Intern briefing

John McCaslin
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Posted: May 25, 2005 12:00 AM

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.

MOYERS UNPLUGGED

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.

"They've been after me for years now, and I suspect they will be stomping on my grave to make sure I don't come back from the dead."

As for the new media caucus on Capitol Hill, it's chaired by Rep. Maurice Hinchey, New York Democrat, and co-chaired by Rep. Bernard Sanders, Vermont independent. The latter says he is concerned that the American public has "fewer programming choices and a rapidly dwindling supply of independent news and information sources."

He says the caucus "is an important step in the fight to maintain local perspectives and diversity of opinion in the media."

Another caucus co-chairman, Rep. Louise M. Slaughter, New York Democrat, says "ever since the Reagan administration trashed the Fairness Doctrine in 1987, the accuracy, fairness, and balance of broadcast content has been in steep decline."

UNIQUE FESTIVAL

As many as 400 people consumed all 100 pounds of "Rocky Mountain oysters" at the second annual Taste of Big Sky Country Festival in the Nation's Capital -- "which means most people at least tasted one," says co-organizer Lyndsey Medsker of Dezenhall Resources.

"Most people living in Washington, D.C., will never experience the harvesting of these delicacies from a large crop of spring-born calves on the rugged high plains of central Montana," observed one attendee.

Proceeds amounted to nearly $4,000, and will go toward transplant-related medical expenses of Max TeSoro, an 11-year-old Montana boy diagnosed with acute liver failure.

RUN, FORREST, RUN

"Politicians remind me of Forrest Gump's box of chocolates. They're either firm, soft-centered or nutty."

So says Jan LaRue, chief counsel of Concerned Women for America, who remarked yesterday on the filibuster over Texas Supreme Court Justice Priscilla Owen -- President Bush's nominee to the U.S. Court of Appeals -- "You can't be sure what you'll get until it's time for them to vote."

HARD TO REID

The National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC) seems to be having a fun, if not challenging time, charting the mood swings of Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada.

It seems like an eternity ago, albeit it was only last December when the Democratic leader told President Bush that a new Congress "presents an opportunity to renew comity and respect between our parties."

That was the "nice Harry," notes the NRSC. Since then, the "mean Harry" has reared his head, threatening to take contentious debate over judicial nominations, for instance, "behind the pool hall and see who wins."

If those weren't fighting words enough, Mr. Reid this month opined of Mr. Bush, "The man's father is a wonderful human being," yet adding of our current president: "I think this guy is a loser."

By the next day, the minority leader, a nice guy again, had called the White House "and apologized for what I said."

SEAT WARS

Among the legions of fans who turned up for the premiere midnight showing of "Star Wars: Episode III - Revenge of the Sith" last week were Washington resident Scott Rush and a certain Washington Metropolitan Police officer.

Now, because of what reportedly transpired inside the Regal theater on 7th Street NW, near the MCI Center, Rush has filed a formal complaint of harassment and abuse of power by the officer with D.C. Police Chief Charles H. Ramsey and Mayor Anthony A. Williams.

"I arrived at the theater around 7 p.m. to stand in line to get seats for myself and three friends. We were allowed to enter the auditorium at approximately 10:45 p.m.," Rush writes in his complaint. "I promptly went straight to the back row of seats, dead center beneath the projector and placed bags in three seats and took my own."

They were the best seats in the house, the "Star Wars" fan admits.

"Shortly after 11, a gentleman approached and asked if the seats were taken," he continues. "I replied that they were, and he asked if my friends were in the building yet. When I told him no, he told me that the seats weren't taken then and that I must remove the bags.

"When I refused, he told me that it was against the law to save seats in the theater unless they were for someone already in the theater and that I would need to move the bags. I told him that I had been there since 7 p.m. and I was not moving the bags.

"I then asked him if he worked for the theater and he said, 'No, I'm a police officer and I know the law. You're not allowed to save seats just like you're not allowed to save parking spaces for someone by standing in them.'

"I then told him that if that was the case then he needed to go tell everyone else in the theater that was saving a seat that they weren't allowed. He told me that he wasn't going to do that because he didn't want their seats, he wanted mine.

"He then told me that he would eject me from the theater if I didn't give up the seats," Rush states. "Then he asked me if the seats were really worth getting ejected from the theater over."

