- The Washington Times - Monday, March 7, 2005

Helen’s mulligan

In his new book, “Taking Heat: The President, the Press and My Years in the White House,” former White House press secretary Ari Fleischer has a chapter titled simply: “Helen Thomas.”

For 13 pages, the one-time spokesman for President Bush takes direct aim at one of his primary gadflies, who barraged him each day with questions about the president, such as, “Why does he want to drop bombs on innocent Iraqis?”

In frank language a far cry from the nuanced semi-answers he delivered during his 300 White House briefings, Mr. Fleischer gives insight about how he dealt with Miss Thomas, one of the nation’s most opinionated journalists, who spent 57 years with United Press International and now pens a column for Hearst Newspapers.

“Helen is a columnist these days,” he reminded The Washington Times. “She gives her opinion, and she gives them forcefully.”

But despite a recent hubbub over whether attendees of the daily briefing should practice advocacy journalism, Mr. Fleischer said Miss Thomas is a special case.

“Helen, because of what she has done over her career, Helen gets to play with a mulligan,” he said, albeit stressing: “Helen and I disagree about everything politically — she doesn’t like my views; I don’t like hers.

Miss Thomas said yesterday that Mr. Fleischer called her just before the book came out.

“He said it was a courtesy call,” she said with a laugh. She asked him how she fared in the book. “‘It’s 50-50,’” she said Mr. Fleischer told her, to which she shot back: “I’ll decide that.”

Mr. Fleischer is in Washington today to sign copies of his book, appearing at 12:30 p.m. at Trover’s Book Shop on Capitol Hill. Don’t expect to see Miss Thomas standing in line.

Ambassador Bloodsucker

Yesterday’s selection by President Bush of John Bolton to become U.S. ambassador to the United Nations received immediate praise in conservative circles, not the least being Freedom Alliance President Tom Kilgannon.

He credits the current undersecretary of state for arms control and international security for showing a “healthy skepticism through the years about placing the security and fortunes of the American people in the hands of the United Nations.”

Such as?

Like the “sovereignty-siphoning” International Criminal Court (ICC), Mr. Kilgannon says. Mr. Bolton once described the ICC as “a product of fuzzy-minded romanticism [that] is not just naive, but dangerous.”

In fact, Mr. Bolton recalled his duty to inform the United Nations that the United States would not be party to the treaty creating ICC as the “happiest moment of my government service.”

Mr. Kilgannon also notes that Mr. Bolton famously was barred from negotiations by the representatives of the government of North Korea. Pyongyang officially referred to the undersecretary as “human scum and bloodsucker.”

“That means he must have been doing something right,” Mr. Kilgannon says.

Love her or hate her

After a dozen years, the American Civil Liberties Union’s chief lobbyist in Washington, Laura Murphy, is leaving her controversial post, having led battles on behalf of “victims” of school prayer, same-sex “marriage,” flag-burning and counterterrorism.

Anthony D. Romero, the ACLU’s executive director, says he gained enormous respect for Mrs. Murphy’s political instincts in the weeks after September 11, 2001, when her Washington office became the fulcrum of efforts to fight President Bush’s antiterrorism policies, including the USA Patriot Act.

Nevertheless, Mrs. Murphy considers one of the more recent highlights of ACLU lobbying her ability to build coalitions with Republicans and conservative interest groups on antiterrorism laws, as well as same-sex “marriage.”

Taking Hollywood

As if politics weren’t entertaining enough, two of the most visible faces in House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert’s office — not including the Republican leader himself — have left politics in recent weeks for the entertainment industry.

Paige Ralston, who six years ago moved from a behind-the-scenes C-SPAN camera operator to deputy press secretary for the speaker, has joined the Recording Industry Association of America as its director of strategic communications.

(When she wasn’t spearheading press events for congressional leaders, we understand that Ms. Ralston was moonlighting — as a class instructor at Washington Sports Club, infusing the sounds of Usher, No Doubt and Maroon 5 into her workouts. In the rest of her spare time, she’s been putting her vocal cords to work, doing voice-overs for radio commercials).

Interestingly enough, Ms. Ralston’s former boss in Mr. Hastert’s office, John Feehery, also left Capitol Hill recently to become executive vice president and chief communications officer at the Motion Picture Association of America.

Before toiling for Mr. Hastert, he worked for former House Republican leader Bob Michel of Illinois and House Majority Leader Tom DeLay of Texas. According to the Congressional Research Service, Mr. Feehery last year eclipsed the record of Chris Matthews as the longest-serving spokesman to a speaker.

Mr. Matthews, an MSNBC talk-show host, was the mouthpiece for Thomas P. “Tip” O’Neill Jr.

Conservative chapels

Warring Episcopalian eyes will be on a sleepy South Carolina chapel tomorrow, when one of the United States’ most pre-eminent conservative Episcopal bishops consecrates the historic Chapel of St. Charles, King and Martyr, in Mayesville.

The consecration, one observer points out, couldn’t come at a more interesting time in light of the explosive Anglican Communion controversy of late.

The officiating bishop, the Rt. Rev. Keith L. Ackerman of the diocese of Quincy, Ill., represents one of three dioceses in the United States that recently cut off all funding to the Episcopal Church in light of the increasing liberalization of church doctrine — not the least being the blessing of homosexual unions and the consecration of the first openly homosexual bishop, the Rt. Rev. V. Gene Robinson of New Hampshire.

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

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