Cheney's accident: Why all the fuss?
Editor's note: Kelly also answered a variation of this question in our weekly "White House Beat" Webcast.
With this week's unusual events, many who cover the White House have been asked that question. This space seemed like a good place to try and offer some perspective.
Some e-mailers have written that since the public was eventually informed about the hunting accident and because this did not involve official government business... what's the big deal? I can certainly understand why some feel that way. The easy part of this is we can all imagine how awful everyone personally involved in the accident must feel. There is abundant reason to be sympathetic to the trauma involved.
The more complex part is the debate over disclosure issues. Some have viewed this week's White House press briefings and concluded that the media are worried about themselves and jealous about who got the story first. I welcome the scrutiny and understand the criticism, but respectfully disagree. Here's why. First, the White House has officially stated that "legitimate questions" were raised so they recognize the issue. This boils to down to a circumstance where standard procedures were not followed. Whenever that occurs in any kind of workplace -- not just the White House -- the reasons why become important.
There is a long standing and well organized process by which this White House and previous administrations release information to the American people. The media are a conduit. Every day, at any hour of the day, a specific group of journalists is on duty to receive any news release, no matter how urgent or mundane. That group is compromised of representatives from different types of news organizations, newspapers, magazines, television networks and so forth. They form a "pool" and we rotate that duty. Most often those reporters are physically at the White House or near the President when he travels. The pool, by design, is immediately reachable. The White House and the media have an agreement to use this system. It's standard practice.
The Vice President, as he described it himself, does not regret bypassing that system. Mr. Cheney explained that accuracy was more important than speed. He stated that his friend and host Katharine Armstrong wanted to reach a local newspaper reporter she knew personally. Armstrong was unable to reach that reporter and was later referred to another to explain what happened. The story went out on that local paper's Web site. Even after it appeared there, the press pool was not notified. When the news did get around, reporters who called the Vice President's press office were encouraged to view the story from the south Texas newspaper. That is not a typical procedure.
Everyone understands that the first concern was Harry Whittington, his condition and notifying his family. No reporter has suggested those were not real priorities. The questions and concerns have been about what happened later, and by extension, about what will happen the next time a matter of news value occurs involving the Vice President. That is the core of the debate.
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