washingtonpost.com
Monumental Misfire

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."

Cheney? Tight-lipped? You don't suppose that's why he slipped out of a meeting with Bush and Kofi Annan before the press pool showed up, do you?

Boston Globe : "President Bush was informed by 8 p.m. Saturday that Vice President Dick Cheney had accidentally shot a hunting partner earlier that day in Texas, but the information was not relayed to the White House spokesman until Sunday morning and was not confirmed to the public until around 1 p.m. Sunday, White House officials said yesterday."

LAT : "The Bush White House and the president himself are known for limiting information to not only the press but also to members of Congress, as seen in the debate over the domestic surveillance program by the National Security Agency and the congressional investigation of the administration's handling of the Hurricane Katrina disaster."

Philadelphia Inquirer : "Gun-safety advocates say there are very few gun 'accidents' - spontaneous discharges of firearms. Rather, they say, most unintentional shootings involve negligence or carelessness, and are anything but blameless."

New York Daily News : "Vice President Cheney had no license to kill - quail, that is." He needed a $7 stamp.

The New York Post has Cheney as Elmer Fudd, with a headline about two WASCALS: "The White House took heavy flak yesterday for waiting a vewwy, vewwy long time before revealing that wascally Vice President Dick Cheney had shot a fellow hunter."

Josh Marshall poses the question:

"The vice president shoots someone seriously enough to require ICU treatment in the hospital and the White House doesn't see fit to make a public announcement? It's left to the owner of the ranch to let people know?

"Clearly, it's not really left up to her. It's a passive decision. They don't want to touch it presumably. So they leave it to Armstrong to be the public face of it."

Conservative columnist John Podhoretz doesn't sugarcoat it on National Review:

"This story is a very big deal, despite all the mitigating factors -- the accident involved a friend, his medical team was right there to help, and all that. Something like this has never happened before, and it is a genuinely disturbing thing to think that the vice president of the United States actually shot somebody last weekend, even for fans of his.

"It's disturbing as well that there was a news blackout that lasted nearly a day about this serious incident. It seems beyond question that the vice president is going to have to go before the cameras, explain what happened, and show genuine remorse for his actions, however inadvertent. It's a difficult challenge for someone as reticent as Dick Cheney. But unless he does so, and makes a good showing of it, he will be damaged goods for the remainder of the Bush presidency."

Nitpicker delivers a hunting lecture:

"Remember that this is the same Dick Cheney who mocked John Kerry by calling his camouflage outfit an 'October Disguise.' But, if Dick was a real hunter, he would know that hunters are supposed to have 'zones of fire,' areas which are theirs for the picking. Other areas, for safety reasons, are off-limits . . .

"So, unless Harry Whittington went [bonkers] and dashed out in front of men wielding shotguns, Dick Cheney violated one of the most important rules of hunting."

Michelle Malkin is sympathetic:

"Unfortunately, this is very bad news for the White House--and not just because of the inevitable late-night jokes that will inundate the airwaves over the next week. The Dems will exploit this accident to smear Cheney as incapable of being trusted, weak of mind, etc. The resignation rumors will fly again. And the biography of a man who has served this country so well and so honorably for so many years will be overshadowed by a single, ill-fated hunting mishap."

Left Coaster : holds nothing back: "What were they afraid of? The embarrassment of Cheney looking stupid, reckless, or perhaps being drunk as a skunk? The fact that his idea of hunting is like his idea of liberating countries?"

Cue the dark music for Ace of Spades : "The spin is that it was just a mistake.

"The truth is that Cheney was just hunting the ultimate prey-- man ."

Tbogg : has the one-liner: "Can we call this Cheneyquidick?"

Slate press critic Jack Shafer accuses NYT columnist Nick Kristof of pulling a stunt by challenging Bill O'Reilly to visit Darfur with him:

"As Kristof readers know, he's such a frequent visitor to the Darfur slaughterhouse that he's purchased a time-share condominium there. I jest, of course, but there's something around the bend about Kristof's Darfur-instead-of-Christmas harping. Every journalist who chooses to report on Subject A receives critical mail and phone calls from folks who insist that the journalist should be reporting on Subject B if he thinks A is a problem. Kristof must think it's clever to stoop to a gambit that's beneath any self-respecting blogger.

"Kristof's taunt also smacks of the sort of self-aggrandizement you're more likely to view on The O'Reilly Factor than on the Times op-ed page. Kristof seems to be saying, As the vicar of Darfur, I stand in absolute judgment of all who have not paid witness to this crime against humanity by touring the region with me . . . .

"After O'Reilly wrote in his column he couldn't take a break from his day jobs (radio and TV shows) to visit Darfur, Kristof asked readers on Feb. 7 ($) to pledge the amount of money they'd be willing to spend to send O'Reilly because maybe money, not time, is what's kept the TV host from making the hajj. This jab fails to qualify as wit because O'Reilly's TV and radio contracts and his best-selling books have made him hugely rich."

