ABC and CBS, which both led Friday night with Harry Whittington’s first public appearance since his hunting accident with Vice President Dick Cheney, held their coverage to Whittington’s comments as well as remarks from Cheney at the Wyoming Capitol. But while NBC, for the first time since the incident didn’t lead with the topic, David Gregory highlighted Whittington’s praise for the media and explored whether Cheney “has become a political liability.” Gregory, the leading antagonist on the issue in the White House press corps, ignored a poll by NBC’s own WNBC-TV which determined the overwhelming majority want no further investigation of the incident, and began his story by suggesting some vindication: “Harry Whittington left the hospital in Texas today, and ironically began his remarks by thanking the news media for its coverage of this incident."
After a clip of Cheney and then of President Bush dismissing the controversy as “noise,” Gregory saw wisdom in one conservative columnist as he brought up a piece from the day before on the Wall Street Journal’s editorial page: "Republicans are now faced with the question of whether...the Vice President has become a political liability, the hunting accident being just the latest example. Conservative pundit Peggy Noonan suggested in the Wall Street Journal the President might consider pushing the Vice President to step down. 'Dick Cheney has been the administration's hate magnet for five years now,' Noonan wrote. But many Republicans say Mr. Cheney serves an important function...." Gregory, who through his vocal hectoring of White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan, made sure the story became a distraction, concluded that “this week” Cheney “was a distraction." (Transcript, and more on the WNBC-TV poll, follows.)
Over on ABC’s World News Tonight, Martha Raddatz concluded her review of the Friday comments from Whittington and Cheney, by picking up on a poll that proved most want to move on:
“The Vice President does not intend to give any more detail about the accident or why it took more than 20 hours to release information about the shooting. But the public does not seem concerned. In a poll released today by the Marist organization, voters were asked whether there should be a further investigation of the hunting accident. 65 percent said no [34 percent yes]. And Texas officials agree with that, Elizabeth. They say the case is officially closed.”
In fact, that’s from the latest “WNBC/Marist Poll” released Friday -- posted in PDF format. So, an ABC News reporter was willing to let viewers know about it, but not NBC’s own national network reporter, David Gregory, on the NBC Nightly News carried by WNBC-TV, channel 4, the NBC-owned TV station in New York City.
Lee Cowan handled the story on the CBS Evening News and, when he was finished, anchor Bob Schieffer asked him: "Lee, did it strike you odd that he said nothing about the circumstances or how it happened, only that he just felt bad for the Vice President?"
Now, a full transcript, provided by the MRC’s Brad Wilmouth, of the February 17 NBC Nightly News story. Anchor Brian Williams, from Torino:
"We heard today from the man who was shot by the Vice President in that hunting accident in Texas last weekend. Harry Whittington was sent home from the hospital today, and before he departed it was clear he wanted to add his view of the debacle that ended up causing political damage to his hunting partner, Vice President Cheney. Our report tonight from NBC News chief White House correspondent David Gregory."
David Gregory began:
"Harry Whittington left the hospital in Texas today, and ironically began his remarks by thanking the news media for its coverage of this incident."
Harry Whittington, outside hospital in Corpus Christi: "I know your role is to get the news out to the public. I compliment you on what you've done."
Gregory: "Criticism of the coverage of last weekend's hunting accident quickly emerged as a subplot to the story. Whittington sounded philosophical today about being shot by his friend, the Vice President. The bird-shot leaving its mark on Whittington's face and neck."
Whittington: "Regardless of how experienced, careful, and dedicated we are, accidents do and will happen."
Gregory: "Meanwhile, in the Vice President's home state of Wyoming, Mr. Cheney appeared to see light at the end of this story."
Dick Cheney at Wyoming Capitol, before state legislature: "It's a wonderful experience to be greeted with such warmth by the leaders of our great state. That's especially true when you've had a very long week."
Gregory: "For his part, the President was in Florida today, dismissive of the ways of Washington when asked what he thought of the Cheney hunting accident topping the news this week."
George W. Bush at public event: "There's a lot of noise in Washington. There's a lot of flattery, there's a lot of criticism, there's just a lot of noise."
Gregory: "But Republicans are now faced with the question of whether that noise is something more. Whether the Vice President has become a political liability, the hunting accident being just the latest example. Conservative pundit Peggy Noonan suggested in the Wall Street Journal [picture on screen of Noonan and of her article with quoted text across bottom of screen] the President might consider pushing the Vice President to step down. 'Dick Cheney has been the administration's hate magnet for five years now,' Noonan wrote. But many Republicans say Mr. Cheney serves an important function."
Vin Weber, Republican strategist: "The Vice President is the point man for the administration often on ideological issues. He's the point man within the base of his own party."
Gregory concluded, from the White House lawn: "But this episode has raised new questions about the relationship between the President and Mr. Cheney, who this week was a distraction. David Gregory, NBC News, the White House."