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February 15, 2006
Cheney Owns Up

One of the advantages of having satellite radio is the ability to tune in network news broadcasts when they have a noteworthy event. Tonight, Fox's Brit Hume interviewed Dick Cheney about the hunting accident that wounded his friend and hunting partner, Harry Whittington, and the raging controversy over the method the news was released.

First, however, Hume asked Cheney to talk about the accident itself:

HUME: There was just two of you then?

CHENEY: Just two of us at that point. The guide or outrider between us, and of course, there's this entourage behind us, all the cars and so forth that follow me around when I'm out there -- but bird flushed and went to my right, off to the west. I turned and shot at the bird, and at that second, saw Harry standing there. Didn't know he was there --

HUME: You had pulled the trigger and you saw him?

CHENEY: Well, I saw him fall, basically. It had happened so fast.

HUME: What was he wearing?

CHENEY: He was dressed in orange, he was dressed properly, but he was also -- there was a little bit of a gully there, so he was down a little ways before land level, although I could see the upper part of his body when -- I didn't see it at the time I shot, until after I'd fired. And the sun was directly behind him -- that affected the vision, too, I'm sure.

But the image of him falling is something I'll never be able to get out of my mind. I fired, and there's Harry falling. And it was, I'd have to say, one of the worst days of my life, at that moment.

In the news and in the blogs, debate has raged over whether Cheney or Whittington should have responsibility for the shooting. Some said that Whittington, having separated himself from the party, needed to announce himself on his return. Others say that the responsibility lies with the man who pulls the trigger. Cheney took the latter view in his interview:

HUME: Now, you're a seasoned hunter --

CHENEY: I am, well, for the last 12, 15 years.

HUME: Right, and so you know all the procedures and how to maintain the proper line and distance between you and other hunters, and all that. So how, in your judgment, did this happen? Who -- what caused this? What was the responsibility here?

CHENEY: Well, ultimately, I'm the guy who pulled the trigger that fired the round that hit Harry. And you can talk about all of the other conditions that existed at the time, but that's the bottom line. And there's no -- it was not Harry's fault. You can't blame anybody else. I'm the guy who pulled the trigger and shot my friend. And I say that is something I'll never forget.

Now, please put yourself in Cheney's shoes. You've gone out hunting with a good friend, having a nice time getting away from the pressures of the job, and all of a sudden the vacation and the job disappear when you look at the friend you've just shot lying on the ground. Telling the press isn't the first thought on your mind under the circumstances. Getting your friend to the hospital and making sure that his family gets notified is the priority, and that obviously occupied Cheney for the next several hours.

So far, I think Cheney did an admirable job in the interview. Cheney took responsibility for the shooting itself. He went over the steps taken at the hospital to care for Whittington and some of the efforts taken to notify his family. His explanation sounds quite reasonable, and his actions appear to be understandable under the circumstances. That takes him to Sunday morning, and the decision to have the ranch owner -- who witnessed the shooting -- release a statement to the local press, through a reporter she knows personally. Cheney makes this explanation convincing in the sense that it expresses the truth about how he made his decision:

HUME: Had you discussed this with colleagues in the White House, with the President, and so on?

CHENEY: I did not. The White House was notified, but I did not discuss it directly, myself. I talked to Andy Card, I guess it was Sunday morning.

HUME: Not until Sunday morning? Was that the first conversation you'd had with anybody in the -- at the White House?


HUME: And did you discuss this with Karl Rove at any time, as has been reported?

CHENEY: No, Karl talks to -- I don't recall talking to Karl. Karl did talk with Katherine Armstrong, who is a good mutual friend to both of us. Karl hunts at the Armstrong, as well --

HUME: Say that again?

CHENEY: I said Karl has hunted at the Armstrong, as well, and we're both good friends of the Armstrongs and of Katherine Armstrong. And Katherine suggested, and I agreed, that she would go make the announcement, that is that she'd put the story out. And I thought that made good sense for several reasons. First of all, she was an eye-witness. She'd seen the whole thing. Secondly, she'd grown up on the ranch, she'd hunted there all of her life. Third, she was the immediate past head of the Texas Wildlife and Parks Department, the game control commission in the state of Texas, an acknowledged expert in all of this.

And she wanted to go to the Corpus Christi Caller-Times, which is the local newspaper, covers that area, to reporters she knew. And 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 website, which is the way it went out. And I thought that was the right call.

HUME: What do you think now?

CHENEY: Well, I still do. I still think that the accuracy was enormously important. I had no press person with me, I didn't have any press people with me. I was there on a private weekend with friends on a private ranch. In terms of who I would contact to have somebody who would understand what we're even talking about, the first person that we talked with at one point, when Katherine first called the desk to get hold of a reporter didn't know the difference between a bullet and a shotgun -- a rifle bullet and a shotgun. And there are a lot of basic important parts of the story that required some degree of understanding. And so we were confident that Katherine was the right one, especially because she was an eye-witness and she could speak authoritatively on it. She probably knew better than I did what had happened since I'd only seen one piece of it.

I don't think that this sounds false or deceptive at all, but I do think Cheney made a mistake with this decision. If he wanted Armstrong to release the statement, that makes sense, but he should have probably involved his media team to release it directly to the national media rather than wait for the story to make it through the wires. A seasoned politician should know better. However, two mitigating factors come up in the interview. The first is that none of his media team had accompanied him on this trip; the second was the obviously distressed mental state he experienced this weekend. Cheney made a poor decision about the method of publishing the news, but he didn't intend on hiding it from anyone.

Cheney just couldn't bring himself to admit that, however. He said he knew it would be a national story, but that he felt the best way to handle it was to release it to the local press and let the national desks pick it up for themselves. When Hume gave him an opportunity to review the decision in hindsight, Cheney stuck to his initial analysis, saying that Armstrong had the best look at what really happened and could give the most accurate report. He leaned on accuracy as a driving measure, but Armstrong could have been just as accurate with the AP and the networks. He passed on an opportunity to end the argument by simply agreeing that he could have handled it differently, but it looks like the lunatic reaction of the White House pool has Cheney's hackles up. He's obviously not in the conciliatory mood with the DC gaggle, and that also affected his judgment here.

Overall, though, Cheney did a good job in giving a reasoned and rational rebuttal to the wild accusations flying around about this shooting. For an example of the nuttery one can find among what used to be considered opinion leaders, listen to Hugh Hewitt's interview with an unhinged Lawrence O'Donnell. With absolutely no evidence whatsoever, O'Donnell spins a paranoid fantasy of drunken binges, local police conspiracies, and other wild-eyed assumptions. The man gives another fresh dimension to the label "creepy liar".

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at February 15, 2006 8:33 PM

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» Will Dick Cheney's Interview And Damage Control Be Enough? from The Moderate Voice
Vice President Cheney broke his silence on the shooting accident that wounded a hunting companion yesterday — after reports indicated a growing chorus from within the White House and the GOP itself that he address the issue and put it behind him.... [Read More]

Tracked on February 16, 2006 2:17 AM


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