Dick Cheney hunting incident

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The Dick Cheney hunting incident occurred on February 11, 2006 (this particular date has been subject to question) when then U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney shot Harry Whittington, a 78-year-old Texas attorney, while participating in a quail hunt on a ranch in Kenedy County, Texas.[1] Both Cheney and Whittington called the incident an accident.

First public news of the incident was called in to the Corpus Christi Caller-Times on February 12, 2006, by ranch owner Katharine Armstrong.[2] The Bush administration disclosed the shooting incident to the public the afternoon of February 12. Local authorities released a report on the shooting on February 16, 2006 and witness statements on February 22.

On February 14, 2006, Whittington suffered a non-fatal "silent" heart attack and atrial fibrillation due to at least one lead-shot pellet lodged in or near his heart.[3] Cheney did not speak publicly about the incident until February 15 in an interview with Fox News. Early reports indicated that Cheney and Whittington were friends and that the injuries were minor. Whittington has since told the Washington Post that he and Cheney were not close friends but acquaintances and has not said if Cheney apologized.[4]

Shooting "incident"[edit]

Day of shooting[edit]

The shooting was widely reported to have taken place on Saturday, February 11, 2006, based on the public statements of Katharine Armstrong, owner of the 50,000-acre (200 km2) Armstrong Ranch. However, in her written statement to the Sheriff, she said that the shooting happened on February 12.

Harry Whittington said, "Accidents do and will happen – and that’s what happened last Friday (February 10)."[5]

Time of shooting[edit]

Mary Matalin[6] stated on Meet the Press that "Somebody had talked to some ranch hand". Neither the Sheriff's report nor witness statements identify who this first reporter was.

The Secret Service is[7] reported to have said they gave notice to the Sheriff about one hour after the shooting. Kenedy County Sheriff Ramone Salinas III states he first heard of the shooting at about 17:30 hours from Captain Charles Kirk, and Salinas implies that he received 'official' notice from the Secret Service at about 17:40 hours.

The time of the shooting was not stated by Cheney.[8]

The events[edit]

Cheney had a televised interview[8] about the shooting on February 15. On February 22, the Sheriff's office released statements from Katherine Armstrong, Sarita Hixon, Pamela Pitzer Willeford, Oscar Medellin, Gerardo Medellin and Andrew Hubert. Cheney’s statement and all six of the other hunting party members' statements specify that:

Armstrong, the ranch owner, claimed that all in the hunting party were wearing blaze-orange safety gear and none had been drinking,[9] and that at lunch they drank beer,[10] which contradicts her later statement that "there may (have been) a beer or two in [the lunch coolers], but remember not everyone in the party was shooting."[11] Cheney has acknowledged that he had one beer four or five hours prior to the shooting. Armstrong said she never saw Cheney or Whittington drink until later at the house, when Cheney had some cocktails and was laughing about the whole thing.[12] Armstrong did not actually see the incident happen, believing that the reason Cheney's security detail was running was that Cheney had a heart problem,[11] although Cheney described her as an eyewitness in his Fox interview.[8]

Secret Service agents and medical aides, who were traveling with Cheney, came to Whittington's assistance and treated his birdshot wounds to his right cheek, neck, and chest. An ambulance standing nearby for the Vice President took Whittington to nearby Kingsville before he was flown by helicopter to Corpus Christi Memorial Hospital in Corpus Christi.

People present[edit]

At the scene:

In a car at an unstated distance away from the shooting:

Texas Parks and Wildlife Department report[edit]

On February 13, 2006, the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (an agency once headed by Armstrong)[13] issued an incident report. According to the report, the shooter (Cheney) "was swinging on game," that is to say, turning to track it with his gun. The summary of the incident given was:

Whittington downed a bird and went to retrieve it. While he was out of the hunting line, another covey was flushed and Cheney swung on a bird and fired, striking Whittington in the face, neck and chest.[2]

The report cited clear and sunny weather at the time of the shooting.

