Heads to roll

John McCaslin
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Posted: Dec 14, 2004 12:00 AM

A CBS News insider tells The Beltway Beat that "four or five" of the network's employees face dismissal as CBS prepares to release a "critical" internal investigative report on the use of fake documents in a pre-election story challenging President Bush's Vietnam-era service in the Texas Air National Guard.

Dan Rather already has announced he's stepping down from the anchor chair on March 9 - his 24th anniversary on the job - although the network says his departure is unrelated to the fallout from the bogus claims leveled against the president. Rather will remain a network correspondent.

The anchor told TV viewers that CBS was deliberately misled about the authenticity of documents it used to impugn Bush's Guard service.

"I want to say, personally and directly, I'm sorry," said Mr. Rather, who has been accused of political bias on numerous occasions during his broadcasting career. "This was an error made in good faith."

THE ENVELOPES, PLEASE

Before we say farewell to Dan Rather, let us be the first to report that he's been crowned "worst-speaking network news anchor" by American Speaker, the comprehensive guide to successful speaking.

"I should add that the awardees - including Dan Rather as worst network news anchor - were selected over two months ago, so my suggestion that he bow out was made long before he took a powder," American Speaker editor-in-chief Aram Bakshian Jr. tells The Beltway Beat.

"Best political speaker" honors in the annual Patrick Awards for best and worst speaking performances in 2004 go to California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, whose recent successes are "proof that brains, practice, a good message and natural eloquence can overcome even a strong Austrian accent."

Worst political speaker: former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean "for his memorable - if unfairly and repeatedly replayed 'I Have a Scream' speech - the night of the Iowa caucus."

"Seldom has one speech done more to end the political career of a promising, major political figure," says Bakshian, once a fellow at Harvard's Institute of Politics and director of speechwriting under President Reagan.

Sen.-elect Barack Obama, Illinois Democrat, gets "best national speaking debut" for his keynote address at the Democratic National Convention, while Democratic vice presidential nominee North Carolina Sen. John Edwards lands the "most disappointing national debut."

Best-spoken network news anchor is Tom Brokaw of NBC, who recently stepped down from his anchoring post. Best network news interviewer is NBC's Tim Russert for his "consistently aggressive but civil, fair and informed interviewing style with public figures of every political stripe."

Worst network interviewer: PBS' Charlie Rose, who, although articulate and intelligent, "just doesn't know when to hush."

BLOOD FOR KYOTO?

Kyoto global-warming negotiations have resumed in Buenos Aires, where yesterday it was 85 degrees and sunny (being that the start of summer is a week away in the Southern Hemisphere).

"With what appears to be everyone consigned to drying their clothes on the rooftop here, it is curious why such an energy-impoverished country would splurge an estimated $10 million to host thousands of bureaucrats pushing a treaty premised on too much energy use," remarks conference attendee Christopher C. Horner, senior fellow at Washington's Competitive Enterprise Institute.

Still, the last time Buenos Aires hosted such talks in 1998, the United States signed the Kyoto Protocol. While the United States never actually rescinded that signature, its team once again finds itself in a hostile "environment."

"Right off the bat, U.S. negotiators publicly minced no words about joining Kyoto or anything resembling its 'targets and timetables' of energy rationing," notes Horner.

Treaty negotiations are nothing without intrigue, and there is a buzz over two interesting developments. First, the Times of London late last week splashed word of Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican, who vows a monomaniacal climate crusade to match his campaign-finance 'reform' victory, mediating a face-saving U.S. climate-treaty commitment for British Prime Minister Tony Blair.

"All parties denied this was the goal, but attendees here claim McCain's visit is being quietly followed up this week by his more moderate colleague and presidential hopeful Senator Chuck Hagel, the Nebraska Republican," reports Mr. Horner. "Blair remains under increasing pressure from neighbors such as French President Jacques Chirac to show that he has 'gotten something' for his cooperative relationship with President Bush over Iraq.

"If a U.S. 'global warming' commitment is indeed the pound of flesh that Blair seeks to shed his 'poodle' moniker, one wonders how replacing a claim of 'blood for oil' with 'blood for Kyoto' would sit any better with the voters he faces next year."

Stay tuned.

COMING CLEAN

Facing a mutiny by party progressives and activists, and preparing to elect a new party chairman in two months' time, the Democratic National Committee is trying to put its best face forward after arguably four years of failure.

"Under Chairman Terry McAuliffe's leadership, the DNC has spent the past four years making the power of grass-roots activism a top priority," says the DNC, adding that the Democratic Party has never been so strong.

Yes, only one Democrat has made it to the White House since Jimmy Carter, but there has been a "remarkable" increase in donations, the small donor base expanded sevenfold, from 400,000 in 2000 to 2.7 million in 2004; the party has invested $80 million in grass-roots field organizing in 2004, 166 percent more than in 2000; and mobilized 233,000 volunteers in 2004, knocking on 11 million doors, and making 38 million volunteer phone calls.

None of which is terribly relevant if you can't win (besides not capturing the White House, Democrats lost seats in both the House and Senate in November), Democratic strategist James Carville noted last month. He says to win again the party has "to be born again."

