Fox Killing the Story That Won't Die
February 16, 2006
By Joseph Hughes
Editor's note: this article was updated at 1pm on February 16.
The sitting vice president shoots a 78-year-old man with a shotgun
while hunting illegally. Then he avoids authorities. Then the administration
actively covers up key details. Then the victim has a minor heart
attack. But Bill O'Reilly doesn't think it matters. It "affects
no one," he said. "Means nothing."
His Fox colleague, Brit Hume, said the incident is "much ado about
not really much." Sean Hannity criticized the "very hostile media"
for asking Scott McClellan about the shooting. Neil Cavuto, meanwhile,
accused the press corps of "trying to create a White House scandal
that simply does not exist."
Try as they might, our Fox friends won't be able to kill the story
that won't die. There are too many unanswered questions. There are
too many dodges and misdirections. There are too many holes in the
Why were there so many initial attempts to downplay the scope
of Harry Whittington's injuries? At first, ranch owner Katharine
Armstrong said that the victim was "bruised more than bloodied"
and that "I think his pride was hurt more than anything else." Yet
it was reported that Whittington was "bleeding profusely." His daughter,
meanwhile, said, "He didn't know at the time if he was going to
the hospital or the mortuary." Yesterday we learned that Whittington
had suffered a minor heart attack. If that qualifies as a case of
hurt pride, remind me to never ask Armstrong for a diagnosis.
What was the role of alcohol in the incident? There appears to
have been a 14-hour gap between the shooting and when Cheney spoke
with local authorities. That this occurred - and that two reputable
news outlets could be so far apart on the details - makes this question
rather important. Especially since the following paragraph was removed
from an MSNBC story about Armstrong shortly after it appeared:
Armstrong also told NBC News that she does not believe alcohol
was involved in the accident. She says she believes no one that
day was drinking, although she says there may have been beer
available during a picnic lunch that preceded the incident.
"There may be a beer or two in there," she said, "but remember
not everyone in the party was shooting."
Why was this paragraph removed (and later re-inserted in altered
form) if not because it brings alcohol into play? And why hasn't
the media asked? They may soon, however, now that the vice president
had admitted to having consumed alcohol on the day of the shooting.
But Cheney's admission only creates more questions, namely because
people's characterizations of the afternoon - as related to alcohol
- have been, at best, misleading.
The right will surely dismiss such questioning as partisan conspiracy
theorizing, but the evidence lends itself to a more thorough investigation.
Besides, if we can talk endlessly about blowjobs, cigars and windowless
hallways, there's nothing wrong about asking whether alcohol was
involved in a hunting accident where the vice president shot somebody.
And that's just it. Does anyone at Fox remotely recognize the
breathtaking hypocrisy inherent in trying to bury the Cheney story?
It's safe to assume they have archived footage from the late-'90s,
right? Or does President Clinton's second term escape their minds?
Let's turn the tables for a moment. Suppose former Vice President
Al Gore had wounded a fellow hunter while in office, also admitting
to having consumed beer the day of the shooting? Suppose also, as
was the case Saturday, that the vice president was hunting with
a male companion and two women who weren't their wives? Fox would
have had to create a second network to properly cover both the impeachment
and the shooting.
Mention Ted Kennedy to a right winger and you get Chappaquiddick.
Mention Robert Byrd and you get the Klan. Bring up Cheney's two
drunk driving convictions in the context of Saturday's shooting
and you'll likely hear the phrases "youthful indiscretion" and "So
what?" When you do, please note the sheer irony of the moment.
So why has the White House bungled this story so badly, so much
so that two former Republican press secretaries have criticized
the administration? On its face, "Cheney wounds fellow hunter" is
a rather cut-and-dried story, one that could have easily been reported
shortly after the shooting took place and Whittington was rushed
to the hospital. Yet why does this story have "cover up" written
all over it?
Why the delay in speaking with authorities? Why the decision to
allow the ranch owner to break the news nearly a day later, a move
Cheney stands behind? Why the song-and-dance from McClellan, who
went so far as to knowingly avoid discussing Whittington's heart
attack? Why the noticeable absence of the president, who either
knew Saturday night and is complicit in the story's embargo or didn't
know until much later, which does nothing to damage the stereotype
that Cheney, not Bush, is really in charge?
Much like the administration's warrantless wiretapping, this weekend's
incident is a metaphor for the White House's behavior. Team Cheney
could have been honest with authorities. They could have obeyed
the law. But they didn't. Why didn't they? Defenders of domestic
spying do so saying, "Why should we worry? We have nothing to hide."
Joseph Hughes is a graphic designer and writer by day and a
liberal blogger by night. Read stories like this and many more at
his blog, Hughes