with Tony Snow, host of Fox News' Weekend Live, who was guest-hosting The Factor in O'Reilly's absence.
From the February 16 broadcast of Fox News' The O'Reilly Factor:
O'REILLY: Well, you know, it's -- we've been reporting on this, Tony, for -- you know, maybe six months. So, there's a deep-seated jealousy among our television competitors because we're just beating their brains in, night after night, day after day, and, they have gotten increasingly strident and hysterical.
I don't really care what they said. It doesn't matter. It's a free world -- country. They can say what they want. But, I think when you -- when you put it all in the same soup, you take the left-wing media in the newspaper industry, which is about 75 percent and growing, and then you take in the bitterness on the television side, you know -- look, I'm not here to stick up for Dick Cheney. I think he made a mistake. I think he should have gotten the thing out as soon as possible and said: "Details to come."
"Here's what happened. I was involved with an accident: details to come." I'm not buying Cheney saying, "Well, we got to get it accurate." I just think that they wanted to manage this story. You know how that goes, Tony.
O'REILLY: They wanted to manage it. And whenever you try to manage it, particularly when you have a hostile media because these -- and I want everybody watching this right now to understand us; these people hate them.
You know, Marvin Kalb disagreed last night on The Factor with the word hate. I'm sorry, they hate them. They hate Bush and Cheney. Hate them.
And they're going to go get them, no matter what they have. But the hysteria surrounding the story, once and for all, should illuminate for all of our viewers and listeners -- all of them -- that you are not going to get the fair story from 80 percent of the media. You will get it from Fox. Hume did a very good job. He was respectful, but he was firm.
SNOW: Yeah, I -- Bill, I think, a lot of times, people -- some of the critics, I think, wanted somebody to pistol-whip the vice president. You and I know that --
O'REILLY: Oh, sure they did. They wanted to -- not pistol-whip him. They wanted somebody to humiliate him. And when you interview a president or vice president, you just -- that's just -- it's like the protocol. You can't do that. You can be firm, you can be direct, but you have to get their statements on the record. You can't be saying, "Well, you're a liar."
Hey, here's how bad it is, Tony. On one of our competitors' network last night, they had two individuals saying that Cheney was drunk or possibly drunk. How irresponsible is that?
Now, I'll tell you ladies and gentlemen, if you hear that, you've got to click that off and never watch them again because there you have defamation -- character assassination based on nothing. Pure, unadulterated, unbridled hatred. And I think the folks got to send a message.
From the February 16 broadcast of Fox News' Hannity & Colmes, which featured co-host Alan Colmes:
COLMES: So, is that the end of the story? Is the case closed in the mind of the public?
Joining us now, former [President] Clinton adviser Dick Morris. Dick, welcome back to the show.
It seems to me, what people object to here is that there's a sense that, if you're in power --
MORRIS: Thank you.
COLMES: -- and you're Dick Cheney, you get treated differently than the average person would be treated because, if someone were shot, it would be on a police blotter, there'd be an immediate report, and that there's a sense that this gets treated differently because it's Dick Cheney.
MORRIS: Well, let me first --
COLMES: Can you hear me OK, Dick?
MORRIS: -- say that this would never have happened in the Clinton-Gore administration because they would never shoot a donor.
But I think that your -- I think your point is basically well-taken, Alan. I think that it was outrageous that the vice president waited that long to reply or to indicate the fact that when he finally did, it was to some local newspaper in Corpus Christi [Texas] where he knew he wouldn't get hard questions, and even then, he had Mrs. [hunting party host Katharine] Armstrong do it.
You know, the first rule for a vice president is like the Hippocratic Oath: Do no harm. And this vice president has done immense harm to the Bush administration.
This episode, the [former Cheney chief of staff I. Lewis "Scooter"] Libby affair, where he -- it came so close to his office, and now the revelation that Libby was instructed to release classified information to support the Iraq invasion.
I support President Bush, but I'm very concerned about the damage that Dick Cheney is doing to him.
COLMES: Dick, this is not a partisan issue. You've had [former White House press secretary] Marlin Fitzwater speak out, even [former White House press secretary] Ari Fleischer, and by the way, in terms of blaming the White House press corps, they've taken some flack, too, from some people. The editor of the Corpus Christi paper said he was -- and to use his word -- mystified that it was handled this way.
MORRIS: Yeah, well, it -- it's -- look, when a politician mishandles something like this, like [Sen. Edward M.] Kennedy [D-MA] did at Chappaquiddick [in 1969], or like Cheney did here -- in Chappaquiddick, there was a death; here, there was just a wounding -- it often is because they have something to hide.
In Kennedy's case, I'm convinced it was that he was drunk, and he needed to sober up before he turned himself into the authorities. I don't know what it was with Vice President Cheney, but I think that he owes more of a candid explanation to the American people.
Armstrong said there was no liquor served. Cheney said that he had a beer at lunch. It is inconceivable that the vice president would sit down and have a nice relaxed dinner, everybody else leave, and the next morning, somebody would get around to thinking that maybe we ought to notify the media.
HANNITY: Well, what do you think here, Dick? I mean, do you think this is like --
MORRIS: I don't think he should resign over this.
HANNITY: -- you know, the vice president aimed and fired at his friend and --
MORRIS: But Bush has more important things to do than to clean up after Cheney.
HANNITY: Well, I just -- what was that?
MORRIS: What do I think?
MORRIS: I don't -- it's hard to speculate, but usually when there's something like this, alcohol is involved. That's what it was with Kennedy.
HANNITY: Well, you know something, I mean, he was there, and he was open to everybody.
MORRIS: He admitted to drinking at lunch.
HANNITY: You've had eyewitnesses the entire incident, Dick. Do you think the vice president was drunk and firing bullets? And don't you think --
MORRIS: None of whom will come forward.
HANNITY: Don't you think that's a little irresponsible -- well, yes, the woman that was an eyewitness to the whole thing has explained her position on this.
MORRIS: Yeah. Armstrong, but none of the other guests have. And there is this large block of unaccountable time when he did not inform the media and did not subject himself to examination by law enforcement officials, except for the Secret Service, which is an entirely different category.
On February 16, nationally syndicated radio host 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 78-year-old Texas lawyer Harry Whittington. In fact, according the official White House transcript of Cheney's February 15 interview with Fox News Washington managing editor Brit Hume, 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."
Cheney did not indicate what time he finished the beer he said he had with lunch or how close to 3 p.m. he resumed hunting. The Dallas Morning News reported on February 16 that "[r]anch owner Katharine Armstrong ... said Wednesday that the [Cheney's] group ate lunch about 1 p.m." Thus, Cheney could have resumed hunting as little as two -- not five -- hours after having consumed an alcoholic beverage.
From Cheney's February 15 interview with Hume:
HUME: Was anybody drinking in this party?
CHENEY: No. You don't hunt with people who drink. That's not a good idea. We had --
HUME: So he wasn't, and you weren't?
CHENEY: Correct. We'd taken a break at lunch -- go down under an old -- ancient oak tree there on the place, and have a barbecue. I had a beer at lunch. After lunch we take a break, go back to ranch headquarters. Then we took about an hour-long tour of the ranch, with a ranch hand driving the vehicle, looking at game. We didn't go back into the field to hunt quail until about, oh, sometime after 3 p.m.
The five of us who were in that party were together all afternoon. Nobody was drinking, nobody was under the influence.
From the February 16 broadcast of The Rush Limbaugh Show:
LIMBAUGH: If you -- if you're paying attention to the antique media today, you will believe that the most important stories today are these: Vice President Cheney hears harsh criticism for the delay in the details of his hunting accident. Vice President Cheney hears harsh criticism for agreeing to admit that he had a beer five hours before going hunting. Vice President Cheney hears harsh criticism for choosing Fox News rather than facing the music and [NBC chief White House correspondent] David Gregory in a press conference.
