Monday, February 13, 2006

Dick Cheney's Hunting Accident

According to an eyewitness account, this incident is pretty much a non-event, in political terms. Two things have a lot of media panties in a wad. The first is that it involves the Vice President, who is no favorite of the national media, and gives them an excuse to become apoplectic and pretend something big happened. The second is that a small town newspaper scooped the national media because the Vice President didn’t drop everything and dutifully report what had happened to the “real media,” and that is perhaps the greatest sin of all.

But when you read the excerpts from The Washington Post and apply a little common sense to the events reported there, you’ll see that there’s not much real news there.

In summary, Mr. Cheney, Harry Whittington and another man were hunting quail. Mr. Whittington shot a bird and went to retrieve it. Mr. Cheney and the other hunter moved from that spot, heard a second group of birds behind him, turned and took aim and fired. What had flushed the birds was Mr. Whittington approaching the other two hunters from behind without warning them he was there, and when Mr. Cheney fired Mr. Whittington (who one report said was some 30 yards away) was hit by some of the birdshot.

Did Mr. Cheney shoot Mr. Whittington? Not exactly. To say the he shot the other man creates the impression that he drew down on him and fired, or that there was a more-or-less direct hit. It also implies negligence or carelessness. However, Mr. Whittington, who should have let Mr. Cheney know where he was, was accidentally hit by the periphery of the shot spray, not by a direct shot. An eyewitness said that Mr. Cheney could not see Mr. Whittington; brush or leaves or something might have obscured him.

Now it probably was not high on Mr. Cheney’s list to notify the national media of this incident, given that he had more important and pressing issues at hand, namely an injured friend that needed medical attention. And gosh darn it, when the property owner decided to notify the media, she called the local paper instead of The Washington Post or CBS News.

Here are excerpts from account of the hunting accident Vice President Dick Cheney was involved in:

Vice President Cheney accidentally sprayed a companion with birdshot while hunting quail on a private Texas ranch, injuring the man in the face, neck and chest, the vice president's office confirmed yesterday after a Texas newspaper reported the incident.

The shooting occurred late Saturday afternoon while Cheney was hunting with Harry Whittington, 78, a prominent Austin lawyer, on the Armstrong Ranch in south Texas. Hearing a covey of birds, Cheney shot at one, not realizing that Whittington had startled the quail and that he was in the line of fire.

According to [the property owner Katherine] Armstrong’s account, she was watching from a car while Cheney, Whittington and another hunter got out of the vehicle to shoot at a covey of quail. Whittington shot a bird and as he went to retrieve it, Cheney and the third hunter discovered a second covey.

Whittington "came up from behind the vice president and the other hunter and didn't signal them or indicate to them or announce himself," Armstrong said, according to the Associated Press.

It was Armstrong's decision to alert the news media. Cheney's office made no public announcement, deciding to defer to Armstrong because the incident had taken place on her property. Armstrong called the Corpus Christi Caller-Times, and when a reporter from the paper called the White House, the vice president's office confirmed the account.
Cheney's office referred other reporters to Armstrong for a witness account, but after speaking to some members of the media yesterday afternoon, Armstrong stopped returning phone calls.


Anonymous said...

Every report (news?) I have read said that the pellets were the size of BB's. Shame on Cheney. He should know better. 71/2's or 9's were the accepted quail loads when I was a boy. The largest of those are about the size of coarse salt and if you want to bring down supper, you had better not waste your shells on 35-yard shots.
I have been shot three times, once with a shotgun using No. 4's which are almost twice as big but still a long way short of BB's. That didn't even make the local news in the local paper which carried a special section for news of our one-horse town. All it took to cure the lead poisoning in that instance was a pair of tweezers and a little southern corn whiskey rubbed on to prevent infection. It didn't do any permanent damage except to my psyche, but it burned like fire for a while. Oh, yeah, I forgot to mention that I was only ten and carrying a shotgun, too, which never went off although there were more squirrels than you could shake a hickory nut at running in all directions.
The media problem is not actually with Dick Cheney, but with the hacks. They need to look behind their noses.

