By Dave Workman
When the White House press corps unloaded on White House spokesman Scott McClellan over the Feb. 11 hunting accident involving Vice President Dick Cheney, they weren’t really as concerned about the public’s right to know as they were about from whom the public knew.
“Let’s just be clear here,” barked NBC’s David Gregory. “The vice president of the United States accidentally shoots a man, and he feels that it’s appropriate for a ranch owner who witnessed this to tell the local Corpus Christi newspaper and not the White House press corps at large or notify the public in a national way?”
Let’s be equally clear. Gregory’s nose was out of joint because he and his colleagues didn’t get to breathlessly blitz the airwaves with the first report of the shooting. In news parlance, they were scooped by a local reporter who undoubtedly takes home a far smaller paycheck than they do, and they didn’t like it.
This isn’t about public interest, it’s about arrogance; the self-delusional belief that because one works the White House beat, they – and only they – are the fountain from which all public knowledge must flow. Chalk one up for the Corpus Christi Caller-Times and reporter Kathryn Garcia for breaking the story.
When reporters initially ganged up on McClellan, they seemed far less interested in the condition of shooting victim Harry Whittington, or about how Cheney was handling the fact that he had shot his hunting partner, than about not being first to report the incident. They were woefully ignorant about quail hunting and shotguns – sadly, too few reporters today understand guns or the people who own them, and seldom bother to try. They smelled blood and wanted their pound of flesh, and it showed.
From asking whether criminal charges might be filed against Cheney to wondering whether he should resign, it was obvious that the press corps does not like Cheney. Less obvious to the public, but certainly clear to any other reporter watching the spectacle was the fact that these people hadn’t done their homework.
Within hours after asking the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department (TPWD), I had a copy of the accident report. It had details about Cheney’s gun, the ammunition he used (small No. 7 ½ birdshot, not “buckshot” as some commentators repeatedly, and erroneously, stated), the hunting conditions and even what the hunters were wearing. It came with an explanation that there is no legal requirement in Texas to report non-fatal hunting mishaps to the TPWD. The Kenedy County Sheriff’s Department was investigating the incident.
Much was made about Mr. Whittington being taken to a hospital intensive care unit for treatment of his wounds. From all indications, he was initially kept in the ICU to allow doctors to monitor his wounds for infection. His subsequent mild heart attack compounds matters. Cheney certainly cannot feel good about this. Doctors are monitoring Whittington’s condition and there appears to be no grave danger.
Even more was made about the warning citation issued to Cheney for not having purchased a new upland game bird hunting stamp. Yet, TPWD spokeswoman Lydia Saldana, doing an exemplary job, made it perfectly clear that the stamp has only been required since Sept. 1, and that “it has not been uncommon for Texas Game Wardens to encounter hunters in the field who do not have the required stamp.”
“In these cases, hunters have been given verbal warnings in lieu of fines or other penalties,” she explained in a statement. “This is a common practice with Texas wardens when a new game law goes into effect. TPWD generally allows a one-year grace period and issues verbal warnings to help educate people about new laws.”
Despite the fact that hunting is one of the safest outdoor activities, thanks to hunter education and firearms safety courses, accidents happen, even to experienced hunters like Cheney. He did all the right things, in the proper order: his friend’s wounds were tended to and Mr. Whittington was taken quickly to a hospital. Local authorities were called, and so was the White House. The delay in telling the press was clumsy but hardly criminal.
This incident is a story, but it’s not a scandal. Just because some miffed White House reporters want to treat it like one does not make it so.