Watching Dead-eye Dick Cheney break his silence on Fox, I kept thinking: This is what it looks like when a man who is used to getting away with covering up the truth finally has to explain himself.
He did a lousy job -- especially on the key question of why it took so long to let the public know.
He offered a host of reasons for the 18 hour delay: he was more concerned with taking care of his friend than about notifying the press; he wanted to make sure Whittington's family got the news before it hit the airwaves; he "didn't know for sure what kind of shape Harry was in... and you need to really wait and nail it down"; and he wanted to make sure the "complicated story" was given to a reporter with "some degree of understanding" (as opposed to the first reporter Katharine Armstrong spoke to who "didn't now the difference between a rifle bullet and a shotgun").
Of course, none of these explanations explains the 18 hour delay or would have precluded the release of a simple announcement. Even Brit Hume was having a hard time buying into the vice president's justifications.
Hume: The one thing that we've all kind of learned over the last several decades is
that if something like this happens, as a rule sooner is better.
Cheney: Well, if it's accurate. If it's accurate. And this is a complicated story.
Hume: But there were some things you knew. I mean, you knew the man had been shot, you knew he was injured, you knew he was in the hospital, and you knew you'd shot him.
Nevertheless, Cheney insisted that keeping the story under wraps for so long was "the right call" and that he's "comfortable with the way we did it, obviously."
Obviously. One good thing about your conscience no longer functioning is that you are comfortable with everything. Especially with whitewashing the truth.
So, taking a page from Orwell, Cheney assured us -- again and again -- that by keeping the story hidden he was only trying to make sure the truth got out. Indeed, he used the words "accurate" and "accuracy" 8 times in his short chat with Hume.
Never has accuracy been invoked more in the name of inaccuracy.
Watching Cheney continue the shooting story coverup, reminded me of my own experience with being stonewalled by the Vice President and his staff this summer when I stumbled upon the story that Cheney, while in Vail for a speech, had been taken to the hospital for an EKG. Check out the four posts I did on the story here, here, here, and here and you'll see a similar pattern to the way the much bigger shooting story has been handled.
In Vail, over the space of 48 hours, I got three different stories: First, denial that Cheney was ever at the hospital. Second, an acknowledgement that he was at the hospital after all, but only for an old knee injury. Third, that after he was checked for the knee injury, he was taken to the cardiac unit to have an EKG, but only prophylactically.
In Texas, Team Cheney went from saying nothing to having the story brought out in a way that maximized the administration's control over it to another round of silence to, finally, giving an exclusive -- though far-from-forthcoming -- interview to a partisan outlet.
The constantly shifting explanations and multiple levels of denial are utterly familiar -- as is the refusal to level with the American people.
P.S. The Hume interview contained a pair of TiVo-worthy moments that left me wondering "Did I really hear that?" and reaching for the replay button.
TiVo Moment #1: After Cheney walked Hume through the specifics of the shooting, including a cataloguing of Whittington's injuries ("He was struck in the right side of his face, his neck and his upper torso on the right side of his body"), Hume inexplicably followed up with this jaw dropper: "And I take it you missed the bird?"
The VP has just painted a verbal picture of blasting his friend in the face and Brit is wondering about... the bird?!
TiVo Moment #2: Hume asks Cheney if the shooting will "affect your attitude toward this pastime you so love in the future?"
Cheney: I can't say that. You know, we canceled the Sunday hunt. I said, look I'm not -- we were scheduled to go out again on Sunday and I said I'm not going to go on Sunday, I want to focus on Harry.
Wow. How many guys out there would be willing to cancel a Sunday hunt to focus on the fate of the man they just blasted in the face with birdshot? Not many. Self-sacrifice in the face of overwhelming temptation. That's Dick Cheney for you.