Media's Eye for Detail on Cheney Flag Flap

October 31st, 2007 2:42 PM

I had every intention of letting "Cheney Flag-gate" go uncommented upon as a non-story. Vice President Cheney went pheasant hunting at an exclusive preserve in Dutchess County, New York yesterday, and the hunt itself left only pheasants hitting the ground. It was a local interest story for the most part, until a sharp-eyed photographer and a self-promoting blowhard turned this local interest story into a national non-story when it was discovered that the inside of the back door of a garage at the hunt club was draped in a Confederate battle flag.

There is precisely no evidence that Cheney or anyone on his staff saw the flag, but that didn't keep the Daily News from running straight to Al Sharpton. The story ended in lots of hot air being spit by a man in love with the sound of his own voice, and many people fruitlessly wishing they had a way to somehow blame the Vice President.

I only mention this story at all because of the eye for detail it reveals in our media. Consider this a "teachable moment" for media fact-checkers.

Below is the flag photo, as captured by a Daily News photographer.


Note the detail the Daily News posted about the flag itself:

A Daily News photographer captured the 3-by-5 foot Dixie flag affixed to a door in the garage of the Clove Valley Gun and Rod Club in upstate Union Vale, N.Y.

Not to be outdone, Austin Fenner of the Post claimed:

But the veep only shot him self in the foot - by visiting the exclusive Clove Valley Rod & Gun Club in Union Vale, a sprawling preserve nestled along the western side of Clove Mountain, where a 5-foot-by-5-foot Confederate flag hung in a garage attached to the club headquarters.

Led by the tabloids, the Times "Cityroom" blog blindly follows, and ups the ante with a rather blatant embellishment:

Reporters who covered Mr. Cheney’s visit on Monday — including Fernanda Santos of The Times — were not permitted to enter the grounds of the hunting estate. But at least one eagle-eyed photographer captured images of a Confederate battle flag — about 3 feet by 5 feet in dimension — hanging in plain view in a garage attached to the club’s headquarters.

If it was in "plain view" as alleged, why didn't the Times' Fernanda Santos—or any other reporter or photographer than the one from the Daily News —notice it? Clearly, Sewell Chan had a much better view of the action from Manhattan.

But let's talk about the view for a moment, and about media accuracy. It is admittedly a small matter, but indicative of a greater pervading sloppiness.

Look at the picture again, and the descriptions. The Daily News and the Times puts the flag at "about" 3-by-5 foot in dimension, and the Post, inexplicably, determines the flag is 5-by-5 foot, proving that they failed rectangles and squares.

But before you laugh too much at the Post, make sure you include the Daily News and the Times, for they are far off the mark as well, as a little common sense would tell you.

Look back at that flag again.

Actually, look at the door.

When is the last time you saw an entry door that is 5-feet wide? This door is at most 36 inches wide, and many older buildings have rear garage doors commonly just 2'8" in width.

The flag, it would seem, is roughly half the size of that which the media claimed. This isn't malice, of course, just carelessness over the details.

The same sort of carelessness, however, gives us stories of brutal massacres that didn't happen. It gives us bullets that were never fired or never made. All of these stories are equally untrue because of reporters wanting to rush stories to print without getting the details right.

Speed to press will never save the print media. Bloggers will always be faster. The media must be more accurate, more diligent, and more credible. To date, they show little sign of learning this lesson.

Update 15:29 | Matthew Sheffield. This poor attention to detail is sadly far too common in the MSM. The No Looking Backwards blog catches the New York Times is a similar error: mistakenly stating that GOP candidate Fred Thompson ignored his supporters when video evidence shows the contrary.