In February 17 articles about the incident last week in which Vice President Dick Cheney accidentally shot a hunting companion, The New York Times and the Los Angeles Times uncritically reported that the local sheriff department stated that the account of events offered by Katharine Armstrong, owner of the ranch where the incident happened, agrees with Cheney's version of events. Neither newspaper noted that some of Armstrong's statements regarding the presence of alcohol and Whittington's ability to speak after the incident have been contradicted by Cheney.
In February 17 articles about the incident last week in which Vice President Dick Cheney accidentally shot a hunting companion, 78-year-old Texas attorney Harry Whittington, The New York Times and the Los Angeles Times uncritically reported that the local sheriff department stated that the account of events offered by Katharine Armstrong, owner of the ranch where the incident happened, agrees with Cheney's version of events. Neither newspaper noted that some of Armstrong's statements regarding the consumption of alcohol and Whittington's ability to speak after the February 11 incident have been contradicted by Cheney. The papers also failed to note that Armstrong's own statements raise questions about whether she saw the actual shooting, as she claims.
Armstrong was the first person to alert the press that the incident had occurred and, according to a February 13 article in The Washington Post, Cheney's office directed reporters to Armstrong for an eyewitness account of the incident. Cheney said in his February 15 interview with Fox News host Brit Hume that he agreed with Armstrong that she should be the one to inform the press because "the accuracy was enormously important."
However, as Media Matters for America noted, the weblog ThinkProgress documented in a February 15 entry that Armstrong's media accounts of the incident have changed on a daily basis -- from claiming that nobody was drinking (February 13), to acknowledging that beer was available (February 14), to telling CNN that Cheney had a cocktail after the accident (February 15). Also, Armstrong's earliest claim -- that no alcohol was present -- contradicts Cheney's admission during his Fox News interview that that he drank "a beer at lunch," the day of the accident. In fact, The New York Times reported this contradiction in a February 16 article.
Additionally, Armstrong told the Houston Chronicle that after the accident, Whittington "was immediately talking and that was the great thing." Cheney appeared to contradict that statement during the Fox News interview. When Hume asked if Whittington had said anything to Cheney immediately after being shot, Cheney replied: "He didn't respond. He was -- he was breathing, conscious at that point, but he didn't -- he was, I'm sure, stunned, obviously, still trying to figure out what had happened to him."
Nevertheless, The New York Times' Elisabeth Bumiller and Ralph Blumenthal reported on February 17:
In his account, the chief deputy, Gilberto San Miguel Jr., said he arrived at the ranch shortly after 8 a.m. Sunday and interviewed Mr. Cheney, who described accidentally shooting Mr. Whittington from about 30 yards away. The deputy then interviewed Katharine Armstrong, one of the ranch's owners, "who told me pretty much the same story."
Los Angeles Times reporter James Gersterzang noted the discrepancy between Cheney's claim that he drank prior to the accident and Whittington's claim that there was no alcohol present, but reported that Cheney, the local sheriff, and Armstrong "agree on what happened." From Gersterzang's February 17 article:
Cheney's television interview, the sheriff's report and the information Armstrong gave to the local newspaper agree on what happened Saturday: At about 5:30 p.m., the vice president turned to fire his 28-gauge shotgun, a Perazzi Brescia, at a bird flushed out of the brush, but he shot hunting partner, Harry M. Whittington. The 78-year-old lawyer was struck in the face and torso from about 30 yards.
The sheriff's report includes the first account from Whittington, which was taken at the hospital. During the interview, Whittington emphasized that "there was no alcohol during the hunt" and that everyone was dressed in hunter orange. (Cheney said in his interview with Hume that he had a beer at lunch hours earlier.)
Bumiller and Gersterzang also failed to note that Armstrong's own statements cast doubt as to whether she actually witnessed the shooting. Armstrong described the shooting to the Associated Press, which reported on February 12 that Armstrong said Whittington "came up from behind the vice president and the other hunter and didn't signal them or indicate to them or announce himself." But, as writer R.J. Eskow noted in a February 15 entry on the Huffington Post weblog, Armstrong also told the Associated Press on February 14 that when she saw Cheney's security detail running toward the scene: "The first thing that crossed my mind was he [Cheney] had a heart problem." Why would Armstrong guess that Cheney had had a heart problem when she had allegedly seen the shooting? AP reporter Nedra Pickler failed to note the discrepancy between Armstrong's statement and her alleged eyewitness account.