One thing that is clear in the "is it news or not" debate is that the Web has turned upside down the ability of the mainstream media to set any sort of agenda as to what is news. Web surfers vote with their clicks as to what they think is most interesting, and the Cheney shooting accident seems to interest just about everyone. If news is defined as what people are talking about, Cheney shooting a hunting buddy qualifies for sure.
On MSN, the No. 1 search was Dick Cheney. On Technorati, he was the second most searched for. On blog tracking site IceRocket, Dick Cheney was the No. 1 hot topic, and listed 922 posts on the accident, just behind the 1,024 posts about the Olympics.
Lycos found within 24 hours searches for Vice President Dick Cheney jumped 300%. The majority of those queries were for jokes related to the incident, but the most used terms included Dick Cheney Accident, Dick Cheney Shot, Dick Cheney Jokes, Cheney’s Got A Gun, and I Shot Dick Cheney. Web sites proliferated with photos of Dick Cheney doctored to show him dressed as Elmer Fudd or befuddled by similarities between quail and attorneys. Yahoo’s Buzz Index yesterday noted that news of the shooting accident sent searches on Mr. Cheney shooting skyward, up 2,815%. Other top searches included "dick cheney hunting," "dick cheney jokes," and "aaron burr" (the last vice president to be involved in a shooting). Even today, news surrounding the incident were Yahoo’s No. 9 and No. 10 most viewed news, and its No. 6 most e-mailed story.
The incident seems destined to become entrenched as a pop cultural moment. On CafePress.com, a site that allows its shopkeeper members to sell their user-created merchandise such as T-shirts and coffee mugs, 48 designs had been added to make up 714 different items for sale that played off the shooting by Monday morning. (T-shirts slogans included “Stop! I’m not a quail!”; “Duck, it’s Dick!”; “Guns Don’t Kill People, Vice Presidents Do!”; “I’d still rather go hunting with Dick Cheney than driving with Ted Kennedy”; and, of course, the classic “Dick Cheney Shot Me And All I Got Was This Lousy T-Shirt.”) Yesterday, searches for items related to the Dick Cheney shooting were in the top 10.
YouTube.com posted a parody music video, “Cheney’s Got a Gun,” and Monday’s late-night talk shows were non-stop Cheney punch lines. (David Letterman: “We can’t get Bin Laden, but we nailed a 78-year-old attorney.” Jon Stewart: “78-year-old Harry Whittington [becomes] the first person shot by a sitting VP since Alexander Hamilton. Hamilton, of course, shot in a duel with Aaron Burr over issues of honor, integrity and political maneuvering. Whittington? Mistaken for a bird.” Jimmy Kimmel: “You know what they say, if Dick Cheney comes out of his hole and shoots an old man in the face, six more weeks of winter.” Jay Leno: “After he shot the guy, he screamed, ‘Anyone else want to call domestic wire-tapping illegal?’”).
The political pundits can debate all they want as to whether this incident illustrates a telling pattern of behavior on the part of the administration and the vice president or if the left is just twisting this unfortunate but private incident to its own advantage. But journalistically? It’s news. If a small-town mayor had gone on a hunting trip and accidentally shot a friend, the local paper would cover it because that community would want to know the details of the accident. In this case, Dick Cheney’s local community is the entire U.S. Prominent people shooting other people is news, whether it was accidental or not.