Friday, February 16, 2001

Surprise, surprise

Ralph Z. Hallow, a senior political correspondent for The Washington Times, yesterday received the Conservative Journalism Award from the Conservative Political Action Committee (C-PAC), in session in the Marriott Crystal City Gateway in Alexandria.

The award was presented by Wesley Pruden, editor in chief of The Times. “I’m not sure what a conservative reporter is,” Mr. Pruden said, “since there’s no ‘liberal’ or ‘conservative’ way to write an honest newspaper story. Ralph has always given both liberals and conservatives an honest deal in reporting what they do, and sometimes he gives conservatives heartburn on Page One, and sometimes he gives liberals the heartburn. That’s what we pay him to do.”

Mr. Hallow recalled stops in a career that has taken him from the Pittsburg Press to the Chicago Tribune and finally to The Times. “I’ve always tried to tell it like it is,” he said.

Mr. Hallow is known for his tenacity. The award was a surprise kept until he was called from the audience, and, at an earlier press briefing had tried to learn the name of the recipient of the award. When he was told that it was to be a surprise, he said: “All right, but I’m going to find out who it is, anyway.” And so he did.

Selling a president

It seemed like a huge presidential haul, but actually it was just a small portion of Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt’s estate that was auctioned off by Christie’s this week.

The final bid was submitted late yesterday, on everything from a signed copy of Theodore Roosevelt’s 1910 yarn “African Game Trails” to a silver-mounted mother-of-pearl teething ring.

Even Louis XV and George III-style chandeliers were lowered for the highest bidder, 569 items in all.

“It’s only a fraction of the estate, really,” Christie’s spokeswoman Bendetta Roux tells Inside the Beltway, pointing out that a good portion of the Roosevelts’ possessions have already been donated to museums and institutions.

And what is the printed text of the third inaugural address of President Franklin D. Roosevelt delivered at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 20, 1941 worth these days?

Because it’s inscribed to John Roosevelt “from his father,” it fetched $10,575, Miss Roux informs us, well above Christie’s estimated value of $7,000.

“Democracy is not dying,” Mr. Roosevelt assured a jittery nation on that cold January day. “We know it because we have seen it revive and grow.”

Avoiding crumbs

President Bush’s tax-cut package is not about reduction of the debt, educates Rep. Scott McInnis, Colorado Republican.

“I think most of my colleagues out here agree that we need to reduce the debt. The argument is the structure of how we go about it,” he says. “Now frankly, some of the people opposed to this, [such as] the left wing of the Democratic Party, … the liberal philosophy appears to be keep the money in Washington.”

And that, says the congressman, is where the problem lies.

“Do not kid yourself,” says Mr. McInnis. “Money sitting in Washington, D.C., is like setting a piece of pie in front of somebody that has not eaten for a long time. It is going to get eaten up very quickly. It is going to get committed.”

Mr. Briefer

President Bush today travels “south of the border” to huddle with Mexican President Vicente Fox, the first such meeting between the two leaders.

In advance of the trip, White House reporters yesterday were the audience to a special “background briefing.”

Which means any quotes the journalists scribbled onto their notepads could be attributable only to a “senior administration official” not to his name or title.

In a profession that far too often relies on the word of unnamed officials, reporters mostly prefer to call a person by their name. As the “unnamed” White House briefer heard all too well yesterday.

Reporter: “Why does it have to be on background?”

Official: “We’re doing this on background. I’m going to try to be as helpful as I can on background. But those were the ground rules from the beginning, and so I’m going to be on background today.”

Reporter: “Why is that, though? In past administrations, when we previewed a foreign trip, it was on the record so that we can quote you fully.”

Official: “Well actually … I’ve briefed in past administrations, and it has sometimes been on background.”

Reporter: “But in previous trips, as you know, [President Clinton’s national security adviser] Sandy Berger would brief on the record.”

Official: “I don’t remember what Sandy did, I was in California. But I’m going to brief on background today.”

Reporter: “And why is that again?”

Official: “I’m briefing on background because I want to be as helpful as I possibly can to you.”

Reporter: “And you can’t help us on the record? You’re [briefer’s title not transcribed].”

Official: “I’m [briefer’s title not transcribed]. I’m going to brief on background today. OK. Do you have any questions about the trip?”

Wrong exit

“Thank you for writing President Truman’s name in the correct form,” writes Greg Binda.

“The middle letter ‘S,’ as you correctly wrote, does not warrant a period. Not all that long ago, all self-respecting journalists and scholars seemed to know this.

“Unfortunately, today that’s not the case. Just look at the highway signs at exit 15B of our Beltway identifying the street named after him, or the aircraft carrier named after him.”

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