Posted: Feb 18, 2006 9:05 AM

People want to know what it is like to be a conservative columnist at the San Francisco Chronicle. Suffice it to say, there are days -- as in the Monday after Vice President Dick Cheney shot a buddy in a quail-hunting accident -- when I'd rather be working for a conservative rag, like The Weekly Standard.

If I close my eyes, I can imagine the scene. I'm not at The Chronicle, I'm breakfasting with other journalists -- and because they're conservative, too, they don't think I'm a total freak. We all agree, speaking passionately about hunting protocol, that it was wrong for Harry Whittington to take it lightly. We shake our heads, gravely disappointed that Whittington forsook an individual's profound responsibility -- that is taken too lightly by the liberal media -- to warn others when he is standing where they are shooting.

At The Chronicle, I'm like the nerd with a bull's-eye taped on his back. Nothing can stop the barrage. I try to be pre-emptive. As I pick up political reporter Carla Marinucci for the drive into work Monday, I speak first: "No Cheney jokes."

She tells five -- before we reach the freeway ramp. And at work all day, certain individuals (who don't know who they are) lie in wait -- anxious for the moment they can buttonhole me and launch their little salvos.

Insert your own orange vest/yellowcake uranium joke here. Inquiring minds want to know: Aren't I going to write about Cheney? What am I supposed to say? Accidents are bad? OK. Accidents are bad. For the record, here it is: Dick Cheney should not have shot Harry Whittington. Not that most reporters will leave the brouhaha there. There is the familiar refrain, which is always the follow-up when you don't bash the Bushies enough: What about the White House's handling of the incident?

Like there's a good way to announce that the vice president shot someone by mistake. There's this cheesy way that pundits troll for an angle -- they try to frame a story on something ennobling, so it won't look like they're taking potshots (pun intended) at the veep while he's down. It's lowbrow fascination masquerading as high-minded principle, equivalent to news stations running an item about Pamela Anderson's boycott of the Kentucky Derby because of her animal-rights activism, when the real goal is to show B-roll of Anderson half-naked and undulating.

So there's the Corpus Christi Caller-Times versus The New York Times angle, the full day without disclosure angle, even the Scooter Libby/Valerie Plame angle. Please. These are all self-important ways of not saying what many journalists simply want to holler from the rooftops: Dick Cheney is Elmer Fudd.