In her February 17 article, AP staff writer Katherine Shrader again used the White House's preferred terminology -- "terrorist surveillance program" -- to describe President Bush's warrantless domestic surveillance program. Media Matters for America previously noted that Shrader used a similar term in a February 9 article without pointing out that it is one promoted by the Bush administration to cast the controversial program in a way most likely to secure the public's support. In fact, reports in The New York Times and The Washington Post make clear that the term far understates the huge net cast by the program: Far beyond "terrorist surveillance," the program has monitored the communications of thousands of people with no relationship to Al Qaeda.
While the term appears to have originated on December 22 with the right-wing news website NewsMax.com, the White House first adopted it in a January 22 backgrounder on Bush's authorization of the National Security Agency (NSA) to intercept communications of U.S. residents without court warrants. Bush first used the term publicly in a January 23 speech at Kansas State University in which he said of the NSA's activities, "It's what I would call a terrorist surveillance program."
On January 24, Shrader contributed to an article on Bush's speech written by AP staff writer Nedra Pickler that clearly identified the term "terrorist surveillance program" as a "new label" promoted by the president:
With congressional hearings set to begin on this issue Feb. 6, Bush kicked his administration's new intensive public relations effort to win support for the program run by the National Security Agency. As part of that, he gave it a new label -- the Terrorist Surveillance Program.
But in a February 9 article, Shrader used the term without informing readers of its origins:
At least one Democrat left saying he had a better understanding of legal and operational aspects of the anti-terrorist surveillance program. But he said he still had a number of questions.
And in the February 17 article, "Spying Program Prompts Political Jitters," Shrader continued her use of the use of the term:
Polls show approval for Bush's U.S.-based terrorist surveillance program is growing. An AP-Ipsos poll last week showed that people are now evenly divided on whether the administration should be required to get warrants before monitoring domestic calls overseas.
A February 15 Associated Press article by Michael Gormley claimed that it caught the New York State Democratic Committee in the act of editing AP news articles the committee reprinted on its website -- but used an unfair and misleading comparison between the final version of a January 30 Associated Press article and an excerpt of an earlier version of the article posted by the committee on its website. The February 15 AP article used the misleading comparison to suggest hypocrisy on the part of the committee, which had previously criticized former Massachusetts Gov. William Weld, who is seeking the 2006 Republican nomination for governor of New York, for posting altered articles on his gubernatorial campaign website.
On February 4, The New York Times reported:
[Weld] Campaign aides have significantly altered two newspaper articles on his Web site about his bid for governor, removing all negative phrases about him, like ''mini-slump'' and ''dogged by an investigation,'' and passages about his political problems.
Also removed were references to a federal investigation of Decker College, a Kentucky trade school that Mr. Weld led until he left to run for governor last fall; the college collapsed into bankruptcy weeks later amid allegations of financial aid fraud. And criticism of Mr. Weld by a former New York Republican senator, Alfonse D'Amato, was removed.
The Weld campaign placed the sanitized articles, still under the reporters' bylines, on its Web site, weldfornewyork.org under the heading ''news.'' Nothing told readers about the changes.
Reached on his cellphone yesterday, Mr. Weld said that he was going into a meeting, and that he was unaware of the editing of articles on his Web site and would seek information from his staff. One Weld aide reacted with surprise when notified about the changes. Soon after, the words ''excerpted version'' appeared on the Web site above the two articles.
After the New York State Democratic Committee criticized Weld for the selective editing, the AP ran the February 15 article that noted the criticism and suggested that the committee was hypocritical. Under the headline "Democrats caught in own Web spinning after chiding GOP," the article began: "The state Democratic Committee that smacked a Republican candidate for using excerpted news stories on his Web site and passing it off as journalism has done its own editing of news stories on the Web."
But the examples the AP provided of the committee's "own editing of news stories" fall flat. The AP led with an example of the committee posting an excerpt of an earlier AP article about Weld:
On Tuesday the state Democratic Committee posted an Associated Press story about GOP candidate Bill Weld on its Web site headlined: "AP: Scandal at trade school casts a shadow over N.Y. governor's race." The story was four paragraphs long followed by the phrase: "(excerpted per AP policy)."
But there is no such AP policy nor did the committee have permission to use AP articles.
The Democrats' version ended just above where the news article reported: "Weld has said he knew of no illegal activity at the college and has offered to help with the investigation."
The Democratic Committee's posting of roughly 20 percent of the article comes a week after the state party began criticizing Weld for posting only positive excerpts of a New York Times article.
In its effort to equate the New York State Democratic Committee's excerpt of the AP article with the Weld campaign's edited articles, the AP overlooked a key difference: The Weld campaign edited the articles without making clear that it was posting excerpts. The committee -- according to the AP's own report -- noted that the posting was "excerpted" from an AP article. The committee, in other words, made perfectly clear to readers that what they were reading was an excerpt, not the full article -- something the Weld campaign did not do.
Further, the AP's assertion that it had "no such" policy on excerpting may be true, but it is wildly misleading, as a subsequent February 16 AP article made clear. In that follow-up article by Rik Stevens, the AP reported:
"Earlier this year, the AP called the state party and said they were unhappy with the fact that the state party was placing their stories on their site in full," Democratic strategist Howard Wolfson said [on behalf of the Committee].
"As a result the state party was told -- my understanding, I didn't have the conversation -- that they could excerpt the stories instead," he said on WROW-AM. "So, the stories were excerpted, primarily from the bottom."
Articles it posted from newspapers were not edited.
David Tomlin, assistant general counsel for The Associated Press, said AP objects to any republication of its stories to support candidates or causes. Quotation of brief excerpts may sometimes qualify as fair use under copyright law, but the state committee's postings went way beyond that, he said.
So, the flat assertion in the Gormley article that "there is no such AP policy" falsely implied that the New York State Democratic Committee simply fabricated its assertion that it had posted excerpts pursuant to AP policy. In fact, as Stevens's article made clear, the AP does have a relevant policy -- a policy that, according to Wolfson, the AP had articulated to the committee.
The next example Gormley provided of the committee supposedly altering articles was even more flawed:
The Democratic committee altered other AP articles.
On Jan. 31, for example, the Democrats posted: "AP: Poll: Clinton remains strong for re-election," a bylined story about a Siena College poll on the U.S. Senate race.
Here's how the final AP article began:
"Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton is in strong shape for re-election in New York this year, but most voters in her adopted state think it is unlikely the former first lady could win a 2008 presidential race, a statewide poll reported Monday."
Here's how the Democrats re-edited the piece and posted it as an AP piece:
"Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton remains in a strong position in her bid for re-election this year with almost six in 10 New York voters saying they will vote for the former first lady, a statewide poll reported Monday."
The AP's claim that "the Democrats re-edited the piece and posted it as an AP piece" is flatly false. Several versions of the January 30 AP article in question appeared on news wires and are available on the Nexis database. The February 15 AP article refers to the "final" version of the January 30 article to suggest that the New York State Democratic Committee inserted the word "remains" and deleted the reference to New Yorkers' skepticism of Clinton's presidential prospects. But a look at other versions of the article shows that the committee did not "re-edit" a thing; it directly quoted an AP article that was distributed to the world and is available on Nexis.
The New York State Democratic Committee quoted the beginning of the AP article as it originally appeared. The committee reprinted it word-for-word, with not a single deletion or insertion. It was not until nearly eight hours after the article first appeared that it was changed. Yet, the AP, on February 15, omitted that fact in order to falsely assert that the committee "re-edited" a story and misleadingly "posted it as an AP piece." The subsequent Stevens article did not contain this "example" of the committee editing articles, though it did continue to refer to "re-edited AP articles."
