The Press: Making a Bazooka Outta Some Birdshot

Mary Katharine Ham
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Posted: Feb 16, 2006 9:08 AM

Does it make me a total redneck that when I heard the VP had sprayed someone with birdshot, my first thought was, "Eh, it's birdshot. He'll be all right"?

Obviously, I hope and pray fervently that Harry Whittington recovers fully. His slight heart attack was a scare for everyone, but I'm glad to hear he's sitting up, talking, and working from the hospital, and that his heartbeat is normal again.

It's not at all that I think shooting someone is no big deal. Very big deal. It's just that there are degrees of seriousness that I think are lost on folks whose shoulders have never nuzzled the butt of a shotgun. Most of the press corps, I think it's safe to assume, are those kind of folks.

They aren't the hunting type. If they were, they'd know that birdshot, while dangerous just like anything propelled by a firearm, is designed to kill birds. In fact, it's designed to kill very tiny birds without doing a lot of damage to the very tiny bits of meat on said birds, so that the meat can later be prepared over a tiny fire with tiny bits of crushed herbs. And then comes the eatin'. The eatin' of tiny, delicious vittles.

So, when I heard the VP was quail hunting (read: tiny bird hunting) and sprayed his friend with birdshot, I was concerned for Whittington's safety, but also fairly certain that Harry'd be back to litigating pretty soon. From what I know and have learned in the past couple days, quail hunters generally use birdshot pellets between a size 6 and 8. Check out the picture to see how big those pellets are in comparison to a penny.

Whittington was 30 yards off when he was hit with those pellets. This is a serious matter, but it is not exactly the close-range, see-through-the-wound shotgun blast the press delights in implying that it is by offering as little perspective as possible.

I think the American public understands this. I think most of the American public knows that gun safety is very important, knows that there is some inherent risk in hunting, knows that accidents sometimes happen, and knows at least one uncle or cousin who's been sprayed with some kind of shot.

When Cheney sent Katharine Armstrong to the Corpus Christi Caller-Times, he was thinking he might be able to get the story to a reporter who had met up with the butt of a shotgun and could give the story some perspective. At this point, it's fairly obvious that he would have been better off if he had just had Armstrong call the AP. Then he wouldn't have incurred the tantrumy wrath of the primadonna press corps.

You know why they're mad, right? You know why David Gregory did everything but need a diaper change on national TV the other day?

It's because a small-town reporter at the Corpus Christi Caller-Times got the story before they did. David Gregory needs a binky because the adorable Kathryn Garcia got the story before he did.

The media coverage you're seeing now is a classic press corps vanity tantrum. The story is no longer about the Vice President or Harry Whittington or his injuries or any kind of perspective on the incident itself. It's all about how Cheney handled the press. The story is all about them--when they knew, how they were informed, how many people knew before them, how they can correct this so they'll know more in the future.

I'm looking forward to the info-graphic on NBC Nightly News, which shows exactly where David Gregory was as the shooting drama unfolded. Gregory will point out the trip he made to CVS at 1:15 p.m. on Sunday for shaving cream, which could easily have been postponed so that he could cover a major national story if he had only been informed!

In the meantime, the VP's friend is in the hospital, the VP is devastated that he put him there, and I think most of America gets that. They don't need an all-out press conference to understand that Cheney feels bad about shooting his friend. The press wants an all-out press conference for themselves more than they want to make sure the American people are informed.

Luckily, we have Bryan Preston and a PowerLine relative to inform where the press fails to.

I gave a little class in shotguns and birdshot vs. buckshot to a friend last night who's never touched a gun. She seemed reassured and surprised by what I told her. If the press had really been covering this story for the past couple of days, she wouldn't have been surprised. She would have known all this.

UPDATE: Jon Ham-- who, in addition to being my dad, is an experienced newsman himself--has more thoughts on the reasons for the press corps tantrum.

Imagine if just one of the reporters assigned to cover the vice president had staked out the entrance to that ranch in Texas instead of waiting in some warm spot to be spoon fed by a flak. At some point they would have seen an ambulance arrive. Don’t you think that would have piqued some reportorial interest? But apparently that’s not the way reporters who cover the president and vice president work.

In truth, the White House press corps does very little news gathering, if by that we mean beating the bushes to find out things. Instead, they sit in a comfortable auditorium and wait to be told things. One White House correspondent rarely scoops the others, evidently because the correspondents would rather have the security of getting news handed to them collectively than face the prospect of missing a big story.

Ed Driscoll adds, "It's tough to watch your monopoly on the news end."