Secrecy Is in the Air

On buckshot and other matters where silence has been less than golden.

The press always has complained about the Bush administration's penchant for secrecy. So when Vice President Cheney and the White House press office delayed nearly a day before letting on about what Arlo Guthrie might have called the Great South Texas Birdshot Massacree, reporters, editorialists and comedians were loaded for bear.

Dick Cheney's felling of a 6-foot hunting companion who got in the way of a 6-inch quail on the wing was a hot story. The vice president wheeled while sighting on that quail and peppered 78-year-old lawyer Harry Whittington with 28-gauge birdshot from about 30 yards. Whittington survived the pellets and consequent heart problems, but is destined to carry Cheney's load for the rest of his life. He would leave the hospital "with most of the pellets in him," the attending doctor said, putting the number at six to 200.

Cheney thus broke a record for vice presidential shootings that had lasted for more than two centuries-one set on July 11, 1804, by Aaron Burr, who needed just one shot from his .56-caliber dueling pistol to kill Alexander Hamilton. Burr was indicted for murder in New York, but wasn't prosecuted. Cheney apparently will escape indictment, but he has received a warning from Texas wildlife authorities for failing to have an upland hunting stamp-and has mailed his $7 to obtain one for future use.

Might we hope that Whittington will file suit? Under the precedent set in the Supreme Court's Clinton v. Jones case, our elected leaders cannot escape the reach of the law. Depositions might reveal much about Cheney's state of mind on matters of guns and war and such, useful information for historians deconstructing the course of events in this administration.

Of course, Duck! (as one wag called him) Cheney's penalty is the ignominy that he's engendered. David Letterman, for example: "Good news! We have finally located weapons of mass destruction. It's Dick Cheney! Here is the sad part-before the trip, Donald Rumsfeld had denied the guy's request for body armor . . . We can't get bin Laden, but we nailed a 78-year-old attorney."

Scott McClellan, the president's press secretary, took a heap of abuse from the White House press corps about the delay before news of the shooting got out. So did the Veep-who, said The New York Times, "appears to have behaved like a teenager who thinks that if he keeps quiet about the wreck, no one will notice that the car is missing its right door."

Indeed, secrecy and censorship are in the air. Here we read that NASA's top climate scientist was told he couldn't speak or write publicly without prior approval (which he declined to obtain). Then we learn that NASA's censor (who later "resigned") also ordered an agency official to add the word "theory" at every mention of the Big Bang. Veteran Congressional Research Service official Louis Fisher was taken to the woodshed for telling Government Executive's Chris Strohm that Congress has deferred too much as the Bush administration has punished whistleblowers and suppressed information.

Perhaps we should send all these blabbermouths for indoctrination by you-know-who at his undisclosed location.

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