- The Washington Times - Friday, July 18, 2003

Nobles: Ari Fleischer, for cool service as a spokesman in extraordinary times. Imagine that each day you are on the job, you are asked scores of probing, insulting, and occasionally even intelligent questions over a vast array of complicated, controversial policies — many of which you are only marginally familiar with — by a pack of reporters whose job is, at least in part, to make you look bad. You aren’t allowed to give your opinion on any of it, and if you stumble, or stammer, or even look slightly rattled, you’ve made the wrong sort of news. Imagine that each day on the job, Helen Thomas gets a whack at you, and if you flinch, the President himself will take you to the woodshed.

That’s been former White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer’s life for the last two-and-a-half years. Earlier this week, he gave his 300th and last press briefing. Appropriately, it was as stormy as the times during which Mr. Fleischer served as the president’s spokesman. He was pressed and pushed and hammered by the press corps about the situation in Iraq, but he responded as dispassionately as he did during the other crises of his tenure — including September 11, 2001, the anthrax attacks and the war in Afghanistan — just to name a few.

CBS News correspondent Bill Plante said of Mr. Fleischer, “I can’t think of a time he has been rattled.” His confidence at the podium even made him a sex symbol — several adoring Web sites him were set up for him, including the Ari Fan Club (www.probush.com/arifanclub.htm).

He left to write a book with the blessing of Mr. Bush, who earlier this year gave him one of the best benedictions a press secretary could ask for: “Ari knows the balance between being loyal to the president and loyal to the press. I believe the press trusts him, and so do I.”

Knaves: Dr. Robert Ricketson, for extraordinarily messed-up surgical technique.

Dr. Ricketson would have probably made a far better carpenter than a surgeon. His operating style was more similar to Tool Time’s Tim Allen than ER’s Noah Wyle, and would have been just as laughable if the outcome hadn’t been so tragic.

Specifically, while attempting to stabilize a disk in Arturo Iturralde’s back during an elective surgery, Dr. Ricketson discovered that the titanium rod he had intended to insert was nowhere to be found. So instead of stitching up Mr. Iturralde and starting again once he had the right tool, Dr. Ricketson improvised. He grabbed a stainless steel screwdriver that someone had left in the surgery, hacked a piece off with a handy hacksaw, and inserted it into Mr. Iturralde’s spine.

The screwdriver snapped a couple of days after Dr. Ricketson’s carpentry, sending Mr. Iturralde back into the hospital. A nurse who noticed the pieces notified the family, but by then, the damage had been done. Mr. Iturralde became a bedridden paraplegic before he passed away last month.

Dr. Ricketson’s quick thinking and handy(man) technique will undoubtedly studied and analyzed in textbooks for years — by malpractice lawyers. That will be an appropriate conclusion to the chapter about him that has undoubtedly already been written. Before he wrenched Mr. Iturralde’s spine, Dr. Ricketson’s medical license had been revoked in one state and suspended in another. It was under review in a third. He had been sued for malpractice at least seven times.

He’s now being sued for the eighth time. True, Dr. Ricketson’s workbench technique at the operating table has only been alleged. He should have his day in court — where he should be sued for all of the little that he’s worth.

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