Josh Marshall

Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.

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One other point about the Cheney shotgun goof.

There's been some questioning about why the White House waited a day to notify the press about what happened. Apparently, they never did. They left it to the property owner, Katharine Armstrong, to announce it to the public.

The WaPo account says ...

It was Armstrong's decision to alert the news media. Cheney's office made no public announcement, deciding to defer to Armstrong because the incident had taken place on her property. Armstrong called the Corpus Christi Caller-Times, and when a reporter from the paper called the White House, the vice president's office confirmed the account.

Cheney's office referred other reporters to Armstrong for a witness account, but after speaking to some members of the media yesterday afternoon, Armstrong stopped returning phone calls.

The Times, meanwhile, was able to press the point a bit more fully.

Asked why the vice president's office had made no announcement about the accident, Ms. McBride said, "We deferred to the Armstrongs regarding what had taken place at their ranch."

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.

Still, very weird. But, soup to nuts, par for the course.

Okay, in response to my question below, I've gotten a slew of emails from hunters, many of them from Texas and longtime hunters of doves or quail. So let me try to summarize what they've said. Because, while the emphases are different, they all come back to the same basic points.

(ed.note: You hunters already know this information. So I'm going to try to take what I've heard and learned and summarize it in laymen's terms as best as I can.)

First, needless to say, hunting accidents happen. This may be particularly the case with quail hunting since the prey can rise into the air suddenly and unexpectedly and you're hunting in groups. So you have a lot of variables in play.

That said, one point that comes through really clearly from everyone is that when you're hunting and you hit a person -- that's your fault. Period. End of story. Outside of extreme cases of negligence or self-destructive behavior on the part of the victim, it's not his fault. You're responsible, as the shooter, for knowing no person is in your line of fire before you pull the trigger. So this stuff about Whittington being at fault for the accident just doesn't wash for any of the hunters we've heard from.

The other point that comes through in the emails we've received is that most of our emailers seem to have a pretty clear idea what happened here, based on the description provided in the AP article. Some find the facts as described improbable; but most seem to have a general sense what happened.

Again, I'll try to explain what's been described to me using laymen's terms.

You're out hunting for quail with a small group of people. For basic safety purposes you keep a clear mental picture of where your fellow hunters are at every moment. Based on that mental picture of where people are, you create a safe fire area, a range in front of you covering some number of degrees where you know no one else is.

Things can get chaotic and excited when a bunch of birds (I'll just try, as a blanket matter, not to use the jargon) come into range or rise up. But if you don't shoot outside that safe fire zone, then everyone should be safe.

Now, if you read the description provided by Katharine Armstrong, the Bush-Cheney fundraiser on whose 'ranch' this happened, what she seems to describe is this: The birds 'flush'. Cheney picks out a bird and starts following it. In the process he basically wheels around doing a 180. So he's spun around and is now firing backwards relative to the direction he had been facing. And Whittington was just, for whatever reason, where Cheney didn't expect him to be.

Now, this happens. One TPM Reader actually describes watching the same thing happen to his father-in-law. But when it happens it's a matter or carelessness and/or recklessness on the part of the shooter and it involves ignores some of the most basic rules of gun safety.

So, from the information available, Cheney screwed up -- a relatively common hunting accident, based (as most accidents are) by not following basic safety guidelines and being careless. Trying to blame it on the guy who got shot just doesn't wash.

Late Update: On the other hand, Mary Matalin told the WaPo: "The vice president was concerned. He felt badly, obviously. On the other hand, he was not careless or incautious or violate any of the [rules]. He didn't do anything he wasn't supposed to do."

Okay, so maybe these injuries were a bit more serious than the vice president's office has let on.

Katharine Armstrong, the fundraiser-eyewitness, told the AP that the gunfire "broke the skin. It knocked him silly. But he was fine. He was talking. His eyes were open. It didn't get in his eyes or anything like that."

But more than a day later the victim, Harry Whittington, is still in the intensive care unit at a hospital in Corpus Christi.

That notwithstanding, the guy who runs the hospital says you can barely even tell the guy is injured. From the latest AP update ...

