John McCaslin

The White House calls it a "press availability."

If that's the case, then why did so few members of the White House press corps show up for Monday's question-and-answer session in the East Room with President Bush and Afghan President Hamid Karzai?

So few reporters were on hand, in fact, that the White House hurried to have White House interns fill the empty seats. "That way it wouldn't look bad for the cameras," says one White House insider.

What gives?

A member of the press corps we spoke to yesterday equated reporters at such staged White House functions with "props." He explained that because the president only takes four questions at each press availability - two from U.S. wire service reporters and two from foreign scribes - many in the press corps don't bother to show up.

"Since we can't ask questions, why schlep over there?" he reasons. "The White House this morning actually called reporters beforehand, saying: 'Are you going to be here?' Later, after they eyeballed the room and found it to be empty, they brought in White House interns

"So you had all these fresh young faces - pretty blond girls, and guys who haven't shaved - nodding their approval as the president speaks."

As it was, Bush assured the interns that the 20,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan would remain under strict U.S. command, despite a request by Karzai that his government have some authority over the soldiers.


Six congressmen -- five Democrats and one independent "who believe in an accountable, diverse, fair and independent media" -- have organized the Future of American Media Caucus.

And today, in their first major event in the Rayburn House Office Building, the caucus will hear PBS veteran Bill Moyers discuss the steps needed to ensure diverse and independent reporting.

In recent days, Mr. Moyers told the National Conference for Media Reform that he's been increasingly a target of the "right-wing media," including Kenneth Tomlinson, chairman of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

"I can tell this story because I've been living it," Mr. Moyers said. "It's been in the news this week, including reports of more attacks on a single journalist -- yours truly -- by the right-wing media and their allies at the Corporation for Public Broadcasting."

America is seeing unfold, he said, "the age-old ambition of power and ideology to squelch and punish journalists who tell the stories that make princes and priests uncomfortable. Let me assure you that I take in stride attacks by the radical right-wingers who have not given up demonizing me although I retired over six months ago.

John McCaslin

John McCaslin is a contributing columnist on and author of Inside The Beltway: Offbeat Stories, Scoops, and Shenanigans from around the Nation's Capital .

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