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Cheney and the Press

This is an article from the online edition of Editor & Publisher, posted Tuesday, which really puts the Cheney/press turmoil in an objective, non-partisan spin with insight from Reagan/Bush press secretary Fitzwater. I think he makes an excellent point in explaining how Cheney’s failure to report this to the public immediately made it a “White House” issue.

By Joe Strupp

Published: February 14, 2006 1:50 PM ET
NEW YORK Former White House Press Secretary Marlin Fitzwater criticized Vice President Dick Cheney Tuesday for delaying the release of information about his hunting accident on Saturday, saying Cheney “ignored his responsibility to the American people.” He told E&P he was “appalled by the whole handling of this.”

“The responsibility for handling this, of course, was Cheney’s,” Fitzwater, who served as presidential press secretary for George H.W. Bush and Ronald Reagan, told E&P in a phone interview from his Maryland home. “What he should have done was call his press secretary and tell her what happened and she then would have gotten a hold of the doctor and asked him what happened. Then interview [ranch owner] Katharine Armstrong to get her side of events and then put out a statement to inform the public.

“They could have done all of that in about two hours on Saturday. It is beyond me why it was not done this way.”

The shooting victim, Harry Whittington, suffered a heart attack today when birdshot migrated to his heart but is still listed in stable condition.

Fitzwater pointed out that the White House had very set policies about handling unexpected events when he was there. “We had a very specific plan if the president or vice president were involved in any kind of incident like this,” he told E&P. “It was a very precise plan of who would call who and how the information would get out.”

Fitzwater, who served as White House press secretary from 1987 to 1992, was referring of course to Cheney’s accidental shooting on Saturday of attorney Harry Whittington during a hunting trip at a Texas ranch. Although Whittington has survived he is still hospitalized. Cheney and the White House have been slammed for not revealing the incident to the press until late Sunday, hours after news outlets reported it.

“If [Cheney’s] press secretary had any sense about it at all, she would have gotten the story together and put it out. Calling AP, UPI, and all of the press services. That would have gotten the story out and it would have been the right thing to do, recognizing his responsibility to the people as a nationally elected official, to tell the country what happened,” Fitzwater added.

“Secondly, it would have been confined to the vice president. By not telling anyone for 24 hours, it made it a White House story. Now it has become ‘when was the president notified?’, ‘why didn’t he put it out?’ It becomes a story about the White House handling of it.”

When asked about Press Secretary Scott McClellan’s response to the story, which has included heated exchanges with reporters and limited information, Fitzwater offered some sympathy for the man in his old job, declaring he should not be put in that position. “He is in a terrible spot,” Fitzwater said. “He can’t be critical of his vice president, but he doesn’t have much of an option.”

Joe Lockhart, who was President Bill Clinton’s press secretary, told the Los Angeles Times Monday, “On the face of it, this looks like something the administration felt the public had no right to know. I don’t think there’s going to be a bunch of people sitting around saying: ‘I wonder why they waited to tell us.’ But what they will be saying is: ‘I wonder what else they’re not telling us.’ “

Discussing the plans in place when he was in McClellan’s job, Fitzwater cited an incident in the early 1990s when George H.W. Bush was at Camp David for the weekend and collapsed, sparking a need to transport him to the hospital. “The statement was on the wires going out to the country before the helicopter had left to take him to the hospital,” Fitzwater recalled. “I can’t believe they didn’t have a similar plan here. It is all Cheney, he is the key that has to start all this. I am appalled by the whole handling of this.”

  1. Rich from Paso
    February 15, 2006 at 3:27 am

    There may be something to the reality that there is such a confrontational and advasarial relationship between the press and the Bush White House that Cheney didn’t trust the press corps to not immediately begin spinning the circumstances of how the guy got shot. Now the topic of discussion is why wasn’t the press corps notified FIRST, not the “public” as it is alluded to. It wa only 18 hours lets keep that in mind. It sounds like that Dave Gregory is personally offended of not being able to go live with the “Cheney shoots man” story and get his facetime. May sound cynical, but I feel that it is true. Gregory can go live with “Cheney attends hunter safety course”.