The excerpt posted by the Democratic Committee did omit two sentences that were favorable to Clinton -- an omission not noted in the February 15 AP article. The sentences read: "Thirty-seven percent of voters polled said they would prefer someone other than Clinton, a potential 2008 Democratic presidential contender, in the Senate seat. Joseph Caruso, Siena's Research Institute director, noted Clinton was sporting a 60 percent favorability rating statewide."
LA Times selectively reprinted -- and Wash. Times' Lambro selectively cited -- flawed AP article on Abramoff
On February 15, the Los Angeles Times reprinted an abridged version of a flawed, week-old Associated Press article that purported to link Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) with disgraced former lobbyist Jack Abramoff. As Media Matters for America noted when the full article was first issued on February 9, the AP suggested that Reid coordinated with Abramoff to sabotage proposed legislation that would have raised the minimum wage in the Northern Mariana Islands, a U.S. territory represented by Abramoff, without noting that, in fact, Reid was a co-sponsor of that legislation and spoke on the Senate floor in favor of its passage. Moreover, the version published by the Times noted that "Reid also intervened on government matters at least five times in ways helpful to Abramoff's tribal clients" but omitted evidence included in the original AP article suggesting that bulk of Reid's "helpful" actions were the result of his long-standing opposition to off-reservation tribal gaming. Similarly, in his February 16 column, Washington Times chief political correspondent Donald Lambro selectively cited the AP article, repeating the misleading Mariana Islands claim and failing to mention that Reid's actions were consistent with his past positions.
From the AP article, as it appeared in the February 15 Los Angeles Times:
Abramoff's records show his lobbying partners billed for about two dozen phone contacts or meetings with Reid's office in 2001 alone.
Most were to discuss Democratic legislation that would have applied the U.S. minimum wage to the Northern Mariana Islands, a U.S. territory and an Abramoff client, but would have given the islands a temporary break on the wage rate, the billing records show.
Reid also intervened on government matters at least five times in ways helpful to Abramoff's tribal clients, once opposing legislation on the Senate floor and four times sending letters pressing the Bush administration on tribal issues. Reid collected donations about the time of each action.
Like the original February 9 AP article, the version published by the Times never mentioned that Reid co-sponsored the bill that would have raised the minimum wage in the Northern Mariana Islands -- an effort that Abramoff opposed. The AP also failed to note what subsequent action Reid took on the legislation; in fact, Reid supported the bill's passage in a May 6, 2002, speech on the Senate floor, as Media Matters has documented.
The February 9 AP article -- but not the February 15 version in the Times -- identified the Abramoff aide Reid and his staff repeatedly met with to discuss the minimum wage bill as Ronald Platt. In response to the February 9 article, blogger Joshua Micah Marshall contacted Platt about whether Reid had taken any action against the minimum wage bill following their meeting, to which Platt responded, "I'm sure he didn't":
According to Platt, the purpose of his contacts was to see what information he could get about the timing and status of the legislation. Reid's position on the minimum wage issue was well known and there would have been no point trying to get his help blocking it. That's what Platt says. "I didn't ask Reid to intervene," said Platt. "I wouldn't have asked him to intervene. I don't think anyone else would have asked. And I'm sure he didn't."
As Marshall noted, the AP did not interview Platt for the February 9 article. In response, Platt emailed an account of his interactions with Reid (apparently reprinted here) to the AP. (As Media Matters has noted, this resulted in a misleading follow-up article by the AP on February 11.) In his statement, Platt wrote that the Abramoff billing records were "fraudulent" and that, in any case, the February 9 AP article "distorts the context of my 'contacts,' with Senator Reid's staff." Platt explained:
I was fully aware of his [Reid's] strong support for and sponsorship of Senator [Edward M.] Kennedy's [D-MA] bill to ensure that the Marianas Islands would not be exempted from the minimum wage laws applicable to all other American citizens. Therefore, at no time did I ever discuss the substance of this issue with Senator Reid or his office. Nor did I ever ask that the bill be delayed. I only asked about the timing of when the bill would come to the Senate floor. This inquiry was routine.
Like the February 9 AP article, the abbreviated version in the Times reported that Reid took actions "helpful" to Abramoff's tribal clients "at least five times." But unlike the original article, the version in the Times gave readers no indication of what these actions were. In fact, four of the five actions involved opposition to off-reservation Indian casinos. This position is consistent with Reid's longtime opposition to off-reservation gambling. As early as 1988, Reid supported the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act, which generally prohibited Indian gaming on non-tribal lands. He proposed separate legislation in 1993 "prohibit[ing] states from opening gaming operations on off-reservation land" [AP, 5/28/93].
Both versions of the article quoted Reid spokesman Jim Manley, who pointed out that "[a]ll the actions that Sen. Reid took were consistent with his long-held beliefs, such as not letting tribal casinos expand beyond reservations, and were taken to defend the interests of Nevada constituents." But the February 9 version contained substantial evidence supporting Manley's statement about off-reservation gambling -- evidence that was omitted from the February 15 article in the Times.
The February 9 AP article noted that two of Reid's "letters pressing the Bush administration on tribal issues" were written in opposition to an off-reservation casino proposed by the Jena Band of Choctaw Indians in Louisiana. The letters, also signed by Sen. John Ensign (R-NV), were sent to the Department of the Interior on March 5, 2002, and April 30, 2003. According to the AP, "The Jena's proposed casino would have rivaled one already in operation in Louisiana run by the Coushattas, and Abramoff was lobbying to block the Jena."
The February 9 AP article explained that Reid and Ensign have defended their opposition to the Jena casino by pointing out their long-standing efforts to protect Nevada's gambling interests. The article further noted that Reid "has long argued" that such off-reservation casinos are generally illegal:
Reid and Ensign recently wrote the Senate Ethics Committee to say their letter had nothing to do with Abramoff or the donation and instead reflected their interest in protecting Las Vegas' gambling establishments.
"As senators for the state with the largest nontribal gaming industry in the nation, we have long opposed the growth of off-reservation tribal gaming throughout the United States," Ensign and Reid wrote. Reid authored the law legalizing casinos on reservations, and has long argued it does not allow tribal gambling off reservations.
None of this information was included in the Los Angeles Times' version of the AP article.
The February 9 AP article also described two other actions taken by Reid in opposition to tribal casinos but failed to adequately explain that these, too, were consistent with Reid's long-standing positions.
The original AP article explained that "Reid went to the Senate floor to oppose fellow Democratic Sen. Debbie Stabenow's effort to win congressional approval for a Michigan casino for the Bay Mills Indians, which would have rivaled one already operating by the Saginaw Chippewa represented by Abramoff." But as Media Matters has noted, the AP did not explain that in his November 19, 2002, floor statement, Reid said he opposed the legislation because it would allow the Bay Mills Indians to build an off-reservation casino "under the guise of settling a land claim." Nor did the AP note that like the Jenna proposal, the Saginaw Chippewa proposal was for an off-reservation casino.
In its discussion of Reid's opposition to the Saginaw Chippewa casino, the Times version of the article explained only that Reid "once oppos[ed] legislation on the Senate floor" in a manner "helpful" to Abramoff's clients.
Similarly, the February 9 AP article reported that in December 2002, Reid "signed a letter with California Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein urging Interior Secretary Gale Norton to reject a proposal by the Cuyapaipe Band of Mission Indians to convert land for a health clinic into a casino in southern California." The AP added that "[t]he casino would have competed with the Palm Springs gambling establishment run by the Agua Caliente, one of Abramoff's tribes." But the AP did not explain that this proposal, too, was for an off-reservation casino.
