- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Intern briefing

The White House calls it a “press availability.”

If that’s the case, then why did so few members of the White House press corps show up for yesterday’s question-and-answer session in the East Room with President Bush and Afghan President Hamid Karzai?

So few reporters were on hand, in fact, that the White House hurried to have White House interns fill the empty seats. “That way it wouldn’t look bad for the cameras,” says one White House insider.

What gives?

A member of the press corps we spoke to yesterday equated reporters at such staged White House functions with “props.” He explained that because the president only takes four questions at each press availability — two from U.S. wire service reporters and two from foreign scribes — many in the press corps don’t bother to show up.

“Since we can’t ask questions, why schlep over there?” he reasons. “The White House this morning actually called reporters beforehand, saying: ‘Are you going to be here?’ Later, after they eyeballed the room and found it to be empty, they brought in White House interns.

“So you had all these fresh young faces — pretty blonde girls, and guys who haven’t shaved — nodding their approval as the president speaks.”

As it was, Mr. Bush assured the interns that the 20,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan would remain under strict U.S. command, despite a request by Mr. Karzai that his government have some authority over the soldiers.

Moyers unplugged

Six congressmen — five Democrats and one independent “who believe in an accountable, diverse, fair and independent media” — have organized the Future of American Media Caucus.

And today, in their first major event in the Rayburn House Office Building, the caucus will hear PBS veteran Bill Moyers discuss the steps needed to ensure diverse and independent reporting.

In recent days, Mr. Moyers told the National Conference for Media Reform that he’s been increasingly a target of the “right-wing media,” including Kenneth Tomlinson, chairman of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

“I can tell this story because I’ve been living it,” Mr. Moyers said. “It’s been in the news this week, including reports of more attacks on a single journalist — yours truly — by the right-wing media and their allies at the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.”

America is seeing unfold, he said, “the age-old ambition of power and ideology to squelch and punish journalists who tell the stories that make princes and priests uncomfortable. Let me assure you that I take in stride attacks by the radical right-wingers who have not given up demonizing me although I retired over six months ago.

“They’ve been after me for years now, and I suspect they will be stomping on my grave to make sure I don’t come back from the dead.”

As for the new media caucus on Capitol Hill, it’s chaired by Rep. Maurice Hinchey, New York Democrat, and co-chaired by Rep. Bernard Sanders, Vermont independent. The latter says he is concerned that the American public has “fewer programming choices and a rapidly dwindling supply of independent news and information sources.”

He says the caucus “is an important step in the fight to maintain local perspectives and diversity of opinion in the media.”

Another caucus co-chairman, Rep. Louise M. Slaughter, New York Democrat, says “ever since the Reagan administration trashed the Fairness Doctrine in 1987, the accuracy, fairness, and balance of broadcast content has been in steep decline.”

Unique festival

As many as 400 people consumed all 100 pounds of “Rocky Mountain oysters” at the second annual Taste of Big Sky Country Festival in the Nation’s Capital — “which means most people at least tasted one,” says co-organizer Lyndsey Medsker of Dezenhall Resources.

“Most people living in Washington, D.C., will never experience the harvesting of these delicacies from a large crop of spring-born calves on the rugged high plains of central Montana,” observed one attendee.

Proceeds amounted to nearly $4,000, and will go toward transplant-related medical expenses of Max TeSoro, an 11-year-old Montana boy diagnosed with acute liver failure.

Run, Forrest, run

“Politicians remind me of Forrest Gump’s box of chocolates. They’re either firm, soft-centered or nutty.”

So says Jan LaRue, chief counsel of Concerned Women for America, who remarked yesterday on the filibuster over Texas Supreme Court Justice Priscilla OwenPresident Bush’s nominee to the U.S. Court of Appeals — “You can’t be sure what you’ll get until it’s time for them to vote.”

John McCaslin, whose column is nationally syndicated, can be reached at 202/636-3284 or jmccaslin@washingtontimes.com.

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