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The Silencers

The ConWeb was eager to downplay the Dick Cheney shooting story, then almost immediately declare it a non-story.

By Terry Krepel
Posted 2/21/2006

Here's a switch -- instead of complaining that the media didn't cover a pet story to its satisfaction, much of the ConWeb was complaining that a story was covered too much.

That story would be Vice President Dick Cheney's Feb. 10 accidental shooting of hunting companion Harry Whittington. But the story, according to the ConWeb, was that -- even despite Whittington's minor heart attack as a result of one birdshot pellet lodging next to his heart -- it was only a flesh wound and barely worthy of coverage.

The leader in downplaying the story was the Media Research Center. While a Feb. 13 NewsBusters post by Mark Finkelstein described it as a "world-class story," later that day, Tim Graham was citing, as his NewsBusters post headline states, "How Liberals Can Overdo the Cheney Gun Story."

That headline turned into the official MRC narrative as the downplaying efforts geared up. The next day, NewsBusters' Noel Sheppard complained that given all the "real" news happening, MSNBC's Chris Matthews spent much of an edition of "Hardball" on the incident and agreed with "Hardball" guest former Sen. Alan Simpson (a Republican, natch) that the coverage was "absolutely nuts." Finkelstein followed up by claiming that CBS correspondent Bill Plante's statement that "if it were up to Dick Cheney, he wouldn't tell us [reporters] if our shirts were on fire" was an example of -- OK, say it with me -- liberal media bias.

Sheppard went into Clinton Equivocation mode for a Feb. 15 NewsBusters post, claiming the media were "falling all over themselves with outrage" over the Cheney incident while paying "virtually no attention" to a 2001 incident in which a van in a motorcade Sen. Hillary Clinton clipped a police officer at an airport security checkpoint. As support, Sheppard linked to a NewsMax item on the incident that falsely claimed that Clinton was behind the wheel and insisting that "Clinton injured a police officer."

The MRC then took a break from the this-is-not-a-story spin to advance the most absurd spin point about this story: a Feb. 16 NewsBusters post by Brent Baker (repeated later that day in an MRC CyberAlert) claimed that journalists who disparaged Fox News' Brit Hume for landing a mea culpa interview with Cheney were "jealous." Baker suggested conspiratorial motives by other networks who, in using footage from the Cheney interview, cropped out the Fox News logo; he also claimed that "Hume covered every question you could expect a journalist to pose," which isn't quite true.

But the main spin point quickly resurfaced on NewsBusters. Michael Rule claimed that the media was "[d]esperate to try and keep this story alive." Baker was annoyed that "for the fifth straight day, the NBC Nightly News led with the topic." Graham was happy to state that "[t]he Cheney story is in decline today." Finkelstein was even happier to declare that the story was over when "Mr. Cheney had an earnest meeting with another man, that suave Brit Hume" and that NBC's "Today" show ran a story about the Westminster Kennel Show where it had previously run Cheney coverage earlier in the week. And on Feb. 17, Baker claimed that anyone reporting on the Cheney story was doing so in defiance of public will, citing a poll that found that "the overwhelming majority want no further investigation of the incident." (We don't recall high favorability ratings for President Clinton deterring anyone at the MRC calling for his impeachment.)

When the Associated Press issued a Feb. 18 article examining discrepancies in the shooting story as presented by Cheney and his supporters, Robin Boyd quickly dismissed it in a NewsBusters post as a "rehash" of "talking points that flooded the media" and a "dead horse of a story" that demonstrates "the media's bloodthirsty search for anything to discredit the Bush Administration." Apparently, reporting the truth on the story is now bias according to the folks at the MRC.

That point was reiterated by a Feb. 19 post by Sheppard, in which he repeats Baker's spin that because a poll "depict[s] a populace that is much less concerned about this incident than the press," the press should stop reporting on it. And Graham got in one more parting shot, calling it the "Much Ado Over Birdshot" story.

Such downplaying on the part of the MRC appears to conflict with Graham's claim in a Feb. 17 guest post on CBS News' Public Eye blog that conservative media critics like him "would concede" that the Cheney story is "undeniably news" (even as Graham complained about "the 'flood the zone' number of stories, or the tilt within").

The MRC wasn't the only one to dismiss the idea that the vice president shooting someone was a legitimate news story. Over at Accuracy in Media, Cliff Kincaid insisted in a Feb. 14 press release that the media had a "desire to gin up a Watergate-style scandal" over the shooting, citing "charges that Cheney was drinking to claims that the shooting was an assassination attempt." But at the time Kincaid's press release was posted, there was only one example of that, as documented by NewsBusters' Finkelstein. Of course, given that Cheney eventually admitted that he had a beer several hours before the incident, the examination of the drinking angle was entirely legitimate.

At NewsMax, its columnists were all for moving on. Michael Reagan dismissed the incident as "a mis-aimed charge of tiny bird shot." George Putnam complained that "while the press concerns itself with a hunting accident," more important stories were being ignored, like "America's trade deficit with China." On the "news" side, NewsMax tried to downplay it further in a Feb. 18 article by citing a poll by a South Dakota pheasant-hunting site claiming that 55 percent of respondents said they had been "peppered with shotgun BB's." But NewsMax didn't report that this poll was from October 2003 (as listed here) or that the poll was an opt-in online poll, which are inherently unreliable (as we've repeatedly documented).

And WorldNetDaily put its own inimitable spin on things with a Feb. 15 article by Joe Kovacs reporting on a song by Jill Sobule ("who had a 'lesbian-chic' hit with 'I Kissed a Girl' in 1995") that, in Kovacs' words, suggests that "the vice president was hunting with a male companion as part of a homosexual love story." Kovacs also lists what he calls "[o]nline reaction from those who have heard the song," but doesn't say where this reaction came from. But given that Kovacs pulled information for a previous article on teacher-student sex from a gossip site, he might be a tad sheepish about admitting where he gets his info.

We'd drop a rant here about the ConWeb's skewed news priorities, but we already know all about that. After all, these are the same folks who thought that the president having an extramarital affair was huge news.

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