- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Legitimate investigations? Or obsessed reporters stuck on stupid?

Some press critics say the coverage of Vice President Dick Cheney’s hunting accident is the latest example of media pile-ons, with the public left wondering what happened to the news.

“I think the American public knows a feeding frenzy when they see one,” Fox News commentator Fred Barnes declared yesterday. Mr. Cheney could have saved himself a headache by informing the Associated Press, rather than allow the ranch owner to alert the hometown newspaper. But Mr. Barnes said he has not detected a “public outrage.”

Mr. Cheney told his story to Fox News last night.

“This overblown media response fuels the idea that the Washington press corps is out of touch with America,” said Brent Baker of the Media Research Center. “They only care about insider baseball — who told what, and when — rather than the outcome of a man’s injury.”

The reporters became part of the story. White House spokesman Scott McClellan admonished NBC’s David Gregory for his angry questions at a recent press briefing.

“You want to make this about you, and it’s not about you, it’s about what happened,” Mr. McClellan said.

“My job is to ask tough questions,” said Mr. Gregory yesterday. “My only interest is to get answers to those questions.”

The mishap lives on as partisan allegory, spun off into loosely related stories and analyses about White House response and/or secrecy, along with hunting safety, birdshot, negligent homicide, atrial fibrillation and sundry conspiracy theories. It was quickly politicized into what the cliche-meisters invariably called “Cheney-gate.”

Curious comedy surfaced — such as an appearance by Dana Milbank, a reporter for The Washington Post, on MSNBC in fluorescent orange safety garb. CNN’s Paul Begala did the same. The Los Angeles Times ran an op-ed piece with the attempted quip, “Dick Cheney accidentally shot documentary filmmaker Michael Moore.”

“The fact that the vice president shot someone at close range is very interesting,” observed Alex Jones of Harvard University’s Shorenstein Center for Press, Politics and Public Policy. “It is easy to mock, and jokes continue. But it should not be the role of the press to make jokes. That is bad judgment.”

Greg Mitchell of Editor & Publisher, a media journal, questioned the reporting.

“There was poor reporting early on. Too many journalists did not question those initial reports that the victim was OK. They did not treat it as a shooting. The joking started. Reporters were clowning on news shows, and it spread from reporters to senators.”

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