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Monumental Misfire

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By Howard Kurtz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, February 14, 2006; 11:27 AM

I could say the White House shot itself in the foot, but that would be in terrible taste, wouldn't it?

The Scott McClellan briefing was truly something to behold. The guy is still picking buckshot out of his backside.

Seriously: What were they thinking? The vice president of the United States shoots a man--accidentally, to be sure, this was no Aaron Burr situation--and White House officials wait a whole day and don't tell the press? Did they think it wouldn't get out? No one would care? It would remain secret as a matter of national security?

Instead, they had the ranch owner call a reporter for the Corpus Christi Caller-Times?

This is going to ricochet for days (forgive me), all because the administration essentially thumbed its nose at the national press.

McClellan seemed to be slightly distancing himself from the mishandling of the matter by directing many of the questions to Vice President Cheney's office.

Now imagine you're the veep's PR wizard and he has this little incident and shoots a fellow quail hunter. Imagine that you summon the press, your boss reads a statement, expresses deep regret over the incident involving his friend and takes responsibility for the mishap. Wouldn't that have generated a bit of sympathy for the errant sharpshooter, made him seem more of a human being and avoided all the exasperated questions about "when did the vice president tell the president that he had shot someone?"

What's striking is how quickly this has become fodder for blog ridicule (Dave, Jay and Jon weren't far behind), along with the "What if Al Gore had done this???" complaints. (For the record, the shooting got front-page play in the NYT and WP yesterday and an above-the-fold box in USA Today.)

I was looking forward to Bill O'Reilly's take, but his lead was: "Did Al Gore Go Too Far?" (In fairness, Gore charged in Saudi Arabia that Arabs in the United States are being mistreated and would not provide specifics to the Factor.) O'Reilly did give the veep's misfire a couple of sentences--as "The Most Ridiculous Item of the Day." Hannity & Colmes led with Gore, too, with Colmes offering this ringing defense: "It's not like he shot anybody."

The morning coverage follows.

NYT : "The White House sought with little success on Monday to quell an uproar over why it took the better part of a day to disclose that Vice President Dick Cheney had accidentally wounded a fellow hunter in Texas on Saturday and why even President Bush initially got an incomplete report on the shooting . . .

"The pressure came in part from questions about whether Mr. Cheney -- who is already known for his inclination to keep his business, professional and political dealings behind closed doors -- might have been trying to play down the incident, a suggestion rejected by those who were with Mr. Cheney over the weekend."


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