The way it is

John McCaslin
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Posted: Jun 01, 2006 8:05 PM

In one of the lengthiest farewells-that-wasn't in television history, a teary-eyed Katie Couric departed NBC's "Today" show this week, only to begin anchoring the evening newscast on CBS.

The one remaining question: Will she sit or stand?

James Lileks, a contributing writer for the American Enterprise magazine of politics and culture, acknowledges that Couric brings a new excitement to the world of evening anchoring, however - and it's a big however - "for many, the evening news is an ossified relic of the dim misty days before the information age."

Sure, baby boomer TV executives have "tried to shake up the formula - co-anchors, anchors who stand, anchors who stalk off the set, everything but anchors lowered from above on invisible wires." (Actually, Couric did once fly onto the set dressed as Peter Pan.)

But the alarming truth is that today's "Internet generation," as Lileks refers to it, "gets its news from Jon Stewart, and its editorials from South Park."

So what about Couric?

"She's like a nice friend of mom's," he writes. "The kids will be polite if they see her on the way out of the house. But sit down for a half-hour and chat? Sorry, gotta run. And that's the way it is."


COLD WARRIORS

That was retired wartime pilot and author Charles O. "Charlie" Davis sipping a Singha beer at a sidewalk table outside Thai Old Town in Alexandria, Va., on Tuesday evening.

He explained that he was awaiting the arrival of some of his fellow "old Cold Warriors," as he called them. And one can only imagine the memories, covert and otherwise, they would have shared around the table.

Davis, author of "Across the Mekong: The True Story of an Air America Helicopter Pilot," is host of a reunion this week of the little-known but certainly heroic group of airmen. Air America was the CIA's clandestine airline, operating in many parts of Asia from the close of World War II until the Vietnam pullout in 1975.

"We have a common thread that holds us together," Davis told The Beltway Beat. "We were young and thought we were indestructible. I was in my 20s and fresh out of flying helicopters for the Marine Corps when I joined Air America in 1965. It was by far the most exciting time in my life."

And obviously the most dangerous?

"I look back at those years with amazement that so many of us survived," he said. "I flew an old single-engine helicopter over the rugged mountains of Laos, with very few navigational aids, in marginal weather, and people occasionally shooting at me. I was at that stage in life where I needed to prove to myself that I could overcome the fears and uncertainties of combat."

Or overcome it enough, Davis added, to accomplish the mission, whether it was transporting troops and supplies or rescuing downed pilots.

"It was a very exhilarating time for me - something that cannot be repeated," he said.

More than 300 Cold Warriors and their family members are expected for the reunion.


RUNNERS-UP

A Republican lawmaker from North Carolina is questioning the voting process that crowned Taylor Hicks the new "American Idol," going so far as to compare it to controversy surrounding the crowning of George W. Bush as president in 2000.

Rep. Howard Coble, an 11-term congressman, says the much-touted "American Idol" contest, during which an outrageous 63.4 million votes were cast (more than the 62 million votes President Bush received in 2004), was "the biggest electoral debate since the Bush-Gore presidential election in Florida in 2000."

But the winner, he says, should have been Chris Daughtry of McLeansville, N.C., which would have made it the second time a town in Coble's congressional district produced an "American Idol." The previous winner, Fantasia, is from High Point, N.C. The congressman says that while he is not a good judge of the pop music scene, he draws attention to "online polls, fan blogs, numerous Web sites and general talk about town," all hailing Daughtry as the favorite.

"But I do know politics, and . . . while I will not call for Congress to investigate this 'Idol' election process, those of us who reside in the Sixth District of North Carolina will always be convinced that our guy really won - sort of like fans of Al Gore in 2000."


OTTER UTTER

Rep. C.L. "Butch" Otter, Idaho Republican, agrees there has been an awful lot of talk the last few days about the FBI's 18-hour-long raid on the offices of embattled Rep. William J. Jefferson, Louisiana Democrat.

Still, he says, "it's tough for me to get too excited about the howls of protest from members of Congress." Not the least being House Judiciary Committee Chairman Rep. F. James Sensenbrenner Jr., who vowed to call Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales and FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III before his panel to explain the unprecedented raid of a lawmaker's office.

"Where were these voices of outrage and righteous indignation when we learned the executive branch was monitoring the telephone conversations of ordinary Americans?" Otter asks, referring to National Security Agency eavesdropping.

"At least we know there was a legitimate warrant issued by a judge for the search of the congressman's office," he points out.


WASHINGTON'S REEF

Those aren't ordinary aquariums at the Reef Restaurant in Adams Morgan. All of the multicolored fish, coral and algae in the large saltwater tanks are captive-raised and grown by hand, including by proprietor Brian Harrison.

Furthermore, the restaurant on 18th Street Northwest doesn't serve the standard seafood: it's all sustainably fished.

Both feats have not only landed the Reef and its owner in the book, "50 Ways to Save the Ocean," by David Helvarg, but the trendy establishment has been chosen to kick off Capitol Hill Oceans Week 2006. Rep. Sam Farr, California Democrat, who sits on the House Oceans Caucus, and underwater explorer Philippe Cousteau, who wrote the foreword to "50 Ways," are among the special guests.

The June 8 event coincides with annual meetings between lawmakers, lobbyists and environmental stewards on Capitol Hill, including the three-day Marine Fish Conservation Network meeting and the Conference on Ocean Literacy. The book, meanwhile, is being sent to all 535 senators and representatives.