WASHINGTON – Corpus Christi Caller-Times editors and reporters have no apologies for the national media,which has criticized the delay in reporting the hunting incident involving the vice president.
The daily newspaper,an E.W. Scripps Co. publication,received the tip Sunday that Vice President Dick Cheney shot and wounded 78-year-old Austin lawyer Harry Whittington while quail hunting at a South Texas ranch Saturday. The first story was posted on the paper's Web site at 1:48 p.m. CST Sunday.
Libby Averyt,Caller-Times editor and vice president,said Wednesday that,although she understands the national concern about the delay in reporting,the incident happened in the paper's “backyard,” and the paper had every right to report on the incident.
“Frankly,I would be upset if someone else had broke that story,” Averyt said. “It's our story.”
National media,particularly the White House press corps,have bombarded Press Secretary Scott McClellan since the story broke about why the White House staff did not come forward with the news.
According to a transcript of Monday's press briefing,national reporters asked McClellan such questions as “Do you think that the shooting accident involving the vice president on Saturday should have been disclosed to the public on Saturday?” and “The vice president of the United States accidentally shoots a man and he feels that it’s appropriate for a ranch owner who witnessed this to tell the local Corpus Christi newspaper,and not the White House press corps at large,or notify the public in a national way?”
Cheney said Wednesday during a Fox News Channel interview with Brit Hume that he agreed that ranch owner Katharine Armstrong would make the story public in the local paper since she was an eyewitness,she lived at the ranch and her background as a former head of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department made her an expert in the matter.
“I thought that made good sense because you can get as accurate a story as possible from somebody who knew and understood hunting and then it would immediately go up to the wires and be posted on the Web site,which is the way it went out,and I thought that was the right call,” Cheney told Hume.
Averyt agreed with Cheney and Armstrong's decision to call her paper and defended its integrity.
“It's not like we are some amateur paper – we are a daily newspaper,” she said.
Armstrong first telephoned the Caller-Times about 8 a.m. CST Sunday,without reaching anyone in the newsroom,said Averyt,who did not come in Sunday.
Armstrong ended up reaching Kathryn Garcia,medical and religion reporter,later Sunday morning. Armstrong also called politics reporter Jaime Powell,who had built a working relationship with Armstrong even before she came to the paper four years ago.
Powell,who was traveling from Austin to Corpus Christi that day,said she reached Armstrong by phone and interviewed her on the drive back to the office.
When she arrived at the office,Garcia had already posted the story. The two reporters discussed what they both had learned.
Powell said she has been covering the story since then and much of it is a blur.
“I almost don't know what day of the week it is right now,” she said.
She agreed that the paper had as much right to cover the story as the national media.
“We do the same job as well as or better than those people do,” she said. “I think we deserved it just as much as anybody else.”
Assistant City Editor Beth Francesco said the paper would not have received the tip if Powell had not had such great rapport with Armstrong and her family.
She added that the paper has worked to keep up with the national media by updating the Web site with recent stories and multimedia extras,such as streaming video.
“We've really been working well as a team,and that is something that has aided us in getting the information to our readers as quickly as possible,” Francesco said.
Editor's note: The Scripps Howard Foundation is the corporate foundation of the E.W. Scripps Co.