- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 7, 2005

Public concern

Former NBC newsman Ken Bode and former Reader’s Digest Executive Editor William Schulz will fill the newly created positions of ombudsmen for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

“On some days we receive praise for what we do, and on other days our audiences express concerns,” said CPB President and Chief Executive Officer Kathleen Cox. “Congress has asked the [CPB] to both protect the production of public broadcasting from undue interference and to ensure that it represents high standards in accuracy, balance and objectivity.”

What we read

We see from the just-released 2004 list of best-sellers that politics and prayer are two of the hottest subjects for Americans.

Washington celebrity biographer Kitty Kelley finished in the 14th spot overall with “The Family: The Real Story of the Bush Dynasty.” About 715,000 copies of the book have been sold since its release in September, despite President Bush’s top lieutenants dismissing it as “garbage” and “fiction.”

Other top books, according to Publishers Weekly: “The Purpose Driven Life,” by Rick Warren (No. 1) and “My Life,” by Bill Clinton (No. 3).

Never Neverland

Washington malpractice lawyer Jack Olender assures Inside the Beltway that he was only playing an April Fools’ Day prank when, while out of town at a conference, he dictated a memo over the phone to his secretary announcing to his staff that he was on his way to California to take over the Michael Jackson defense.

In the memo, he also said he was requesting volunteer lawyers and staff members to go out to California to assist him.

“I promised that if the jury rendered a defense verdict or was deadlocked, we’d celebrate at Neverland,” Mr. Olender says.

Colorless loans

Two weeks ago, the Center for Responsible Lending touted a report claiming the payday-loan industry was targeting minorities. Reporters bit on the story.

Now a federal agency is contradicting those findings.

“Despite allegations to the contrary, we didn’t find evidence that payday-advance stores tend to locate in minority neighborhoods,” the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp.’s Center for Financial Research said in a study released yesterday.

Payday-advance stores provide small, short-term loans. According to the FDIC, the number of these stores in ZIP codes where populations are predominantly black is roughly equal to overall population percentages.

“This is a case where the facts got in the way of a good story,” says Steven Schlein, spokesman for the Community Financial Services Association of America, the payday-advance industry’s trade group. “The fact of the matter is, we are open to helping everyone in the community.”

Political pastime

Baseball has barely returned to the nation’s capital and already Associated Press reporter Fred Frommer has compiled “The Washington Baseball Fan’s Little Book of Wisdom,” filled with fascinating trivia from the past to the new Washington Nationals.

Take photographers, who will line up to capture President Bush throwing out the first pitch at Thursday’s home opener at RFK Stadium. Let’s hope the president aims for the catcher.

“Throwing out the first ball at Washington’s home opener was a long tradition among presidents, starting with William Howard Taft in 1910,” Mr. Frommer writes. “President Franklin D. Roosevelt threw out eight season-openers, once missing his target so badly — or did he? — that he nailed a photographer.”

And kids, don’t try this yourself, but in 1908, Washington Senators catcher Charles “Gabby” Street actually caught a ball tossed from the top of the Washington Monument. The ball was sold at a World War I bonds auction for $40,000.

And how many people knew that Harmon Killebrew owes his Hall of Fame career to a politician? Killebrew was scouted by Sen. Herman Welker of Idaho, who urged Senators owner Clark Griffith to take a look at the 17-year-old player.

After Washington’s Mickey Vernon hit a 10th-inning home run to win the opening-day game against the New York Yankees in 1954, Dwight D. Eisenhower got so excited he started to make his way to the field to congratulate him.

“Secret Service agents intercepted the president,” the author notes, “and instead brought Vernon to Eisenhower’s box next to the Senators’ dugout.”

Finally, no collection of Washington anecdotes is complete without a tale of espionage. Yes, Washington was home to a baseball-playing spy in the 1930s.

“Moe Berg, the team’s third-string catcher, traveled to Japan to play on an all-star team, but his real mission was to take espionage photos,” Mr. Frommer reveals. “Berg was a brilliant … linguist but just a .243 lifetime hitter, prompting this line: ‘He can speak 12 languages but he can’t hit in any of them.’ ”

• John McCaslin, whose column is nationally syndicated, can be reached at 202/636-3284 or [email protected]

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