- The Washington Times - Monday, June 12, 2006

Fit to print?

General Motors is firing back at the New York Times. So to speak.

“I’ve spent much of the past week trying to get a letter to the editor published in the New York Times in response to the recent [June 1] Tom Friedman rant against GM,” the auto giant’s corporate communications spokesman Brian Akre writes on GM’s blog. “I failed. This is my story.

“For those of you who haven’t read it already, Mr. Friedman spent 800 words on the Times op/ed page to accuse GM of supporting terrorists, buying votes in Congress and being a corporate ‘crack dealer’ that posed a serious threat to America’s future. He suggested the nation would be better off if Japan’s Toyota took over GM.”

“Part of our response was to send a letter from my boss, Steve Harris, to the editor of the Times. Now, you’d think it would be relatively easy to get a letter from a GM vice president published in the Times after GM’s reputation was so unfairly questioned. Just a matter or simple journalistic fairness, right?”

“First, there’s the word limit. Our first letter came in at 490 words, a length we felt was appropriate to address the major pieces of misinformation in Mr. Friedman’s attack. This was also after the Times ran four letters in support of Friedman’s column on Friday, June 2, totaling 480 words.

“The Times told us it would ‘consider’ our response only if it were limited to 175 words max,” Mr. Akre says. “And I note that today’s (June 8) Times has a 304-word letter from two Democratic senators, Hillary Clinton and Charles Schumer.

“We countered by offering to cut our letter to 300 words. They offered to go up to 200 words. OK, we reluctantly concluded, 200 is better than nothing. Then came the editing. They removed our invitation to Mr. Friedman to come to Detroit to learn the facts about what GM’s doing to reduce our nation’s oil consumption. They removed a sentence in which Steve said falsely accusing GM of ‘buying votes’ in Congress was irresponsible. We didn’t like those edits, but the rest of the letter was left largely intact, with one exception.

“Our letter opened with a paragraph that accurately summarized the most bizarre elements of Mr. Friedman’s attack, then reacted with this one-word sentence: ‘Rubbish.’

“That word accurately portrays how we felt about the column,” Mr. Akre explains. “The Times suggested ‘rubbish’ be changed first to, ‘We beg to differ.’ We objected. The Times then suggested it be changed to, ‘Not so.’ We stood our ground. In the end, the Times refused to let us call the column ‘rubbish.’

“Why? ‘It’s not the tone we use in Letters,’ wrote Mary Drohan, a letters editor.

“What rubbish. How arrogant.”

Ready to go’

You know by now that Rep. Tom DeLay cast his last congressional vote on Friday, unable to withstand the furor after a Texas grand jury last year charged him with money laundering.

The Texas Republican and former House majority leader, now officially retired from Congress, joked with reporters as he put his plastic House voting card into his wallet, keeping it as a memento of his 22-year congressional career.

“It’s the first day of the rest of my life,” he said. “I’m ready to go. I’m looking forward to fighting in a new arena … doing what I can to energize the [Republican] base.”

He said some have already offered him office space up on Capitol Hill.

New ‘Today’ host

There’s a new television host for “Today” — or we should say, “D.C. Law … Today.”

Washington lawyer Annamaria Steward is host of the new 30-minute weekly program that premiered this month on D.C. public access television. The first show, which each week highlights lawyers and their contributions to the Washington community, featured University of the District of Columbia law school Dean Shelley Broderick, who discussed free legal services available to D.C. residents.

“We hear and read so much bad about lawyers, some deserved, some not, that our show will give viewers the opportunity to see the good that many lawyers do, often without any compensation,” says Washington malpractice lawyer Jack Olender, whose law firm sponsors the program.

Ms. Steward previously served as law clerk for JudgeAnnice Wagner,then-chief judge for the D.C. Court of Appeals. She also created and hosted a radio program for the Bar Association of the District of Columbia.

“My only concern is that one of the networks may lure her away,” says Mr. Olender.

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

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