Skip to comments.Inside the Shooting at the Ranch
Posted on 02/19/2006 6:18:08 PM PST by wjersey
What really happened in the brushy South Texas wild that day? How one shot turned a genteel quail hunt into a political crisis?
The delicate and the dangerous meet in the ranch lands of South Texas. In the winter, quail gather in the soft gold of prairie sedge, but snakes, scorpions and wild-boar-like javelina lurk too. In 1999 a fourth-generation South Texas rancher named Tobin Armstrong testified before Congress that he sometimes found illegal immigrants dead of dehydration in the unforgiving brush of his 49,300-acre ranch. It was there that Vice President Dick Cheney, out with a hunting party that included Tobin's daughter Katharine, accidentally sprayed attorney Harry Whittington with birdshot. What took place in the hours before and after the Feb. 11 shooting is a largely mundane tale that became extraordinary when, for days, Cheney seemed unwilling to tell it. The Internet is still excreting rumors.
So, what did happen?
Gentility and blood sport are old friends, but the mix of the wealthy and the rustic at Armstrong Ranch that weekend was exceptional. Tobin's grandfather started the ranch on family land in 1882, after he won a $4,000 bounty for capturing outlaw John Wesley Hardin. The Vice President was hunting with not only his friend Whittington, who has advised Texas Governors and plays a monthly card game with the likes of a retired state supreme court justice, but also Pamela Pitzer Willeford, the ambassador to Switzerland. Tobin died in October, so his wife Anne Legendre Armstrong, a former ambassador to Britain and a longtime Cheney friend, played host. For all that, Armstrong Ranch is countrified rather than ostentatious. At the entrance is a utilitarian "bumper" gate, so named because you nudge it open with your vehicle. Guests usually stay in wooden ranch dwellings near the main house, which are furnished with antiques but few frills.
Katharine Armstrong initially told a Texas reporter that there had been "zero, zippo" drinking that Saturday. But Cheney later said on Fox News that he had had "a beer" at lunch. The meal had been served under an old oak, and the hunt--which had begun that morning--didn't resume until midafternoon. In addition to the grandees with their guns--Cheney's an elegant, Italian-made 28-gauge shotgun, Whittington's a 20-gauge--the party included several guides and dogs. Because of the breadth of the terrain, they got around in old jeeps and other vehicles. According to the local sheriff's report, it was about 5:30 p.m., as the sun was giving way to the gloaming, when the dogs located a covey of quail. Moments later, a guide named Oscar Medellin found another covey. When the dogs flushed the first covey, Whittington fired a lucky shot that hit two birds. As he went to find the downed birds, the report says, Cheney and Willeford moved toward Medellin's covey.
After searching for his birds for a bit, Whittington returned to the vehicle where Katharine Armstrong was. She "told him to go and shoot the second covey," the report says. Whittington walked toward Cheney and Willeford but, as Armstrong later told reporters, didn't announce his presence. "Your first responsibility is to let the other guy know where you are," says Texas A&M professor Dale Rollins, a quail-hunting expert. But Cheney too had a responsibility to know where Whittington was. "It's critical, especially with more than two hunters, to stay in a straight line," says Rollins. Cheney turned toward the setting sun to fire at a bird from the covey Medellin had discovered--and that was the shot that felled Whittington. The ambulance that always accompanies Cheney took his friend to a small hospital 42 miles north, and he was then flown to a big Corpus Christi medical center.
According to Cheney, Katharine Armstrong suggested--and he agreed--that she be the one to make the incident public. Cheney was traveling without a press aide, and anyway, the thinking was, she had witnessed the shooting. Armstrong is also a well-connected G.O.P. lobbyist, and she doubtless wanted to help shape the story. It was decided that she would approach Jaime Powell, a reporter she knew at the Corpus Christi Caller-Times. But why wait until the next morning to call? Cheney later said his first concern was ensuring that Whittington's children were notified about the accident and getting accurate information about his condition.
