Rather party

John McCaslin
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Posted: Mar 04, 2005 12:00 AM

Atlanta-based author, pundit and media consultant Phil Kent, former president of the Southeastern Legal Foundation, tells this column that he's hosting a party on the evening of March 9 in the Buckhead section of the city to honor popular Internet blogger "Buckhead" - otherwise known as prominent Atlanta lawyer Harry MacDougald.

"Harry is the bathrobe-clad guy - literally - who 'outed' Dan Rather and CBS less than four hours after they broke the phony Bush National Guard papers" story, Kent says.

Rather, who will relinquish his anchor chair after 24 years next week, is accused by conservative critics of being motivated by politics in developing the now infamous - and discredited - segment on President Bush's Guard service.

"We'll be watching Dan Rather's last broadcast," Kent says of his party, "and I'll present Buckhead a framed certificate for 'going above and beyond his patriotic duty.'"

NEWTERING BUBBA

Major Garrett, a Fox News reporter and former deputy national editor of The Washington Times, says that contrary to liberal thinking, this country has not seen a rise of supposed "right-wing media giants, such as my employer, the Fox News Channel."

"The media aren't suddenly right-wing or right-of-center, but rather the agenda of the nation has moved in that direction," Garrett argues in his new book, "The Enduring Revolution: How the Contract With America Continues to Shape the Nation."

How so?

"Because since 1994, congressional Republicans (first led by former House Speaker Newt Gingrich) have set the political debate in America," he says. "First, they changed Bill Clinton into a budget-balancing, tax-cutting, welfare-reforming centrist, and later, with George W. Bush in the White House, they had even more power to direct the nation's agenda."

In other words, Garrett concludes: "The media didn't suddenly become captives of conservative groupthink. They simply filtered the dominant political action of the day."

BIG MOUTHS

It's time to announce winners of the "Tarnished Halo" awards, presented annually by the Center for Consumer Freedom to America's most notorious animal-rights zealots, environmental scaremongers, celebrity busybodies, self-anointed "public interest" advocates, trial lawyers and other food-and-beverage activists who claim to "know what's best for you."

In the "Reverend Rooster" category, the winner is Al Sharpton, a "publicity-seeking preacher" who joined People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) in crowing at KFC restaurants and trying to instigate a boycott by the black community.

"It's odd that Sharpton would stand side by side with PETA, which advocates a complete end to chicken consumption," notes the center. "When the reverend emerged from prison in 2001 after a four-week hunger strike, he didn't ask for tofu and lentils. He told a crowd of well-wishers: 'I'm going . . . to Amy Ruth's for some fried chicken.'"

(The restaurant's menu, we're told, carries a chicken-and-waffles dish named after Sharpton. Yum!)

Other Tarnished Halo winners include this city's own George Washington University professor John Banzhaf, who gets the "Will Sue Your Mom for Publicity" award for threatening to file suit against doctors of overweight patients and parents of overweight children.

"Super Size Me" film director Morgan Spurlock, meanwhile, takes home the "Spurious Spurlock" award. After all, he got his start as host of the TV show "I Bet You Will." With cameras rolling, he paid one guy to gulp down an entire 24-ounce jar of mayonnaise and a woman to shave her head, combine the hair with butter to form a giant hairball and then eat it.

"Incredibly," says the center, "Spurlock said of 'Super Size Me': (People) need to start thinking about what they're shoveling into their mouths.'"

SHIRLEY YOU'RE JOKING

Associates of Craig Shirley, of the Washington firm Shirley & Banister Public Affairs, swear that their boss, who was guest speaker at the Junior League of Washington's annual political forum, took a refresher course on calligraphy so he could send proper thank you notes to the lady leaguers.

A-TEAM

Who's on -- or perhaps more important, who's fallen off -- the Washington "A List"?

"There are some life sentences on the 'A List' -- but there's also the death penalty," Nancy Bagley, editor-in-chief of this city's power-elite publication, Washington Life, has said in announcing previous lists, compiled every year in secret committee.

There are 124 members of the Washington establishment making up the 2005 Washington "A List." At the top, by titles alone (they don't prefer the Washington party scene), are President Bush and first lady Laura Bush.

Following closely are Vice President Dick Cheney and his wife, Lynne; Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice (yes, former Secretary of State Colin L. Powell and his wife, Alma, remain on the list); and Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and his wife, Joyce. (This year's bunch bids a fond farewell and job well done to former Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge).

Still sitting prominently on the 2005 "A List" are former President Clinton and Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, although Washington's previous power pair -- sometimes stag, sometimes together -- increasingly is spotted in New York City's social circles. And while he didn't become president, Sen. John Kerry and his wife, Teresa Heinz (once the 2004 campaign ended, she dropped her Kerry surname), remain on the "A team."

Washington Redskins coach Joe Gibbs, now that he has promised to stay in town for the long run, and his wife, Melissa, have made first-string this year.

"I thought it was interesting that Joe Gibbs made this year's list, but (Redskins owner) Dan Snyder is gone," Bagley notes. "I didn't interfere with that one. I think (the selection committee) wanted to shake things up."

Remaining on the "A team" are veterans George Stephanopoulos and his wife, Alexandra Wentworth, and fellow Sunday morning news show host Tim Russert and his bride, Maureen Orth. (Might we ask: Where is Bob Schieffer?)

Bagley once told us that no party in Washington is complete without a Kennedy in the house. Thus the continued presence of Sen. Edward M. Kennedy and his wife, Vicky, and R. Sargent Shriver Jr. and his wife, the former Eunice Kennedy.

The most prominent new face on the new 2005 "A List"? Certainly, Democratic Party sensation and new Illinois Sen. Barack Obama, and his wife, Michelle.

LAURA IN 2008?

President Bush need only glance to his better half to see one of the most popular public figures in the United States today.

In fact, first lady Laura Bush tops her husband and all others in a recent Gallup poll of popularity, scoring an impressive 80 percent approval rating.

Bush follows with 59 percent approval, tied with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. Former President Bill Clinton remains popular with 56 percent of the country; Vice President Dick Cheney with 51 percent; Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, 48 percent; Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean 31 percent; and House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, Texas Republican, 29 percent.

BEEN THERE

We're told that Americans finally are ready to elect a woman to be president of the United States. But can a woman stand up for herself and her country in this increasingly hostile world?

Thanking UNESCO Ambassador Louise Oliver this week for her leadership on behalf of this country, first lady Laura Bush noted of international diplomacy: "It might be a tough job, but for a mom who's raised five children, dealing with 189 countries is probably a piece of cake."

SAFETY WITH SHAQ

Miami Heat center and National Basketball Association all-star Shaquille O'Neal will be sworn in as an honorary deputy U.S. Marshal this evening when he ducks beneath Capitol Hill.

The honor coincides with O'Neal's becoming a national spokesman for the Safe Surfin' Foundation. Justice Department Administrator J. Robert Flores, of the Office of Justice Programs, will administer the oath in the presence of congressmen and other invited dignitaries.

An estimated 77 million children surf the Internet today, and the FBI says there's a good chance that one day they will encounter a sexual predator in a chat room.