Cheney, The Sheriff And The Secret Service, Did CBS Misfire?

Much like the White House's response to questions surrounding the accidental shooting of a hunting partner by Vice President Dick Cheney, it's taken us a little time to gather up the facts in response to questions about CBS News' reporting of it. Since yesterday, we've received many e-mails with the same theme, voiced below by reader Mike B., regarding a story posted on CBSNews.com:
It appears that CBS has scrubbed an entire section of a story concerning Cheney's accident with a shotgun. This raises serious questions about the journalistic integrity of CBS News. From the deleted portion of the story:

"CBS News White House correspondent Peter Maer reports Texas authorities are complaining that the Secret Service barred them from speaking to Cheney after the incident."

Did Mr. Maer get the story wrong? Why was the section deleted rather than corrected or retracted? Did anyone connected to the administration or the GOP request that Maer's reporting be removed? These conflicting stories and apparent attempts to cover up this story suggest that something more malicious occurred this weekend, and that the administration IS trying to cover it up.
I asked Maer, who responded with the following e-mail:
Here's what happened:

Yesterday (Monday) morning Kenedy County Texas Sheriffs Lt. Juan Guzman told CBS Station KNX that Secret Service agents prevented a deputy from immediately questioning Cheney. I immediately called the Secret Service seeking a comment on the report. The service's first response was, "We'll look into it." We went on the air (and on the Web) with the story as it developed; airing tape on radio and quotes on-line from the Sheriff's official along with the Secret Service's promise to look into it.

I pursued many many calls to various Secret Service officials throughout the afternoon. It took the Secret Service several hours to come up with an explanation. At approximately 2:45p.m., the Secret Service issued a timeline that started with the time of the shooting and included first word that the Resident Secret Service Agent had worked out an agreement with the Kenedy County Sheriff for a deputy to question Cheney the morning AFTER THE SHOOTING. A Secret Service spokesman confirmed that at least one deputy had been barred from the ranch shortly after the shooting because "people on the ground" were unaware of the agreement for Cheney to be interviewed. Much of that information aired on CBS News Radio. It was also passed on to CBSNews.com (where I hope it appeared.)

So to answer the reader's question, we did not "get the story wrong." We reported it as it developed. I obviously resent any notion that the White House or GOP could "gag" our reporting on this or any other story.
According to Dan Collins, senior producer for CBSNews.com, Maer's initial reporting was included in the online story. Collins said White House correspondent Bill Plante later advised the Web site of the Secret Service position and the agreement that Cheney would be questioned on Sunday, information that was included in the online story as well. Maer also sent the Secret Service's position to the Web site. When there was no evidence of a continuing dispute between the Sheriff's office and the Secret Service, Maer's earlier reporting was dropped altogether.

It's not uncommon for online stories to be changed to reflect new or changing information -- in fact it's the norm. But it seems to me always preferable to note when important information is changed or updated rather than drop it altogether. The CBSNews.com story could have been more complete in that regard. But, there was no request from anyone outside of CBSNews.com to change the story.

It's also worth nothing that Maer's reporting appears in several outlets, including the Web site and radio. As he acknowledges in his response, he was not sure whether the Web story reflected his later reporting, but it did in fact reflect additional reporting by Plante that correlated with his.

Still, this is an issue that seems to be confusing a great deal of the media. Here's what The New York Times reports this morning:
The local sheriff, Ramon Salinas III of Kenedy County, said the Secret Service called him shortly after the shooting occurred.

Sheriff Salinas said he sent his chief deputy, Gilbert Sanmiguel, to the Armstrong Ranch that night. He said Mr. Sanmiguel interviewed Mr. Cheney and reported that the shooting was an accident.

The sheriff said Sunday that they had yet to speak to "the victim." "But you could say it's closed," Mr. Salinas said of the case.

On Monday, a news release from the sheriff's office said that "Mr. Whittington's interview collaborated Vice President Cheney's statement" and that the department was "fully satisfied that this was no more than a hunting accident."

There is no requirement to report nonfatal hunting accidents in Texas, said Lydia Saldana, the communications director for the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department.
But The Washington Post reports it in a similar fashion as Maer's above:
Kenedy County Chief Deputy Gilbert San Miguel Jr. issued a statement late yesterday saying the incident had been investigated by local authorities and was determined to be "no more than a hunting accident." He told reporters the case remains open.

Local law enforcement officials did not interview Cheney until Sunday morning, about 14 hours after the shooting, in an agreement worked out between the Secret Service and Kenedy County Sheriff Ramon Salinas III. Secret Service spokesman Eric Zahren said at least one deputy was turned away shortly after the shooting because security personnel at the ranch were not aware of the agreement between the sheriff and the Secret Service.
In the frenzy to discover and report information on any breaking story, let alone one unfolding in such a strange way, it's not uncommon for conflicting or erroneous details to be reported. They then become the basis for all kinds of criticism, accusations and theories that quickly spread. Of course most of that surely could have been avoided in this instance with upfront and quick disclosure by the vice president and the administration. But that's a question for them to answer.