  2. Bob from San Luis
    February 15, 2006 at 7:34 am

    So the reason that a potential accidental homicide wasn’t reported was so the press wouldn’t make up stories about a potential accidental homicide? If any other person in America had done what Cheney had done, and attempted to cover it up in the same manner, they would have been arrested for obstruction or collusion and resisting arrest. Now I believe that someone in the position that Cheney is in certainly should be given some special consideration; the real crux of the issue here is why does this administration feel the need to keep us in the dark, not just in questions of national security, but for every single issue this administration handles? From the Energy Task Force that met in Cheney’s office, to the resistance to forming the 9/11 Commission, this Administration is the most secretive in modern history, what with sealed records and denied requests for information that should be free flowing in a Democracy. So the bigger point here isn’t that the Vice-President accidently shot his “hunting” buddy, but that this administration felt the need to cover up the incident, possibly justifying their actions because they were “concerned” about how it was going to play out in the press?
    As for it being only 18 or 20 or 22 hours, what is wrong, is wrong; the amount of time needed to figure how or when to do the right thing is the shortest amount of time possible. We are judged by our actions; my question is how does anyone justify Cheney’s actions? Other than saying it was okay to avoid the press, because they’re the press?

  3. Rich from Paso
    February 15, 2006 at 3:06 pm

    I love how all liberals are on the psychic friends network to know what was going on in Texas when they weren’t there. I also love how Republicans are held to a higher standard, but Democrats are just regular people. The truth is that only libs are saying this is a potential accidental homicide whereas HUNTERS are just calling it an accident. Need I remind you that the man lived? I guess I do. Stop trying to tell us what is in mine and other conservatives heart. Like the military, you have no idea what you are talking about and are only ascribing your biases to what you are seeing. It is obvious you and the liberal media will never trust anything that Cheney or Bush say so no matter what there is a cover up. Usually, cover ups take more than 18-22 hours. Much like the 6 months CLinton covered up his BJ from Monica (oh, Rich, there you go again). Now that was a harmless event covered up with a lie corroborated by everyone in the Democratic party for six months. That’s a cover up! 18-22 hours to report the truth is not a cover up. Get it straight, Bob.

  4. Duane from Cayucos
    February 15, 2006 at 8:33 pm

    First of all ….Driving to a site to kill released tame quail is not hunting.

    Second….. To fire a shot into an area that is not visibly clear violates the most basic rule of gunmanship and in a lot of places such a violation is prosecuted for the crime it is. If the victim dies, the guilty party would face manslaughter charges.

    Third….To blame the victim reveals volumes about the character of the guilty, irresponsible shooter.

  5. JerryDinAZ
    February 16, 2006 at 4:19 pm

    This whole Cheney thing is real laugh! Thanks all you crying liberals for the best belly laugh I have had in years!
    Face it…You lost the election for president…and the house and the senate and finally now you lost the supreme court! Get a clue! Your liberal national press has so disrespected our President and Vice President that when they want you know something they got to FOX for the interview. Oh! How it must hurt to be a liberal these days! Roe V Wade…here we come!

  6. The New Tone of San Luis Obispo
    February 24, 2006 at 5:04 am

    All you non hunting people,

    Quail hunting in Texas is done this way. They were not shooting out of the vehicle, and were not shooting tame quail as I understand it. Many types of hunting, you must use a 4×4 or horse or other mode of transportation to go the where the game is, then you get out and stalk the game.

    Do you need to notify the press as once if you have an accident? Should the governor notify the press immediately if he has a mishap? Why in the hell does the washington press corps need to notified immediately if something happens? What can they do? How would it have helped Mr. Whittington? They just wanted it to make fun and harrass Vice President Cheney. Did Clinton notify anyone when he had an intern give him a blow job during work (SEXUAL HARRASSMENT to any other person in the country..just think if Bob from San Luis had done this to one of his workers in San Luis…lawsuit and maybe even arrest. Rico Barnes was prosecuted when a woman accused him of less stuff). You libs have a serious double standard.

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