After Cheney's Shooting Incident, Time to Unload

By Mark Leibovich
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, February 14, 2006

It was one of those "everyone's a wise guy" days in Washington yesterday, thanks to Dick Cheney. Quipping at the vice president's expense was like shooting fish, or quail -- oh, never mind.

It's never a good thing to be a punch line in politics, and the vice president had the field to himself after accidentally shooting his hunting companion, Austin lawyer Harry Whittington, at a Texas ranch late Saturday. The accident left the 78-year-old man seriously injured. He was released from the intensive care unit yesterday.

Meantime, the incident provided a laugh bounty for gallows humorists, particularly those of the anti-Bush persuasion. Have at 'em, kids:

"Bush-Quail '06," cracked Democratic strategist Jenny Backus.

"The CIA assured Cheney that Harry Whittington was actually a pheasant," added Democratic speechwriter Jeff Nussbaum.

"The worst part is, he was aiming at the special prosecutor," contributed John Kerry spokesman David Wade.

Democratic staffers on the Hill could be heard singing a parody of Aerosmith's "Janie's Got a Gun," using the words "Cheney's got a gun." Or marveling at how "Republicans really don't like lawyers, do they?" or circulating a quote from Bush, in a 2000 interview with the Houston Chronicle, in which he hailed Cheney as "somebody who is going to shoot straight with the American people."

This was just a small sampling, taken from amateur jokesters willing to attach their names to the one-liners.

As for the professionals: On "The Daily Show" last night, Jon Stewart, speaking as a "concerned parent," urged viewers never to let their children go on hunting trips with the vice president. "I can't emphasize this enough," Stewart said. "I don't care what kind of lucrative contracts they're trying to land, or energy regulation they're trying to get lifted. . . . He'll shoot them in the face."

Likewise, David Letterman's Top 10 list was devoted to "Dick Cheney's excuses," which included that he "thought the guy was trying to go gay cowboy on me."

As neither President Bush nor Cheney spoke publicly about the accident yesterday, it fell to White House spokesman Scott McClellan to suffer the media equivalent of birdshot. He was pressed repeatedly on why it took a day for the administration to acknowledge that the vice president had accidentally shot a man.

The most heated public moment occurred during McClellan's off-camera "gaggle" with White House reporters yesterday morning. It featured NBC's David Gregory, one of McClellan's most persistent inquisitors over the last year, who raised his voice while asking a question about the incident.

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