Good Morning America's third day covering Vice President Dick Cheney's hunting accident was its biggest to date. On Monday's show, the 7:00 half hour started with three straight Cheney stories, followed by two more on Tuesday. This morning, GMA devoted its first four items to the hunting accident. At one point, viewers were shown live video of the four reporters as Diane Sawyer informed, "Our reporters, our team standing by to cover all the angles this morning from the medical condition to political and even potential legal fallout."
In the third story, Claire Shipman's hot pursuit of Cheney led to bizarre lecturing from Senator Hillary Clinton and Joe Lockhart, former press secretary to President Bill Clinton. Despite their affiliation with a presidency known for its own cover-ups and practice of releasing information on late Friday afternoons, Shipman treated both Clinton and Lockhart as paragons of forthrightness.
In one clip, an angry looking Senator Hillary Clinton cautioned, "The refusal of this administration to level with the American people on matters large and small is very disturbing."
Later, Joe Lockhart advised, "When you hold it back, you raise a whole series of issues of why you're holding it back and what else happened and really what else is going on in the government that you're not telling us. It is PR 101 and they failed PR 101 here."
In the first story in the series, ABC's Mike von Fremd concluded with, "As for Harry Whittington, the District Attorney, who has already said this was an accident and no crime was committed, says that in the unlikely event that Whittington takes a turn for the worse and dies, that would immediately spur a new report that could lead to a grand jury investigation." Hey, a reporter can dream, can't he?
Now, the full transcript of Shipman's February 16 GMA story, in which both Hillary Clinton and Joe Lockhart were treated as authorities on the benefits of full disclosure:
Claire Shipman: "Sources tell ABC News that the Vice President's team did debate issuing a statement early Sunday morning, something the White House wanted and something that might have helped quell this controversy. But people I talked with last night told me that the V.P.'s team decided it would be more credible to let a witness, the ranch owner explain what happened. That decision and now other questionable judgment calls are turning this mishap into a damaging political problem. The Democrats couldn't resist the opening."
Senator Hillary Clinton: "The refusal of this administration to level with the American people on matters large and small is very disturbing."
Shipman: "But truly surprising, what had been private grumbling by Republicans about how the White House has handled the shooting spilled into ugly public view Tuesday. Two former press secretaries offering up harsh criticism to the magazine Editor & Publisher. Marlin Fitzwater saying he's 'appalled by the whole handling of this.' And even more unusual, Ari Fleischer, President Bush's first press secretary and almost always a loyalist, saying 'It could have and should have been handled differently.'
"And indeed, for the third day in a row the administration avoided a straight forward exchange of information with the public. Although White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan knew Harry Whittington had suffered heart problems before this 12:30 briefing, he said nothing about it, in fact, continued to suggest 11 times in all that the story was yesterday's news."
Scott McClellan: "We went through this pretty thoroughly yesterday...First of all, I think we went through this pretty thoroughly yesterday...Went through this yesterday...I was very respectful and responsive to your questions yesterday...I think we went through it thoroughly yesterday...We went through this in a very thorough manner yesterday."
Joe Lockhart: "When you hold it back, you raise a whole series of issues of why you're holding it back and what else happened and really what else is going on in the government that you're not telling us. It is PR 101 and they failed PR 101 here."
Shipman: "Now, McClellan has said he didn't want to interfere with an upcoming hospital press conference, but he's said to be frustrated that the V.P. had known for hours about his friend's new heart condition. There is enormous frustration now between the White House and the Vice President's office. Sources are saying that the White House is pressuring the Vice President to make some sort of public statement, express contrition. (The) Vice President isn't ready to do that, wanting to see how his friend's recovery goes. But V.P. aides tell us there will be some sort of public statement at the latest by Friday, when the Vice President has a public speech planned."