Cheney accepts blame in shooting

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Vice President Dick Cheney yesterday took full responsibility for accidentally shooting a hunting companion, but defended his decision not to immediately disclose the mishap.

“I’m the guy who pulled the trigger and shot my friend,” Mr. Cheney said. “It was, I’d have to say, one of the worst days of my life.”

He added, “The image of him falling is something that I’ll never be able to get out of my mind.”

The interview with Fox News Channel was the vice president’s first public explanation since spraying his friend, 78-year-old lawyer Harry Whittington, with birdshot while hunting quail on a Texas ranch Saturday.

The birdshot struck Mr. Whittington in the face, neck and chest, with one pellet later moving toward his heart and causing a mild heart attack. Mr. Whittington was in intensive care yesterday, but hospital officials said that this was for privacy reasons not medical ones and that his heartbeat was back to normal.

Christus Spohn Hospital Corpus Christi-Memorial administrator Peter Banko said Mr. Whittington had dismissed the furor over his shooting as “much ado about nothing.”

Mr. Cheney has come under criticism from the Washington press corps for not immediately notifying reporters of the accident. Instead, he said he decided to let the ranch owner, Katharine Armstrong, break the news to a local newspaper, the Corpus Christi Caller-Times, on Sunday.

That decision led to cries of outrage from White House correspondents.

“The press corps was upset because, to some extent, it was about them — they didn’t like the idea that we called the Corpus Christi Caller-Times instead of the New York Times,” the vice president said. “But it strikes me that the Corpus Christi Caller-Times is just as valid a news outlet as the New York Times is — especially to cover a major story in south Texas.”

Mr. Cheney was unapologetic about snubbing the national press, even saying he personally resisted calls from White House officials to get the information out more swiftly.

“I thought that was the correct call,” he told interviewer Brit Hume. “I still do.”

He added, “My first reaction, Brit, was not to think I needed to call the press. My first reaction is: ‘My friend Harry has been shot. And we’ve got to take care of him.’”

The vice president also said he wanted Mr. Whittington’s family notified before the news was broken to journalists.

The vice president’s insistence on taking full responsibility for the accident marked a shift in strategy for the administration.

Previously, the White House suggested that Mr. Whittington had violated a hunting “protocol” by not making his whereabouts more clearly known to Mr. Cheney.

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