The Times version of the AP article offered no description of any of Reid's letters, stating only that Reid "four times sen[t] letters pressing the Bush administration on tribal issues" in a manner "helpful" to Abramoff's clients.
The Washington Times' Lambro, in his February 16 column, also selectively cited the already misleading February 9 AP article. In doing so, Lambro baselessly claimed that Reid "is up to his eyeballs in the Jack Abramoff lobbying scandal." Lambro wrote that "the senator's staff had many contacts with the [Abramoff's] lobbying firm on behalf of their boss," but did not note that, in the AP's words, "[m]ost were to discuss Democratic legislation that would have applied the U.S. minimum wage to the Northern Mariana Islands." And like the AP, Lambro did not inform readers that Reid opposed the position taken by Abramoff's clients on that legislation.
In addition, Lambro wrote, "We now know Mr. Reid wrote at least four letters to assist Indian tribes that hired the since-convicted lobbyist." Lambro ignored the subject of these letters, failing to mention that three of them were entirely consistent with Reid's long-standing opposition to off-reservation tribal gaming.
From Lambro's February 16 Washington Times column:
It turns out Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid of Nevada, who has been running around the country preaching the "culture of corruption" message, is up to his eyeballs in the Jack Abramoff lobbying scandal.
For several weeks, Mr. Reid has been leading a fierce offensive on this issue, while insisting no Democrat received any money in return for legislative favors in the widening scandal under Justice Department investigation.
But new details reported last week by the Associated Press reveal Mr. Reid's fervent, repeated denials of any connection with Abramoff or his lobbying firm were not entirely true.
We now know Mr. Reid wrote at least four letters to assist Indian tribes that hired the since-convicted lobbyist, that the senator's staff had many contacts with the lobbying firm on behalf of their boss, and that Mr. Reid accepted nearly $68,000 in donations from Abramoff's associates and his Indian clients -- often right after he wrote the requested letters.
Hume baselessly asserted that Cheney chose Fox for interview because of its high ratings, rather than because it is "associated with conservative causes"
During the "All-Star panel" segment of the February 15 edition of Special Report with Brit Hume, Fox News Washington managing editor Brit Hume dubiously claimed that Cheney had chosen Fox "probably because he wanted to go with ... the news channel with the largest audience." Hume made the comment while recounting an exchange he said he had with a news crew from one of the broadcast networks. Hume's response, however, contradicts the fact that if Cheney had given the interview to one of the network news shows, it would have reached many more viewers; the broadcast network news programs -- CBS Evening News, NBC Nightly News, and ABC World News Tonight -- each have at least three times Fox's highest average audience. Moreover, Cheney has previously expressed his admiration for Hume and Fox -- a network he praised in April 2004 as "more accurate in my experience, in those events that I'm personally involved in, than many of the other outlets."
Hume's response assumes that Cheney's only option would have been to take his interview to a cable news channel, which is simply not true. While Fox News Channel does have the highest ratings for the cable news channels, network news ratings far outstrip those of Fox News Channel, which garnered 2,325,000 viewers during its highest rated January show (The O'Reilly Factor). Hume's show averaged 1,596,000 viewers in January 2006. That audience, however, pales in comparison to the average audience of the broadcast network news programs. For the week of February 6, ABC's World News Tonight had 9.18 million viewers; CBS Evening News had 7.98 million; and NBC's Nightly News, 9.84 million. The ratings for the week of January 30 were similar. Two of those programs -- CBS' and ABC's -- overlap with Hume's show.
Despite this, a search of transcripts in the Lexis-Nexis database found that Cheney participated in at least 18 separate interviews on Fox News since 2001; eight of them took place in 2005 or 2006. These figures include Fox News Sunday, which airs on the Fox broadcast network in addition to Fox News. By contrast, since 2001, Cheney has had 11 interviews with NBC, five interviews with CBS, and nine interviews with ABC; however, only one of those interviews (ABC's Nightline, 12/19/2005) took place in 2005 or 2006, according to a similar search of Lexis-Nexis transcripts.
Cheney has previously expressed his appreciation for Hume and Fox News. The day after Hume interviewed Cheney on January 19, 2005, Cheney praised Hume during an interview with radio host Don Imus (on The Imus in the Morning radio show). As Media Matters for America has documented, when asked by Imus, "Do you watch the news at night?" Cheney responded, "I sometimes watch another network [besides MSNBC]. No, I'm a fan of Brit Hume's show. I think Brit does a good job." Cheney also praised the Fox News Channel during an April 29, 2004, Bush-Cheney 2004 conference call:
"It's easy to complain about the press -- I've been doing it for a good part of my career," Cheney said. "It's part of what goes with a free society. What I do is try to focus upon those elements of the press that I think do an effective job and try to be accurate in their portrayal of events. For example, I end up spending a lot of time watching Fox News, because they're more accurate in my experience, in those events that I'm personally involved in, than many of the other outlets." [The Washington Post, 4/30/04]
From the February 15 edition of Fox News' Special Report with Brit Hume:
HUME: I was in front of the White House today, and a network crew came up and asked me, "How did you get this interview? You at Fox News are associated with conservative causes. And -- and is that why you got the interview?"
And I said, no, I didn't think that was the reason. I thought it was probably because he wanted to go with -- with the net -- the news channel with the largest audience. I have a -- I have a feeling that that sound bite may never see the light of day. Just a -- just a hunch. Just a hunch.
Couric failed to question Matalin on earlier statements absolving Cheney of blame in shooting; echoed Matalin's account of shooting's disclosure
In interviewing Republican political strategist Mary Matalin regarding Vice President Dick Cheney's public relations disclosures following his accidental shooting of a hunting partner in Texas on February 11, NBC Today host Katie Couric failed to question Matalin regarding remarks she and other Cheney surrogates previously made absolving Cheney of blame in the shooting. Couric did not ask Matalin why she told the press on February 12 that Cheney was blameless in the accident. Nor did Couric ask Matalin why, given Cheney's February 15 admission that he was solely to blame for the accident, Cheney allowed his defenders to blame the accident on the victim, Harry Whittington. Couric also uncritically repeated Matalin's assertion that Katharine Armstrong -- the host of the hunting expedition during which the shooting occurred -- disclosed the accident to the press at Cheney's behest. This explanation is contradicted by statements Armstrong reportedly made to both CNN and National Review that she decided to notify the press independently of the vice president.
Couric failed to question Matalin regarding her assertion -- reported in the February 13 Washington Post -- that in the shooting incident, Cheney "was not careless or incautious or violate any of the [rules]. He didn't do anything he wasn't supposed to do." Moreover, Armstrong and White House press secretary Scott McClellan both faulted Whittington instead of Cheney. The New York Times reported February 13 that Armstrong blamed Whittington because he "did not announce" that he had returned to the hunting party after leaving it. From the Times article:
Mr. Whittington, she [Armstrong] said, "did not announce -- which would be protocol -- 'Hey, it's me, I'm coming up,' " she said.
"He didn't do what he was supposed to do," she added, referring to Mr. Whittington. "So when a bird flushed and the vice president swung in to shoot it, Harry was where the bird was."
McClellan referred reporters to Armstrong's statement blaming Whittington in a February 13 White House press briefing, stating: "I think Mrs. Armstrong spoke publicly about how this incident occurred. And if I recall, she pointed out that the protocol was not followed by Mr. Whittington, when it came to notifying the others that he was there."
