- The Washington Times - Monday, February 13, 2006

President Bush knew Saturday night that Vice President Dick Cheney had accidentally shot a hunting companion, but administration officials did not release information on the shooting until nearly 24 hours after it occurred.

White House reporters were angered when the news was reported first by a Corpus Christi newspaper.

Mr. Cheney hit Harry Whittington, 78, of Austin, Texas, in the face, neck and chest with birdshot as a small group hunted quail on a private ranch in southern Texas at about 5:30 p.m. Saturday.

Mr. Whittington remains hospitalized but will be fine, doctors said yesterday.

The first reports of the mishap appeared Sunday morning on the Web site of the Corpus Christi Caller-Times (www.caller.com) after ranch owner Katharine Armstrong called a reporter to disclose the accident.

“Let’s just be clear here,” NBC’s David Gregory said to White House spokesman Scott McClellan at a televised briefing yesterday. “The vice president of the United States accidentally shoots a man, and he feels that it’s appropriate for a ranch owner who witnessed this to tell the local Corpus Christi newspaper and not the White House press corps at large, or notify the public in a national way?”

Mr. McClellan said details were sketchy shortly after the accident, which was revealed to him late Saturday, and the first priority was making sure that Mr. Whittington “was getting the medical care that he needed.”

“The initial report that we received was that there had been a hunting accident. We didn’t know who all was involved, but a member of his party was involved in that hunting accident, and then additional details continued to come in overnight,” Mr. McClellan said.

The back-and-forth was much more heated in the morning “gaggle,” when reporters quiz the spokesman off camera.

As Mr. Gregory peppered Mr. McClellan with questions about why the White House press corps was not informed immediately about the mishap, the spokesman said: “Hold on. Cameras aren’t on right now. You can do this later.”

“You know what, Scott? You may think that’s cute and funny,” Mr. Gregory said. “But you’re not answering the question, and that’s a dodge. And don’t accuse me of trying to pose for the cameras. Don’t be a jerk to me, personally. When I’m asking you a serious question, you should give us a serious answer. …”

“You don’t have to yell,” Mr. McClellan interrupted.

“I will yell,” the NBC reporter said. “If you want to use that podium and try to take shots at me personally, which I don’t appreciate, then I will raise my voice, because that’s wrong.”

“Calm down, David,” Mr. McClellan said.

An index of the official afternoon briefing issued later listed the topics of the day and the page numbers: “Economy, page 1; Vice President’s hunting accident … pages 1-18; 25-26.” Pushed down the index were topics such as Brazil’s nuclear power, Iran, Russia and the United Nations (page 23).

Reporters needed lots of time on the subject for questions. “Did [Mr. Cheney] continue hunting?” Freelance correspondent Connie Lawn wanted to know: “Is it proper for the vice president to offer his resignation or has he offered his resignation?”

Mr. McClellan answered the last with: “That’s an absurd question.”

Later yesterday, the White House acknowledged that Mr. Cheney lacked a legal permit to hunt quail, although he did have a hunting license. The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department told the vice president that he did not have the $7 stamp, which has been required since September, that would let him hunt “upland game birds” in the state.

Texas officials told reporters that they would send only a warning citation, rather than a fine or other legal penalty.

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