You know you're in serious trouble when you earn the wrath of those in your own family. That's just what's been happening to VP Dick Cheney over his bizarre handling of his accidental shooting of hunting pal, 78-year-old Harry Whittington, in Texas over the weekend. Cheney waited 36 hours to speak with President Bush personally about The Birdshot Incident, and took four days to address the nation. A PR disaster? To say the least.
"It would have been better if the vice president and/or his staff had come out last Saturday night or first thing Sunday morning and announced it...it is beyond me why it was done this way," said former White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer.
"The vice-president ignored his responsibility to the American people, " said Marlon Fitzwater, press secretary under President George H.W. Bush. He added he was "appalled by the whole handling of this."
Republican Texas Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison said "I don't know what their thinking was in not saying anything about it."
In his Thursday column, Conservative pundit John Podhoretz asked, "Why on Earth did the White House wait nearly a day before informing the American people that Dick Cheney inadvertently shot someone? It's absurd to claim this was and is merely a private matter."
The right-wing National Review wrote that "It was a mistake not to alert the national press of the incident immediately...not talking only feeds the speculation."
In his much-awaited public mea culpa Thursday evening on carefully selected (and "fair and balanced") Fox News, Cheney took full responsibility for the accident (unlike his ranch host Katharine Armstrong and White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan, both of whom have placed the blame squarely on Whittington) but failed to apologize for his subsequent bungled, and arrogant, handling of the incident. Surprise, surprise.
So what do we have now? We have a case that grows more bizarre and mysterious with each passing day. Questions: Was Whittington shot in the heart (and possibly lung and liver) as independent doctors are speculating? Did the White House and the veep's office attempt to cover this up? Just how much did Cheney really drink either before and/or during the hunting outing? Was Whittington much closer to his shooter than 30 yards (like a few feet?) Why was the local Sherrif's Department kept away after the accident? Why do several key details of Katharine Armstrong's story keep changing? Did she even see the shooting, or were the initial details of the accident fed to her by Cheney's people and/or Karl Rove? Why was the veep and Whittington on a hunting "double-date" with two women, one of whom is the attractive Lynne Cheney lookalike, Pamela Willeford, ambassador to Switzerland. The rumormill is abuzz that Willeford is quite possibly "Cheney's Lewinsky."
Reckless? Drunk? Adulterous? Even if all this is untrue, which it very well may be, the vice president's curious silence these past four days, and his obvious distance from the president throughout, have justified the media's voracious appetite for the truth. This story has longer legs than Giselle Bundchen. Stay tuned.