Cheney was in for a fitful evening; he was "just crushed," another guest told the New York Times. The paper says the hunting party somberly ate roast beef for dinner and got periodic reports from two guests who had gone to the hospitals along with Whittington's wife Mercedes. The Secret Service notified local authorities, and a traveling aide to the Vice President gave a heads-up to the White House Situation Room. Bush adviser Karl Rove called Armstrong between 8 p.m. and 9 p.m. to ask about Whittington--who, like Armstrong, is a friend of Rove's--and learned of Cheney's role in the accident.
At about 8 a.m. Sunday, a Cheney aide called strategist Mary Matalin, who regularly advises the Vice President. The aide read her a statement about the accident that Cheney had considered releasing before he decided to encourage Armstrong to go to the Caller-Times. But the statement "didn't say much of anything," Matalin says--not even that Cheney was the shooter. Matalin then spoke with a second aide and with Cheney's family and heard different versions of what had happened in the shooting. She decided no statement should be released amid the confusion. Matalin spoke with Cheney, and, she says, they agreed that "a fuller accounting, with an eyewitness," would be preferable.
So Armstrong finally phoned the paper, which posted the story on caller.com at 1:48 p.m., 20 hours after the shooting. It could have taken five minutes to get the story out. A communications official can tell a White House operator from anywhere on the planet, "I need to make a wire call," and within minutes, the operator will call back with wire reporters on the line, ready to flash the news around the world.
Wildlife officials say the most common cause of hunting accidents is a shooter's swinging on game outside the safe zone of fire, as Cheney did. But as generic as the incident was, there are some unanswered questions about that day. For instance, why hasn't the Secret Service released its report? And why hasn't the local sheriff released the text of the depositions his office conducted? There is also a small and geeky but persistent debate over whether Cheney might have been closer to Whittington than 30 yds., the figure in the sheriff's report. Some gun experts say from that distance, it would be unlikely that birdshot could penetrate Whittington's clothes and chest wall. Others agree with Jon Nordby, an analyst with Final Analysis Forensic of University Place, Wash., who says, "It is certainly possible, and I've seen it. I had a case where a BB went through a jacket at 90 ft. and through the pericardial sac and caused death."
Fortunately, that wasn't the result of this mishap. Three days after the shooting, Whittington, who turns 79 next month, experienced a minor heart attack caused by a piece of birdshot that lodged in or near his heart. But by Friday he was well enough to leave the hospital. A lifelong Republican who is also respected by Democrats for helping reform Texas' prison system, Whittington needled reporters as he left. "This past weekend encompassed all of us in a cloud of misfortune and sadness that is not easy to explain, especially to those who are not familiar with the great sport of quail hunting," he said. Whittington was dressed immaculately, as usual, but had bruises and pellet wounds where he had been shot. "Accidents," he said, "do and will happen."
The MSM just can't stop digging their hole deeper and deeper.
Blah, blah blah blah, blah!
In your dreams, Time. In your dreams.
Mary Jo Kopechne could not be reached for comment.
I presume Cheney and company were on the up and up and used steel, not lead, birdshot!
Time is so criminally irresponsible these days they obviously no longer employ fact checkers.
A beer. At lunch.
The nation will be shaken, I say SHAKEN to its foundations as a result of this unbelievable, unimaginable, horrifying Constitutional crisis!
MAIN PRESS PLANS ANOTHER WEEK OF CHENEY SHOOTING COVERAGE
Time only wishes it were a political crisis.
The writers should look in the mirror. Amazing, utterly amazing, but unfortunately not surprising.
Can you imagine how this would have played had Cheney made the announcement?
"In an unusual move, Cheney made the announcement. "He was just trying to get the first story out himself," said a democrat college professor who has nothing to do with the shooting. "This is classic spin--who's going to dispute what the vice president says? Why didn't the witness give out the story first, instead of the shooter? Do we allow criminals to report their crimes first?"
A much more honest statement is that the reporting on this has been a media crisis....there is no political crisis except in the minds of the old media loser leftists who write garbage like this.
LOL. You could write for the MSM.
Sheesh, what'd I ever do to you? ;)
Oh brother, more "Controversy, Crap & Confusion" from the MSM, quite tiresome!
she doubtless wanted to help shape the story
what part was shaped, I wonder?
They deserve the attacks BIG TIME.