But in a February 15 interview with Fox News host Brit Hume, Cheney took responsibility for the incident, stating: "It was not Harry's fault. You can't blame anybody else. I'm the guy who pulled the trigger and shot my friend." Although NBC News White House correspondent Kelly O'Donnell had already noted this fact in an earlier Today segment, stating, "The vice president used his TV appearance to try to undo an assertion first made by the first person he authorized to talk about it: witness and ranch owner Katharine Armstrong, who along with the White House suggested Whittington's own actions contributed to the accident," Couric did not ask Matalin why Cheney allowed his defenders to fault Whittington for days without correcting them.
From the February 16 broadcast of NBC's Today:
O'DONNELL: The vice president accepted responsibility for two major aspects of what happened: the hunting accident itself, and decisions made about how to tell the public he had shot a man.
O'DONNELL: The vice president used his TV appearance to try to undo an assertion first made by the first person he authorized to talk about it: witness and ranch owner Katharine Armstrong, who along with the White House suggested Whittington's own actions contributed to the accident.
McCLELLAN [video clip]: The protocol was not followed by Mr. Whittington, when it came to notifying the others that he was there.
O'DONNELL: But Cheney took full blame.
CHENEY [video clip]: It was not Harry's fault. You can't blame anybody else. I'm the guy who pulled the trigger and shot my friend.
Couric also echoed Matalin's assertion that Armstrong contacted the Corpus Christi Caller-Times to notify the paper of the shooting -- at Cheney's behest. The Caller-Times was the first news outlet to report the shooting, prompted by Armstrong's notification.
As Media Matters for America previously noted, National Review White House correspondent Byron York reported February 13 that "Armstrong said she did not coordinate with the vice president's office before calling the Corpus Christi paper." And during the February 13 White House press briefing, CNN White House correspondent Suzanne Malveaux asked McClellan to explain the discrepancy between Armstrong's reported statement "that she did not believe the Vice President's Office was aware that she was going to go to the local press" and McClellan's earlier statement -- at the briefing -- that "[t]he vice president spoke with Mrs. Katharine Armstrong, and they agreed that she should make that information [regarding the shooting] public." A later statement by Armstrong to the Associated Press contradicted her earlier reported statements to York and CNN. From a February 15 AP article:
"I said, Mr. Vice President, this is going to be public, and I'm comfortable going to the hometown newspaper," she told The Associated Press in a telephone interview. "And he said you go ahead and do whatever you are comfortable doing."
But rather than challenging Matalin on her disputed account of how Armstrong decided to notify the press of the accident, Couric echoed Matalin. Matalin then reasserted that Armstrong had contacted the Caller-Times at Cheney's behest. From the interview:
COURIC: I know that the vice president said he felt comfortable with the way the story itself -- or the release of the story -- was handled. But in hindsight, do you believe he should have notified the media in a more timely way?
MATALIN: No. And in fact, if you look at the facts of the case, Katharine Armstrong, who was an eyewitness and is a hunter who was there, was on the phone trying to reach the media as early as 8 Sunday morning. The objective was to get the story out. Not get it out fast, but get it out right. Sometimes accuracy -- and the vice president believes this, and I believe he's correct -- accuracy and completeness should take priority over quickness. We saw in the coverage of Katrina, the first stories out of there were so horrific they impeded the rescue effort.
COURIC: Right. But to get the owner, I guess -- to get the owner of the ranch to call the local paper, does it strike you as odd in any way that, say the vice president's office or the --
MATALIN: She's -- Katie, she's not the owner -- she was not just the owner of the ranch. She was an eyewitness to the event. By the time I spoke with the vice president Sunday morning, I had gotten four different accounts of what happened. So I know from personal experience in dealing with Cheney press that just putting out a statement does not make any story just be humdrum. Any routine -- anything of the vice president's requires complete, fulsome, accurate, conveyance of information. We've seen this repeatedly every time he goes to the hospital for a routine test. So the effort there was to get not just the ranch owner -- she -- Katharine is a hunter, she is an expert on gaming down there in Texas official [sic] in such regard. She did own the ranch, and mostly importantly [sic], she was an eyewitness to the account. The vice president only knew what he did. He saw Harry leave. He didn't see Harry come back. Katharine saw the whole thing. I think that he was correct in trying to put out the most complete and accurate rendition. How he got it out, where she got it out, and our expectation that getting it out and getting it on the wire in the most expeditious way she could accomplish without any staff down there was the right decision.
Media declared that Cheney took responsibility for shooting, failed to note that his supporters had first put blame on victim
Following Vice President Dick Cheney's exclusive February 15 interview with Fox News Washington managing editor Brit Hume, the media widely reported that he took "full responsibility" for accidentally shooting 78-year-old Texas lawyer Harry Whittington while hunting the previous weekend. Most reports have cited Cheney's statement in the interview that "it was not Harry's fault. You can't blame anybody else. I'm the guy who pulled the trigger and shot my friend." But numerous news outlets have failed to note that Cheney's acceptance of responsibility contradicts the accounts put forth by his friends and supporters in the days following the incident, in which they put the blame squarely on Whittington.
On the morning of February 12, the day after the shooting, the vice president agreed that Katharine Armstrong, the owner of the ranch where the incident took place, would alert "a reporter she knew at the Corpus Christi Caller-Times" to issue the first news of the incident, according to a February 16 New York Times article. During the subsequent two days, Armstrong was the only person who was present when the incident occurred to provide details to reporters. On February 13, numerous newspapers quoted Armstrong asserting that Whittington had not followed proper hunting protocol by failing to make his presence known as he rejoined the hunting group prior to the shooting:
During his February 13 press briefing, White House press secretary Scott McClellan repeated Armstrong's claim that Whittington had not followed protocol:
McCLELLAN: I don't know all the specifics about it, but I think Mrs. Armstrong spoke publicly about how this incident occurred. And if I recall, she pointed out that the protocol was not followed by Mr. Whittington, when it came to notifying the others that he was there.
Armstrong was not the only one who directed blame at the victim. Appearing on the February 13 edition of MSNBC's Hardball with Chris Matthews, former Sen. Alan K. Simpson (R-WY) touted the hunting prowess of his "old pal" Cheney while also blaming Whittington:
SIMPSON: Cheney has his full bag of doves and quail. He's an expert shot and a great hunter and a great sportsman, but if the people with him aren't following the laws and the protocol of quail hunting, somebody gets hurt.
Moreover, according to an anonymous "GOP source" quoted in a February 15 New York Daily News article, in the days following the incident, Cheney himself confided to friends that Whittington "was in a place he shouldn't be."
But during his February 15 interview with Hume, Cheney said he was the one to blame:
HUME: So how, in your judgment, did this happen? Who -- what caused this? What was the responsibility here?
CHENEY: Well, ultimately, I'm the guy who pulled the trigger that fired the round that hit Harry. And you can talk about all of the other conditions that existed at the time, but that's the bottom line. And there's no -- it was not Harry's fault. You can't blame anybody else. I'm the guy who pulled the trigger and shot my friend.
Following the interview, numerous news outlets highlighted that Cheney had accepted responsibility without noting that his friends -- and reportedly he himself -- had earlier placed the blame on Whittington. A February 16 New York Times article by staff writers David E. Sanger and Anne E. Kornblut uncritically reported that Cheney "took full responsibility," despite the fact that a separate Times article published that day noted that "Ms. Armstrong initially faulted Mr. Whittington." Further, Sanger and Kornblut wrote that Cheney "said no one intended to blame" Whittington. But at no point in the interview did he comment on anyone else's intentions, merely stating, "You can't blame anybody else."
Other media outlets that uncritically reported Cheney's acceptance of responsibility included USA Today, The Wall Street Journal (subscription required), Reuters, Fox News' Special Report with Brit Hume, ABC's Nightline, and CBS' The Early Show.
