The Beltway Beat

John McCaslin
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Posted: Jul 18, 2003 12:00 AM

HEIL, ASHCROFT

It's easy to criticize reporters, a leading congressman tells the Media Institute.

"It seems that everyone does," observes Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas). "But please consider this question: If one of your employees consistently provided you with only part of the information you needed, would you be satisfied with that employee's performance?"

Take ABC's Barbara Walters, the congressman said, who in narrating an interview last year with Fidel Castro said, "For Castro, freedom starts with education. And if literacy alone were the yardstick, Cuba would rank as one of the freest nations on Earth."

And Newsweek Assistant Managing Editor Evan Thomas, who as a guest on the TV program "Inside Washington" said: "If we'd really been watching and paying attention we could have headed off (Sept. 11). But the German prosecutorial system was pretty laid back and didn't want to be (Attorney General) John Ashcroft, you know, they didn't want to be the SS, they had that worry there, no Gestapos."

Said Smith: "Americans who only receive their news from these media outlets could reasonably conclude that Cuba is a virtual democracy (and) John Ashcroft is a Nazi ..."

WHATEVER WORKS

Wednesday (July 16) marked the debut of a new political Web site - www.PoliticsUS.com - produced by the Publius Group, which earlier launched state-based political Web sites in New Jersey, New Hampshire and Pennsylvania.

Besides collecting "all the political news you need to know," the site presents its own stable of columnists, primarily campaign operatives, including former Republican National Committee spokesman Bill Pascoe, former Virginia Democratic Party Chairman Paul Goldman, former Bush administration aide Donald Trigg and Democratic strategist Ken Snyder.

There's also a column by an anonymous editor who uses the pseudonym "Publius."

"By remaining cloaked and nonpartisan, he's able to get information out of people in the know that they wouldn't dare give a known journalist," says Pascoe. "Sounds screwy, but it works."

BALD-HEADED MOOSE

The epilogue to the newly released paperback edition of Ronald Kessler's The Bureau: The Secret History of the FBI (St. Martin's Press), claims it was a senior FBI agent - not Montgomery County Police Chief Charles A. Moose - who led the Beltway sniper investigation.

"While the public face of the effort was Montgomery County Police Chief Charles A. Moose, Gary M. Bald, a 6-foot-3-inch-tall agent, headed it," writes Kessler, best-selling author of Inside the CIA (Pocket Books, 1994) writes.

Which has us wondering if it shouldn't be the soft-spoken, scholarly looking Bald - not Moose - who should be pocketing a six-figure advance for writing about the sniper shootings. Moose recently opted to step down from the force so he could write the book.

Bald was appointed special agent in charge (SAC) of the FBI field office in Baltimore in September 2002. A former SAC in Atlanta, he had most recently been an inspector in charge of evaluations of FBI field offices. Previously, he headed the FBI's investigation of corrupt agents in the Boston office.

In addition, Kessler charges that former FBI Director Louis J. Freeh's "aversion" to equipping the FBI with modern technology hindered the sniper investigation.

"For want of a modern computer system," the author writes, "more than 100,000 tips to the telephone hot line at the Washington Field Office were taken down on paper forms that made carbon copies. The forms were faxed to police departments, where they had to be copied and faxed again to investigators."

Kessler says leads had to be stored on Rapid Start, the FBI's "primitive computer system that had been built to get around the disastrously flawed Automated Case Support System. Rapid Start soon became overloaded and would not take more data."

BLESSED WITH REAGAN

We had written this week how popular the name "Reagan" is becoming in this country - especially for girls.

Since then, we've heard from the parents of a dozen babies named Reagan, including Jeff Lungren, communications director for the House Judiciary Committee.

"Thought you might enjoy this picture of Reagan Maria Lungren, born Oct. 23, 2002," says the proud Capitol Hill aide.

David Wetzel, of Wichita, Kan., writes to say that his now 22-month-old son, Reagan, actually saved his daddy's life - not once, but twice.

"In January 2001, I was employed with a major financial-services firm when a career opportunity became available which would have relocated me and my wife to the World Trade Center in New York," says Wetzel.

In fact, the couple excitedly agreed to accept the position and relocate to Manhattan. But within 48 hours of their life-altering decision, Marietta Wetzel learned she was pregnant. After much thought, they decided to stay in Kansas.

Their child was due to be born in August 2001, and they decided on a name - Reagan, after the 40th president of the United States. Around that time, David Wetzel was advised of meetings he'd have to attend in both Trade Center towers in New York Sept. 10-14.

But Reagan was late, and when doctors set a Sept. 7 date to induce labor, David Wetzel canceled his trip. Finally, Reagan arrived, weighing in at 10 pounds, 13 ounces.

Late in the morning of Sept. 11, "after an astonishing lack of sleep," a bleary-eyed David Wetzel was awakened by his mother-in-law and told the tragic news.

"I was speechless," he said. "By this time, both towers were down, and I was immediately in tears. I had the usual litany of questions. Then it hit me. Twice in the last nine months, my son Reagan, who was only four days old, had kept me out of the Trade Center. Twice. What a blessing."

BASEBALL HEIST

Before he was elected to the U.S. Senate in 1998, before he was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1986, before he was appointed Republican leader of the Kentucky state Senate in 1979, and before he served as a city alderman in 1977, Sen. Jim Bunning threw baseballs for a living.

The Kentucky Republican and father of nine children spent 17 record-setting years as a major league baseball pitcher, primarily for the Detroit Tigers and Philadelphia Phillies. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame after becoming the second pitcher in history - Cy Young was the first - to record 1,000 strikeouts and 100 wins in both the National and American Leagues.

When he finally stepped down from the mound in 1971 he was No. 2 on the all-time strikeout list.

Now, this column has learned that one of the senator's most valued possessions from his baseball career - a signed baseball from the 1957 All-Star Game, in which he was the American League's starting and winning pitcher - has been stolen from his Capitol Hill office.

The baseball was autographed by almost the entire 1957 All-Star roster from both leagues - Mickey Mantle, Yogi Berra and Ted Williams among them.

The ball was snatched from Bunning's office sometime during the Fourth of July recess. It was displayed on a shelf in the senator's conference room, located on the third floor of the Senate Hart Office Building in Washington.

Brian Marren, vice president of acquisitions for the MastroNet Auctions in Chicago, told this column that the baseball easily could be worth $10,000.