At that point, the moviegoer wrote down the officer's name and badge number (he has supplied both to the police chief and mayor), then "removed a bag from one of the seats and told him he could have that one. He then told me to move another one as his friend was right behind him and he was a police officer also."

As he suspected all along, Rush learned later that the theater has no such policy that prohibits saving seats, particularly if a movie is not scheduled to start for another hour and other seats are available.

"I would also be curious to know," Rush's complaint concludes, if the police officer in question "was at work today or called off sick, as the movie did not let out until 3 a.m."

NO TRESPASSING

We'd written recently about the hot-button issue of "illegal immigration," observing that it really is not "immigration" if it's illegal, but that we would further that argument on another day.

Well, now is the day, given the amount of mail received from readers. We'll allow Ron Olliff to speak for the others.

"It occurred to me while reading the blurb about the illegal workers," he begins, "that 'illegal immigration' is an oxymoron. If it's immigration, it is not illegal, and if they are here illegally they are not immigrants, are they?

"Maybe it's time that a more accurate term be coined to describe these people. I'll start the process - how about 'foreign trespassers?'"

BUSY CALENDARS

"This is a pause to allow Jim Kimsey and the mayor to leave the room - they've heard my speeches many times."

And with that obliging cue from the podium by James Wolfensohn, president of the World Bank, the founding CEO and chairman emeritus of America Online and D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams hesitantly rose from the dinner table they'd shared with Mr. Wolfensohn and darted for competing events one night last week in Washington.

NO HAPPY MEALS

Asked this week what memory stood out the most from his 10 years as president of the World Bank, James Wolfensohn, whose second and final term expires May 31, told of five small children he can't erase from his mind.

'It is a most vivid image," Wolfensohn said. "And I can't get it out of my head."

It was during a recent fact-finding trip to Madagascar that the head of the world's largest development organization - its main goal to fight global poverty - said his entourage "took a wrong turn and ended up in a village that was not on the list of authorized places to visit."

After he decided to remain in the village for lunch, Wolfensohn said, five children suddenly appeared, "four without shoes and all of them malnourished. And these kids just looked at me - just stood there and looked at me. There was no way I could get them to smile, to laugh, to cry, they showed no emotion whatsoever. They just stood and looked at me.

"And it dawned on me that there was no hope for these kids. They had nothing. And there are hundreds of millions of kids like this in the world like them that have no hope. They've got nothing. Remember that. And I cannot get the faces of these five kids out of my head."

The World Bank president immediately saw to it that aid was administered to the five children, one of whom has since died.

HE FINALLY DISAGREES

It's been mighty difficult for House Majority Leader Tom DeLay of Texas to disagree with Democrats on the hot-button issue of Social Security when opposing party leaders have yet to offer a proposal to protest.

So, while addressing the Democrats' Social Security plan - or lack thereof - at his weekly pen and pad briefing last week, DeLay saw fit to commend Rep. Robert Wexler, Florida Democrat, who has at least offered "something to disagree with, as opposed to his leaders."

"And I don't imagine any praise from Tom DeLay means a whole lot to a liberal Democrat, but for what it is worth, I respect his willingness to propose anything, especially over what I am sure are vehement objections from his leadership."

SNEAK PEEK

Uncle Sam's latest innovative homeland security tools will be showcased this week in Washington at the Government Security Expo and Conference, including a system that identifies people through their blood vessel patterns.

Other devices include one that jams radio-controlled bomb devices used by terrorists, a portable forensic identification laser system, M-Scope metal detectors used by Marines to secure the recent Iraqi elections, and the Meganet Corp.'s modified Siemens cellular mobile phone that can spy and record conversations from anywhere in the world.

TOO CLOSE TO HOME

Arguing this week in favor of the Homeland Security Authorization Act of 2006, Florida Republican Rep. Ginny Brown-Waite said she knows firsthand the value of security after her hometown recently experienced an eye-opening confluence of illegal immigration, Social Security fraud and potential terrorist threats.

"I live in Crystal River where there is a nuclear power plant, and it was found to have contracted with a businessman who, unbeknownst to them, had actually been using illegal immigrant day laborers who provided false or stolen Social Security numbers to obtain government-issued driver's licenses," the congresswoman revealed.

"These people actually had been deported, but sneaked back into the country and got a little too close to a critical infrastructure site for this member of Congress to be able to tolerate."

FULL-TIME JOB

Average number of hours it takes to read a weekday Washington Post out loud: 28 - Harper's Index, June 2005