By contrast, a February 16 Los Angeles Times article by staff writers Peter Wallsten and Nicholas Riccardi reported that Cheney "took responsibility" for the accident, but noted that his tone differed from "earlier statements by the White House and some defenders of the vice president, who had said Texas lawyer Harry Whittington might have erred by stepping into Cheney's line of fire and failing to announce his presence." AP staff writer Nedra Pickler similarly contrasted Cheney's acceptance of responsibility with Armstrong's prior suggestion "that Whittington was at fault in the shooting because, she said, he failed to announce himself as he rejoined the hunting line." A February 16 article by Washington Post staff writer Peter Baker noted that "according to Armstrong, [Whittington] did not let his partners know he had returned."
Moreover, ABC's World News Tonight not only mentioned Armstrong's previous efforts to place the blame on Whittington but went a step further, noting that the apparent discrepancy between her and Cheney's accounts of who was to blame for the incident seemed to contradict the vice president's assertion that, for reasons of accuracy, it was the "right call" to choose Armstrong as the primary spokesperson. In a report on the February 15 edition of the program, ABC News chief White House correspondent Martha Raddatz contrasted Cheney's claim in the interview that "accuracy was enormously important" with the fact that Armstrong's representation of the event was apparently inaccurate:
RADDATZ: The vice president said today he agreed with Armstrong that she should be the one to tell the local paper. Why?
CHENEY: She'd seen the whole thing. Secondly, she'd grown up on the ranch, she'd hunted there all of her life. Third, she was the immediate past head of the Texas Wildlife and Parks Department. I thought that was the right call.
HUME: What do you think now?
CHENEY: Well, I still do. I still think that the, the accuracy was enormously important.
RADDATZ: But it was Armstrong who placed blame on Whittington, saying he made a mistake by not announcing to the vice president that he had walked up to rejoin the hunting line.
Later in the show, anchor Elizabeth Vargas and ABC chief Washington correspondent George Stephanopoulos agreed that this apparent contradiction "undercut" Cheney's assertion that he made the "right decision" in selecting Armstrong to speak to the press:
VARGAS: But there is still a contradiction, isn't there? I mean, he says it was the right decision to let Katharine Armstrong give that version of events, while saying it was his responsibility. And her version of the events placed responsibility squarely on Mr. Whittington's shoulders.
STEPHANOPOULOS: It did. And you know, the fact that he thought she was going to be the more credible witness is undercut right now.
On February 15, Media Matters for America noted that anchor Kyra Phillips and White House correspondent Suzanne Malveaux had uncritically reported that Cheney had accepted responsibility. In her subsequent reports on the story, however, Malveaux has continued to stress that Cheney took full responsibility in the interview while ignoring that Armstrong had earlier placed the blame on Whittington [see here, here, here, here and here]. Meanwhile, CNN White House correspondent Dana Bash's separate reports on the Cheney interview have included mention of this aspect of the story.
HUME: Vice President Cheney breaks his silence tonight on this broadcast. In an exclusive interview, Mr. Cheney responds to questions regarding that hunting accident over the weekend, including accepting full responsibility for the incident. The interview itself is coming up, but first, highlights in this report from chief White House correspondent Carl Cameron.
CARL CAMERON (Fox News chief White House correspondent): Four days after the incident, in an interview with Fox News, Vice President Dick Cheney spoke publicly for the first time about accidentally shooting his Texas hunting partner late Saturday afternoon.
CHENEY: Ultimately, I'm the guy that pulled the trigger that fired the round that hit Harry. And you can talk about all of the other conditions that existed at the time, but that's the bottom line. And there's no -- it was not Harry's fault. You can't blame anybody else. I'm the guy who pulled the trigger and shot my friend.
TERRY MORAN (anchor): We begin with the vice president as we've never seen him before. Personal, pained and decidedly unpolitical. Dick Cheney described today what he called one of the worst days his life, Saturday's disastrous Texas hunting outing, when he accidentally shot his fellow hunter, 78-year-old lawyer Harry Whittington. Today, Whittington remains in the hospital. And Dick Cheney, under increasing pressure for the silence and information delays that followed the shooting, sat down with the Fox News Channel to explain himself.
Dick Cheney broke his silence and took responsibility for his actions.
CHENEY: Ultimately, I'm the guy who pulled the trigger that fired the round that hit Harry. And you can talk about all of the other conditions that existed at the time but that's the bottom line. And there's no -- it was not Harry's fault. You can't blame anybody else. I'm the guy who pulled the trigger and shot my friend.
BILL PLANTE (CBS White House correspondent): So yesterday, with a push from the White House, the vice president himself took full responsibility for the accident.
CHENEY: You can't blame anyone else. I'm the guy who pulled the trigger and shot my friend. And to say that's a moment I'll never forget.
PLANTE: Why didn't the White House announce that the vice president had been involved in a shooting accident? The White House was notified of the incident, but Cheney himself didn't talk to anyone until Sunday morning and then decided to let his hostess, Katharine Armstrong, make the announcement.
CHENEY: I think Katharine was an excellent choice. I don't know who you could get better as the basic source for the story than the witness who saw the whole thing.
Fox News host Bill O'Reilly alleged on the February 13 broadcast of his nationally syndicated radio program, The Radio Factor, that "left-wing media ... dominates the newspaper industry." O'Reilly then listed a number of alleged examples of "left-wing" newspapers -- including five that endorsed George W. Bush in the 2004 presidential election.
O'Reilly made these comments during a segment celebrating the upcoming 10th anniversary of Fox News Channel, which produces and airs O'Reilly's nightly cable television broadcast, The O'Reilly Factor. O'Reilly named the Fox News Channel, along with the Wall Street Journal editorial page, as "the only bulwark against this [liberal media]." He then added The Washington Times to his "bulwark," but qualified that, saying, "[T]hat's a lesser paper. Their circulation isn't big."
Concluding the segment, O'Reilly stated:
O'REILLY: Now, if we live in a country where all the media is left-wing, and before the Fox News Channel, that's pretty much it, then we are in trouble. So, everybody should be celebrating the Fox News Channel as it approaches its 10th anniversary in October. Are we celebrating? I don't think so."
From the February 13 edition of Westwood One's The Radio Factor with Bill O'Reilly:
O'REILLY: Anyway, Fox News has risen up to become a major force -- factor, if you will -- in America. And it is a counter to the secular progressive, left-wing media, which dominates the newspaper industry and is very sympathetic in the television industry. And everybody knows that. That, that's provable. The studies have shown it. Newspaper, after newspaper, after newspaper where you live.
I mean let's run down the list. We got the Boston Globe, far left. Hartford Courant, left-wing. New York Times, left-wing. New York Daily News, pretty much left-wing. New York Post is right-wing. Okay, Albany [New York] paper, left-wing. Syracuse, New York, paper, left-wing. Philadelphia Inquirer, left-wing. Washington Post, left-wing. Baltimore Sun, left-wing.
I mean on and on and on and on. And I'm just going down the coastline. Atlanta [Journal-] Constitution, far left. St. Petersburg Times [Florida], far left. Miami Herald, left-wing. Houston Chronicle, left-wing. Dallas Morning News, drifting left. Kansas City Star, left-wing. San Francisco Chronicle, off-the-chart left. L.A. [Los Angeles] Times, left-wing. Oregonian, left-wing. Seattle Post-Intelligencer, left-wing. Denver Post, left-wing. I mean on and on and on and on. You're never going to get the truth from those newspapers. They're always going to skew it their way. So the only bulwark against this is the Fox News Channel and the Wall Street Journal editorial page. And, you know, The Washington Times, but that's a lesser paper. Their circulation isn't big.
