The Talking Dog

February 19, 2006, Meet the Cast of "When Harry met Birdshot"

Those of you who were expecting me to "get over it"... can... get over it. Because if there is anything at all to be squeezed out of the "shot heard round the ranch," gosh darn it, I'm going to squeeze it.

We'll start with this from the Houston Chronicle, trying to lay out the still unanswered questions which will probably never be answered to the satisfaction of anyone but right-wing partisans (and let's face it, immense Kenedy County with just a few hundred people and a tiny sheriff's department would be the perfect place to get away with just about anything.) We meet some new people-- a "guide"-- Bo Hubert, and two "outriders"-- Jerry and Oscar Medellin (Medellin... where have I heard that name before...) We learn that, just to make it even less sporting than having farm-raised game-birds who are born and bred to jump up and be shot, ranch employees ride around on horseback beating the bushes (as it were) to make the little birdies jump up some more...

Now that we've met a couple of chorus girls, let's move on to the principal players, as set forth in this International Herald Tribune article, the only place I have seen the names of the ten members of the moving charnel house party...

So let's see how we get to ten. We start with (1) the Vice-President and (2) our hostess, Katharine of Aragon Armstrong.

The other guests were [3] [Pamela] Willeford, the ambassador to Switzerland and Liechtenstein, and [4] her husband, George, a physician in Austin; [5] Ben Love, a West Texas rancher whom Armstrong called her "beau"; [6] her sister, Sarita Hixon, a Houston museum chairwoman, and her husband, [7] Bob, an insurance executive; [8] Nancy Negley, an art philanthropist whose family once controlled Brown & Root, now a part of Halliburton [no, I'm not making this up]; and [9] Whittington, a 78-year-old Austin lawyer, Republican stalwart and presiding officer of the Texas Funeral Service Commission, and his wife, [10] Mercedes [she's also--according to the linked account-- the sister of former Secretary of State James A. Baker III.].

Speaking of James Baker, it seems our hostess made a few bucks as a lobbyist working for Jim's law firm, Baker & Botts. Small world, right?

We're not counting Anne Armstrong, our hostess's mother (a/k/a "Miss Ellie"), the former Ambassador to St. James Court, but she might not have gone out-a-killin' with the rest of the guests.

The I.H.T. time-line fills in some details we were (or at least, I was) missing...

All the guests were there by 6 p.m. Friday, Armstrong said. The others drove, but Cheney flew in with his Secret Service entourage; his wife, Lynne, had also been expected but could not come at the last minute, Armstrong said. Quartered in adjoining ranch houses, the group dined together Friday night and retired by about 10.

They were up before 8 Saturday and headed out in two groups, with outriders on horseback to flush the birds and about a dozen American pointers and Labrador retrievers.

They broke at 1 p.m. for a picnic lunch Cheney said he had had one beer but "nobody was drinking, nobody was under the influence" then returned to the house to freshen up before heading out again with different partners. Armstrong drove an old Jeep with Cheney, Mrs. Hixon, Willeford and Whittington.

So far, so good... the pointers and Labradors, btw, weren't talking... draw your own conclusions about what "old Jeep" means...

By close to 5:30 p.m., she said, each group had bagged perhaps 40 quail for the day, well below the limit of 15 per person, and they were following their last covey, or flock. At that point, Armstrong said, they figured they had 10 to 15 minutes of good light, and it would have taken 40 minutes or so to find another covey, so this was to be their last shooting of the day. They had taken turns shooting, and now Armstrong was in the Jeep with her sister. About 100 yards away, Cheney, Whittington and Willeford were walking in a line in a low spot on gently sloping ground. After Whittington bagged his birds he dropped out of sight along with one of Armstrong's bird dogs, Gertie, Willeford recalled.
That was Harry's first mistake... don't trust those damned bird dogs...
Then, suddenly, he was in a dip about 30 yards away against the sun just as Cheney fired a blast from his Italian-made 28-gauge Perazzi shotgun. Whittington caught the spray of birdshot on the right side of his face, neck and chest. "I said, 'Harry, I had no idea you were there,' " Cheney recalled, adding: "He didn't respond." Armstrong initially faulted Whittington. "You tell your companions you're there, and he failed to do that," she said.

When you're a Texas Republican... don't trust your friends either...

Armstrong used her cellphone to call Love, who was in the other hunting party, with Mrs. Whittington. "Until we know how Harry is, it's best not to say anything to Merce," Love said she had told him. [Or the press. Or the sheriff.]

An ambulance one always accompanies Cheney arrived in about 30 minutes.

Armstrong called Love back. "He looks O.K.," she said. "He's responsive, he's talking." Love agreed to tell Mrs. Whittington. "She sat upright and asked, 'How bad?' " Love recalled.

O.K. Let's stop right there, shall we. Cheney has an ambulance with him, and presumably paramedics; how could they possibly have allowed it to be 30-minutes away, unless they screwed around before calling it. Second, why is she calling Ben Love, the rancher, when one of her guests is Dr. George Willeford. You see what I mean? I don't want the rancher giving me advice on a gunshot victim when a doctor is available... do I?
Back to our story...

