White House press secretary Scott McClellan began his press briefing today by addressing the need for transparency in government, healthcare for elderly citizens and lawsuit reform.
He wasn't talking about the delay in reporting Dick Cheney's shooting of a 78-year-old lawyer.
But as soon as McClellan finished his opening remarks, NBC's David Gregory asked him a series of questions about the shooting incident: Does the president believe Cheney should speak to the public about the accident? Does the president believe that Cheney acted appropriately in delaying release of news about the incident? Was it appropriate to avoid an interview with local law enforcement authorities until the day after the shooting, and would an ordinary citizen get away with any such thing?
McClellan said words, but he didn't answer the questions. "I think we went through this pretty thoroughly yesterday, and I worked to answer the questions to the best of my ability and in a forthright manner based on the facts that I knew," he said. Gregory shot back: "I'm not getting answers here, Scott. Don't tell me that you're giving me answers when you're not."
McClellan accused Gregory of trying to "make this about you," then he moved on to CNN's Suzanne Malveaux -- who asked more questions about the hunting incident.
After a third reporter queried McClellan about the shooting, the press secretary began turning to his usual tough-question escape routes: India Globe reporter Raghubir Goyal, who can be counted on to ask about relations between India and Pakistan; Baltimore radio host Lester Kinsolving, who asked about sadomasochism and discrimination against Christians; and Fox's Carl Cameron, who wondered whether all the joking comments about the shooting -- including some that McClellan himself has apparently made -- aren't just an expression of relief that Cheney's victim wasn't hurt more seriously.
"Mr. Whittington remains in our thoughts and prayers," a suddenly solemn McClellan proclaimed.
That's about all the press got out of the press secretary today. To the extent McClellan said anything of substance on the shooting incident, it came in what seemed like attempts to distance himself from the way in which Cheney's office handled the story. McClellan repeated comments he'd made previously about the value of hindsight, and he referred detailed questions to Cheney's office and others. At one point, a reporter asked McClellan about the medical team that travels with Cheney. McClellan said he didn't know the answer, then sniffed: "I travel with the president."
That president, McClellan said, is ready to get past the shooting story even if the press corps isn't. "If you all want to continue to focus on this, you can spend your time on it," McClellan said. "We're going to keep focusing on the priorities of the American people ... I'm moving on."