There are several lessons to be learned from Vice President Dick Cheney’s recent shooting accident.

There is a lesson for hunters: If you decide to go hunting, be careful. Accidents happen — and they can happen to anyone.

There is a lesson for potential hunters: If you are thinking about taking up hunting as a hobby, keep in mind that there are safer hobbies to consider.

There is a lesson for stand-up comedians: No matter how tempting it may be, a person’s health is not a good thing to make light of in public.

And then there is the lesson for people who are in the public’s eye: Admit your mistakes — and do so promptly, or the public (and, yes, the media) will never let you live it down.

This is a simple rule of thumb, one that most of us learned at a very young age.

As a child, if you broke your mother’s favorite vase or if you spilled your chocolate milk on the living room carpet, your chances of survival were much better when you immediately told the truth and apologized for it than when you attempted to hide your mistake or lie about the sequence of events.

Honesty is always the best policy, and accepting responsibility for your mistakes is much better than drumming up excuses or placing blame elsewhere.

Sometimes the truth is hard to admit, but in most cases, eventually, the truth will come out anyway. And it is better for the public to learn the truth straight from the person who made the mistake than to hear a distorted version of the truth from another source.

Information about the accidental shooting of Cheney’s hunting companion was made public on Sunday, a full day after it occurred. In today’s world of instant news, a day is like an eternity.

And, even after the information was released, Cheney himself didn’t speak about it publicly until Wednesday.

To Cheney’s credit, when he did finally speak about the accident, he said most of the right things. He accepted responsibility for what he had done. He admitted that he felt badly about what had happened. And he wished his friend a speedy recovery.

But, had he said those things Saturday evening, immediately following the horrible accident, the public’s reaction (and the reaction of the media) would have likely been, “Oh, how unfortunate” instead of the “what are you trying to hide?” reaction he received by disappearing for the better part of a week while his friend lay in the ICU of a hospital half a country away.

Those who have been critical of the way the situation was handled aren’t criticizing Cheney’s abilities as a hunter. They aren’t questioning the quality of his vision or the functioning of his trigger finger.

Most of us know full well that accidents — mistakes — can happen. The best doctors sometimes lose patients. Sleuth detectives can overlook key clues. The craftiest attorneys’ cases may crumble. Elected officials may learn that they can’t keep their campaign promises. Professional football players occasionally fumble. NASCAR drivers aren’t above having wrecks.

The public is generally quick to forgive people, and even to show compassion to people, who confess to making genuine mistakes.

But the public is also full of suspicion — especially when it come to those who are in positions of power.

Mr. Cheney, the second most powerful man in America, had an opportunity to set an example by being candid about the hunting accident.

But instead, he made his second mistake — compounding the already-rampant distrust of the public by not being willing to own up to mistake number one.


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