Whittington injury[edit]

Whittington was injured in the face, neck, and upper torso. Whittington was reported to be in stable condition at Corpus Christi Memorial Hospital and had been moved from intensive care to a "step-down unit" on Monday. Doctors had decided to leave up to 200 pieces of birdshot pellets lodged in his body rather than try to remove them. Each pellet is less than a tenth of an inch (2.5 mm) in diameter. Because of their small size, it is hard to pinpoint the precise location of each pellet with medical imaging.

On February 14, 2006, at 0630 hours, Whittington suffered a minor heart attack and atrial fibrillation due to the shot pellets lodged in or near his heart.[3] Additionally he experienced a collapsed lung.[14] He was immediately moved back to the intensive care unit. At about 0900 hours, Whittingon underwent a cardiac catheterization test to detect blocked or leaky arteries. From the test, doctors found a single lead pellet.[15][16]

Hospital officials said Whittington was alert and stable[17] and that he did not experience chest pain or other symptoms of a heart attack.[15] Doctors reported signs of inflammation, and Whittington was treated with anti-inflammatory drugs.[18]

Whittington was subsequently discharged from the hospital on February 17, 2006. At a press conference, he said: "My family and I are deeply sorry for everything Vice President Cheney and his family have had to deal with. We hope that he will continue to come to Texas and seek the relaxation that he deserves."[19]

Information release[edit]

Though the shooting occurred on Saturday, February 11, news of it was not released until after 2 PM, eastern Standard Time on Sunday, February 12. Kathryn Garcia, a reporter for the Corpus Christi Caller-Times, broke the story at 1:48 PM after receiving an 11 AM call from Katharine Armstrong, the owner of the ranch where the shooting occurred. Armstrong had notified Cheney earlier in the morning that she was going to inform the news media about the incident. She said Cheney agreed.[20] Armstrong said that Whittington did not announce his location, and this led to the incident.[15]

According to White House Press secretary Scott McClellan, news at the White House about the shooting "... was coming in to people back here, all the way at 3 AM in the morning [Sunday] and beyond."[21] McClellan would not state when the President first learned that Cheney had shot Whittington. When McClellan was asked if Andy Card had told Karl Rove that Cheney was the shooter, McClellan said: "... we still didn't have all the details at that point and additional details were coming into Andy Card at even three am in the morning and beyond."

The White House did not disclose the accident until a press conference on Sunday afternoon. McClellan said he did not know that Cheney had shot someone until that Sunday morning. He remarked that he did ask the Vice President's office to release the information earlier. He said: "I think you can always look back at these issues and look at how to do a better job."[20]

On February 15, Cheney agreed to comment publicly about the accident on the Fox News Channel. He had previously avoided reporters by leaving an Oval Office meeting with United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan.[20] Cheney visited Whittington in the hospital on Monday, February 13, and at other times, telephoned him.

On the Fox News interview, Cheney accepted full responsibility for the accident.

Cheney acknowledged that White House Counselor Dan Bartlett and Scott McClellan "urged us to get the story out", but Cheney said he was more concerned about accuracy and felt that Armstrong was the best person to make the announcement.[22]

Investigation[edit]

Secret Service spokesman Eric Zahren said that about an hour after Whittington was shot, the head of the Secret Service's local office called the Kenedy County sheriff to report the accident.[7] Kenedy County Sheriff Ramon Salinas III receiving a call of 'official' notice from the Secret Service 8-10 minutes after a Saturday, February 11, 5:30 p.m. phone call from Captain Charles Kirk. Kirk had called Salinas while en route to the Armstrong Ranch to investigate a possible hunting accident. The ensuing official investigation was performed by the Kenedy County Sheriff's department and published in an Incident Report written by Chief Deputy Gilberto San Miguel Jr, a Supplement Report written by Salinas and several witness statements.