Well, you could if you were willing to make stuff up for real, something you are not inclined to do :)
How close do you have to be for birdshot to penetrate clothing? How long can someone survive in a submerged car? Both good questions, unfortunately, some questions never get asked.
Might Cheney have had a beer in his own cabin prior or immediately after lunch with the other guests?
Show some respect for the False But Accurate media. ;)
In a message dated 2/19/2006 5:57:53 P.M. Eastern Standard Time, Jeffrey writes:
What I`ve heard is that it was 14 hours before Cheney was made available to the local authorities. Have not read that, heard that from another local news nut
When you say "made available," isn't this an implication that the local authorities were prevented from talking to the Vice President?
I have gone to the web site of the local Corpus Christi newspaper and looked around. There was no report there claiming that the local authorities were denied permission to see the Vice President. The newspaper did report that the local sheriff's deputies only bothered to go out on the next day. Check this bit from The Smoking Gun out:
Now, I am trying to be objective. Just because I think that most of the "Mainstream Press" is a bunch of biased, incompetent, left-wing hacks posing as real journalists does not exonerate the Vice President automatically. [Both Clinton and Nixon were hounded by relentless hostile "conspiracies"-- but they were also both guilty!] But let's examine the innuendoes being leveled by Mr. Cheney's critics.
The whole thing about notifying the major press organs is egotistical crap. They have no right to get the story first.
The central innuendo seems to be that there was some sort of cover up by the Vice President's staff, the Secret Service, and the White House because Mr. Cheney was allegedly inebriated. O.K., where is the evidence of this? Aren't there other possible explanations-- even ones unflattering to the Vice-President? Why is this explanation in particular offered? Is someone anonymously accusing the Vice President of getting roaring drunk before going out hunting?
Does the Vice President have a history of drinking to excess while hunting? The Vice President always struck me as, if you will pardon the expression, quite sober. But since I don't personally know the man, my opinion is of limited value. So how well do any of the people on television repeating this innuendo know the Vice President? Have any of them gone hunting with him? (Heck, how many of them have even gone hunting-- EVER?) Can they find anyone who has hunted with the Vice President in the past who will attest to a tendency for the man to "drink and shoot?"
Let's go back eight years. I assumed that President Clinton was guilty of perjuring himself about Monica Lewinksy before transcripts of Linda Tripp's tapes were available to the public. Why did I think that? Was I being unfair? Or was this a very understandable leap of faith given Mr. Clinton's well-documented, confessed, and acknowledged record of philandering?
Given Mr. Cheney's personal reputation, why should I believe the whispers of documented liars who are obviously harboring a vendetta against him? The narrative seems out of character for the man. Now if Ted Kennedy were in a dangerous accident...
I need some hard evidence here. Or are we are to believe that everyone involved is filing false affidavits because that is what the Clinton White House would have done. Or maybe everyone is covering up because they are afraid of the Bushitler secret police.
Maybe Dan Rather can stage a comeback by finding the original affidavits and sheriff's reports courtesy of some Kenedy County Democratic alderman!
Our readers, such as Hugh Smith, know there is nothing "Podunk" about the Caller-Times.
"The National Press Corps is sitting around with egg on its face, trying to blame anyone they can think of for not 'giving' them the news," Smith wrote. "Someone needs to tell them to get off their collective rear ends and go to work and quit waiting for someone to tell them what is happening. If they don't know how to do this, have them come on down to Corpus Christi. I am sure the good folks at the Caller-Times would be happy to give them some training." Caller
"How one shot turned a genteel quail hunt into a political crisis?"
They're taking Acid and smoking crack over at Time!
To my mind, this is EXACTLY what the MSM wanted, to have a slavering horde at the ranch gates within hours baying for a Cheney press conference. A few sly twist-able questions like the classic 'have you stopped beating you wife' and they could smell the blood. To have been deprived of this feast is just too much for them, they still want to gnaw the bare bone, besides it does serve to keep Al Gore out of earshot - right?
Don't you like the italics around a beer? I guess they just want everybody to know it was a "direct quote."
LOL Yeah, exactly, they're just dying for the day when there's a presser and Dick Gregory gets up and said, "Mr. Vice President, witnesses said, and I quote, 'A BEER'. Are you now saying that's a lie?" or some other fantasy of theirs.
