Game warden: "Hunter's judgment" at fault in Cheney shooting

The report seems to undercut "blame the victim" spin.

Published February 14, 2006 1:44PM (EST)

So much for the "blame the victim" approach.

According to the Associated Press, the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department has determined that the shooting of Harry Whittington was caused by a "Hunter's judgment factor." And while the department's Hunting Accident and Incident Report Form is a little ambiguous, it sure seems that the hunter's judgment in question is Dick Cheney's, not his victim's.

The fill-in-the-blank report allows a Texas game warden to check off "contributing factors" in a hunting accident. Cheney avoided the worst of these -- "Horseplay while hunting," "Using firearm as a club" -- but the game warden assigned to Cheney's case marked the box labeled "Hunter's judgment factor," and under it the subcategory "Victim covered by shooter was swinging on game." For the nonhunters among us, one "swings" on "game," apparently, when one turns and fires at, say, a flying bird -- in this case, without happening to notice that a 78-year-old man in blaze orange safety clothing is in the way.

The game warden's finding seems to contradict the spin Cheney spokeswoman Mary Matalin and hunting host Katharine Armstrong put on the shooting: that Cheney had done nothing wrong and that Whittington was to blame for coming up behind Cheney without shouting out his presence as he approached. There's a box to check on the Parks and Wildlife form that would support the "blame the victim" story -- "Victim moved into line of fire" -- but the game warden didn't check it.

The other agency charged with investigating the shooting, the Kenedy County Sheriff's Department, issued a press release Monday in which it said it was satisfied that the incident was "nothing more than a hunting accident." The sheriff's department said that alcohol was not involved in the incident, but it's pretty clear that it was simply taking the word of Cheney's party and the Secret Service on that one. About an hour after the shooting occurred, the AP says, the head of the local Secret Service office notified the Kenedy County sheriff and "made arrangements" for deputies to interview Cheney the next morning. A deputy who tried to speak with Cheney about the incident Saturday night was turned away at the gate of the ranch.

By Tim Grieve

Tim Grieve is a senior writer and the author of Salon's War Room blog.

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