Tit-for-Tat

Posted July 26, 2005 at 6:49pm

Pity the Carolina delegation reporters, who have to deal with a bunch of hard-nosed press secretaries. And maybe pity the North and South Carolina press secretaries, who are forced to grapple with a passel of snotty reporters.

[IMGCAP(1)] One North Carolina reporter, Tim Funk of the Charlotte Observer, sent an e-mail to North and South Carolina delegation press secretaries last week seeking detailed and specific information on the gender, race and ethnic breakdowns of each Member’s staff. He explained that the information would be used for a story in his paper, “complete with a chart,” to run in mid-August.

“Readers pay my salary and, as taxpayers, they fund congressional offices,” Funk wrote. “I’m just trying to give them the information they want and deserve.”

That tone struck a bad chord with some of the press secretaries who received the e-mail, including Andy Polk, the spokesman for Rep. Sue Myrick (R-N.C.). Polk fired off an e-mail to Funk saying:

“Tim,

“As our offices subscribe to the Charlotte Observer, and thus pay your salary, and you are a taxpayer, and pay our salary, I propose a trade.

“I will gladly give you the sex/racial breakdown of our office if you would give me the political breakdown of all Charlotte Observer reporters.

“Please list the reporter’s names, what they cover, and what their affiliation is (Democrat, Republican, or Unaffiliated).”

Just as Funk asked for specific information on the gender, racial and ethnic breakdown of top staffers, Polk requested specifics on the top Observer editors’ political affiliations. “I like your idea about having a chart. … We too will do one,” he wrote.

Unintentionally or not, Polk sent the e-mail “reply all,” which has kept the gadflies in the Carolina offices laughing for days. Polk told HOH that his e-mail to the Observer reporter was “just a playful way to make the point that we wish they’d focus on more of the hard work we’re doing in Congress.”

Playful or not, Polk is not going to give the Observer the information it wants. “If he trades me the information I asked for, I’ll be glad to,” the hard-line press secretary said.

For his part, Funk told HOH his newspaper will most certainly not be sending Myrick’s office personal information on its reporters’ and editors’ political persuasions. For that, the Carolina lawmakers will just have to keep on guessing.

Let Moderation Be Your Guide. Is a certain soft drink making Sen. Mark Dayton (D-Minn.) and his staff jittery?

Someone, or many people, in Dayton’s office are guzzling Diet Coke by the caseload, and HOH is worried. So is Dayton’s office manager, Kristen Gentile, who sent an e-mail on Tuesday to everyone in the office, including the Senator himself, with the eerie two-word subject line: Diet Coke.

“On Thursday, I bought 18 cases of Diet Coke,” Gentile wrote in an e-mail that an anonymous tipster forwarded to HOH. “We are now down to four which, I’m sure you will agree, is ridiculous. After speaking with the front desk staff, it’s my understanding that it is not constituents drinking the Diet Coke like it’s going out of style, but staff & interns. I think we can all agree that 168 cans of Diet Coke should have lasted us far longer than two business days!”

The understandable lecture continued, “I realize that it’s been oppressively hot recently and I certainly understand the impulse to consume fluids, however, there has to be a reasonable limit.”

For one thing, no one should be drinking so much soda pop. And two, guess who’s footing the bill for this expensive little caffeine habit? Yep, you guessed it.

“Unlike the water supply, which is paid for out of the office’s official budget, the Coke is paid for by Mark personally,” Gentile wrote. “Please, please, please be respectful of his money (and my time & energy) and limit the amount of Coke you consume to a reasonable one or two cans.”

Dayton, the man who drew snickers for his decision to shutter his Senate office last fall and, together with this staff, nervously fled Capitol Hill for fear of a terrorist attack, had no comment on who the Diet Cokehead or Cokeheads may be.

His spokeswoman, Chris Lisi, did not find the e-mail as amusing as HOH did. “Usually reporters call me about stories that make sense,” she said rather testily when we contacted her. “Why are you calling me about Diet Coke?”

OK — just lay off the Diet Cokes, give us a call back, and we’ll be happy to explain!

Bolt from the Blue? Speculation swirled through the Capitol on Tuesday as to why political party designations were no longer being displayed on C-SPAN during floor vote tallies.

Had the aggressively nonpartisan network decided that party affiliations no longer mattered? Was it an attempt by Republicans to make sure that viewers wouldn’t be able to analyze the changing totals when this week’s nail-biter CAFTA vote rolls around?

Nope. The lack of party graphics was simply the result of a malfunction Tuesday evening of the equipment that tallies votes on both the floor and for the C-SPAN television feed, according to Brian Walsh, communications director for the House Administration Committee.

According to sources familiar with the malfunction, once the problem was known, House engineers were required to swap in a backup, which as it happens does not generate party affiliation graphics for the C-SPAN feed.

Apparently, the switch had C-SPAN camera operators on their toes.

“At one point, they had the camera on the [House floor] scoreboard,” Walsh said.

There was little clarity about the cause of the malfunction. One source attributed the glitch to a faulty switch, while another placed blame on lightning strikes in recent days. With no House votes this Monday, exactly when the lightning would have zapped the equipment is anyone’s guess.

Multiple sources contacted were unable to determine when the familiar C-SPAN graphics will be up and running again.

House “engineers are working on it right now,” Walsh assured.

Hell No Hayworth. Rep. J.D. Hayworth (R-Ariz.) swears on a stack of Bibles, as they say in his hometown of High Point, N.C., that he ain’t about to leave Congress to go work for a certain fair and balanced cable news channel. “In a word, no,” Hayworth told HOH Tuesday.

Hayworth, a former sports anchor, is dispelling rumors swirling around his Scottsdale and Tempe area district that he’s talking to the Fox News Channel about a job. “Let me be clear: I am not in negotiations,” he said. “I am running for re-election. I am honored to serve in the Congress. I am not pursuing any type of job, nor am I being pursued.”

Plenty of Republicans are waiting in the wings to run for Hayworth’s seat should he leave, according to the Phoenix Business Journal, which cited one potential successor: former Rep. Matt Salmon (R), who now serves as state Republican Party Chairman and a lobbyist for the firm Greenberg Traurig.

Democratic Party operatives are certainly watching for any Hayworth developments. “I only pray that he’s telling the truth,” one Democratic Party source said. “We like J.D. better when his screen is limited to one-minutes, not 30-minutes.”

Matt Murray contributed to this report.

Please send your hot tips, juicy gossip or comments to hoh@rollcall.com.