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Reporting Lag In Cheney Shooting

Questions are being raised about why it took the Bush administration almost a full day to disclose the news that Vice President Dick Cheney accidentally shot a companion on a weekend hunting trip.

The incident occurred Saturday but was not made public for nearly 24 hours – and then by a private citizen.

The shooting victim, 78-year-old attorney Harry Whittington, was recovering in stable condition Monday, a hospital official said.

Whittington "rested well last night," said Peter Banko, hospital administrator at Christus Spohn Hospital Memorial. The hospital listed Whittington's condition as "very stable," he said.

Banko said he did not know when Whittington would be released.

White House spokesman Scott McClellan was peppered with questions Monday about why it took so long for the incident to be disclosed. McClellan said the first priority was making sure Whittington was getting the medical care he needed, CBS News White House correspondent Mark Knoller reports.

Cheney apparently did not see Whittington, and the vice president accidentally hit him in the face, neck and chest with bird shot while the two were hunting quail.

The vice president is a lifelong hunter and ranch owner Katharine Armstrong said both he and Whittington were wearing orange safety vests, CBS News correspondent Kelly Cobiella reports.

White House chief of staff Andy Card told President Bush Saturday night about Cheney's involvement in the shotgun accident.

McClellan said he first learned Saturday night that someone in the Cheney hunting party was involved, but he didn't know that Cheney was the shooter until the next morning, the spokesman said.

McClellan said when he learned, around 6 a.m. Sunday, he urged the vice president's office to get the information out "as quickly as possible."

Kenedy County Texas Sheriffs Lt. Juan Guzman said deputies first learned of the shooting when an ambulance was called.

But the Secret Service told a different story, saying agents had informed the local sheriff of the shooting about an hour after it happened and that the vice president had been interviewed about the accident by local authorities on Sunday morning, CBS News White House correspondent Bill Plante reports.

Armstrong said no one discussed notifying the public of the accident Saturday because they were so consumed with making sure Whittington was OK. She said the family realized in the morning that it would be a story and decided to call the local newspaper, the Corpus Christi Caller-Times. She said she then discussed the news coverage with Cheney for the first time.

"I said, Mr. Vice President, this is going to be public, and I'm comfortable going to the hometown newspaper," she told the Associated Press in a telephone interview. "And he said you go ahead and do whatever you are comfortable doing."

McClellan said, "The vice president thought that Mrs. Armstrong should be the first one to go out there and provide that information to the public, which she did. She reached out early Sunday morning to do so."

"The White House did not inform the national media of the accident, but the vice president's office confirmed the story after journalists called to ask about the report on the Caller-Times Web site nearly 24 hours after the shooting.

"I think you can always look back at these issues and look at how to do a better job," McClellan said when asked if he was satisfied how the situation was handled.

Cheney was attending routine briefings Monday at the White House.

"It's clearly an accident, but the fact that the White House didn't release this information, that it sat around for almost a day is, in itself, bizarre," Time magazine's Matt Cooper told CBS News' The Early Show.

"Late-night comics are going to be all over it. You know, these things — fairly or unfairly — tend to become a metaphor for a presidency and don't be surprised if you see lots of jokes about the vice president was trigger happy, or he might have had better aim if he'd served in Vietnam."

Whittington has been a private practice attorney in Austin since 1950 and has long been active in Texas Republican politics. He's been appointed to several state boards, including when then-Gov. George W. Bush named him to the Texas Funeral Service Commission.

Armstrong said Cheney is a longtime friend who comes to the 50,000-acre ranch, about 60 miles southwest of Corpus Christi, to hunt about once a year and is "a very safe sportsman." She said Whittington is a regular, too, but she believed it was the first time the two men hunted together.

Cheney purchased a hunt license in November, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department spokesman Steve Lightfoot said.

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