By DAN K. THOMASSON
“Hello, is this the New York Daily Blab?”
“Would you connect me to the national desk, please.”
“Hello. This is Dick Cheney and …”
“The grumpy looking guy who is vice president of the United States? The guy who is a friend to big oil and who is responsible for Iraq and who is the evil gray eminence behind George W. Bush?”
“I guess so. I want you to know that I just shot a friend in a hunting accident in Texas.”
“Really? Hold on a minute (Aside: ‘Hey, I got someone on the line who says he’s Vice President Cheney, and he just blew away some guy while hunting.’) OK, Mr. Vice President, shoot. Sorry!”
“Well, as I was saying, I just hit this hunting companion with some birdshot and he is lying on the ground here bleeding. It was purely an accident, but before I get some treatment for him, I thought you people ought to be the first to know. I understand my obligations to the press.”
“That’s great, Mr. Cheney. We wouldn’t want this leaked to some two-bit local newspaper. They wouldn’t get it right in the first place. And, as you know, we would have taken a dim view of being scooped.”
“I understand. Would you mind now if I turned this over to an assistant while I administer some emergency aid to this fellow. He’s kind of a geezer and is beginning to look even grayer than I. Oh, one other thing. If you could give me a break here even though I know it’s a slow news day, I sure would appreciate it. After all, I did the right thing in notifying you.”
“We’ll take that into account. (Aside: ‘Yeah, in a pig’s eye.’).
The truth is that at this stage of his life, Richard Cheney could have done the above and then gone immediately on national television and uttered a tearful confession about his incompetence and it wouldn’t have been enough for most of the national media and his political enemies. Instead, his stock with the cognoscenti of politics is at rock bottom.
As proof of that one need only measure the immediate outcry that arose when he accepted full blame for shooting Harry Whittington, but refused to back down from the decision to allow his hostess to notify the world through her local newspaper the day after the accident. One can only surmise that the issue here is not when the news was released, but to whom, the Corpus Christi Caller-Times. The national press got scooped. The fact is that the Caller-Times’ journalists are just as competent as those in New York or Washington, and they got the report out quickly.
Should the news have come sooner? Probably. But in the hours between the accident and Katherine Armstrong’s phone call nothing happened or was done to change what occurred. There is absolutely nothing to indicate an attempted cover-up, as has been irresponsibly alleged. A cover-up is when one drives a car off a bridge, drowning a female companion and then acts like nothing happened until being caught red handed 11 hours later.
It is unfortunate that Ms. Armstrong said that Whittington had not shouted out his position and that Cheney had not seen him. But every hunter, especially a veteran shooter like Cheney, knows that the man with his finger on the trigger is ultimately where the buck or in this case the bird stops. He said as much.
Why has this incident occupied so much newspaper space and airtime since it occurred last weekend? This could have been a duel tragedy, after all. With Cheney’s heart problems the shock of seeing his friend lying on the ground wounded could have triggered a physical reaction in the vice president. Perhaps the chance to bash Cheney around the head and shoulders as the evil force behind a witless president, as many George Bush detractors believe, was too good to pass up. Perhaps he is the victim of his own reticence, a figure at times not unlike Richard Nixon in the eyes of the press and easy to blame for all our ills.
Cheney is fair game for criticism on any number of issues. This is hardly one of those times. It may be a miracle that the 78-year-old hunting companion was not felled permanently, leaving the vice president utterly devastated the rest of his life. The lack of compassion is just another example of what has happened to civility in America, especially in politics.
(Dan K. Thomasson is former editor of the Scripps Howard News Service.)