If you can’t beat ‘em, beat ‘em to the punchline. That’s the tack White House spokesman Scott McClellan is taking to mitigate “Hunting-gate.”

McClellan took it on the chin Monday, no doubt. The White House press corp savaged him soundly, trying to construct a “what-did-he-know and when-did-he-know-it” timeline regarding the Vice-President’s hunting mishap. McClellan wasn’t exactly getting forthcoming information from Cheney’s staff, and had to suffer the slings and arrows alone. (Good thing Cheney isn’t a bowhunter.)

Anyway, as you can imagine, Monday was a watershed night for the Daily Show, Leno, and Letterman.

What’s not so funny is the slow response from Cheney’s people. A simple appearance from Cheney to field the questions would have done a world of good. But instead, we’re treated to another day or so of mountains out of molehills (that are of the administration’s own making.)

McClellan is doing his best to take the steam out of it all, though. He delivered a pitch-perfect punchline of his own, using a topical peg: the White House visit by the National Champion Texas Longhorns:

“The orange that they’re wearing is not because they’re concerned that the vice president may be there,” joked White House press secretary Scott McClellan, following the lead of late-night television comedians. “That’s why I’m wearing it.”

Well-crafted, timely, and in a self-effacing way, somewhat humble.

Considering it was a lack of forth-rightness and humility that got them into this mess to begin with, it’s a good start. Best case scenario, the story starts to fade, to be replaced by a recurrent punchline.

(I wonder if the left will stop complaining about Justice Antonin Scalia’s hunting trips with Cheney, and start urging more of them instead.)