The media's Cheney hunt

Posted: Feb 15, 2006 12:05 AM

Once it was clear that the man sprinkled with birdshot would survive, Vice President Cheney's hunting accident was widely expected to become a late-night comedian's bonanza, a frenzy like Wal-Mart shoppers scrambling for $29 DVD players.

As "Today" replayed the comedian clips on Tuesday, NBC's Matt Lauer asked, "Had a feeling that was coming, didn't you?" Katie Couric replied: "Well, I mean when you heard the story you just knew they were gonna go crazy with it, so they did."

With apologies to the Cheney friend who received the pellet facial, the incident was funny. Now we learn the vice president received a warning citation from a Texas Ranger for not buying a $7 hunting stamp in advance. As a friend e-mailed me, "Where else can you shoot a lawyer in the face with a shotgun and get off with just a warning?"

What really shocked people was the way our Cheney-hating press corps went crazy with it. The Big Three networks aired 34 stories in the first 48 hours of evening and morning newscasts.

They treated this not as a mishap, and then a punchline, but as a brewing national scandal. The 18-hour delay in alerting the media! The failure to pay a $7 hunting stamp! "Questions remain"! "White House under fire"! "Growing political fallout"! The focus of the story quickly shifted from an embarrassed Cheney to the shamelessly egotistical press corps.

Look no further for a poster boy for egotism than NBC White House reporter David Gregory, who was captured in an untelevised morning "gaggle" in the briefing room Monday morning yelling at Bush spokesman Scott McClellan. First, he accused the spokesman of "ducking and weaving," leading McClellan to quip that he should emote later, when the cameras were on.

"Don't accuse me of trying to pose to the cameras!'' Gregory shot back. "Don't be a jerk to me personally when I'm asking you a serious question!'' McClellan said, "You don't have to yell," and Gregory replied, "I will yell! If you want to use that podium to try to take shots at me personally, which I don't appreciate, then I will raise my voice, because that's wrong!''

In how many ways is this a joke? These reporters take shots at McClellan and the rest of the administration on a daily basis, in the briefing room, and in their news coverage. Some of those shots are quite personal. But how dare the president's spokesman lecture them! The incivility of it all!

Then came the televised briefing on Monday afternoon. It's been a while since the cable networks aired one live, but it's not every day that the vice president caps his friend, so they made an exception. In retrospect, I bet they wish they hadn't.

These reporters looked like a "Saturday Night Live" skit with the goofy questions they asked. They started with huffing and puffing about their own territorial prerogatives, that the survival of America is hanging by a thread, and that thread is the press, which must be updated minute by minute.

Terence Hunt of the Associated Press insisted, "Isn't there a public disclosure requirement that should have kicked in immediately?" (Quick answer: There is no "requirement," period.) Gregory protested, "The vice president of the United States accidentally shoots a man and he feels that it's appropriate for a ranch owner who witnessed this to tell the local Corpus Christi newspaper, and not the White House press corps at large, or notify the public in a national way?" Several questioners fussed over how it was not "appropriate" for a "private citizen" to alert the media.

The outrage was palpable. How dare the Corpus Christi Caller-Times get the scoop before we did! We are the national news media, and we must not be overlooked on a major breaking story on quail hunting. The divas were denied, and they were cranky.

From there, it just got sillier and sillier, with questions like: "Is it proper for the vice president to offer his resignation, or has he offered his resignation?" And: "Scott, under Texas law, is this kind of accidental shooting a possible criminal offense?" By this time, you just wanted to buy McClellan a beer.

Meanwhile, over the weekend, former vice president Al Gore went to Saudi Arabia and denounced the U.S. government for committing "terrible abuses" against Arabs after 9/11, that Arabs had been "indiscriminately rounded up" and held in "unforgivable" conditions. Gore made no mention of the "terrible abuses" the Saudi tyrants commit, perhaps because it would be unseemly to insult his host on his home turf. So instead he used his host's home turf to insult his own country. No one asked about that at the White House. Most media outlets had no time or space for it. They were too busy covering the far more important Dick Cheney Quail Shooting Scandal.