The White House's bungled response to Vice President Dick Cheney's hunting accident has revealed rifts in its communications operations.
The respective staffs of President Bush and Cheney had failed to agree upon how to disclose the incident - which quickly became more serious than first believed - or even communicate internally about the details.
The mismanagement was clearly evident in Scott McClellan's gaffes in front of reporters, joking about the mishap while (unbeknownst to him) Harry Whittington's condition took a turn for the worse.
McClellan also had to defend Cheney's staff, which eschewed the usual media channels. Instead of bringing the news straight to the White House press corps, ranch owner Katharine Armstrong, a lobbyist and PR pro, gave the story to the local Corpus Christi, TX, newspaper. But even McClellan didn't seem to fully support this tact; he reportedly has contrasted his response to Bush's bicycle accident last year, when he immediately briefed the press.
Cheney has been predictably reticent, offering only terse written statements about the events and leaving his staff, as well as Bush's, to face the media glare.
The lack of collaboration among the divisions of the White House has transformed an accident into an emblem of its communications failures.
The media are now out for blood.
Much of the shooting coverage delved into whether Armstrong had been lobbying Cheney during the hunting trip, and some articles even conjured up disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff. The incident also occurred the same week the National Journal reported that Cheney had "authorized" I. Lewis (Scooter) Libby to reveal classified information to select reporters.
Far from giving the White House the opportunity to control the story, the disjointed response has only served to raise the scrutiny and the ire of the media.