Cheney Incident Is Latest Frustration for Press Questions were still rolling in from the media, five days after Vice President Dick Cheney's hunting accident. Cheney's delay in telling the story is emblematic for reporters, who often find the vice president elusive and difficult to cover.
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Cheney Incident Is Latest Frustration for Press

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Cheney Incident Is Latest Frustration for Press

Cheney Incident Is Latest Frustration for Press

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A Texas sheriff says Vice President Dick Cheney will not be charged in the accidental shooting of a hunting companion, but there's still a lot of interest from the media, not least because Cheney delayed making the incident public.

If you find it hard to understand why the White House Press Corps reacted so fiercely to that delay, you might find part of the explanation in the press's long relationship with Cheney.

He is an unusually influential and elusive Vice President. Here's NPR's David Folkenflik.


Five days after the shooting, the questions kept rolling in at the White House yesterday.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE REPORTER: Does the President think that the have Vice President's shooting accident was disclosed in a timely enough fashion?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE PRESS SPOKESMAN: (unintelligible) those decisions, which he described just yesterday about disclosure, at a time when he was understandably under enormous personal duress.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE REPORTER: Does the Vice President believe that his word is not credible with the American people?

Mr. SCOTT McLELLAN (White House Press Secretary): No, I think that the...

FOLKENFLIK: Ron Hutchinson is the White House correspondent for the Knight Ridder newspaper chain. He says there's a reason for the grilling.

Mr. RON HUTCHINSON (Reporter, Knight Ridder Newspaper): I know to a lot of people watching it we look like a bunch of yapping dogs. But there's a real fundamental issue about our government, and one of the things that sets us apart from places like China and Russia, and that is our system is based on openness and accountability.

FOLKENFLIK: And Hutchinson says there's not a lot of that when it comes to Dick Cheney, who quietly has been at the center of many major stories involving this Administration.

Mr. HUTCHINSON: We take what we can get. You know, the irony here is we've got the most powerful Vice President in American history who's probably also the most secretive Vice President in American history. So it's really difficult to cover him.

FOLKENFLIK: Vice Presidents are traditionally covered by White House beat reporters. A survey of major news organizations found none that had assigned a reporter to cover Cheney and his office full time, despite his greater role. Not the big national newspapers, not the cable or broadcast televisions channels, not, for that matter, NPR.

Hutchinson thinks he knows why.

Mr. HUTCHINSON: You'd be like the Maytag repairman on that one, sitting around waiting for something to do. They don't share much information about the Vice President's schedule, and you know, everybody in the office operates under his rules.

FOLKENFLIK: The Cheney rules work like this. He has a constituency of one. It's President Bush. Cheney has renounced any desire to seek the top job, so he doesn't have to glad-hand the media.

Cheney's influence is vast. He led the closed-door White House review of energy policy, and Cheney's inner circle has been pivotal on issues of national security, such as the decision to invade Iraq. Yet not a lot is known about what the Vice President says and does in private.

Cheney insists the White House must keep deliberations confidential so presidents can get candid advice. Reporters have tried without much luck to get information from Administration officials who disagree with Cheney. A few who have talked include former Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill, and aids to former Secretary of State Colin Powell. But there aren't many.

Cheney is receiving unwanted scrutiny during the investigation into who leaked the identity of an undercover CIA agent. Cheney's former Chief of Staff has been indicted for perjury in that case.

CBS Evening News executive producer Rome Hartman says past Vice Presidents have lamented they haven't been appreciated enough or covered enough. Not this one.

Mr. ROME HARTMAN (Executive Producer, CBS Evening News): I think it's fair to say that over the course of the Bush Presidency, if Dick Cheney had had his way there would've been much less attention paid to him than there has been.

That's the exact opposite of what Vice Presidents historically have had to deal with.

FOLKENFLIK: Cheney has spoken publicly just once about the hunting accident, to Brit Hume of the FOX News Channel, on Wednesday. Cheney took full responsibility.

The owner of the ranch where he was hunting informed the local paper in nearby Corpus Christi a day later. But Cheney made clear that he didn't have much faith the national news media would get the story right.

Vice President DICK CHENEY: I do think what I've experienced over the years here in Washington is that the media outlets are proliferated. Speed has become sort of a driving force, lots of times at the expense of accuracy. And I wanted to make sure we got it as accurate as possible.

FOLKENFLIK: And then Cheney tweaked the media.

Vice President CHENEY: I had a bit of the feeling that the Press Corps was upset because to some extent it was about them. They didn't like the idea that we called the Corpus Christi Caller Times instead of the New York Times.

FOLKENFLIK: Cheney may be unrepentant on that score, but former White House spokesman Ari Fleischer says he should have anticipated this week's media furor.

Mr. ARI FLEISCHER (Former White House Spokesman): It's news if the Vice President of the United States accidentally shoots somebody on a hunting trip. My sense is that the Vice President thought this was part of his private life and therefore he didn't feel that obligation to tell the White House Press Corps.

As much as I've differed with the White Hose Press Corps on issues from time to time, I think the White House Press Corps is correct on this one.

FOLKENFLIK: But Fleischer says reporters are going overboard because of their history with Cheney.

Mr. FLEISCHER: Well, there is a sense of frustration with the secretiveness of the White House.

FOLKENFLIK: President Bush made his first remarks about the shooting yesterday afternoon. Mr. Bush said Cheney gave a powerful explanation in his television interview.

David Folkenflik, NPR News, Washington.

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