On the February 13 edition of CNN's The Situation Room, CNN's Dana Bash uncritically reported the White House's claim that Katharine Armstrong, the host of Vice President Dick Cheney's February 11 hunting party, went to the press to report Cheney's shooting accident only after conferring with Cheney, a claim that directly contradicted what CNN's Suzanne Malveaux had reported earlier. But Bash failed to note the contradiction, which Malveaux had highlighted in a question to White House press secretary Scott McClellan earlier in the day.
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On the February 13 edition of CNN's The Situation Room, CNN White House correspondent Dana Bash uncritically reported the White House's claim that Katharine Armstrong, the host of Vice President Dick Cheney's February 11 hunting party, went to the press to report Cheney's shooting accident only after conferring with Cheney, a claim that directly contradicted what CNN White House correspondent Suzanne Malveaux had reported earlier. During CNN's coverage of the White House's daily press briefing on February 13, Malveaux questioned White House press secretary Scott McClellan over what she said was Armstrong's assertion that "she did not believe the vice president's office was aware that she was going to go to the local press." Malveaux then asked, "How do you square that with your account that they were coordinating?" McClellan, in response, insisted that his version of events was correct and offered no explanation for the discrepancy. But Bash's report omitted the controversy entirely and, despite Malveaux's questions at the press briefing, asserted that McClellan's version -- that Cheney and Armstrong met and decided that she should speak to the press -- agreed with "what we [at CNN] heard and are still hearing from Katharine Armstrong" and with what "we are hearing from the vice president's office yesterday."
As Media Matters for America previously noted, at the February 13 press conference, Malveaux told McClellan that CNN had spoken to Armstrong, and that Armstrong "said that she thought this was going to become a story, so she was going to go to the local press. She also told CNN that she did not believe the vice president's office was aware that she was going to go to the local press."
Yet Bash failed to note the discrepancy between what Malveaux said Armstrong had said on the one hand -- that the vice president was unaware she was going to the press -- and the White House's claim -- that Armstrong conferred with the vice president before going to the press -- on the other. Malveaux, by contrast, did ask McClellan about the discrepancy.
From CNN's coverage of the February 13 White House press briefing:
McCLELLAN: Suzanne, go ahead.
MALVEAUX: Katharine Armstrong talked to CNN Sunday evening [February 12]. She said that she thought this was going to become a story, so she was going to go to the local press. She also told CNN that she did not believe the vice president's office was aware that she was going to go to the local press. How do you square that with your account that they were coordinating?
McCLELLAN: The vice president spoke with her directly, and they agreed that she would make it public.
MALVEAUX: So, you're saying that she is lying? That her -- that her statement is not correct?
McCLELLAN: No. You ought to check with her.
MALVEAUX: Well, we did check with her. So, you're saying that's not correct?
McCLELLAN: The vice president spoke directly with Mrs. Armstrong, and they agreed that she would make the information public.
From the February 13 edition of CNN's The Situation Room:
BLITZER: The White House press secretary Scott McClellan was pummeled with questions today about how and when details of the shooting were made public. Let's bring in our White House correspondent Dana Bash. She has details. Dana?
BASH: Hi, Wolf. Well, I was here when the news broke, and I can tell you this was a controversial issue from the start. Exactly how the information got out and why it took about 24 hours for that to happen. Now, essentially what happened here at the White House, today, is what you described. Scott McClellan, the White House press secretary, did -- pummeled is a good word -- got pummeled with those questions today, and his answers were very much in line with what we are hearing from the vice president's office yesterday, and also what we heard and are still hearing from Katharine Armstrong. She is the private citizen of the owners -- one of the owners of the ranch that Mr. Cheney was shooting at, and also was the person that was in charge of getting this information out. That was agreed to by the vice president and Mrs. Armstrong on Sunday morning. The big question, one of many questions is, why didn't this information get out to the public on Saturday night? The answer that they're giving now is simply that they didn't talk about it. Their focus was on getting Mr. Harry Whittington, the man who Mr. Cheney shot with a bird shot from about 30 yards away, getting him medical treatment. But I can tell you, Wolf, that today, if you watch the White House briefing, which is very contentious, carefully, you heard Mr. McClellan, Scott McClellan, make it clear that he would have handled this differently.
McCLELLAN [clip]: I did not know who was involved in that hunting accident. It wasn't until very early Sunday morning that I found out that the vice president was involved in this accident, and of course, in a position like mine, I was urging that that information be made available as quickly as possible, and the vice president's office was working to get that information out.
BASH: Now, we also have a little bit more information, Wolf, about how the president and his staff were informed. It was actually Andy Card, the president's chief of staff, that first got word, and he initially, just as you heard Scott McClellan say, just heard that there was a hunting accident -- not exactly what happened -- that Mr. Cheney actually shot a man accidentally. That information was not confirmed to the president until about 8:00 on Saturday night; and again, that information not getting out to the public until Sunday morning. Along the lines of what Scott McClellan was saying, he was asked whether they've learned any lessons, and he did make clear, make a point to say that when the president was in an accident, for example, in Scotland last year, they told the press. They had a traveling press corps with them -- it was a little bit different -- but they told them right away to try to get the information out. I talked earlier today with Alan Simpson, who is a long-time friend of Dick Cheney, and he put it this way. He said: "He's always been tight-lipped with the media. He's never been expansive with the media." He says they didn't like it 20 years ago, 30 years ago, and they don't like it today. Wolf.
BLITZER: Dana Bash at the White House. Thanks very much.