When the vice president of the United States accidentally sprays a hunting companion with buckshot while on a weekend excursion, how does the White House handle the news?
Begrudgingly, that's how.
The accident reportedly occurred at about 5:30 p.m. Central Time on Saturday in Texas, and President Bush was told within the hour there had been an incident. But it took several hours more before he was informed that it was Vice President Dick Cheney who had pulled the trigger.
However, the information wasn't made public until Sunday afternoon — almost 24 hours later.
At his regular daily briefing on Monday, White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan, doing what he's paid to do, tried to put the best possible spin on things. McClellan said that the first priority had been to make sure that the wounded hunter, Harry Whittington — an Austin, Texas, attorney — was getting the medical care that he needed.
The vice president's office said McClellan had spoken with his hostess, Katharine Armstrong, an eyewitness to the shooting and the owner of the ranch, and agreed that she should make the information public.
White House reporters were slack-jawed at the notion that it's appropriate to have a private citizen inform the press of the vice president's involvement in an accident rather than have the White House put out the story. And, in fact, the story did not become public until Mrs. Armstrong told the Corpus Christi Caller-Times newspaper on Sunday.
McClellan, like all White House press secretaries, is extremely sensitive to any suggestion that he would cover up or lie outright. Perhaps expecting the regular reporters to read between the lines, he said he believed it is important to get information out as quickly as possible — and reminded us that he had done just that last summer, when the president had a biking accident in Scotland in which a policeman was injured. That was a clear signal that he had told the vice president's staff as much — but his suggestion was ignored.