02/13/2006 12:01 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Cheney: Talk Softly and Carry a Big Gun

Dick Cheney has been very quiet since he shot his friend Harry Whittington on Saturday. So quiet, in fact, that his office did not disclose the shooting for about 24 hours -- only after a Texas newspaper reported it.

Cheney's spokeswoman refused to tell the AP why Cheney waited so long to tell the public about the shooting, and CNN's Dana Bash reported the Vice President's office has provided "no explanation" for the delay.

Instead, the White House has been promoting the "eyewitness account" of Katharine Armstrong. She owns the ranch where the shooting occurred and has the rare ability to make getting shot in the face
sound like a minor irritant. Referring to the chest and face wounds that sent Whittington to the intensive care unit, Armstrong offered this euphemistic update: "He was talking. His eyes were open. It didn't get in his eyes or anything like that." She later added, "This is something that happens from time to time. You know, I've been peppered pretty well myself." (Neither the AP or CNN mentioned Armstrong's glaring conflict of interest -- she is a business owner trying to minimize the risks of hunting at her ranch.) She also announced that Cheney is "a very safe sportsman." Got all that? Gunshot wounds are a "peppering" and hunters who accidentally shoot people are "safe" sportsmen.

But there are too many important questions remaining for this incident to be dismissed as a harmless Texas peppering. Why did Cheney wait a day to disclose the shooting? Have the local authorities interviewed Whittington or Cheney to establish exactly what happened? And, most importantly, is Cheney going to continue taking hunting vacations while serving as Vice President?

The last question is the most consequential for our government. Everyone knows the Vice President must be ready to assume the Presidency in the event of tragedy, and all Americans want him to be as safe and responsible as possible. Since 9/11, the protocols for separating and protecting the President and Vice President have gotten even stricter. (Remember when Cheney spent several nights in undisclosed secure locations before the first anniversary of the 9/11 attacks?) But this sad, avoidable accident makes a mockery of such precautions. Private hunting ranches are not a safe place for the Vice President. That was always obvious, but a trip to the intensive care unit should erase any doubt, even for Dick Cheney. Now reporters must press Cheney to answer the lingering questions about this weekend's hunting trip - and whether it was his last.