This bit of press overkill to be filed under the "What if They Declared a 'Crisis' and Nobody Cared" file.
Might just be interesting, tho, to hoist a brew for every mention of the word "secrecy" in the article.....
Notice, one of their own, Bob Woodruff is ensconsed in a hospital bed and there has been no information at all from the media. They are respecting his privacy.
Clearly Mr. Harry is not entitled to any privacy at all. One of the lib hacks was actually demanding to know the alcohol content of Mr. Harry's blood.
I tell you, it's a coverup.
I knew that when the reporter on one of the national channels actually cut open a shotgun shell, and THE PELLETS in it were bigger than what was revealed to the press :)
My guess is that the Newsweek version will be even more slanted.
Like Father Like Son
Distance is only part of the equation.
ROFL! Let me guess, #6 shot as opposed to 7.5??? Its funny, the press will go into so much firearms detail when it involves a conservative VP and a hunting accident.
Lately I have heard such phrases as 'Semi-automatic Machine Pistol', whatever that is? And in a recent Montreal shooting that involved a .338 win, it was referred to as an 'elephant gun'. Give me a break!!!
Here's the "ever shifting storyline". "I shot my friend and it was one of the worst days of my life"
We are all grateful that Mr. Wittington is ok. Didn't he look great at the hospital?
Did you ever wonder how it was that a Game Warden's form was right there, available, to be completed and filed with authorities concerning this shooting?
The obvious answer is that there was a state game warden doing his job ~ he brought over the form ~ it was completed, and Texas law enforcement authorities were notified immediately. Someone had best ask the Secret Service guys who called in the game warden.
The "newsies" keep looking for the sheriff's involvement. Obviously he need not have been involved in this since it was a state matter and had been taken care of.
Now, regarding the shot pattern and how far away the victim was from the firearm, this was birdshot, and it was presumably NEW birdshot, made out of steel, not lead!
It doesn't go as far as lead. Still, it has superior penetration because it's sharper than lead birdshot. You can learn all about this on the internet BTW. Lots of new stuff out there on the varying characteristics of the newer steel shot, and you'd best learn those differences before you kill yourself out in a field somewhere. I had no idea it was so different ~ turns out it's better than lead.
Cheney also used a .28 caliber barrel, not a .410, and the shot pattern would be a bit tighter. I gather he only likes to shoot one bird at a time!
Well, anyway, if you looked at the shot pattern shown on the 4 cut-outs on that form, it's consistent with steel birdshot patterns at about 30 yards as fired from a .28.
There are no BBs in this stuff.
You stumbled right into one here. I've seen the Texas Fish and Game Service report's wound depiction on the form's silhouettes. The ranger drew the wound pattern on the cutout's LEFT side. We all know Cheney shot poor old Mr. Whittington on the RIGHT side of his face, neck, and chest.
And, I've seen a simulation of the shot pattern of a .28-guage shotgun using precisely the same shot Cheney used to shoot poor old Mr. Whittington. In the recreation, the shot was farm more spread out at 30 yards (home plate-to-first base) than it was on poor old Mr. Whittington's RIGHT face, neck, and chest.
I don't know why Cheney and his propaganda team want us to believe poor old Mr. Whittington was farther away from Cheney's shotgun than it appears was the case. I can guess. But, Cheney is hiding the truth from the American people, leaving us to speculate.
I know when I'm being fed a line, a set of pseudo-facts that don't add up. That is precisely what Cheney and his propagandists and apologists are doing.
I would like to know why; what is their motivation? Hopefully, this story will not fade until we know why Cheney is hiding from us on this situation.
The story was told the day after it had happened. The press dilletantes got their knickers in a twist because he didn't send them an gold edged press notice.
MEDIA-CRITY - news which has the quality or state of being low quality or low value and assumes that others have mush for brains.
"The newspaper did report that the local sheriff's deputies only bothered to go out on the next day"
Thanks for the Document.
It's funny you would say that the "deputies only bothered to go out on the next day". Considering that in the document the Chief Deputy was told by the Kenedy County Sheriff to report to the Ranch, the next day at 0800.
I would consider being "told" the same in the military as a "order". Interesting stuff.