After Salinas finished his call with the Secret Service, Kirk called Salinas a second time to report that he couldn't get any information about the shooting at the Armstrong gate. Salinas told Kirk: "that it was fine and I [Salinas] would contact someone at the Ranch". Multiple news sources reported that local law enforcement officers were initially barred by United States Secret Service agents from interviewing Cheney.[23][24]

After dismissing Kirk, Salinas called a Constable Ramiro Medellin Jr to ask for information about the accident. None of the police reports say why Salinas thought to call Medellin, or where Salinas thought Medellin was. In that first call to Medellin, Salinas reports Medellin saying only that he would call Salinas back. Medellin called Salinas back and said that "This is in fact a hunting accident" and that he [Medellin] had spoken with some of the people in the hunting party who were eyewitnesses and that they all said that it was definitely a hunting accident. Salinas says he [Salinas] also spoke with another [unnamed] eyewitness and he[the witness] said the same thing, that it was an accident. Salinas states in his report: "After hearing the same information from eyewitness and Constable Medellin, it was at this time I decided to send my Chief Deputy first thing Sunday morning to interview the Vice-President and other witnesses."

On Sunday morning, Kenedy County Chief Deputy Gilbert San Miguel Jr. interviewed Cheney and other members of the hunting party. He said that Cheney characterized the incident as a "hunting accident".

On Monday, Miguel and Lt Juan J Guzman went to Spohn Memorial Hospital to interview Whittington. Whittington requested not to be recorded 'due to his voice being raspy', but agreed to supply a written affidavit as soon as he returned home to his office. Whittington characterized the incident as an accident and said no alcohol was involved and that everyone was wearing proper hunting attire. Whittington described shooting at the first covey of quails, searching for a bird, then being sent by Katharine [Armstrong] to shoot the second covey. At that point, "a nurse came into the room and asked Guzman and Salinas to hurry up so Whitington could rest". The officers then left telling Whittington "I [Miguel] would give him a call in a few days to get the written affidavit". There is no public record of the promised affidavit being taken or released.

The Kenedy County Sheriff, Ramon Salinas III, has since cleared Cheney of any criminal wrongdoing in the matter.

Bush appointed Katharine Armstrong a commission member of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department.[25] Steve Hall, education director for the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, said that the department would classify the shooting as an error in judgment by Cheney.

The news of the shooting wasn't released to the press for 21 hours until 1:48 p.m. (07:48) Sunday, February 12. Kathryn Garcia, a reporter for the Corpus Christi Caller-Times, broke the story after receiving a call from Armstrong at 11am, after confirming it with the White House and hospital.

A top Republican close to the White House said to Time magazine, "This is either a cover-up story or an incompetence story."[26]

Controversial points[edit]

Questions have been raised regarding the shooting, even as Kenedy County Sheriff's Office documents support the official story by Cheney and his party.[27]

In popular culture[edit]

The incident was the subject of jokes, satire and public ridicule.[33] A number of these made reference to other controversies involving Cheney.

David Letterman began his Monday show on February 13 with "Good news, ladies and gentlemen, we have finally located weapons of mass destruction.... It's Dick Cheney," and adding that "We can't get bin Laden, but we nailed a 78-year-old attorney."[34] His Top 10 list was devoted to "Dick Cheney's excuses" and included "he thought the guy was trying to go gay cowboy on me".

Jay Leno also had a piece on The Tonight Show in which he pretended to host a game show with footage of George W. Bush and Pervez Musharraf that was taken during Bush's visit to Pakistan. Towards the end of that segment, the sound of loud bird calls were played, and Leno asked Cheney to take care of the problem, with footage of the Vice President shooting a gun then shown.

