Fitzwater, Former WH Press Secretary, Blasts Handling of Cheney Shooting -- As Victim Suffers Heart Attack Vice President Cheney By Joe Strupp Published: February 14, 2006 1:50 PM ET NEW YORK Former White House Press Secretary Marlin Fitzwater criticized Vice President Dick Cheney Tuesday for delaying the release of information about his hunting accident on Saturday, saying Cheney "ignored his responsibility to the American people." He told E&P he was "appalled by the whole handling of this." "The responsibility for handling this, of course, was Cheney's," Fitzwater, who served as presidential press secretary for George H.W. Bush and Ronald Reagan, told E&P in a phone interview from his Maryland home. "What he should have done was call his press secretary and tell her what happened and she then would have gotten a hold of the doctor and asked him what happened. Then interview [ranch owner] Katharine Armstrong to get her side of events and then put out a statement to inform the public. "They could have done all of that in about two hours on Saturday. It is beyond me why it was not done this way." The shooting victim, Harry Whittington, suffered a heart attack today when birdshot migrated to his heart but is still listed in stable condition. Fitzwater pointed out that the White House had very set policies about handling unexpected events when he was there. "We had a very specific plan if the president or vice president were involved in any kind of incident like this," he told E&P. "It was a very precise plan of who would call who and how the information would get out." Fitzwater, who served as White House press secretary from 1987 to 1992, was referring of course to Cheney's accidental shooting on Saturday of attorney Harry Whittington during a hunting trip at a Texas ranch. Although Whittington has survived he is still hospitalized. Cheney and the White House have been slammed for not revealing the incident to the press until late Sunday, hours after news outlets reported it. Fitzwater, who also served as deputy presidential press secretary from 1982 to 1985 -- and press secretary to Vice President Bush from 1985 to 1986 -- stressed that the biggest error involved was not getting the information out right away. "If [Cheney's] press secretary had any sense about it at all, she would have gotten the story together and put it out. Calling AP, UPI, and all of the press services. That would have gotten the story out and it would have been the right thing to do, recognizing his responsibility to the people as a nationally elected official, to tell the country what happened," Fitzwater added. "Secondly, it would have been confined to the vice president. By not telling anyone for 24 hours, it made it a White House story. Now it has become 'when was the president notified?', 'why didn't he put it out?' It becomes a story about the White House handling of it." Calls to the vice president's press secretary, Lea Anne McBride, were not immediately returned. When asked about Press Secretary Scott McClellan's response to the story, which has included heated exchanges with reporters and limited information, Fitzwater offered some sympathy for the man in his old job, declaring he should not be put in that position. "He is in a terrible spot," Fitzwater said. "He can't be critical of his vice president, but he doesn't have much of an option." Joe Lockhart, who was President Bill Clinton's press secretary, told the Los Angeles Times Monday, "On the face of it, this looks like something the administration felt the public had no right to know. I don't think there's going to be a bunch of people sitting around saying: 'I wonder why they waited to tell us.' But what they will be saying is: 'I wonder what else they're not telling us.' " Discussing the plans in place when he was in McClellan's job, Fitzwater cited an incident in the early 1990s when George H.W. Bush was at Camp David for the weekend and collapsed, sparking a need to transport him to the hospital. "The statement was on the wires going out to the country before the helicopter had left to take him to the hospital," Fitzwater recalled. "I can't believe they didn't have a similar plan here. It is all Cheney, he is the key that has to start all this. I am appalled by the whole handling of this."