You see? Now, if we live in a country where all the media is left-wing, and before the Fox News Channel, that's pretty much it, then we are in trouble. So everybody should be celebrating the Fox News Channel as it approaches its 10th anniversary in October. Are we celebrating? I don't think so.
During the February 15 edition of Fox News' The O'Reilly Factor, host Bill O'Reilly called Maureen Dowd's February 15 New York Times column (subscription required) about Vice President Dick Cheney's hunting accident "the best illustration I have seen in years of a media out of control." O'Reilly asserted that even though Cheney publicly took full responsibility for the incident, Dowd "claims the White House is blaming the guy who got shot." In fact, as Dowd wrote, White House press secretary Scott McClellan did suggest Cheney's hunting partner, Harry Whittington, the man Cheney shot, was at fault. Dowd noted that McClellan referred reporters to statements by Katharine Armstrong, the host of the February 11 hunting party whom Cheney originally designated to tell the press about the incident, in which she suggested that Whittington was to blame for what had happened. Moreover, viewers would never have known this from O'Reilly's accusations, but there is no way Dowd could have cited Cheney's comments, in which he acknowledged he was responsible for the shooting, since her column was published hours before Cheney actually made those comments in his interview with Fox News' Brit Hume.
O'Reilly, who called Dowd "a notorious Bush-Cheney basher," said of her column:
O'REILLY: She [Dowd] also claims the White House is blaming the guy who got shot. I mean, I have never seen a column like this. Today, Mr. Cheney discussed that charge with Brit Hume.
O'Reilly then proceeded to play a clip of Cheney's Fox News interview in which Cheney stated: "[I]t was not Harry's fault. You can't blame anybody else. I'm the guy who pulled the trigger and shot my friend." After playing the clip, O'Reilly lamented that whether one "like[s] Cheney or not, once critical thinking degenerates into hatred, there's no value."
But O'Reilly failed to inform his viewers that Dowd's column appeared in the February 15 edition of The New York Times hours before Cheney's interview took place and was subsequently released to the public. In the column, Dowd condemned Cheney's failure to admit guilt, which, at the time, he had not yet done, and went on to criticize the administration:
Private citizens have been enlisted to blame the victim. Maybe poor Mr. Whittington put himself in the wrong place at the wrong time. But he was, after all, behind Vice, not in front of him. And the hunter pulling the trigger is supposed to make sure he has a clear shot. Wouldn't it be, well, classy for Shooter to express just a bit of contrition and humility?
Instead, the usual sliming has begun, with the Cheney camp trying to protect the vice president by casting a veteran hunter as Elmer Dud.
Scott McClellan told the White House press corps that Katharine Armstrong, a lobbyist with government ties who owns the Texas ranch (and whose mother, Anne, was on the Halliburton board that hired Mr. Cheney as C.E.O.), "pointed out that the protocol was not followed by Mr. Whittington when it came to notifying the others that he was there."
Moreover, as Dowd wrote, the White House did suggest Whittington was at fault by allowing a Cheney surrogate to publicly say essentially that and then directing reporters to those statements. As Media Matters for America has noted, Armstrong publicly faulted Whittington's conduct before the shooting. According to the Houston Chronicle, Armstrong blamed Whittington for not "announcing himself" when he returned to the hunting line, explaining, "You're always supposed to let other hunters know where you are." During a February 13 White House press briefing, McClellan endorsed Armstrong's description of the accident:
McCLELLAN: I don't know all the specifics about it, but I think Mrs. Armstrong spoke publicly about how this incident occurred. And if I recall, she pointed out that the protocol was not followed by Mr. Whittington, when it came to notifying the others that he was there. And so, you know, unfortunately these types of hunting accidents happen from time to time.
Moreover, during the February 13 edition of MSNBC's Hardball with Chris Matthews, former Sen. Alan K. Simpson (R-WY), a Cheney friend, also suggested Whittington was negligent:
SIMPSON: [I]t's a sad thing what happened to him [Whittington], but it has less to do with Dick Cheney and much more to do with him. He apparently went for another bird, picked it up, came back and got behind the two other hunters and didn't say, "I'm back, I'm behind you, I'm here." And if you don't do that, let me tell you, anything can happen.
From the February 15 edition of Fox News' The O'Reilly Factor:
O'REILLY: New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd is a notorious Bush-Cheney basher. Ms. Dowd can be amusing, but, she, like many at The New York Times, has gone completely off the rails. Writing about the Cheney hunting accident today, Ms. Dowd brings in the following: soldiers dying in Iraq, Cheney's Vietnam deferment, Halliburton, Katrina, oil prices, Medicare, corrupt lobbyists, Osama [bin Laden], Tora Bora, and a possible grand jury investigation.
You think I'm kidding? Check out her column. Every American should read it. Ms. Dowd describes Cheney's hunting hobby as -- quote -- "his macho kicks gunning down little birds" -- unquote.
She also claims the White House is blaming the guy who got shot. I mean, I've never seen a column like this. Today, Mr. Cheney discussed that charge with Brit Hume.
CHENEY [clip]: Ultimately, I'm the guy who pulled the trigger that fired the round that hit Harry. And you can talk about all of the other conditions that existed at the time, but that's the bottom line. And there's no -- it was not Harry's fault. You can't blame anybody else. I'm the guy who pulled the trigger and shot my friend. And, as I say, that's something I'll never forget.
O'REILLY: Now, like Cheney or not, once critical thinking degenerates into hatred, there's no value.
This incident is the best illustration I've seen in years of a media out of control.
USA Today Washington bureau chief Susan Page, in a February 15 article, suggested that criticism of Vice President Dick Cheney's decision to withhold information concerning his accidental shooting of a hunting companion, lawyer Harry Whittington, in Texas on February 11 came only from Democrats. In an article that addressed what she said critics called Cheney's "penchant for secrecy," the only Cheney critics Page quoted were two prominent Democrats -- Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) and Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY). The two supporters Page quoted are Republicans.
Contradicting the misleading suggestion in Page's report, 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. The Los Angeles Times reported on February 15 that former Republican presidential press secretaries Ari Fleischer, who held the position during President Bush's first term, and Marlin Fitzwater, who served under presidents Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush, also criticized the vice president and his staff for withholding the information. The Times article also quoted Fox News contributor Robert D. Novak calling the White House "secretive." Even current White House press secretary Scott McClellan suggested that the situation could have been handled better.
Giving a more accurate picture than Page, USA Today staff writer David Jackson, in addition to quoting Schumer, reported that "[s]ome conservatives are also pressing Cheney to speak out":
National Review magazine posted an editorial on its website that said, "not talking only feeds speculation and aids the cause of those who want to lampoon and smear him. Let's hear from the vice president."
The Los Angeles Times quoted Fleischer saying, "It would have been better if the vice president and/or his staff had come out last Saturday night or first thing Sunday morning and announced it." Fitzwater told the newspaper that Cheney had "ignored his responsibility to the American people" by not disclosing information about the shooting to the public.
In a separate February 14 story, the Times also quoted Novak, who said, on the February 13 edition of Fox News' Special Report with Brit Hume, "It's news, and it reflects an attitude in this White House of holding back information, of being too clever by half, and being secretive."
Finally, during the February 14 White House press briefing, McClellan said, "There were some very legitimate questions that were asked [during the February 13 press briefing]. As I indicated, I always believe that you can look back and work to do better."
From Page's article in the February 15 edition of USA Today:
Once again, Vice President Cheney is at the center of a White House firestorm. And once again, his critics fault him for a penchant for secrecy.
"My personal preference is to go along with the press' sense of entitlement because it's easier to go along with it than try to fight it," says Charlie Black, a Republican strategist close to the White House. "But I don't think he thinks that way."
