Josh Marshall

Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.

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It just gets better and better. Karl Rove had a chat with Katharine Armstrong, the Bush pioneer and estate owner, who was on the hunt and is the only eyewitness who has been allowed to talk to the press. Apparently within 90 minutes of the shooting.

And it was her idea to go to the press, right?

This is from a late piece in the Houston Chronicle (emphasis added)...

Dr. David Blanchard, director of emergency services, said Whittington had more than 10 shotgun pellets embedded in his face, neck and torso as a result of Saturday's accidental shooting. He said the pellets would not be removed, but added it is normal to closely observe a patient with multiple gunshot wounds.

Before proceeding, let's stop and award Dr. Blanchard a special award for understatement of the week.

In any case, yesterday I asked hunters to chime in on what they made of the story. Now I'd like to hear from doctors.

From a layman's point of view, I'd figure you'd want to remove these pellets if you could do so without too much difficulty. (Depending on the metal, there might be some risk of blood poisoning. Who knows?) We're hearing that these were basically just superficial wounds. But if they're making no attempt to remove them, I'd figure that means they're imbedded pretty deep. Or perhaps, if they're in the neck, they may be close to major arteries or something.

In any case, the floor is open to the doctors. Can we infer anything from the fact that the doctors treating Harry Whittington aren't trying to remove the shot from his body?

Late Update: The Austin American-Statesman says Whittington was hit by as many as 200 pellets. Some were removed; others weren't.

I was out of touch with the press follies for much of the day today because I had to make my way -- delayed a day -- back to New York City. But on this Cheney stuff, just for the moment let's set aside all the questions about how the veep managed to shoot Harry Whittington.

Let's put ourselves back on the scene of the shootout some time Saturday afternoon. The accident happens. All is chaos for a while. Whittington is medivaced off to the local hospital.

Now, it's early Saturday evening. Presumably the veep isn't in a great mood. Who's going to bring up the question of letting the press know? "Mr. Vice President, we have to ..."

Well, you get the idea. Did no one want to pop the question? Did they just figure maybe they could brazen it out? (That one gets my vote.) What do you think?

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.