"He is stable and doing well. It was almost like he was spending time with me in my living room," said hospital administrator Peter Banko, who visited Whittington.

Banko said Whittington was in the intensive care unit because his condition warrants it, but he didn't elaborate.

Now, there's only so much you can infer from a guy being in an ICU. But being there for more than a day I think means you were seriously injured, doesn't it?

I'm a reasonably experienced fisherman. But my experience with hunting and guns came to an end with a rather unfortunate and painful incident with a pellet gun in the Sierra Nevada mountains almost twenty-five years ago. So it's hard for me to judge what happened with Veep Cheney's shotgun goof.

The only account we have is from Bush-Cheney fundraiser Katharine Armstrong, who owns the ranch where the incident took place. I'm going to reprint what she said happened. And I'd like to hear from hunters whether they think the story adds up ...

Armstrong said she was watching from a car while Cheney, Whittington and another hunter got out of the vehicle to shoot at a covey of quail.

Whittington shot a bird and went to look for it in the tall grass, while Cheney and the third hunter walked to another spot and discovered a second covey.

Whittington "came up from behind the vice president and the other hunter and didn't signal them or indicate to them or announce himself," Armstrong said.

"The vice president didn't see him," she continued. "The covey flushed and the vice president picked out a bird and was following it and shot. And by God, Harry was in the line of fire and got peppered pretty good."


Armstrong, owner of the Armstrong Ranch where the accident occurred, said Whittington was bleeding and Cheney was very apologetic.

"It broke the skin," she said of the shotgun pellets. "It knocked him silly. But he was fine. He was talking. His eyes were open. It didn't get in his eyes or anything like that."


"This is something that happens from time to time. You now, I've been peppered pretty well myself," said Armstrong.

Now, just to be clear where we're going here. I don't think any bad act took place here or anything nefarious. What I suspect is that this was some pretty big screw up by the vice-president -- not the first by any means nor the most serious, but as far as I know the first with a shotgun. And the White House is passing it off as the result of reckless behavior on the part of the guy who got shot. In addition, they're putting out word that getting hit by a spray of shotgun fire isn't a big deal.

At a minimum it seems a tad ungentlemanly to put out word through your media operation that the guy you just shot was at fault for getting shot.

So, if you're familiar with this stuff, let me know. Does it add up?

TPM Reader MN points out that Dick Cheney now joins Aaron Burr as one of the two vice presidents to shoot someone while in office. Are we leaving anyone out? VP Mifflin? Did John Nance Garner take anyone out during his two terms?

I don't know whether there's anything more to say about the fact that Vice President Cheney sprayed a fellow hunter with shotgun shot than that it is a decent analog to the recent management of the country.

What stuck out to me though is that the owner of the property on which the incident occurred was the person interviewed by the AP. And the property owner, Katharine Armstrong, gave a highly exculpatory recounting of what transpired. Basically, she said the victim, Harry Whittington, snuck up on Cheney, didn't give the appropriate warning. And in any case getting sprayed with shot in the face and half your body isn't that big a deal anyway.

But by way of Brad Blog we find that Armstrong is the daughter of the one of the folks who hired Cheney at Halliburton.

And of course it took more than 24 hours for the incident to be reported to the press.

Anybody else notice this?

This is from Robert Novak's February 9th column ...

At the same time, the Bush administration is going directly to the public with its war message. Raul Damas, associate director of political affairs at the White House, has been on the phone directly to Republican county chairmen to arrange local speeches by active duty military personnel to talk about their experiences in Iraq. To some Republican members, this unusual venture connotes a desire to go directly to the people to sell the president's position without having to deal with members of Congress.

One of Karl Rove's deputies is arranging for active duty military personnel to make speeches at Republican party events? The president is commander-in-chief. He's also head of the Republican party. But he's supposed to make at least some effort to show that the two jobs aren't melded into one.

The military, for good reasons, actually has quite detailed regulations about how active duty military personnel can and cannot participate in political events. One of the most referenced is the restriction on military personnel appearing at political events in uniform.

For instance, one directive states that active duty personnel may "Attend partisan and nonpartisan political meetings, rallies, or conventions as a spectator when not in uniform." They may not "Participate in partisan political management, campaigns, or conventions (unless attending a convention as a spectator when not in uniform)." (See a recent reissuance of the directive here.)