Texas Monthly won the 2007 Best Cover Line of the Year Award from the Magazine Publishers of America for its January 2007 cover captioned "If You Don't Buy This Magazine, Dick Cheney Will Shoot You in the Face".[35]

Jon Stewart popularized the phrase "Cheney's Got a Gun" (a play on the 1989 Aerosmith song "Janie's Got a Gun") on The Daily Show soon after the event. Stewart and the Daily Show 's correspondents repeatedly accentuated their disbelief of the absurdity of a sitting vice president shooting a 78-year-old man in the face while hunting quail which are raised in a pen and released mere seconds before they are shot. Stewart, for instance, pointed out that Whittington had been the first person to be shot by a sitting vice president since Alexander Hamilton, and that while Aaron Burr's fatal shooting of Hamilton was during a duel over issues of honor and political maneuvering; Whittington "was mistaken for a bird." Correspondent Ed Helms, reporting supposedly from Corpus Christi Hospital, said that Whittington's condition had been upgraded from "stable" to "stable, but still shot in the face by Dick Cheney." The show also used graphics from the video game Duck Hunt. After Whittington's post-discharge press conference, Stewart noted that Cheney's power was such that upon shooting someone, the victim would apologize.

On his first show after the incident, Stephen Colbert, host of The Colbert Report, confessed to having been involved in a hunting accident of his own over the weekend, then proceeded to show an edited version of Brit Hume's interview with Dick Cheney, featuring Colbert in place of Cheney with far more humorous responses to Hume's question. Colbert later mentioned the hunting incident in his now famous speech at the White House Correspondents Dinner.

The incident has been parodied three times in the comedy Family Guy:

South Park parodied the incident in the season 10 episode "Mystery of the Urinal Deuce". Cheney attempts to fire a crossbow to kill Stan and Kyle but misses, leading him to exclaim: "Dang it! I missed again!"

During a Saturday Night Live skit, Kristen Wiig as Diane Sawyer mentions the incident during a mock interview regarding Cheney's accomplishments as vice president in which he denies feeling any regrets for the situation. In a later sketch, former President George W Bush (Will Ferrel) shows surprise when current Vice President Joe Biden did not own a shotgun, remarking "What kind of Vice President are you?"

President Obama also joked about this subject. In his speech for the White House Correspondents' Association Dinner on May 9, 2009, he said Mr Cheney was 'very busy working on his memoirs, tentatively titled, How to Shoot Friends and Interrogate People.'[36]

Legacy[edit]

For years afterwards, editorial cartoons and comedians continued to make light of the incident.[37][33][34][38][39][40][41][42]

