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FROM THIS EPISODE

Shooting Blind

For KCRW, this is Nick Madigan of The Baltimore Sun with Minding the Media.

The story about Dick Cheney's lousy aim with a shotgun was funny, at least at the beginning. Late-night comics, editorial cartoonists and columnists had a field day, lampooning the Vice President as an inept, trigger-happy hunter who couldn't tell a Texas lawyer from a quail.

"Guns Don't Shoot People, Cheney Does," was the headline on the AllHatNoCattle website, over a picture of Cheney as a redneck, aiming a huge shotgun.

It wasn't so amusing when the man Cheney actually bagged, Harry Whittington, had a heart attack.

At the White House, the President's spokesman got into a shouting match with reporters who were outraged that the administration was again failing to be upfront.

Cheney supporters went on the offensive, blaming Whittington for being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Suddenly, a story that the administration could have handled with ease by being forthright has developed into a major media firestorm.

Is there? The irony of Cheney playing with guns as American troops are getting killed in Iraq fighting an insurgency that Cheney himself promised would never pose a threat.

In the trade publication Editor & Publisher, former White House press secretary Marlin Fitzwater said that, by not admitting to the shooting immediately, Cheney "ignored his responsibility to the American people."

Fitzwater, who served President Bush's father and Ronald Reagan, said that Cheney should have called his press secretary right away and told her to put out a statement informing the public.

"They could have done all of that in about two hours on Saturday," Fitzwater said.

In The Austin American-Statesman, columnist Mike Leggett had three words of advice for Cheney:

"Be a man."

Leggett went on:

"You shot a guy. At least stay in town until he's out of the hospital. Don't blame the sun or the wind or the rotation of the Earth. And for goodness sake, don't blame Harry Whittington. He's the guy you shot, and unless he pulled the trigger himself, it wasn't his fault.

"He's in the hospital. You're in Washington. And others are making excuses for you."

Mike Littwin, in The Rocky Mountain News, wrote that once again, the cover-up "is worse than the crime."

Littwin's quote of the day was by Cheney adviser Mary Matalin, who said her boss "felt badly."

But, she said, "he was not careless or incautious" she said, nor did he "violate" any rules: "He didn't do anything he wasn't supposed to do."

Except, as Littwin pointed out, that he shot someone.

Cheney supporters were not swayed by the criticism. On the Web site of the Media Research Center, which aims to "neutralize" what it calls "liberal media bias," a posting said NBC and CBS had "whined" that news of the hunting accident was disclosed to a local journalist in Texas the day after the shooting.

The site said ABC reporter Jessica Yellin, "with a straight face, claimed that Cheney perhaps 'was hoping to cover-up the incident.'"

The Media Research Center did not address specifics in the journalists' reports. It just objected that they complained at all.

In The Houston Chronicle, an editorial said the failure to disclose the shooting "has magnified a minor incident into something far more substantial: a symbol of the disdain shown by the nation's top leaders for timely and truthful public disclosure."

The New York Times said the administration has proved that its communication skills "are so rusty it can't get a minor police-blotter story straight." It said the White House has "again demonstrated that it would rather look inept than open."

In the Los Angeles Times, Joe Lockhart, who was Bill Clinton's press secretary, said the public reaction would be "I wonder what else they're not telling us."

This is Nick Madigan of The Baltimore Sun, Minding the Media on KCRW.

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