Shoot first, take questions later

    No doubt you are as sick and tired as I am at having to listen to
    the whining of the White House press corps. Just because they are not
    informed in a timely fashion every time a vice president shoots someone.

    No wonder people think that this gang that Spiro Agnew famously
    labeled “nattering nabobs of negativism” doesn’t love America enough to
    write a positive story. After all, Vice President Cheney has gone
    hunting hundreds of times in his political career. But you can’t name
    one time when one newsperson wrote one good news story about any of
    Cheney’s pals who survived a sporting event without getting shot by the
    veep.

    Instead, on Monday, the reporters wasted the valuable time of
    President Bush’s press secretary by asking why the White House withheld
    for a full day the news that at 5:30 p.m. on Saturday the vice
    president accidentally shot someone.

    The reporters also wondered why a bloated presidential
    communications staff of trained professionals let the news be leaked by
    an amateur leaker, a private citizen. Don’t these reporters realize
    that Katharine Armstrong is not just the owner of the ranch and a loyal
    Republican, but is herself a trained lobbyist so she knows how to do
    things? She leaked the news to the Corpus Christi Caller-Times, that a
    78-year-old Texas lawyer, Harry Whittington, had stepped into Cheney’s
    line of fire and, as she colorfully explained, “got peppered pretty
    well.”

    (It became less laughable, however, on Tuesday when doctors said a
    piece of the birdshot lodged in Whittington’s heart, causing a mild
    heart attack.)

    Reporters seemed preoccupied with the fact that Bush had great
    difficulty in discovering just who was the triggerman. For some reason,
    they seemed to doubt the word of Bush press secretary Scott McClellan.
    The reporters seemed flummoxed when McClellan tipped his
    uncommunicative hand by lapsing into the passive/intransitive verb
    tenses that politicians and their flacks traditionally choose when they
    want to fuzz the truth.

    What McClellan’s version seemed to say was that, many hours after
    the shooting, newsworthy factoids kept walking into the White House on
    their own, unaccompanied by a person who could have been questioned
    further. (As in: So, who pulled the trigger?) McClellan: “…there was
    information that we were continuing to learn about throughout the
    course of that evening and into early Sunday morning. The initial
    report that we received was that there had been a hunting accident. We
    didn’t know who all was involved, but a member of his party was
    involved in that hunting accident. And then additional details
    continued to come in overnight.”

    Bush first heard about the shooting from chief of staff Andrew Card
    and later, his deputy chief-and-top-schemer Karl Rove. But the White
    House press corps unpatriotically refused to accept obvious fact that
    the problem really began with President Clinton. After all, Clinton was
    the one who first told us an acceptable presidential policy could be
    “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”

    Beyond a lack of patriotism, most journalists also are not
    compassionate enough to feel the pain of a president who simply cannot
    get good intelligence. The same Washington journalists who wouldn’t cut
    Bush some slack for telling the world that Iraq had weapons of mass
    destruction were also skeptical about the White House version that Bush
    was kept ignorant for hours (how many was carefully fuzzed) about the
    identity of this lone Texas triggerman.

    Why does the press corps find it so hard to believe that maybe Bush
    couldn’t find a reliable source on it? Maybe Texas is a place like Iraq
    where good HUMINT (that’s top secret code for human intelligence) is
    hard to find? Presidential loneliness can be poignant. We remember
    President Nixon, as antiwar protesters massed in Washington, sneaking
    out of the White House well after midnight and visiting the brightly
    lit Lincoln Memorial, where he chatted in painful awkwardness with
    stunned student protesters.

    One night soon, Bush may be moved to visit the gleaming, domed
    Jefferson Memorial to commiserate with the ghost of the only other
    president whose veep shot a man. That one was no accident. Vice
    President Aaron Burr killed Alexander Hamilton in a duel. Back then,
    President Jefferson faced no huge nattering White House press corps
    voicing doubts about the details. And it only took a century and a half
    before a patient America got the riveting account of it in “Burr,” a
    wonderful novel disguised as a memoir.

    Gore Vidal, please call your publisher. Your country needs a sequel.

    (Martin Schram writes political analysis for Scripps Howard News Service. E-mail him at martin.schram(at)gmail.com.)