Man shot by Cheney says 'accidents will happen'

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"You can see what a lucky man I am," a jovial Mr Whittington declared, with visible signs of the wounds inflicted upon him when Mr Cheney fired an estimated 35 pellets of birdshot into his face and chest on the ranch of Texas land-owner Katherine Armstrong. "Accidents do and will happen."

Just minutes after Mr Whittington's words, Mr Cheney made his own public appearance - only his second since the incident - before the state legislature of his own Wyoming. Saying the week had seemed longer than most, he added: "Thankfully Harry Whittington is on the mend and doing very well."

Thankfully, indeed. Since last Sunday, Mr Cheney has been at the centre of a political storm, arising not just from the accident but from the perception that he bungled his response by allowing details of what happened to leak out in a drip-drip fashion.

The mood in Mr Cheney's circle was surely never worse than on Tuesday when word reached the press - again, several hours later than it might have done - that one of those birdshot pellets had migrated to Mr Whittington's heart and that he had suffered some form of minor heart attack. The notion arose that Mr Whittington's life might be in danger and that the problems faced by Mr Cheney could suddenly become a great deal more serious.

The Cheney train-wreck had already begun to look a little less bad on Thursday, however, when the sheriff's office of Kenedy County, Texas, where the Armstrong Ranch is located, said it was closing its investigation into the accident and that no charges of any kind would be pressed.

Within the sheriff's report was this good news: Mr Whittington had assured investigators that no one included in the hunting party had been drinking and that all the usual safety rules had been followed. Earlier, Mr Cheney had alluded to a beer at lunch "under an old oak tree", but if Mr Whittington had seen it going down, he either had forgotten or didn't think it important.

Mr Whittington "explained foremost there was no alcohol during the hunt and everyone was wearing the proper hunting attire of blaze orange", reported Kenedy County Sheriff's Department chief deputy, Gilberto San Miguel Jr.

And then came the appearances a thousand miles apart yesterday, first by the victim and second by the shooter. Clearly they were orchestrated from Washington. And the message was clear: Story over. The Veep is in the clear. Mr Whittington is in the clear. Let's move on.

Now all that remains to be seen is whether the birdshot brouhaha will leave any lasting political damage for Mr Cheney or any long-term medical implications for Mr Whittington. Neither this administration nor Mr Whittington is in the first flush of youth, after all.

Mr Whittington seemed to have the answer. He is just fine. After falling over himself to praise the media - a show of generosity that may have not been in the script from Washington - he did the same for his doctors and nurses. As for all the kafuffle of recent days, he said he felt sorry for Mr Cheney, because the incident had brought "a cloud of misfortune and sadness". He forgot the television comedians, though, for whom last week was pure gold.