By Lera Boroditsky: When Dick Cheney went hunting with Harry Whittington and had an accident, and accidentally shot Whittington in the face, that was an event that took a split second. It was a really simple physical event, but there are many, many different ways that we could describe it. When the European Herald had to write about it, they wrote “Cheney Bangs Lawyer.” Whittington was a lawyer, and so that gives the sense of “Oh, Cheney went out hunting for lawyers, and he got one.” Of course, more prosaically we could just say, “Cheney shot Whittington.” Or, take Cheney out of it a little bit, so we could say, “Whittington got shot by Cheney.” We could take Cheney out of it altogether, and just say “Whittington got shot.” We could say something similar to what Texas newspapers said at the time, which was, “Whittington got peppered pretty good.”
Listen to what Cheney actually said. He was giving an interview in which he took full responsibility for the event, and he said, “Ultimately I’m the guy who pulled the trigger that fired the round that hit Harry.” Think about how many events there are in that statement. “I’m the guy that pulled the trigger that fired the round that hit Harry.” This is a split second event but he’s just broken it up into all these different steps. That makes him so far removed from the eventual outcome. Bush actually did one better. Bush said, “He heard a bird flush, and he turned and pulled the trigger, and saw his friend get wounded.” Now “saw his friend,” that’s one sentence in which Cheney transforms from agent to mere witness by the end of the sentence. It is a masterful exculpation.