Millions across the nation are shaking their heads over how Dick Cheney handled his shooting of his 78-year-old hunting partner Harry Whittington on Feb. 11.

As always, the secretive Cheney went into cover-up mode. He did not telephone President Bush to inform him he had just shot someone. He did not order his press secretary to inform the media.

The shooting happened during a quail hunt on a 50,000-acre Texas ranch owned by lobbyist Katherine Armstrong, whose mother is a director of Halliburton. It was nearly 24 hours later that Armstrong, not Cheney, contacted the Corpus Christi Caller-Times to report the shooting. Cheney didn’t issue a public statement until Feb. 15, four days after the shooting.

Once the story got out, a “blame the victim” campaign was unleashed, claiming the shooting happened because Whittington failed to announce his presence to Cheney. Hunters widely rejected this excuse. A lifetime National Rifle Association member wrote to The New York Times, “It is the responsibility of the shooter to know the whereabouts of hunting partners.” The “shooter is always responsible for where and what he shoots at,” wrote another hunter.

This is not just a hunting accident, as Watergate was not just a “third-rate burglary.” It reveals the arrogance, callousness, corruption and incompetence that is the hallmark of this violence-prone, secrecy-obsessed, inhumane administration.

Ignore pre-9/11 warnings, then lie, cover up, wrap yourself in flags and start some wars. Lie and scheme to invade Iraq, ignoring warnings that it will unleash a bloodbath, then cover up your scheming and shift blame to others. Ignore warnings that Hurricane Katrina will breech New Orleans’ levees, then blame everyone else, even the storm victims themselves. Help oil companies fleece us, then blandly proclaim that we are “addicted” to oil. Underfund public schools, then blame the schools, the teachers, the kids.

And why is it OK for the nation’s vice president to go on chummy hunting trips with major White House lobbyists, not to mention Supreme Court justices deciding cases in which he’s involved? This disgraceful incident reeks of the “culture of corruption” that this administration has escalated to new heights.