02/27/2006 at 01:00 AM EST
He was supposed to be shooting quail. But on Feb. 11, Dick Cheney bagged something else entirely: a new controversy. After accidentally shooting a fellow hunter—Austin attorney Harry Whittington, 78—while hunting on a private ranch in Texas, the Vice President came under fire himself. Struck by as many as 200 pieces of birdshot after he reportedly approached Cheney, 65, from behind without announcing himself, Whittington suffered wounds on the right side of his face, neck and chest. His condition took a turn for the worse early on Feb. 14, when doctors at Christus Spohn Hospital in Corpus Christi discovered he had suffered a minor heart attack after a piece of shot became lodged in or alongside his heart muscle. At press time doctors said Whittington, a politically active Republican and father of four grown daughters, could remain hospitalized for a week, with the remote possibility that a piece of birdshot could move into another organ.
As for the barbs taken by Cheney, they were political in nature. Critics complained that the White House kept word of the accident from the public for nearly 20 hours. (Katharine Armstrong, whose family owns the 50,000-acre ranch where the accident occurred, eventually notified a newspaper in Corpus Christi.) Democratic commentator Paul Begala says the incident confirms "preconceived notions" that Cheney and his boss, George W. Bush, "are trigger-happy and think they are above the law." But conservative commentator Tucker Carlson counters, "I don't understand the fuss at all. He shot this guy in his private time on private property, and the guy hasn't complained about it." So would Carlson, who happened also to be out shooting on the weekend of the accident, accept an invitation to hunt with Cheney? Yes, he says, but "I would definitely watch him carefully."