<hr> The Accidental Hunter  | American Journalism Review
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From AJR,   February/March 2006


The Accidental Hunter   

Why the Cheney saga deserves coverage, big time Posted February 15, 2006

By Rem Rieder
Rem Rieder (rrieder@ajr.umd.edu) is AJR's editor and senior vice president.      


You've heard of "looking for a few good men" and "Looking for Mr. Goodbar" and "looking for love in all the wrong places."

Well Bill O'Reilly is looking for someone who is interested in the Dick Cheney hunting accident story.

And it's not for lack of trying. The Fox News Channel talkmeister said last night that he's asked plenty of people. And none of them cares about the fact that the Veep sprayed his 78-year-old hunting companion's face, neck and chest with birdshot.

So what's up with all the coverage? Is this tabloid fever run amok, another Laci Peterson or JonBenet Ramsey extravaganza, a saga showered with far more attention than it deserves?

Or is this the dreaded liberal media at it again, so blinded by their contempt for all things right and good and Republican that they're grossly hyping a minor mishap?

I don't think so.

The Cheney hunting accident is, first and foremost, a great story . News isn't just wars and hurricanes and the latest on the Iran nuclear drama. Some stories deserve prominent play just because they have, as they say, all the elements. You know them when you see them.

At Washington Post news meetings, when some of the more erudite figures at the table were eviscerating a story pitched for page one as too trivial, the great Ben Bradlee would interject in that unforgettable grumble/mumble: "Nothing but readers. Nothing but readers."

This is one of those stories.

But there's much more to it than that.

We're talking after all, about the vice president of the United States . And not just any old vice president, but, say the savants, the most powerful one of all time. What he does needs to be covered. Particularly when he shoots someone, even if by accident. And it does sound like he was a tad careless, careless while wielding a weapon.

I'm not a hunting expert, but all the ones I see quoted say Cheney wasn't exactly following the rulebook. And even if you don't know the rules, seems like common sense that, before you start wailing away at quail, you make sure there aren't any 78-year-old lawyers in the way.

Then there's the way the story was, and wasn't, disclosed. The accident happened Saturday. Yet it didn't surface until the following day. There was no official announcement, no press conference, but simply a phone call from the owner of the ranch where the accident took place to a reporter with the local paper, the Corpus Christi Caller-Times.

Yes, we know that this administration in general, and Cheney in particular, like their secrecy. That's clear in everything from the Cheney energy task to the NSA's warrantless spying. And, yes, the Bush administration isn't the first that loves to trumpet the good news and wishes the bad would just go away.

But the Bush crowd carries the latter proclivity to new extremes.

There's no other way to say it: Sitting on a story like this and releasing it the way it was released are simply appalling.

And please don't tell me this point of view shows I'm simply part of that evil liberal media cabal. After all, as I learned recently, I base my columns on GOP talking points. If you don't think so, ask all my e-mail correspondents on the left who weighed in after I condemned the vicious response to Washington Post Ombudsman Deborah Howell's Jack Abramoff column.

The Bush administration and its acolytes need to remember the wisdom of the Aspen Daily News' great motto: "If you don't want it printed, don't let it happen."

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