Bill O'Reilly attacked The New York Times' Maureen Dowd for criticizing the White House and Vice President Dick Cheney in her latest column because, O'Reilly said, Dowd "claims the White House is blaming the guy who got shot." In fact, as Dowd wrote, "[White House press secretary] Scott McClellan told the White House press corps that Katharine Armstrong, a lobbyist with government ties who owns the Texas ranch ... 'pointed out that the protocol was not followed by Mr. [Harry] Whittington when it came to notifying the others that he was there.' "
During the February 15 edition of Fox News' The O'Reilly Factor, host Bill O'Reilly called Maureen Dowd's February 15 New York Times column (subscription required) about Vice President Dick Cheney's hunting accident "the best illustration I have seen in years of a media out of control." O'Reilly asserted that even though Cheney publicly took full responsibility for the incident, Dowd "claims the White House is blaming the guy who got shot." In fact, as Dowd wrote, White House press secretary Scott McClellan did suggest Cheney's hunting partner, Harry Whittington, the man Cheney shot, was at fault. Dowd noted that McClellan referred reporters to statements by Katharine Armstrong, the host of the February 11 hunting party whom Cheney originally designated to tell the press about the incident, in which she suggested that Whittington was to blame for what had happened. Moreover, viewers would never have known this from O'Reilly's accusations, but there is no way Dowd could have cited Cheney's comments, in which he acknowledged he was responsible for the shooting, since her column was published hours before Cheney actually made those comments in his interview with Fox News' Brit Hume.
O'Reilly, who called Dowd "a notorious Bush-Cheney basher," said of her column:
O'REILLY: She [Dowd] also claims the White House is blaming the guy who got shot. I mean, I have never seen a column like this. Today, Mr. Cheney discussed that charge with Brit Hume.
O'Reilly then proceeded to play a clip of Cheney's Fox News interview in which Cheney stated: "[I]t was not Harry's fault. You can't blame anybody else. I'm the guy who pulled the trigger and shot my friend." After playing the clip, O'Reilly lamented that whether one "like[s] Cheney or not, once critical thinking degenerates into hatred, there's no value."
But O'Reilly failed to inform his viewers that Dowd's column appeared in the February 15 edition of The New York Times hours before Cheney's interview took place and was subsequently released to the public. In the column, Dowd condemned Cheney's failure to admit guilt, which, at the time, he had not yet done, and went on to criticize the administration:
Private citizens have been enlisted to blame the victim. Maybe poor Mr. Whittington put himself in the wrong place at the wrong time. But he was, after all, behind Vice, not in front of him. And the hunter pulling the trigger is supposed to make sure he has a clear shot. Wouldn't it be, well, classy for Shooter to express just a bit of contrition and humility?
Instead, the usual sliming has begun, with the Cheney camp trying to protect the vice president by casting a veteran hunter as Elmer Dud.
Scott McClellan told the White House press corps that Katharine Armstrong, a lobbyist with government ties who owns the Texas ranch (and whose mother, Anne, was on the Halliburton board that hired Mr. Cheney as C.E.O.), "pointed out that the protocol was not followed by Mr. Whittington when it came to notifying the others that he was there."
Moreover, as Dowd wrote, the White House did suggest Whittington was at fault by allowing a Cheney surrogate to publicly say essentially that and then directing reporters to those statements. As Media Matters for America has noted, Armstrong publicly faulted Whittington's conduct before the shooting. According to the Houston Chronicle, Armstrong blamed Whittington for not "announcing himself" when he returned to the hunting line, explaining, "You're always supposed to let other hunters know where you are." During a February 13 White House press briefing, McClellan endorsed Armstrong's description of the accident:
McCLELLAN: I don't know all the specifics about it, but I think Mrs. Armstrong spoke publicly about how this incident occurred. And if I recall, she pointed out that the protocol was not followed by Mr. Whittington, when it came to notifying the others that he was there. And so, you know, unfortunately these types of hunting accidents happen from time to time.
Moreover, during the February 13 edition of MSNBC's Hardball with Chris Matthews, former Sen. Alan K. Simpson (R-WY), a Cheney friend, also suggested Whittington was negligent:
SIMPSON: [I]t's a sad thing what happened to him [Whittington], but it has less to do with Dick Cheney and much more to do with him. He apparently went for another bird, picked it up, came back and got behind the two other hunters and didn't say, "I'm back, I'm behind you, I'm here." And if you don't do that, let me tell you, anything can happen.
From the February 15 edition of Fox News' The O'Reilly Factor:
O'REILLY: New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd is a notorious Bush-Cheney basher. Ms. Dowd can be amusing, but, she, like many at The New York Times, has gone completely off the rails. Writing about the Cheney hunting accident today, Ms. Dowd brings in the following: soldiers dying in Iraq, Cheney's Vietnam deferment, Halliburton, Katrina, oil prices, Medicare, corrupt lobbyists, Osama [bin Laden], Tora Bora, and a possible grand jury investigation.
You think I'm kidding? Check out her column. Every American should read it. Ms. Dowd describes Cheney's hunting hobby as -- quote -- "his macho kicks gunning down little birds" -- unquote.
She also claims the White House is blaming the guy who got shot. I mean, I've never seen a column like this. Today, Mr. Cheney discussed that charge with Brit Hume.
CHENEY [clip]: Ultimately, I'm the guy who pulled the trigger that fired the round that hit Harry. And you can talk about all of the other conditions that existed at the time, but that's the bottom line. And there's no -- it was not Harry's fault. You can't blame anybody else. I'm the guy who pulled the trigger and shot my friend. And, as I say, that's something I'll never forget.
O'REILLY: Now, like Cheney or not, once critical thinking degenerates into hatred, there's no value.
This incident is the best illustration I've seen in years of a media out of control.