Another story about drinkin' and shootin'

"Zippo" becomes a "beer or two" that nobody drank becomes "a beer" that Cheney drank becomes a "glass of wine" that his hunting partner consumed.

Published February 23, 2006 6:50PM (EST)

There's an old Steve Martin bit in which a former dope fiend tries desperately to minimize his habit: "I used to smoke marijuana," he says. "But I'll tell you something: I would only smoke it in the late evening. Oh, occasionally the early evening, but usually the late evening. Or the mid-evening. Just the early evening, mid-evening and late evening. Occasionally, early afternoon, early mid-afternoon, or perhaps the late-mid-afternoon. Oh, sometimes the early-mid-late-early morning ... But never at dusk. Never at dusk!"

We found ourselves thinking of that bit today as we read yet another characterization of the alcohol that was or wasn't consumed at the Armstrong Ranch on the day Dick Cheney shot Harry Whittington.

In the immediate aftermath of the shooting, hunt host Katharine Armstrong told the Corpus Christi Caller-Times that no one in the hunting party was drinking. "No, zero, zippo, and I don't drink at all," she said. "No one was drinking." Armstrong's mother, Anne, told the Los Angeles Times that the hunters had enjoyed cool, refreshing Dr Pepper with their lunch that day.

Then the backsliding began. In a phone interview with NBC, Katharine Armstrong said that there might have been "a beer or two" in the cooler at the prehunt picnic, but that she didn't see anyone drink one and that she didn't think that Cheney or anyone else had consumed any alcohol before the hunt began. Then Cheney himself told Fox News that he'd had "a beer" at lunch but that the hunt didn't begin until later and "nobody was drinking, nobody was under the influence."

And now the local sheriff's department has released statements from other witnesses, and there's still more in the way of contradictions to ponder. Armstrong's sister, Sarita Armstrong Hixon, says that, as far as she knows, "none of the shooting group the afternoon of February 11, 2006, at Armstrong Ranch consumed any alcoholic beverages." But hunting-party member Pamela Willeford, the U.S. ambassador to Switzerland, suggests that there may have been more than "a beer or two" in the picnic basket. "I did consume a glass of wine at lunch, approximately 4-4 1/2 hours earlier," Willeford says in her statement. But in a disclaimer that borders on Martin-esque specificity, Willeford insists that "there was no alcohol consumed during the afternoon of the hunt in the field."

By Tim Grieve

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

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