For President Bush, however, the resulting furor -- the subject of 42 of the 60 questions posed at the White House briefing Tuesday -- is an unwelcome interruption at a time his approval rating has slipped to 39% in the latest USA TODAY/CNN/Gallup Poll. It reinforces Democratic charges that the administration is incompetent and secretive.
Press secretary Scott McClellan tried unsuccessfully to move attention to the president's speech today in Dublin, Ohio, on health care. Instead, late-night comics are having a field day while some Democrats draw darker conclusions.
"I think the reason it took the vice president a day to talk about this is part of the secretive nature of this administration," Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid of Nevada told reporters on Capitol Hill on Tuesday. "The American people are not entitled to know what's going on, in their mind-set."
Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., sent the vice president a letter -- and immediately e-mailed it to reporters -- that said Cheney was "disturbingly averse to having an open discussion with the American people on matters both large and small."
Others call the controversy a tempest in a teapot. "It's just a simple hunting accident," says Roger Pilon of the Cato Institute, a libertarian think tank. "It's a striking example of the media obsession with any peccadillo that may come from the White House."
Cheney's attitude toward the news media changed when he served as secretary of Defense in the first Bush administration, according to former Wyoming senator Alan Simpson, an old friend. During his tenure in the U.S. House, Cheney was "open and responsive" to reporters' questions as they campaigned together in the Cowboy State, Simpson said.
From the February 15 edition of the Los Angeles Times:
The White House's delay in releasing information drew public rebukes from Ari Fleischer, Bush's former press secretary, and Marlin Fitzwater, who served in that position for presidents Reagan and George H.W. Bush.
"It would have been better if the vice president and/or his staff had come out last Saturday night or first thing Sunday morning and announced it," Fleischer said Tuesday in an interview with Editor & Publisher, a newspaper trade publication. "It could have and should have been handled differently."
Fitzwater told the magazine that Cheney had "ignored his responsibility to the American people" by failing to disclose the accident.
From the February 14 edition of the Los Angeles Times:
Cheney -- known for having testy relations with the media -- on Monday came under criticism from Democrats and Republicans who said the White House should have disclosed the incident immediately.
"It's news, and it reflects an attitude in this White House of holding back information, of being too clever by half and being secretive," columnist Robert Novak said on Fox News.
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.
Limbaugh: Wal-Mart should charge Massachusetts "lib babes" $1,000 per pill for emergency contraception
Commenting on a Massachusetts lawsuit filed against Wal-Mart over its refusal to stock emergency contraception pills, nationally syndicated radio host Rush Limbaugh told listeners on February 14 , "[I]f I were Wal-Mart ... I would stock one bottle [of emergency contraception pills]" and charge "a thousand bucks a pill." Limbaugh also said that "the last place you want to be is between a ... liberal woman and her morning-after pill. You don't want to be in her path when -- if ... she needs her morning-after. Just get out of the way." Limbaugh later added: "Wal-Mart's one of the biggest enemies that the libs have in this country. And now, all of a sudden, here you had a couple lib babes -- three of them -- that needed a morning-after pill and wanted to go to Wal-Mart." As Media Matters for America has previously noted, Limbaugh made nearly identical comments on the February 2 broadcast of his radio program.
On February 1, three women filed a lawsuit against Wal-Mart for allegedly violating a Massachusetts state regulation that "requires pharmacies to provide all 'commonly prescribed medicines.' " Wal-Mart resisted, stating that the company "chooses not to carry many products for business reasons." Wal-Mart has refused to elaborate further, but according to a February 1 Associated Press article, "in a letter to [the plaintiffs' attorney Sam] Perkins regarding the lawsuit, Wal-Mart attorney John W. Delaney wrote that Wal-Mart has 'long had the corporate policy of declining to make available EC (emergency contraception) medication, based on, among other things, a view that EC medication is not 'commonly prescribed.' ' " On February 14, the Massachusetts state pharmacy board -- in a unanimous decision -- ordered Wal-Mart to begin stocking emergency contraceptive pills.
From the February 14 broadcast of The Rush Limbaugh Show:
LIMBAUGH: I don't believe this either. This is -- you know that story -- we had this -- some -- Wal-Mart was not stocking the morning-after pill. And I said, "Oh, this is -- this is big trouble."
It's in Massachusetts. The last place you want to be is between a -- a liberal woman and her morning-after pill. You don't want to be in her path when if -- if -- if she needs her morning after. Just get out of the way and then Wal-Mart didn't stock 'em.
And, of course, that doesn't matter because you've got bureaucrats in Massachusetts that can tell Wal-Mart what they have to carry. Now, this is a big problem for the libs 'cause here they're trying to put Wal-Mart out of business.
Wal-Mart's one of the biggest enemies that the libs have in this country. And now, all of a sudden, here you had a couple lib babes -- three of them -- that needed a morning-after pill and wanted to go to Wal-Mart.
What I would do if I were Wal-Mart here -- I would stock one bottle. "You going to make me do this? OK. I'll put one bottle and we're charging a thousand bucks a pill." That's what I would do.
February 15, 2006
During the February 13 edition of Fox News' The O'Reilly Factor, host Bill O'Reilly said that the "5 to 7 percent" of San Francisco police officers alleged in a recent series of news articles in the San Francisco Chronicle to have used excessive force do not constitute "a lot" of officers and stated further that "I'm not sure what the big deal is out of that." O'Reilly was responding to former San Francisco Board of Supervisors president Angela Alioto, whom he hosted along with San Francisco Police Officers Association president Gary Delagnes in order to discuss the Chronicle series about incidents of violence employed by the San Francisco Police Department, titled "The Use of Force."
From the February 13 edition of Fox News' The O'Reilly Factor:
O'REILLY: But how pervasive is this?
ALIOTO: Five to 7 percent.
O'REILLY: This is what I'm trying to get at. Look, every police force has bad people on it. I mean, everybody knows that.
ALIOTO: My point --
O'REILLY: But if you have 100 officers out of 2,200, that's not a lot.
ALIOTO: No, but --
O'REILLY: I mean, that's less than 5 percent. And there's -- the Chronicle doesn't assert they did anything. All they say is that these guys -- and they could be, you know, in the worst neighborhoods, in the worst kind of stuff, narcotics, or whatever -- are responsible for a high rate of force violations. Look, you know -- you've been on the supervisors' board. You know what police work is. If you're down in the sewer and the gutter with these people, they're going to throw everything they can at you, particularly if you're good, if you're a good cop. They're going to try to get you.
ALIOTO: I not only know what police work is, my son, Joe, before he was police commissioner, was a San Francisco police officer at 19 years old.
ALIOTO: I'm fully aware of that. But Bill, you surely are not suggesting that we just let the 100 be 100 and continue that kind of behavior?
O'REILLY: No. I'm not sure -- it's not many. And I'm not sure what the big deal is out of that. Most other police forces would say, "Gee, just 100? That's not so bad."
ALIOTO: No, but do something about the 100 who have excessive records.
In his February 14 nationally syndicated column, Media Research Center (MRC) president L. Brent Bozell III wrote of Vice President Dick Cheney's February 11 hunting accident: "With apologies to the Cheney friend who received the pellet facial, the incident was funny." According to a Google news search, Bozell's column was first posted on the MRC website at roughly 6 p.m. ET on February 14 -- well after news reports indicated that Texas lawyer Harry Whittington, who was part of Cheney's hunting party and is the man Cheney shot, was transferred to an intensive care unit after suffering a "cardiac event" brought on by birdshot lodged in his heart. Bozell further downplayed the seriousness of Whittington's injuries by using euphemisms such as "pellet-facial" and "sprinkled with birdshot."
From Bozell's February 14 column:
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.
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?"
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