Four days after Dick Cheney shot 78-year-old Harry M. Whittington in the face, neck and heart, the vice-president sat down for tea and crumpets with the PR branch of the Bush-Cheney Administration—otherwise known as Fox News—to explain himself, and finally took a measure of responsibility.
OK, if they didn't serve tea and crumpets, they should have, in keeping with the spirit of Brit Hume's genteel questioning and the blue blood hunting party under discussion.
Let's face it, if you or I put somebody in the hospital while hunting, the good folks down at the local sheriff's department would've been out in force just to make sure there was no hanky-panky—say, open beer, no hunting after hours, no excessive trophy-bagging, no carelessness with firearms or who knows what? Also, they might've questioned a few of the discrepancies, such as those that began emerging earlier in the week in the official story.
Ben Brabson knows he would've asked some questions. Maybe you've heard of Ben. The retired Sevier County attorney and former Navy intelligence officer is also a gentleman farmer and quail hunter, and he thinks Cheney's official story doesn't quite pass the sniff test.
“In my youth I was an experienced hunter, including quail hunting here and on my uncle's ranch in Southwest Florida,” Brabson wrote in an email. “The cover story doesn't ring true. The shooting victim was apparently peppered at a height of three to six feet at a range of 30 yards, which means that Ole Topgun (Cheney) would've had an aiming point (quail) of no more than 20 yards from his firing position. That birdshot would have a tough time penetrating a hunting vest at point blank range much less 30 yards. It would also be very difficult to be knocked unconscious at 30 yards. From the number of pellets the victim has in him, I'd say the range was 10 to 15 yards.”
Another hunter, who asked to be anonymous, pointed out Whittington was supposedly standing in a three-foot gully, which raises the question of why Cheney was aiming so low. “In South Texas you don't shoot low out of fear of hitting another man's dog. Those dogs are incredibly expensive and you just don't take a chance on that. Something don't smell right.”
Admittedly these are all speculations, but almost every aspect of this case is open to speculation, because there was no immediate investigation of the kind that would've ensued had you or I pulled that trigger. Apparently a deputy sent to investigate was turned away at the gate of the Armstrong Ranch, where the shooting occurred, near Corpus Christi.
Ben's puzzled by other aspects of the story. Media quote witnesses saying Whittington had just made a double—two birds with one shot—and had gone into the bush to bag his quail, before reappearing unexpectedly in front of the business end of Cheney's gun.
“Nobody in their right mind would go into the bush on foot to pick up a dead bird--the danger of rattlesnakes is too great and that's what trained bird dogs are for.” That and flushing out the prey.
“You turn the dogs loose and they crisscross in front of the vehicle until they point or set a covey,” Ben explained. “When a covey flushes, it rises to a height of 20 to 30 feet and then settles. By the time it drops below 10 feet you have no shot because of the underbrush.”
I've heard other hunters mention a horizon rule--you don't shoot at birds below the horizon.
Brabson has other questions, and so do I.
* Why did the Cheney team haul the bleeding Whittington an hour and 20 minutes north to a branch of the Christus Spohn Memorial Hospital in Kingsville, rather than have him flown directly to the more resourceful parent hospital in Corpus Christi where he wound up about three hours after the event?
* Why did guards turn away a deputy who drove out to interview the hunting party? In other words why did no authorities take a statement from Cheney until some 14 hours after the incident?
* Why did Katharine Armstrong, who phoned the local newspaper, say there was “no--zero, zippo” drinking before Cheney acknowledged having a beer with his lunch?
* Why did the Secret Service not know the position of everyone with a loaded gun in the vicinity of the vice-president?
* Why three versions of how the news broke? One in which Armstrong claims she made the decision to phone the local media, one in which Cheney asked her to phone the paper, and, finally, Cheney's answer to a question from Hume, suggesting Karl Rove played a role in handling the media?
Still, those who say this story has received comparatively more media attention than it merits are right—though not in the way they imagine.