The incident hurt Cheney's popularity standing in the polls.[43] According to polls on February 27, 2006, two weeks after the accident, Dick Cheney's approval rating had dropped 5 percentage points to 18%.[44]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ "Texas Cops Release Cheney Shooting Report," The Smoking Gun
  2. ^ a b Texas Parks and Wildlife Hunting Accident and Incident Report Form, February 13, 2006, posted in The Smoking Gun. URL Accessed on February 14, 2006.
  3. ^ a b "Hunter shot by Cheney has heart attack". Seattle Post-Intelligencer. 2006-02-14. [dead link]
  4. ^ Farhi, Paul (2010-10-14). "Since Dick Cheney shot him, Harry Whittington's aim has been to move on". The Washington Post. 
  5. ^ "Harry Whittington's hospital statement". MSNBC. 2006-02-17. 
  6. ^ "Meet the Press transcript". MSNBC. 2006-02-19. 
  7. ^ a b "Cheney Cited for Breaking Hunting Law". CBS News. 2006-02-14. [dead link]
  8. ^ a b c d e "Transcript of Cheney interview". MSNBC. 2006-02-15. 
  9. ^ VandeHei, Jim; Moreno, Sylvia (2006-02-14). "White House Deferred to Cheney on Shooting". Washington Post. Retrieved 2010-05-01. 
  10. ^ "Man Shot by Cheney Suffers Heart Irregularity". Los Angeles Times. 2006-02-24. [dead link]
  11. ^ a b "Cheney's hunting host lobbied White House". NBC Investigative Unit via MSNBC. 2006-02-15. 
  12. ^ "Cheney: 'One of the worst days of my life'". CNN. 2006-02-16. 
  13. ^ "Cheney says he was responsible in hunter's shooting". The Mercury News. 2006-02-15. 
  14. ^ Farhi, Paul (14 October 2010). "Since Dick Cheney shot him, Harry Whittington's aim has been to move on"". The Washington Post. Retrieved 14 October 2010. 
  15. ^ a b c "Man shot by Cheney has complications". Houston Chronicle. 2006-02-15. 
  16. ^ Sternberg, Steve (2006-02-14). "Pellet near heart could do more damage". USA Today. Retrieved 2010-05-01. 
  17. ^ "Victim Suffers Heart Ailment; Shotgun Pellet Cited as Cause". Washington Post. 2006-02-15. [dead link]
  18. ^ "Birdshot likely to stay in man Cheney shot". MSNBC. 2006-02-14. 
  19. ^ http://www.nbcnews.com/id/11409731/ns/politics/t/harry-whittingtons-hospital-statement/
  20. ^ a b c "Cheney Violates Cardinal Rule of Hunting". Forbes. 2006-02-13. [dead link]
  21. ^ "Press Briefing by Scott McClellan". The White House. 2006-02-13. 
  22. ^ "Cheney Speaks: The VP Responds to Critics". Time (magazine). 2006-02-15. 
  23. ^ "Questions Persist Over Cheney Shooting". CBS News. 2006-02-13. 
  24. ^ Washington Post: White House Deferred to Cheney on Shooting. February 14, 2006.
  25. ^ "Shoot first, avoid questions later". Salon.com. 2006-02-15. 
  26. ^ "Slow Leak: How Cheney Stalled News Reports of Hunting Accident". Time Magazine. 2006-02-13. 
  27. ^ "Documents support Cheney’s shooting account". MSNBC. 2006-02-22. 
  28. ^ "Avid shooter simulates the accident, its injuries". Corpus Christi Caller-Times. 2006-02-14. [dead link]
  29. ^ "Local Quail Hunter Weighs In On Cheney Accident". CBS 2 Chicago. 2006-02-14. [dead link]
  30. ^ "Inside The Shooting At The Ranch". Time Magazine. 2006-02-27. 
  31. ^ "Kenedy County Sheriff’s Department report". hammernews.com. 2006-02-15. 
  32. ^ http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2006/02/14/ap/politics/mainD8FOOI280.shtml[dead link]
  33. ^ a b Leibovich, Mark (2006-02-14). "After Cheney's Shooting Incident, Time to Unload". Washington Post. 
  34. ^ a b "Cheney in comics' sights after shooting accident". Sacramento Bee. 2006-02-14. 
  35. ^ http://www.designzzz.com/best-historic-magazine-covers-designs/
  36. ^ "Obama doesn't spare himself in comedy turn". CNN. May 10, 2009. Retrieved 10 February 2011. 
  37. ^ Animal Nuz cartoon on Daily Kos of July 13, 2010. Accessed July 13, 2010.
  38. ^ CNN video
  39. ^ "Putin rebuffs 'colonialist' West". BBC News. 2006-07-12. 
  40. ^ "Even elected officials can't avoid laugh at hunting mishap". MSNBC. 2006-02-14. 
  41. ^ Milbank, Dana (2006-02-15). "Orange Morning Gives Way to a Darker Afternoon". Washington Post. Retrieved 2010-05-01. 
  42. ^ "Democrats note Cheney incident on their calendar". Corpus Christi Caller-Times. 2007-02-04. 
  43. ^ "Hunter Suffers Setback as Criticism of Cheney Grows". Los Angeles Times. 2006-02-15. [dead link]
  44. ^ "Poll:Bush Ratings At All-Time Low". CBS News. 2006-02-27. Retrieved 2008-10-08. 

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