A surprisingly short part of the Vice movie about Dick Cheney occurs when Cheney accidentally shot lawyer Harry Whittington while they were hunting. At the time, this was huge news in the media. But it gets a quick portrayal in the movie. Here’s the real story about Harry Whittington. And in case you’re wondering, yes he really did apologize to Cheney, a decision that people are still talking about today.
In the movie, the actual scene where Whittington is shot lasts just a few seconds and is shown in quick cuts. And the shooting didn’t happen from a car, like it’s shown in the movie, Caller.com reported.
Here’s what Whittington looks like today — he’s doing well, despite the horrific accident on February 11, 2006. Whittington was 78 when the shooting happened and today he’s 91.
They were hunting quail in 2006 in Riviera, Texas when the accident happened.
At the time, the accident was nicknamed “Quailgate.” Cheney said he fired at what he thought was a bird, but accidentally shot about 150 birdshot pellets at Whittington. Ranch owner Katherine Armstrong initially reported the accident to the Corpus Christi Caller-Times. On February 12, the Bush administration publicly disclosed what happened, but Cheney did not speak publicly until February 15.
Reportedly, Cheney, Whittington, and Pamela Pitzer Willeford had shot birds together in a covey. While Whittington was looking for a downed bird, Cheney and Willeford walked with a guide to a covey about 100 yards away. When Whittington was about 30 to 40 yards from them, a bird flew up and behind Cheney in Whittington’s direction. Cheney shot at the bird and hit Whittington in the process. Cheney said he had a beer about five hours before the shooting. Whittington was shot in the cheek, neck, and chest, and flown to a Corpus Christi hospital.
The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department later said in a report: “Whittington downed a bird and went to retrieve it. While he was out of the hunting line, another covey was flushed and Cheney swung on a bird and fired, striking Whittington in the face, neck and chest.”
Whittington had a heart attack four days after the shooting from the lead making its way into his blood vessels, Indiewire reported. He also suffered a collapsed lung.
Doctors had to leave about 30 birdshot pellets in Whittington’s body, and one still affects his voice today, The Washington Post reported in 2010. His voice has a slight warble from a piece in his larynx. His eye socket, hairline, and hand still have pellets in them too, with a bump marking each spot. One piece is near his heart. The Washington Post reported that sometimes a piece will work its way to the surface, but the ones that are still there will likely remain.
Strange as it may sound, Whittington actually gave a press conference apologizing to the Cheneys after he recovered from the shooting.
Here’s the video where Whittington apologized to Cheney:
Whittington told The Washington Post in 2000 that his apology might have confused the issue because he wasn’t trying to take on the blame, he was just sorry that everything had happened.
Cheney did ultimately admit that what he did was wrong, despite reports that he never apologized, CNN reported. Later in 2006, Cheney said: “I am the guy who pulled the trigger and shot my friend. That is something I will never forget.”
Cheney said that yes, Whittington was shot because he rejoined the quail-hunting party without announcing himself. But Cheney said he was ultimately responsible. “Ultimately, I am the guy who pulled the trigger and fired the round that hit Harry. You can talk about all the other conditions that existed at the time, but that’s the bottom line. It’s not Harry’s fault. You can’t blame anybody else.”
Whittington’s battles weren’t over, The Washington Post reported in 2010. In 2000, Austin declared eminent domain over a block that his family owned so the city could build a parking garage and water-cooling plant on it. He sued and some courts upheld his claim. He said the block was worth $14 million at the time. In 2013, a Texas district court awarded the title to Austin and ordered that the city pay Whittington $10.5 million as compensation and $3.6 million in interest for land that Whittington had intended to build shops on. But that wasn’t the end of the case. Whittington argued that the interest he got should be more. In 2016, the Statesman reported that the City Council voted to pay Whittington an additional $2.4 million in interest.