Now, we don't know if these military personnel are appearing in uniform or not. And much of this probably turns on what constitutes a 'political event'. But to my mind, an event organized by a Republican party official at the direction of the White House political office is by definition a political event. That's just obvious, isn't it?

Another question. We know how the White House political office knows who's a Republican County Chairman. How do they know which active duty military officers in a given area want to make speeches supporting the administration current policies in Iraq? Think about that.

In the United States, hearing from soldiers fighting in foreign wars has long been a way to maintain morale on the home front. But soldiers (& sailors, airmen and marines) aren't supposed to be dragooned by the president's political operatives into the GOP spin operation.

It seems that they are.

Late Update: Yes, someone else did notice: Robert Schlesinger at the Huffington Post.

I am, I confess, a little surprised by this. But the Associated Press just doesn't seem able to come clean on this Reid-Abramoff-Marianas matter.

Let's jump down into the details.

As you remember, on Thursday John Solomon of the AP wrote a lengthy piece detailing alleged contacts between Jack Abramoff's team at Greenberg Traurig and Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV).

I followed up with a post explaining what seemed like a key problem with the article. The better part of the article is taken up with detailing Team Abramoff lobbying Reid on behalf of the sweatshop owners of the Marianas Islands, key and notorious. The whole thrust of the narrative suggests an illicit or suspect quid pro quo. But if you look closely what's never mentioned in the article is what Reid did on the Marianas sweatshop owners behalf -- which is of course a rather key detail.

I got on the phone with Reid's office and the lobbyist in question, Ron Platt, and they both said that Reid was and remained on the side of the debate -- he supported the minimum wage bill the Marianas folks opposed. That claim was confirmed by other supporters of the legislation.

In other words, whatever Abramoff and his crew might have tried to persuade Reid to do, he didn't do it.

That has to be a key part of the story, if you're discussing contacts between Marianas lobbyists on this issue. Only it's a part of the story the AP just neglected to mention.

Okay, so jump forward. After he spoke to me, Platt released a statement restating the gist of what he told me.

So what does the AP do with the information? They run a story with the lede that the Abramoff lobbyist confirms the meetings with Harry Reid. In other words, they portray a blackeye for their original story as a further confirmation of their story.

Now, yes, he did 'confirm' the meetings. But the fact that he had made contact with Reid's office was never seriously in dispute by anyone. They note that the lobbyist in question says the billing records overstate the nature of the work. Even this isn't quite accurate. It's more that he's saying the AP's characterization overstates the nature of the work. But let's set that aside, because whatever the nature of his lobbying was, it doesn't address the key issue.

Nowhere in the new article can the AP writers bring themselves to note that Reid never adopted Abramoff's clients' position on the issue. So whatever quids Abramoff's folks were offering up, Reid never gave them a quo. From start to finish he was the co-sponsor of the bill Abramoff's clients wanted to defeat.

That's key information -- arguably, the central piece of information in the whole case. But the AP keeps pressing their misleading narrative while omitting this key point.

This is a good example of what happens when getting (or in this case, not losing the story) becomes more important than getting the story right.

Three more lawmakers come up in Abramoff case filings -- Reps. Capito (R-WV), LaTourette (R-OH) and Young (R-AK).

The specifics are more instances of writing letters on behalf of or favoring Abramoff clients. To the best of the my knowledge, this is the first time that Capito's name has come up.

Young's is the key. He keeps coming up in Abramoff related doings. Most recently, of course, is the story we published yesterday here on TPM regarding Young's Abramoff-arranged trip to the Marshall Islands.

We've got a senate double-header this year in Ohio. First, it's Sherrod Brown and Paul Hackett fighting it out for the Democratic nomination. And then one of them is going to square off against Sen. Mike DeWine (R) in November.

You know Paul Hackett of course from late last year when he came really close to winning a seat in Congress in a very Republican congressional district.

Next week he joins us for the week guest-blogging at TPMCafe's Table for One.

See what Paul has to say. Ask him questions. Join the conversation.