Category Archive 'Cheney Shooting Accident'

24 Feb 2006

John Derbyshire Reflects on Coverage of Cheney’s Accident

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John Derbyshire discusses how press coverage of the Cheney hunting accident demonstrates the devastating impact of  suburbanization and economic change.

One of the more thoughtful takes on the Dick Cheney “Quailgate” incident was offered by The Economist. They looked at hunting from the class angle:

The proportion of the population that goes hunting has been shrinking for the past 20 years. The number of hunters fell by 7% in the decade ending in 2001; the number of small-game hunters fell by 29% …. The biggest decline in hunters is taking place among the working class — among the “Deer Hunter” crowd in the small towns of the north-east, the rednecks of the South, and the cowboys of the West.

Well, we all know what the cowboys of the West are up to nowadays, thanks to Brokeback Mountain and Willie Nelson. To judge from some recent public grumbling by Mike Helton, the president of NASCAR… well, let the man say it himself: “We believe strongly that the old Southeastern redneck heritage that we had is no longer in existence.” Northeastern deer hunters can still be found, but as The Economist’s numbers show, they are slowly fading away.

As an English small-town boy, I feel no surprise at hearing that hunting has a class aspect to it. I am old enough to recall seeing adult males from my street, railroad and brewery workers mostly, walking along in the direction of the local rookery with shotguns under their arms, with the intent to get some free game-pie fillings for their families. Meanwhile the local gentry would be gathering outside a nearby village pub, mounted and liveried, to enjoy a stirrup cup before setting out across the fields after some unlucky Reynard.

It all seems long ago and far away now. Those shotgun-bearing neighbors would not make it out of their front gates today before being clubbed to the ground by Tony Blair’s Compassion Police. The scarlet-clad upholders of England’s ancient fox-hunting tradition can similarly expect to be dragged from their mounts and kicked senseless by enforcers of Tony’s caring, classless society. (Supposing said enforcers can spare the time from more urgent crime-fighting tasks — handcuffing and booking perpetrators of anti-Muslim “hate speech,” for example.)

Here in the USA, the decline of hunting, or rather the transformation of hunting from a thing that working-class guys do in their spare time to one that fat old millionaires do to network and assert their status, has not been imposed from above by parliamentary virtuecrats, as in England, but has seeped up from beneath, driven by changes in habits, attitudes, and opinions about what constitutes a good life. It is in fact just one aspect of a much larger phenomenon, one that has yet to be properly documented: the decline of the American working class…

..I remember being a ten-year-old myself, spending hours watching my next-door neighbor, a butcher by trade but an amateur cabinet-maker by inclination, manipulating his saws, planes, chisels, and spokeshaves. My kids won’t even know what a spokeshave is, and won’t care. My neighbor was a keen gardener, too, and also a war veteran. There was nothing much unusual in 1955 about an ordinary working man of little education knowing the arts of soldiering, gardening, butchering, and cabinet-making. I suppose this man’s grandchildren occupy themselves with watching TV, day trading on their computers, and working out their income taxes. I suppose my kids will do likewise. Perhaps they will be happy, but it looks to me like lotus eating — a flight from humanity, from the basics of human existence.

An economist would of course pooh-pooh my doubts. Look (he would say), here’s how it goes. Once upon a time we were farmers. We ploughed fields, made wagons, shod horses, tended livestock, and had five or six kids per family. Then we were factory workers, putting things together, making and using machines, figuring out electrical circuits, having two or three kids. Now the world runs on information, so we’re all “symbol manipulators”, trading commodity futures, parsing laws, persuading each other to buy things made abroad, and having zero to one kids per family. That’s how it is. The world changes. Get over it.

Probably the economists have a point. Probably there are ineluctable forces at work here. Perhaps, as proponents of the “singularity” hypothesis, argue, human nature is about to be transformed by us human beings ourselves on a scale vastly greater than anything that stumbling, bumbling old Ma Nature has been able to accomplish this past 50,000 years, so that worries about us losing touch with our humanity will soon come to seem quaint, or perhaps just incomprehensible. Probably all that one can say about these developments is that one likes them, or not. All right. Put me down as a “not.”

Hat tip to Steve Bodio.

18 Feb 2006

MSM Misunderstanding Hunting


Time Magazine’s Walter Kirin remarks on the incapacity of professional journalists to discuss a hunting accident:

But maybe you’re… annoyed by the reporting. I know I’ve been. For a westerner who likes to hunt and knows about the pastime’s risks (I almost shot a friend once while stalking mule deer), watching the Washington press corps cover a story that hinges on a chaotic Texas quail shoot is like watching Prince Charles attempt a native dance. Because they’re so good at doing so many other things, the talking heads think they’re good at this thing too, even though many of them don’t know the difference between a twenty-eight gauge shotgun and an any-caliber rifle. The chief difference, of course (and the relevant one here) is that a shotgun of this modest size barely constitutes a serious weapon when loaded with birdshot of the type that Cheney used. Its hard enough for such pellets to pierce a quail’s heart, let alone penetrate a man’s, and the fact that one did so is a testament not to Cheney’s gross negligence (that question still needs more exploring)but to his supreme unluckiness.

What’s made this awkward reporting not merely annoying but socially and politically divisive is that it insults the intelligence of some people who already feel insulted in other ways by the very same class of urban journalists. Outside of DC, LA and NYC, the only time folks get to meet a correspondent from a major television network or a writer from a leading newspaper is when a storm has just destroyed their neighborhood. And when the big shots do vist the outland, they always dress wrong, covered in either condescending denim or some haughty blend of wool and silk. Then they call the tornado that struck the place a “cyclone,” even though the place is Minnesota and Minnesotans don’t use that word.