They saw the ambulance, bearing Whittington, speeding toward them and tried to flag it down for his wife, but it sped away, Love said. He and Mrs. Whittington, Dr. Willeford and Hixon then made their own way about an hour and 20 minutes north to the Christus Spohn hospital in Kingsville. Whittington's injuries were deemed serious enough to require treatment at Christus Spohn Memorial Hospital in Corpus Christi, at least another hour's drive away, and he was flown there by helicopter. When they reached the hospital in Corpus Christi, Dr. Willeford and Hixon called the others at the ranch to report on Whittington's condition, which Armstrong described as non-life-threatening. "He was O.K., he checked out fine," she said.

Poor Cheney. He was so worried that he might get in really big trouble for actually killing a man... instead of merely "peppering him..." Anyway...

The Secret Service, which put the time of the shooting at 5:50 p.m., said it had notified Sheriff Ramon Salinas III of Kenedy County by 7 p.m. Sheriff Salinas said he had dispatched a deputy, and he later issued a news release suggesting that the officer had been turned away at the ranch. The Washington Post on Wednesday quoted Sheriff Salinas as saying that he first learned of the shooting from one of his captains, who had been summoned to escort the ambulance, but that he arrived after the ambulance left and that the Border Patrol agent guarding the gate during Cheney's visit knew nothing of any shooting. Sheriff Salinas did not return repeated calls, and a reporter seeking to resolve the discrepancies was turned away Wednesday by the sheriff's office in Sarita, which said he was "unavailable." Armstrong said she knew nothing of any attempted visit by a deputy on Saturday night.

For those of you keeping score, this is the story. I assure you that if you or I had a man shot on our property, the sheriff or other local constable would not have settled for being "turned away"; he or she would have radio'd for a search warrant to enter the property... which would have been granted on the spot. Let's just say that it's good to be the king (or the Vice-President, or of course, Lady Kathariine, as the case may be). Back to the story...

The Secret Service appears also to have gotten word to the White House. Between 8 and 9 p.m., Armstrong recalled, Karl Rove, the president's deputy chief of staff, called her "to check on Harry," who she said was "an old friend of Karl's." [WTF?] She said there was no discussion of what President Bush had been told of the shooting and whether he knew that Cheney had fired the shots. Armstrong and her guests insisted that the focus Saturday was solely on Whittington and that no one talked about whether or how to put out the news of the incident. "I'm telling you, there was no discussion at all, there wasn't," she said. Love agreed. "We were all quite shaken," he said, adding that Cheney was "just crushed." That night, Armstrong said, Cheney and the others ate a somber roast beef dinner, overshadowed by concern for Whittington. Dr. Willeford and Hixon returned from the hospital in Corpus Christi to brief them further. They went to bed around 10, she said.

Damn. Harry's getting in the way of Dick's shot ruined his dinner... btw, no point in eating any of those quail you've gunned down... Anyway, no wonder Harry apologized to Dick. He ruined Dick's evening, if not his whole weekend. Anyway, Lady Katharine continues...

She said she was up Sunday by 6 a.m. and the other guests drifted in to breakfast around 7:30. It was then, she said, that they first started discussing how the news of the shooting was to be released. "Mother and I decided we had to get that out of the way," Armstrong said, adding that she then proposed calling a reporter she knew at The Corpus Christi Caller-Times. Cheney, she said, agreed. "What the vice president was doing was so respectful," she said, suggesting he was concerned that a news report might reach Whittington's daughters before the family could notify them. Armstrong also said Cheney deferred to his hosts as the ones to handle any announcement.

And to complete the whitewash:

Sheriff Salinas and a deputy came by around 8 a.m. to take a statement from Cheney, she said.

Armstrong said she began calling the reporter, Jaime Powell who had covered the death of her father, Tobin Armstrong, last October about 8:30 a.m. Sunday but failed to reach her. Armstrong then started calling the Caller-Times newsroom and reached another reporter, Kathryn Garcia, about 9 a.m.

The Caller-Times, after confirming the story with Cheney's office, posted an article on its Web site at 1:48 p.m. Sunday.

The guests stayed around the ranch house until lunch Sunday, Armstrong said. Cheney and Anne Armstrong drove to Corpus Christi to visit Whittington in the hospital.

Katharine Armstrong said she talked to Whittington by phone for 20 minutes

Monday. "He was in very high spirits and funny," she said.

But on Tuesday Whittington was back in the intensive care unit. He had suffered what doctors called a minor heart attack with a pellet of birdshot lodged in his heart.

And there you have it: our cast of characters and our plot synopsis. It might strike you that people more concerned with the welfare and physical condition of the victim (as opposed to possible implications of criminally negligent homicide...) might have gotten the doctor who was already on the ranch to the victim, and gotten the nearby ambulance a tad sooner... and, as noted above, contacted the doctor for prompt advice as opposed to, say, the rancher...

The red-herring "non-story" is the disclosure of the story... plenty of time for that. The main-stream press is nothing if not self-absorbed, of course. Anyhow, stay tuned, boys and girls. Yee ha.


You might remember, TD, that I starred in a movie called "True Believer", where I played an attorney who successfully defended someone on the basis of an ambulance ride that took too long.

Posted by James Woods at February 19, 2006 3:44 PM

Kenedy County's total population according to the last census is 414. So if I were to find out that the Armstrongs "owned" the county sheriff, well you'd have to color me unsurprised.

Posted by Hephaestos at February 20, 2006 7:59 PM