This story was written by CBSNews.com's Melissa McNamara
Vice President Dick Cheney's weekend misfire brought verbal combat to a boil between left- and right-leaning bloggers.
The Kenedy County Sheriff's Department has closed its investigation into Cheney's accidental shooting of hunting pal Harry Whittington and issued a report that largely supports the vice president's account of the weekend's events.
But that hasn't stopped the shooting in cyberspace, where liberal bloggers were particularly riled up over the role alcohol might have played in the mishap.
Many bloggers on the left also smelled a cover up, while many right-leaning bloggers said it was all much ado about nothing.
The nearly 24-hour delay in reporting the accident immediately ignited suspicion on the left.
Attorney-turned-blogger, Alan Dershowitz speculated: "What is the most likely thing to happen during a 14-hour delay that is worth the negative publicity? One possibility is that it takes approximately that period of time for alcohol to dissipate in the body and no longer be subject to accurate testing. It is fairly common for people involved in alcohol-related accidents to delay reporting them until the alcohol has left the body."
Liberal comedian Al Franken was also suspicious. Why didn't Cheney accompany Whittington to the hospital, he questioned. "It's inconceivable that you don't go to the hospital unless there's a reason you don't go to the hospital. If you had been drinking you wouldn't go to the hospital," Franken said. "Or, you're an amazing jerk, that's the other. Or both."
But Paul at the conservative Wizbang blog offers a simpler explanation. "If he had allowed this to get out 'fast break style' the media would have screwed it up completely. Totally and completely," he blogs. "Can anyone blame him for not wanting the story to come out screwed up?"
Missouri State University Professor Andrew Cline at Rhetorica agrees Cheney was just playing smart politics. "I can't blame Cheney for making an excellent choice in how to play this situation," he blogs.
Cheney's television interview Wednesday night also roiled the waters since his his account differed from the report ranch owner Katherine Armstrong gave to a Corpus Christi newspaper Monday.
When asked during the television interview whether anyone in the group had been drinking, Cheney replied, "No, you don't hunt with people who drink. That's not a good idea."
Nevertheless, the vice president acknowledged he did have a beer at lunch. Liberal bloggers pounced on the fact that Armstrong insisted there was no drinking. "No, zero, zippo, and I don't drink at all. No one was drinking," Armstrong said in an interview in The Corpus Christi Caller-Times.
"Cheney's admission that he was drinking, along with Armstrong's clumsy attempts to downplay the alcohol issue raises more questions than it answers …," blogs John Nichols, author of "The Rise and Rise of Richard B. Cheney." "As with her over-the-top efforts to blame Whittington, the victim, for getting in the way of Cheney's birdshot blast, Armstrong's line on liquor smells a little more like an attempt to cover for the Vice President than full disclosure," Nichols writes.
But conservative Mark Coffey derides liberal bloggers for raising Cheney's lunchtime drink as an issue: "… By the same token I drank before I came to work today — it was weeks ago, but it was before I came to work today," he jokes.
Some liberal bloggers turned to conservatives for ammunition.
Liberal blog Think Progress said conservative pundit Tucker Carlson said on air it was "totally unacceptable" for Cheney to drink prior to hunting. "I've been on dozens of hunts, there's no beer served as lunch. You can't drink a beer if you shoot, period. Doesn't matter if you're shooting five hours after, you're not allowed to do it," Carlson said.
It's not the first time Cheney's drinking habits have been in the spotlight. A 2000 Rolling Stone article recounts Cheney's time at Yale before he was forced to leave after completing one full year. "He spent his time partying with guys who loved football but weren't varsity quality," recalls Stephen Billings, an Episcopalian minister who roomed with him during Cheney's freshman year at Yale.
A Smoking Gun investigation also revealed several of Cheney's brushes with the law over drinking. Cheney's first DWI conviction came in November 1962 when he was 21. According to a docket from Cheyenne's Municipal Court, Cheney was charged with drunkenness and "operating motor vehicle while intoxicated."
A Cheyenne Police Judge found Cheney guilty of the two charges and his driver's license was suspended for 30 days. Cheney also had to forfeit a $150 bond posted at the time of his arrest. In a second incident, Cheney was arrested in July 1963, and fined $100 for his second DWI conviction.
But conservatives said the liberals were just blowing smoke.
Conservative radio commentator Brian Maloney thinks liberal bloggers are just on the prowl for information to bad-mouth the vice president. "Evidence, who needs evidence? On the left, it's conspiracy-huntin' season," Maloney blogs. "Without hesitation, one could easily expect the left to go ballistic were conservatives to make similar baseless charges against a Democrat."
By week's end, mainstream media interest in the Cheney story had waned, but the battle raged on in cyberspace.