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Wednesday, February 15, 2006 - Page updated at 09:08 AM

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Duck! Here come the Dick Cheney jokes

Once it became clear that Texas lawyer Harry Whittington would survive getting accidentally sprayed with birdshot by Vice President Dick Cheney, the incident became instant fodder for headline writers and comedians.

"Daily Show" host Jon Stewart, speaking as a "concerned parent," urged viewers never to let their children go on hunting trips with the vice president. "I don't care what kind of lucrative contracts they're trying to land, or energy regulation they're trying to get lifted. It's just not worth it."

Stewart offered a little historical perspective, noting that Whittington was the first person shot by a vice president since Alexander Hamilton.

"Hamilton, of course, shot in a duel with Aaron Burr over issues of honor, integrity and political maneuvering," Stewart said. "Whittington? Mistaken for a bird."

NBC's Jay Leno devoted most of his "Tonight Show" monologue to the accident.

"I guess the guy is going to be OK," Leno said. "When the ambulance got there, out of force of habit they put Cheney on the stretcher. ... When people found out he shot a lawyer, his popularity is now at 92 percent."

Democratic staffers on Capitol Hill circulated a quote from President Bush, in a 2000 interview with the Houston Chronicle, in which he hailed Cheney as "somebody who is going to shoot straight with the American people."

"Bush-Quail '06," cracked Democratic strategist Jenny Backus.

"The CIA assured Cheney that Harry Whittington was actually a pheasant," added Democratic speechwriter Jeff Nussbaum.

Not to be outdone, conservative radio broadcaster Rush Limbaugh offered this joke on his show Monday: "Would you rather go hunting with Dick Cheney or riding in a car over a bridge with Ted Kennedy?" (The punch line: At least Cheney takes you to the hospital.)

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Limbaugh then criticized the media for covering "one of the dumbest stories ever."

While the U.S. press has been mostly restrained in its coverage (a notable exception: The Philadelphia Daily News ran a photo of Cheney holding a rifle under the headline "Deadeye Dick"), foreign newspapers had a field day.

The Herald in Scotland declared, "Cheney Bags a Lawyer," while the Sydney Morning Herald headlined its story "Cheney hunts quail and everyone else ducks."

How someone would react might break along the lines of red states and blue states, especially in such politically divisive times. But it also might just be funny.

"You start with a person in a position of power and authority who screws up, that's funny," explained Lawrence Mintz, a professor and director of the Art Gliner Center for Humor Studies at the University of Maryland.

"That he's a Republican who strongly supports gun rights and the National Rifle Association, that adds another layer of humor. There is also the humorous irony that if the situation were reversed — that if Whittington had accidentally shot Cheney — then the Secret Service would've plugged him. You've got plenty of ironies making it a humorous incident.

"It's funny even if you like Cheney," Mintz said. "But it's funnier if you don't."

Mintz pointed out that all the humor would be lost if the victim died or was gravely wounded. But Whittington is expected to recover.

Whittington "is talking, awake, alert in good spirits," said Dr. David Blanchard, a doctor who treated him, adding that the patient had been making jokes.

Compiled from The Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, St. Louis Post-Dispatch, The Associated Press and Baltimore Sun reports

Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company

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