Cheney: "I'm the guy who pulled the trigger that shot my friend"

Cheney distances himself from the "blame the victim" spin.

Published February 15, 2006 7:53PM (EST)

Distancing himself from the "blame the victim" spin put out by his surrogates, Vice President Dick Cheney said today that he takes responsibility for shooting Harry Whittington. In an interview with Fox's Brit Hume, Cheney said: "Ultimately, I'm the guy who pulled the trigger that fired the round that hit Harry. You know, talk about all the other conditions that existed at the time, but that's the bottom line. It's not Harry's fault. You can't blame anybody else. I'm the guy who pulled the trigger that shot my friend. It's a day that I will never forget."

Cheney said he raced to his fallen friend right after he shot him. "He was laying there on his back, obviously, bleeding," Cheney said. The vice president said he told his friend he had "no idea" he was there. He said Whittington didn't respond.

Cheney defended his decision to have hunting host and Bush-Cheney Pioneer Katharine Armstong put the story of the shooting out in an interview with the Corpus Christi Caller-Times. He said that Armstrong is "my witnesss" and had "seen the whole thing," and that it "made good sense" to have her talk to a reporter because "you'd get as accurate a story as possible from somebody who knew and understood hunting." Cheney said he didn't have his own press aides with him because he was on a "private" hunting trip.

Couldn't Cheney have put the story out with a quick telephone call to the White House press office? If Hume asked Cheney that question, Fox hasn't aired him doing so yet. It has, however, showed the bit of the interview where Hume asks Cheney if he hit the bird he was tracking when he shot Whittington. Cheney said he had no idea.

Maybe there will be tougher questions for Cheney when Fox airs the full interview at 6 p.m. EST today, but the network's on-air chatter doesn't suggest that real scrutiny is in the cards. In the minutes before the first bits of the Cheney interview aired, Fox correspondents reported that Whittington is mystified by all the "hooplah" about his medical condition; that birdshot isn't as big or as lethal as buckshot; and that Cheney may have initially said so little about the shooting because he was "personally devastated" by it and "erred on the side of privacy of his friend." A Fox anchor quoted a viewer who wondered what "all the hype is about," then passed the time with coverage of a traffic accident in Arizona and in-depth, minute-by-minute analysis of "inconsistencies" in the story of a British man who is apparently accused of killing his wife and daughter.

Shortly after the first excerpts of the Cheney interview aired, Hume suggested that only the "White House press corps" has questions about Cheney's handling of the hunting story and that the public is likely to be "sympathetic" to the vice president after seeing how he was personally affected by the incident. He defended Cheney's decision to delay putting out news of the shooting by saying that the vice president wanted to make sure that he had accurate information about Whittington's medical condition before making it public.

Fox's Shepard Smith asked Hume whether Cheney had explained why he waited until today to speak -- and why he chose Fox as the "venue" for the interview. Hume didn't answer the second half of that question, but we've got a pretty good idea.

By Tim Grieve

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

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