There are a lot of questions surrounding the shooting of 78-year-old millionaire lawyer Harry Whittington, who is now in the hospital recovering from a blast of birdshot to his face, neck and chest, but we're concerned with the media angle – namely, if this happened around 5:30 PM Saturday, why didn't news of it come out until Sunday afternoon? It seems to have fallen to the owner of the ranch where the incident took place, Katherine Armstrong, to inform the media what happened. As the Washington Post points out, "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."
Editor and Publisher's Greg Mitchell reports that the reporter from the Caller-Times, Jaime Powell, got the tip thanks to a "strong source relationship" with Armstrong. "…it is not known for certain that Cheney's office, the White House, or anyone else intended to announce the shooting if the reporter…had not received word from the ranch owner," writes Mitchell.
In case you're having trouble reading between the lines: It looks like the White House thought it best not to let anyone know that the Veep had shot someone in the face.
As Mitchell points out, the Chicago Tribune's Frank James articulated the problem with that on the Tribune's Washington Bureau blog: "When a vice president of the U.S. shoots a man under any circumstance, that is extremely relevant information. What might be the excuse to justify not immediately making the incident public?"
Now, the White House may have an excuse – one better, say, than a desire to bury the information because it makes them look bad. But at this early juncture, it's not looking that way. In the press briefing this morning, White House spokesman Scott McClellan offered no real explanation, saying only that he learned of the incident Saturday night but left it to Cheney's office to release the information. As we now know, Cheney's office left it to Armstrong. It's rather jarring to think that had it not been for Caller-Times reporter Powell's good relationship with Armstrong, the story may have never seen the light of day.
It's too early to come to any firm conclusions about how this all played out. But with critics already hammering this White House for being overly secretive, it seems possible that the White House's lack of forthrightness about the incident may end up being more politically damaging that the shooting itself. (The liberal blogosphere, naturally, is already having a field day.) I do know this for sure: Harry Whittington may have had a bad weekend, but the late night comedians and their writing staffs showed up for work this morning feeling pretty good. It's not often, after all, that material this rich comes down the pike.