Ann Coulter is drawing fire in the blogosphere, and not just from the left. I'll let Michelle Malkin explain:

"There is much buzz this weekend about comments that conservative author/columnist Ann Coulter made at the Conservative Political Action Conference on Friday, a speech which I missed due to a book signing at the same event.

"Ann used the term 'raghead' when describing what our homeland security policies should be: 'I think our motto should be post-9-11, "raghead talks tough, raghead faces consequences."'

"Ann says many deliberately provocative things. This one was spectacularly ill-chosen and ill-timed. I want the young conservatives who attended CPAC--particularly young conservative Muslims--to know that not everyone uses that kind of epithet.

"I don't. Not in public. Not at home. I have no ill will towards peaceful people who happen to cover their heads for their faith.

"My problem, as I've made clear on this blog, is with radical Islamists at home and abroad who threaten our existence. I don't care what they wear on their heads. I care what's in their heads and what's strapped around their chests and what's hidden in the soles of their shoes and what's being cooked up in their labs and nuclear reactors . . .

"The Left side of the blogosphere is working itself up into a lather, calling on conservatives to condemn Ann's remarks. But as I have noted many times, the Right is far more self-critical than the sanctimonious liberals who never say a peep about the routine hatred and poisonous ethnic/racial/religious identity politics exhibited by their own. We don't need your prodding."

Jonah Goldberg (of National Review, whose editors Coulter once called "girly-boys"), says:

"I don't think Ann does anybody but herself any good when she jokes about killing presidents, Supreme Court justices or uses terms like raghead. I don't think she should do it and I don't think conservatives should applaud it. I'm all for shattering the stereotype that conservatives can't tell a joke, but that doesn't mean any joke is worth making just because it gets a laugh (indeed, some jokes shouldn't be made for fear that they will generate a laugh). Regardless, if anyone thinks Ann is going to stop her act simply because she gets heat from the likes of me, they're crazy."

The Washington Monthly is touting a study by a liberal group which says that the guest lineup on the Sunday talk shows leans right, and that this has been true under both Clinton and Bush.

Bill Kristol explains why he ran the cartoons:

"To accompany the editorial in the new issue of the Weekly Standard, we have reproduced the page with the Mohammed cartoons from the September 30 Jyllands-Posten. Readers should be able to see what this controversy is about. More important, in light of recent instances of capitulation to the threats of radical Islamists, and in response to eloquent pleas by individuals like Walid-al-Kubaisi in Norway to publish the cartoons in order to protect freedom of expression, we wanted to do our small part to stand against intimidation by extremists."

Is McCain solidifying his support on the right? Power Line's Paul Mirengoff weighs in:

"In a front-page story, The Washington Post reports what everyone who has been paying attention knows -- Senator John McCain is courting Bush loyalists for his likely run for president in 2008. Will he succeed? Here, I think one must distinguish between two types of Bush loyalists. The first type, the ones who feature in the Post's story, consists of the operatives who pushed Bush to the forefront in 2000. Many of them have a strong pragmatic streak. Indeed, the Bush of that time was not an established conservative figure. His attraction consisted in his status as an ill-defined, somewhat right-of-center figure who, it was thought, would appeal to the electorate. McCain, by positioning himself as somewhat right-of-center (not a huge move) may well succeed in courting elements of this group.

"The second group of Bush loyalists consists of his present voting base. This group is more conservative than his original backers and, in my opinion, more conservative than Bush himself. Winning this group over will be a much more dicey proposition for McCain. In my case, for example, while I have tremendous respect for McCain the chances that I would vote for him in a Republican primary are poor. However, I certainly would expect to vote for him if he were the Republican nominee."

Washingtonpost.com just went to clickable bylines (click to send the writer an e-mail), and so is the New York Times. Editor Bill Keller explains:

"It won't work if we don't use it . . . Readers appreciate thoughtful answers to legitimate questions and criticisms. That doesn't mean that every personal attack must be parried, every anti-Times campaign repulsed, every line-by-line analysis rebutted in kind. It simply means that readers should be heard and, whenever possible, engaged. In many cases, no reply will be called for beyond the auto-reply acknowledging that a reader's message has reached you. In other cases, a polite acknowledgment will be plenty. And in all cases, it's worth keeping in mind that what you say to readers and how you say it will be taken -- rightly or not -- as representative of The Times."

Ever wonder how "independent" think tanks pressure their staff to research the appropriate conclusion? In the NYT, Elisabeth Bumiller cites an e-mail from the vice president of the National Center for Policy Analysis to conservative scholar Bruce Bartlett for daring to criticize Bush and Cheney:

"'100K is off the table if you do another "dump Cheney" column and 65K donor is having a rebuttal done, in a national magazine, to your attack on the fair tax people so that 65K may be gone also,' Ms. Goodman wrote about one of Mr. Bartlett's columns about the vice president. 'Do you have any ideas on where I could raise that amount quickly?' "

Do you have any idea where this group, which wound up firing Bartlett, could get its reputation back? I don't.

View all comments that have been posted about this article.

© 2006 Washingtonpost.Newsweek Interactive