Sometimes, it’s the small stuff that matters most. In reading the coverage of Vice President Dick Cheney’s having accidentally shot his hunting partner last weekend, we’ve noticed the lazy habit of some reporters who refer to the shotgun blast as “buckshot,” when, since he was hunting quail, Cheney was most assuredly using “birdshot.”
The difference is huge. Had Cheney had been using buckshot, which hunters use to hunt deer and large game, the victim, Harry Whittington, wouldn’t have to worry about heart attacks — he’d be dead.
On Wednesday, well after the grace period for getting the facts straight should have expired, the International Herald Tribune’s Roger Cohen wrote that the VP “pepper[ed] the poor man with buckshot” (the story was reprinted in the New York Times). What’s odd about this is that the Times, the IHP’s parent newspaper, has been getting it right. Just today, the paper’s Ralph Blumenthol got it right, and yesterday, the Times’ Simon Romero also called it “birdshot.”
A series of Nexis and Google searches finds that U.S. dailies have actually been pretty good on this issue; it’s the Internet and blogs that have been lazier about the difference between the two kinds of rounds. What’s more, the press in Canada and Australia — both the home to wide-open spaces and abundant game — has gotten it wrong almost every time. Australia’s Herald Sun, the Toronto Star (twice on Wednesday), the Montreal Gazette and the Agence France Presse all botched it. (Meantime, back in the U.S., Daily Variety screwed up, just for good measure.)
We must note that while the Montreal Gazette got it wrong on Monday, on Tuesday it printed the following correction:
“Re: “Cheney blasts friend with buckshot” (Gazette, Feb. 13). This headline is inaccurate. If Dick Cheney had been using buckshot, the victim would most likely be dead.
“Buckshot pellets are packed nine to a cartridge while birdshot pellets are packed 100 to 300 to a cartridge. Being much smaller, each birdshot pellet is far less powerful than buckshot.”
Sometimes the error is compounded by being folded into a lame joke. “The buckshot stops here” is not only factually incorrect, but an embarrassing cliché. Yet the Philadelphia Inquirer used that clunker on Wednesday, as did the New York Daily News, while the New York Post used it today. Scooping them all (as far as we can tell), is the Chicago Tribune, which ran with the stupid joke on Tuesday. Coming in a close second in the race to the bottom is syndicated columnist Ellen Goodman, who admits to “some guilty pleasure in finding Cheney the target of this journalistic buckshot.”
We’ll leave you with just one more — it’s our favorite “buckshot” quote of the week, and perhaps one of the crazier lines this year. Pravda, the Russian newspaper synonymous with government propaganda (and which quickly may become required reading here at CJR Daily, just for the utter inanity of its copy), treats the Cheney issue thusly:
“So what does Richard (better known as Dick) Cheney do when he isn’t sending his legions across the borders of sovereign nations against international law to commit acts of torture, rape, sodomy and mass murder? He shoots birds … and to spice up the weekend, peppers his friends with buckshot.”
Oh, Pravda, Pravda, Pravda. It’s birdshot… don’t you read the corrections page of the Montreal Gazette?