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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.