Who are you going to believe? Republican spinner Mary Matalin or your own lying eyes and ears?
I practically drove off the Southeast Expressway today while listening to the podcast of yesterday’s “Meet the Press.” Tim Russert began a segment on media coverage of Dick Cheney’s errant shot by offering two specific examples of Cheney partisans’ blaming the accident on the victim, Harry Whittington.
First, Russert noted, was ranch owner Katharine Armstrong. Let’s go to the transcript.
RUSSERT: The vice president said that he talked to Katharine Armstrong about getting the story out. And the story that first appeared was this: “After shooting two quail, ranch owner Katharine Armstrong said Harry Whittington dropped back to pick them up, but he did not vocally announce to the others when he rejoined the group. The mistake exposed him to getting shot. ‘It’s incumbent on him,’ Armstrong said. ‘He did not do that.’”
Next up, Russert observed, was White House press secretary Scott McClellan, who said of Armstrong, “She pointed out that the protocol was not followed by Mr. Whittington when it came to notifying the others that he was there.”
RUSSERT: Initially, there was — seemed to be an attempt to blame Mr. Whittington. Was the vice president part of that? Aware of it?
MATALIN: Absolutely not. When I spoke to the vice president Sunday morning, he made it more than clear that it was his fault, no matter what the conditions, no matter how much the shared risk. That this should not be blamed on Harry. What happens here is that’s not the first account. That’s the wire account of the Corpus Christi Caller-Times. The very first account, Katharine Armstrong just lays out the facts, and she includes in there how apologetic the vice president was at the immediate scene.
What happens as these stories go from the local to the national is you stop giving out facts. You stop answering questions, and you start making denials. “No, Cheney wasn’t drunk.” “No, it wasn’t Cheney’s fault.” So as it progressed through the week, that’s what happened.
If you go back to Katharine Armstrong’s original description, given in context to locals who understand the frequency of hunting accidents, unfortunately, the culture of Texas, through the eyes of a person who actually saw, who has an expertise, there was no fault described. She laid out the facts: What Mr. Whittington had done, what the vice president had done, and included, clearly, the vice president’s immediate reaction, which was profuse apologies.
Russert, incredulous, came back with, “But they were quoting her directly…” He didn’t push. He didn’t have to. Matalin had already showed herself to be winging it in the most disingenuous manner imaginable. Armstrong and McClellan are on the record as having tried to blame the accident on Whittington. It was actually Cheney himself who put a stop to that ridiculousness. Now Matalin would have us believe that the blame game never happened. Amazing.
Instant flashback. Here, from Feb. 13, is the New York Times’ even more specific account of Armstrong’s blaming Whittington:
“This all happened pretty quickly,” Ms. Armstrong said in a telephone interview from her ranch. Mr. Whittington, she said, “did not announce — which would be protocol — ‘Hey, it’s me, I’m coming up,’” she said.
“He didn’t do what he was supposed to do,” she added, referring to Mr. Whittington. “So when a bird flushed and the vice president swung in to shoot it, Harry was where the bird was.”
And Whittington looks so much like a quail, don’t you think?
Instant update. Yes, I should have checked Josh Marshall first. Anyway, here is what he wrote about this yesterday.