Let's see. The vice president of the United States accidentally shot someone while bird-hunting on a Texas ranch. It took the White House nearly 24 hours to share that information with the rest of the nation because Dick Cheney thought it would be better for the ranch's owner to give the story to the local newspaper first. And by the way, it was all the victim's fault.
That's their story, and they're sticking with it.
Mr. Cheney was a weekend guest at a ranch owned by Katharine Armstrong, a lobbyist whose family has longstanding ties with the Texas Republican Party and the Bush White House. Mr. Cheney, who is proud of his reputation as an outdoorsman, was gunning for quail when, according to Ms. Armstrong, a 78-year-old lawyer named Henry Whittington got between the vice president and the bird. Mr. Cheney pulled the trigger, forgetting one of the National Rifle Association's top rules for gun safety: "Be absolutely sure you have identified your target beyond any doubt. Equally important, be aware of the area beyond your target." Mr. Whittington was sprayed with birdshot.
Fortunately, Mr. Cheney travels with his own medical team. (The vice president suffers from heart problems, although the full details of his physical condition are secret.) Nevertheless, according to the White House, Mr. Cheney was so busy attending to Mr. Whittington that he was unable to inform even President Bush about what had happened for a very long time. His retinue — usually bristling with cellphones, pagers, BlackBerries and satellite phones — was also oddly incommunicado.
The rest of the world might have been in the dark forever if Ms. Armstrong had not chosen to share the news with a reporter from the paper in Corpus Christi.
The White House press secretary, Scott McClellan, tried to spin this as a communications strategy. The vice president of the United States, he explained, designated a private citizen (who is a lobbyist for a Texas engineering company) "to go out there and provide that information to the public." As a result, what might have been a one-day gag on late-night TV is now a running story, and an excellent reminder that this administration never met a fact that it didn't want to suppress. (The last time Mr. Cheney made news while hunting was when he secretly invited Justice Antonin Scalia to go shooting right after the Supreme Court had agreed to decide whether Mr. Cheney could keep the membership of his energy task force secret.)
The vice president appears to have behaved like a teenager who thinks that if he keeps quiet about the wreck, no one will notice that the family car is missing its right door. The administration's communications department has proved that its skills at actually communicating are so rusty it can't get a minor police-blotter story straight. And the White House, in trying to cover up the cover-up, has once again demonstrated that it would rather look inept than open.
© 2006 The New York Times Company