For all of the hullabaloo surrounding Vice President Dick Cheney’s accidental shooting of his friend during a hunting trip, one would think that this friend was some high important figure. After all, the most important issue to the press over the past week and a half was why Cheney waited 14 hours to disclose that this unfortunate incident had occurred.
Fourteen hours! How dare Cheney wait more than 14 minutes to tell the country that he had shot someone? That’s been the chorus of both the media and Bush administration critics as of late.
A few things need to be cleared up here before we blow this hunting accident any more out of proportion than we already have. First off, it’s not unreasonable for Cheney to have wanted to inform the family of Harry Whittington that he had been shot. How would you feel if you found out for the first time on the evening news that your spouse or father had been shot?
Second, once this information came out, the family would no doubt be deluged with media requests for comment and the like. Perhaps Cheney wanted to give them a night to sleep on it before being barraged. There was no need for the family to endure both learning of the incident and the inevitable media circus all within a few hours.
Finally, we need to examine why this is even a story at all. Let’s suppose, hypothetically, that you and a bunch of friends decide to play a pickup baseball game one day. You come up to bat and solidly connect on the pitcher’s first fastball, sending it right back from whence it came. The ball hits the pitcher in the face, knocking him down and probably breaking several facial bones.
Your first reaction, naturally, would be to tend to him and make sure he gets proper medical treatment of his injuries. Then you would let his family know and try and calm all of the other players. Perhaps everyone is so stunned and horrified that the game ends, and with it, the story.
All we have to do is change one detail about the above situation and we arrive at the current controversy surrounding Cheney. Obviously, you would have to change it from a baseball game to a hunting accident. But more importantly, you’re not just any old guy, but the vice president of the United States. If you were any regular person, there would be no story over this.
On top of that, the victim isn’t anyone of any significance. If this were Donald Rumsfeld or a Supreme Court justice that had been shot, then yes, the public has the right to know as quickly as possible. They are important public figures. But Harry Whittington is not. He may be a rich businessman from Texas and a friend of the Bush administration, but in the end, he is a private citizen.
Therefore, the only reason we heard about this accident at all is because the vice president was the shooter. He is the story. This was an unusual and tragic incident involving Vice President Cheney, but aside from that, it had no impact on national security or national policy of any kind.
Nevertheless, the media and some Democrats were unhappy that Cheney waited until the next day to make the incident public. There were charges of secrecy, abuse of power, and engineering a cover-up. It was as if we were back in the days of Watergate, with the same charges that were made regarding a burglary being recycled over a bird shooting accident.
No doubt, Cheney was trying in the early hours to manage a dicey situation that he had created. Of course, he wanted the news to come out on his terms and his timetable. However, the fact that he waited 14 hours to tell the media does not warrant cover-up charges. What was there to cover up? The vice president shot a man while on a hunting trip. It was obviously a terrible accident. End of story.
Bad as it may be, I’ll admit that it was somewhat amusing and intriguing at first to hear that the vice president had shot someone. But that’s the point. The unusualness of this event is why we have a story, and it is only unusual because it involved our nation’s second in command. Anyone else, we would hear nothing. That this story was covered from such a hysterical and critical point of view by some is simply ridiculous.