For me and for lots of westerners I’ve spoken to, the greatest failure of the accident coverage has been its inability to convey, let alone fathom in the first place, just what goes on when people are chasing birds out in the middle of nowhere, in the brush, with dogs and other hunters on every side and adrenaline pumping through everybody’s veins. It’s a jittery, fluid situation. The coveys erupt without warning and they don’t fly straight, meaning hunters don’t only have to be prepared to raise their barrels at any instant, they need an awareness of the potential arcs through which they can safely swing them before they fire. Or hold their fire, as the case may be.

In the field, there are hundreds of cases that may be — and a wide range of penalties for misjudging one, from the social embarrassment of missing a bird (quail hunting has an aristocratic tone that fosters a lot of ribbing about poor marksmanship) to the mortal anguish of hitting a human being. The sport is dangerous, which heightens its thrill, but it’s a civilized level of danger that’s usually manageable through good equipment, experienced companions, and traditional codes of conduct. The emotions behind these codes are old and fixed: pride and shame. Like a mountain climbing expedition, a hunting trip is an excuse-free zone. Once a person picks up his gun, he is that gun. And whatever that gun causes.

17 Feb 2006

Cultural Cleavage Behind the Coverage

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Ethel Fenig at the American Thinker quotes Rabbi Daniel Lapin’s analysis of the subtext of the MSM obsessive coverage of Dick Cheney’s accident. To the metrosexual journalists writing the stories:

…skiing is well, normal, while hunting is alien. Not only have most liberals never gone hunting, most don’t even know anyone who goes hunting. In fact most wouldn’t know a Browning A-Bolt long action Stalker from an office stapler. They simply cannot believe that someone who hunts actually made it to the White House. It reminds me of that New York matron talking to her friend in November 1984. Ronald Reagan had just won every state except his opponent’s home state of Minnesota and she said, “I can’t believe that man won. I don’t know a single soul who voted for him.”

Liberals regard people who own firearms and who go hunting as weird. Repeatedly telling the Cheney hunting story proves that Republicans are not fit to govern a civilized country. Liberal news media really believe that reminding Americans that they have a hunter for a vice president will bring a Democratic victory. . . .

15 Feb 2006

Brit Hume’s Black Humor


Ariana Huffington identifies:

TiVo Moment #1: After Cheney walked Hume through the specifics of the shooting, including a cataloguing of Whittington’s injuries (“He was struck in the right side of his face, his neck and his upper torso on the right side of his body”), Hume inexplicably followed up with this jaw dropper: “And I take it you missed the bird?”

Hat tip to Ace. Grin for Brit. Condescending pat on the head for Ariana.

13 Feb 2006

MSM Takes Aim at Cheney

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As eager to inflict political injury on the Vice President, as the typical bird dog is to pursue quail, the Washington Press Corps set to work today manufacturing a new headline story consisting of a violated right to know the details of the Vice President’s shooting accident sooner than they were released. These kinds of things are rather like tennis volleys: the Washington Post bats its new meme over the net, and the Times rushes in and delivers another bash. CNN picks it up, and smashes it over to MSNBC. And so on. The longer the ball stays in the air, the greater the reality and the significance, at least in the eyes of the MSM itself and its credulous devotees.

Michelle Malkin has been collecting coverage.

Despite the hoplophobic inclinations of the metrosexual community to regard Cheney as fatally branded as a “shooter,” what occurred this weekend was a private matter and an accident. It’s impossible for those of us who weren’t present to decide if we would have been able to avoid injuring Mr. Whittington had we been in the Vice President’s shoes. Shooting accidents commonly result from inexperience, carelessness, over-excitement, or inattention, but sometimes they also just happen.

My father was a careful and reliable sportsman. One day, when we went out, he decided, out of sentiment, to use an old 16 gauge German shotgun that a family friend had brought home as a war souvenir after WWII. That gun had travelled from one person to another as a family loaner for decades, and I used it myself many times when I was a boy without untoward event. This particular day, when my father loaded that shotgun’s two barrels, and closed the breech, both firing pins dropped, and both barrels discharged. Fortunately, no person or dog was standing in line with the muzzle of that gun, and though a nearby tree was riddled with shot, the muzzle was also mercifully far enough away from solid obstacles that the high velocity bird shot did not ricochet right back.

But my father and I were both seriously shaken by the near accident. We knew that it was pure luck the trigger mechanism happened to fail disastrously on that old gun without injury. We knew how close we came to tragedy, and we went home without hunting that day, feeling sick.

No one was responsible. It was an old gun. It had been subjected to amateur gunsmithing repairs by its actual owner, but all sorts of people (including both my father and me) had used it safely for years. Accidents can happen in the hunting field.

The reports of Dick Cheney’s accident suggest it too was not his fault. He swung on a rising bird, departing into a quarter he assumed was safe for firing. Mr. Whittington had apparently walked up from behind the Vice President and his shooting partner unobserved, and happened to walk into the Vice President’s line of fire. Mercifully, Cheney was using a relatively diminutive 28 gauge shotgun; and, it being a quail hunt, one expects he was firing low velocity light weight trap & field loads of 8 or 9 shot. Smaller bird shot will lose its energy over a shorter distance.

At the 30 yards the reports describe, even small bird shot is still dangerous, but shot that small at that range probably only just penetrated exposed skin. I’m sure it must have hurt though. Both Mr. Whittington and the Vice President have my sympathy. An accident of this kind is no joke for either the victim or the shooter, and the first is 78 years old, and the other has had a history of heart trouble.


On the lighter side, as American history buffs at National Review, like Rick Brookhiser, have been noting: the last time an incumbent Vice President shot someone (11 July 1804), it was not an accident.

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