James Shott said...

I think the term "BBs" is more a result of ignorance on the part of reporters than of Cheney's shell purchase. Does any ammunition manufacturer really fill shells with BBs? Perhaps, but I'm betting he shot normal bird shot, albeit a larger grain(?), perhaps. Even so, if BB-size shot is on the market, it's fair for anyone to use it, no? The main concern wouldn't be shooting a fellow hunter, but how much damage it would do to the fowl.

The impression I have is that the bird Cheney shot at was between him and Whittington, which is less than 30 yards, which helps explain why he didn't see Whittington, who should have let people know where he was.

I don't totally absolve Cheney, but I think he is mostly innocent of any negligence, and I still maintain that the media have once again created a tempest in a teapot.

James Shott said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Rebecca DeVendra said...

All the news will focus on are hunting accidents this next couple of weeks. Talk about making a mountain out of a molehill.

James Shott said...

Good to see you back, CWC.

The media have done very poorly in trying to factually tell us what happened. They leave much to the imagination, and that allows misconceptions to be dreamt up and spread. It is indeed a mountain made out of a molehill.

JL Pagano said...

"deciding to defer to Armstrong because the incident had taken place on her property"

In other words, after going behind closed doors and discussing the best way to spin this horrific accident, the VP chose to hide behind the owner of the property rather than preclude any media speculation, be it storm in a teacup or not, by standing up, taking responsibility as befits his office, and putting forth his own explanation of what happened.

James Shott said...

I think the first thing on Mr. Cheney's mind was Mr. Whittington's condition, not alerting the press. I further think that given the way he has been mistreated by the press, Mr. Cheney has a natural predisposition against being open to reporters.

For the record, this certainly could have been handled better. Having said that, you have yourself indulged in "spin" by calling this relatively minor incident "horrific." It is anything but horrific. Such accidents happen fairly often, and rarely result in serious injury or death, according to a Texas Fish and Wildlife officer.

If the media were honest about this, they could justifyably criticize the way the news got out, and move on to truly important issues. But the media got it collective feelings hurt, because a local newspaper broke the story first, and are acting like petulant children, blowing everything out of all proportion.

JL Pagano said...

Well by calling it horrific I must have succumbed to the evil media conspiracy which had the audacity to report that the man had been shot in the neck (which as far as I know can most certainly lead to death) and subsequently suffered an (albeit mild) heart attack.

Given all of that, perhaps horrific was a bit severe. I actually agree this is not a stick to beat The White House with.

However if I were a journalist, I can't see how I could avoid making the most out of the story unless I was on the GOP payroll.

James Shott said...

Let's get some facts on the table: Mr. Whittington was 30 yards away and was hit with the periphery of the shot spray, not shot at point-blank range, and not hit by the main part of the shot spray. There are hundreds of pellets in a bird shot load. Only a relative few struck Mr. Whittington. Had Mr. Whittington warned Mr. Cheney that he was nearby, Mr. Cheney most likely would not have shot at the bird that Mr. Whittington flusned as he approached Mr. Cheney from behind. It appears from what I have been able to find that the bird was between Mr. Cheney and Mr. Whittington, who was struck in the face, neck and chest.

The pellets have been described as "BBs," however are much smaller than BBs.

The "heart attack" is a heart attack only in the most technical sense. A pellet that lodged near the heart interfered with the electrical impulses in the heart. This same phenomenon occurs due to surgery, such as by-pass surgery. A true heart attack results from a dramatic reduction in blood flow to the heart that is caused a blockage in a blood vessel supplying the heart. The pellet is not and never was inside the heart. Some accounts say that the pellet "moved" while others do not say that. Mr. Whittington did not have surgery, as reported in some news accounts, he had a catheterization to examine the cardiac vessels and the heart itself. That examination found that both his cardiac vessels and his heart are in good shape.

As to "making the most out of the story," that is improper journalism. The story should be reported factually and accurately, and should not be sensationalized to make it sexier, or to give it an abnormally long life.