The daily intelligence briefing at the White House is a secret, serious affair, conducted each morning for the President in the Oval Office by the experts in charge of knowing as much as possible about as much as possible. The President routinely asks what's going on in some of the darkest corners of the world. But last week George W. Bush's concerns included what was going on in an office down the hall, where Vice President Dick Cheney had been lying low since shooting his friend Harry Whittington in a late afternoon quail hunt in Texas over the weekend. Not just the communications pros and the commentariat but Bush too understood that Cheney needed to get out there and tell his story, but the Vice President was still resisting. Until Cheney said something, Bush couldn't talk to reporters either. There would be no other story, no other message than that the Vice President of the United States had accidentally shot a man and was refusing to talk about what had happened. It was clear to those who talked to Cheney that he was truly dismayed. "If this were happening to someone else, he'd be ho-ho-ho-ing about the feeding frenzy," said a former Cheney aide. "But he has caused the feeding frenzy here." Whatever Cheney's reasons, his reticence was frustrating the President, said an official involved in deliberations between the two. Yet even now, Bush made a very soft sell to the partner to whom he often defers.
Bush and Cheney had a quiet talk. According to a Republican official, the President told Cheney how much he too loved Whittington. He acknowledged what a crushing experience it must have been to see Whittington fall after Cheney pulled the trigger on a bird, failing to see his friend nearby. But it was time to defuse the furor that followed. Whittington was being blamed for the accident, and Cheney knew that White House spokesman Scott McClellan was getting barbecued by a White House press corps insistent on knowing why it took almost a full day to make the shooting public. After one of McClellan's press briefings, Cheney deadpanned, "He looks like he's having fun." Cheney knew what to do, being acquainted, as anyone in his position would be, with that most familiar and degrading of political rituals, the act of public penitence. Once that was accomplished, through the ministry of Fox News' Brit Hume, "the President was satisfied," said someone who was involved in the discussions. "I wouldn't have said that last weekend or Monday." A friend of the Vice President's reports that Cheney "believes that he handled this in an appropriate way. But he recognizes that the rest of the world doesn't believe that."