"We can deny this crap, but I'm out of the denial. I'm about reality here," Carville said. "We are an opposition party, and as of right now, not a particularly effective one."

"We can't be the pussycat opposition," agrees former Michigan Gov. Jim Blanchard, who huddled just this past weekend with top Democrats in Florida. "We've got to be the hard-hitting loyal opposition."

In February, some 450 party committee members will choose a successor to McAuliffe, who was all but handpicked by former President Bill Clinton and Hillary Rodham Clinton after he personally bailed the embattled couple out of their financial woes.

Among the possible replacements: former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean, former Denver Mayor Wellington Webb, recently defeated Texas Rep. Martin Frost, former Clinton adviser Harold Ickes, New Democrat Network founder Simon Rosenberg and presidential campaign guru Donnie Fowler.

WAR COUCH

Hats off to the former John Kerry campaign staffer (or so he claims) who created the hilarious Web site, unemployedkerrystaffer.com.

Here's the site's latest "pool report":

At 7:15 this morning your pooler, dressed in blue pajamas, called roll for the new war room in the living room. Attendance was sparse. Attendance was zero. Your pooler called roll again at 10. Attendance was slightly improved. Our numbers now sit at one.

Your pooler is ready to rapidly respond to e-mails/phone calls. So far, this has not been an issue. At all. Pooler begins to think that this war room gig is going to be about as interesting as some of the other war rooms pooler has been around. Pooler panics at thought of boring readers that much. Pooler resolves to get better material by afternoon. For your sake and mine ...

And I will be enlisting other unemployed people to help me out. Everybody knows a war room definitely isn't a war room without people. . . . We will be efficient, if not productive. We will sit on the war couch, in the war living room, and we will claw our way back to paychecks.

BROTHERS BEHIND BARS

The "alarming overrepresentation" of black men in the U.S. penal system concerns Rep. Charles B. Rangel, outspoken New York Democrat and member of the Congressional Black Caucus.

The congressman from Harlem notes that two-thirds of the U.S. prison population is made up of racial and ethnic minorities - and for black men in their 20s "one in every eight is in prison or jail on any given day."

"Even more upsetting is that African-American males born today have a one-in-three chance of going to prison during their lifetime, compared to a one-in-17 chance for white males," Rangel notes. "At yearend 2003, African-American inmates represented an estimated 44 percent of all inmates with sentences of more than one year."

That causes Rangel to wonder if the sentencing system is truly colorblind.

"Despite the notion that the scales of justice is blind, it is no secret that racial bias plays a deplorable role in the disproportionate conviction and sentencing of African-American men, compared to their racial counterparts, who are charged with the same or a similar offense," he notes.

In fact, the United States is experiencing a decrease in crime rates, yet the overall prison population - federal, state and local - is increasing, particularly among blacks. This is said to be because of "truth-in-sentencing" laws that limit early releases, impose mandatory sentences for drug offenses, and set "three strikes and you're out" laws for repeat offenders.

More than 2 million Americans are behind bars.

ALL TOGETHER NOW

Who wasn't chuckling this week when 25 volunteers with the Public Advocate of the United States broke into traditional religious Christmas carols in front of the Washington office of the American Civil Liberties Union?

The caroling, organizers say, was to highlight the ACLU's "continuing disregard for the rights of their many pro-family targets," including the Boy Scouts of America.

"Public Advocate hopes that the spirit of the Christmas season will fill the members and employees of the ACLU and that they will . . . renounce their efforts to destroy traditional values in America," said Advocate President Eugene Delgaudio, who was happy to report a short time later that several ACLU staff members actually stepped outside to join in the songs of the season.

PARADE MARSHAL

Whom in North Carolina didn't we hear from after writing this week that former Democratic vice-presidential nominee and retiring Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina still insists that he hasn't given thought to seeking the White House in 2008?

Hard to believe, given all the fuss his aides made prior to Edwards' farewell address to constituents, taking extraordinary care to position - and reposition - American flags behind him on the stage.

A man who identifies himself as Sonny, a neighbor of Mr. Edwards' in North Carolina, writes to The Beltway Beat: "If this guy was being run out of town on a rail, he would think he was leading a parade."

APART FROM KOFI

Not all news coming out of the United Nations is raising eyebrows.

Secretary of State Colin L. Powell has appointed Duane Parde, executive director of the American Legislative Exchange Council, the nation's largest organization of state legislators, to the United States National Commission for the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, or UNESCO for short.

Actually, the United States withdrew from UNESCO during the end of President Reagan's first term in 1984, citing irresponsible spending and a bloated bureaucracy. In the 20 years since, UNESCO significantly improved its overall operations, leading President Bush to rejoin the global organization in 2002.

Through the State Department, the commission advises Uncle Sam on issues related to education, science, communications, culture, and the formulation and implementation of U.S. policy toward UNESCO.

"As we look toward our children's future, it becomes extremely important to place a high value on communication, information and knowledge," says Parde. "This is precisely how we will break down the digital divide and create opportunities for all people, regardless of race, creed or economic sustainability."