State of the Media Is Angry

Posted January 29, 2003 at 6:42pm

Liberal and centrist columnists were privately grumbling about the snub,

but not just because they were left out of the pre-game spin. Columnists noted that the White House missed a major opportunity by only sucking up to writers who already support Bush, rather than also reaching out to folks on the rest of the ideological spectrum.

“That’s how this White House operates,” griped one pencil potentate. “It was entirely just preaching to the choir. They didn’t reach out to anyone beyond the choir.”

Various conservative columnists — including Robert Novak, Fred Barnes and Paul Gigot — were called in for one of three meetings with Bush on Monday. The president could only be identified as a “senior administration official” if media bigwigs used any of the material from the sessions.

The sessions with columnists who already tend to toe the party line came one day before Bush met with network television anchors — ranging from Dan Rather of CBS to Brit Hume of Fox News Channel — on Tuesday for another off-the-record spin session just hours before the big speech.

White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer told HOH that the private meeting with TV anchors is a long-standing tradition among Democratic and Republican presidents. He said the White House simply decided to expand that a little.

In a telephone interview as he returned to Andrews Air Force Base from a presidential event in Michigan, Fleischer suggested that the left already has a big enough megaphone.

“We would have had a meeting with liberal columnists,” Fleischer cracked, “but the White House isn’t big enough.”

Deputy Impeachment Secretary? While it could make for an awkward moment, former Rep. Paul McHale (D-Pa.) is certain that his confirmation hearing this morning will be about his future role at the Pentagon and not about his past votes in favor of impeaching former President Bill Clinton.

The Senate Armed Services Committee is holding a nomination hearing this morning, including McHale’s bid to be assistant secretary of the Defense Department. But the newest member of Armed Services is none other than Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.), whose position on the panel and growing stature in her Caucus could provide ample opportunity to slow or even block McHale’s nomination.

Upon the president’s August 1998 admission of an affair, McHale became the first Congressional Democrat to call for Clinton’s resignation, then backed that up by voting for impeachment four months later. But he said Wednesday that those votes were in the past and that his current nomination is about securing the nation’s future.

“I don’t think it’s awkward at all. I don’t think those votes [for impeachment] are relevant at all,” McHale told HOH on Wednesday, as he was moving from one of a handful of meetings with members of Armed Services in advance of today’s hearing. “I suspect Senator Clinton feels the same way.”

Maybe not, judging from her comments to McHale’s hometown paper, The Morning Call of Allentown. Asked about McHale two weeks ago, she said she “knew of him” but wasn’t aware that he had been nominated.

“Oh, I have no opinion of him or his appointment at this time,” Clinton said. “I look forward to learning more about the appointment as we go forward.”

A quick call to CNN’s Paul Begala or Rep. Rahm Emanuel (D-Ill.) might help refresh the memory.

Do You Want to Know a Secret? Sen. Clinton, who took a lot of heat for chatting away and smirking during Bush’s 2002 State of the Union address, can’t seem to sit still with a polite smile during these confabs.

During Tuesday night’s speech, Clinton looked a little like the kid in school who tries to drag a classmate into trouble by making wry comments to Sen. Joe Lieberman (D-Conn.) from time to time.

It did not appear to HOH that Lieberman, who would have been sitting in the vice president’s chair if all had gone well in Florida, wanted to get dragged into the conversation with Clinton. After all, the presidential candidate is probably not eager to become fodder on conservative talk radio, like Clinton was after the last State of the Union.

Lieberman spokesman Dan Gerstein, however, said he didn’t notice anything unusual this time around. “I think they both listened very attentively,” he said.

Puff McCarthy. Rep. Karen McCarthy (D-Mo.) sent tongues wagging in the House gallery by scrounging up a “spouse pin” and a ticket to the State of the Union address for attorney Charles Ortner.

Ortner has represented various recording artists and companies over the years, including Madonna, Sean “Puff Daddy” Combs, Michael Jackson and Nine Inch Nails.

No comment from the McCarthy camp. “She’s on a plane to Kansas City right now,” an aide said Wednesday.

Lion Still Roars? In an otherwise routine survey of the American political landscape across the country, the conservative polling firm Andres McKenna Research decided to throw in an interesting last question about Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.).

The pollsters asked whether Kennedy is “alive, dead or retired?” The poll’s 600 respondents had all voted in the 2002 midterm elections, so it’s not like they were out to lunch when it comes to politics.

While Kennedy is still leading the liberal charge at age 70, and White House aide Karl Rove mischievously suggested that the Senator is the top spokesman for the party these days, a surprising number of people thought the lawmaker had exited stage left.

“While 72 percent placed him as currently serving in the Senate, 28 percent said that he was dead, retired or that they didn’t know,” the firm revealed in a summary of its findings.

“Knowledge was especially bad among the young, with only 52 percent of those under 35 able to place him in the Senate,” the firm said in its results. “Even among self-identified liberals, only 71 percent could identify him as currently serving in the Senate.”

HOH can report, however, that Kennedy is alive and well. He was in rare form after the State of the Union, slamming Bush on various television networks — NBC, MSNBC, CBS and C-SPAN, among others.

Kennedy made news by calling for a new Congressional vote on Iraq and picking apart Bush’s domestic and international agendas, leading Newsweek’s Howard Fineman to marvel on MSNBC’s “Hardball” that the Senator is still the “anchorman” for the Democratic Party.

Noting that younger people had a particularly hard time identifying Kennedy in the poll, a Democratic aide joked to HOH that “this is another demonstration of the fact that the education system in this country is failing us. This is another reason why the Democrats will push for full funding of the No Child Left Behind Act.”

Matthews ‘Hammers’ Brazile. MSNBC’s Chris Matthews had a nice little dust-up with Democratic strategist Donna Brazile on “Hardball” after the State of the Union speech.

After House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas) made a quick appearance on the show to praise Bush’s handling of the Iraq issue, Matthews asked Brazile whether the president had adequately made the case for war.

“It doesn’t take a rocket scientist and it clearly doesn’t take a former pest-control man,” Brazile cracked about DeLay’s previous employment before contending that Bush needs to rally more allies to the cause before launching an attack.

Matthews wasn’t pleased. “But you know, in all fairness, Donna, since you took a shot at a man who was trying to earn a living as a pest controller — he succeeded as a pest controller,” he said.

“Absolutely,” said Brazile, who ran former Vice President Al Gore’s 2000 presidential campaign.

“You failed as a campaign manager,” snapped Matthews, adding, “I mean, there’s a difference between being successful and … anybody who works — to work is to pray, I believe. Never make fun of someone’s occupation, Donna.”

“I made fun of his occupation,” she shot back.

“You shouldn’t do that,” he responded.

“And I will do it again,” she vowed.

“I don’t think you should,” concluded Matthews.

Paul Kane contributed to this report.