- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Moping media

“June has been a miserable month for our left-wing media,” New York Post columnist Ralph Peters writes.

“First, the death of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi forced the alleged ‘massacre’ at Haditha off Page One, frustrating media attempts to manufacture a sequel to Abu Ghraib. Then, President Bush made a midnight ride to Baghdad to put one very important pair of boots on the ground. He didn’t hug the airport, either, but crossed the city to the Green Zone for a face-to-face with Iraq’s new prime minister. It was a brave and inspiring act. And a worthy one,” Mr. Peters said.

“Strategically wise, good for Iraqi and American morale — and, yes, politically savvy — the president’s trip blew apart the media’s effort to recover from their loss of Zarqawi. It also shut down their bid to refocus our attention on the suicides of three poor, deprived terrorists at Guantanamo — thugs we’re expected to mourn as victims of our inhumanity. Hate-America journalists just can’t get a break these days.

“But they’re still trying. One cable-news anchor [Tuesday] asked if Bush’s visit to Iraq was a ‘publicity stunt.’ Her own network’s correspondent shot that down, on-air. True reporters know a missile can kill a president as easily as a private. The Gitmo suicide-trifecta was the real publicity stunt. This accurate statement should never have been retracted: It was an act of asymmetrical warfare. And every save-the-terrorists jerk behind a mike knows it in his or her shriveled bleeding heart.”

An opportunity

“Presidents rarely recover from second-term slumps, but President Bush may be on the verge of at least a modest upturn and perhaps a strong recovery,” Fred Barnes writes at www.weeklystandard.com.

“For sure, his plunge in job approval over the past year has been halted. He’s bottomed out. But how significant will his recovery be and how durable? Those are the questions,” Mr. Barnes said.

“The Bush decline in 2005 and 2006 was caused, in part, by intensified terrorist attacks in Iraq, the failure of his Social Security reform initiative, and bad luck in the form of hurricane Katrina and the Dubai ports deal. The president’s approval rating in the Gallup Poll plummeted from 51 percent on the day of his second inauguration to 31 percent in May, 16 months later.

“But in recent days, Bush has been blessed with good news. Last week, Americans found and killed the chief jihadist in Iraq, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, eliminating the top strategist and operational leader of the insurgency. And on Monday, Special Counsel Patrick Fitzgerald informed Karl Rove, one of Bush’s most influential advisers, that he has no plans to seek an indictment of Rove in the case of a CIA official whose name was disclosed to the press.”

“[And] in the bellwether special House election in San Diego last week, Democrats failed to pull off an upset and capture the Republican-leaning district. The Democratic candidate got the usual Democratic vote, suggesting a Democratic landslide is unlikely in the midterm election on Nov. 7.”

Decision time

Sen. Joe Lieberman, Connecticut Democrat, warily watching his primary challenger advance in the polls, must soon decide whether to start collecting signatures for a possible independent bid this November.

Mr. Lieberman’s campaign says it is focused only on winning the Aug. 8 primary, but the Democrat has not ruled out petitioning his way onto the November ballot as part of a backup plan to secure a fourth term in the Senate.

“I am not going to close out any options,” the senator recently told reporters.

Mr. Lieberman has until Aug. 9 — the day after the Democratic primary — to collect 7,500 signatures from registered voters to gain a spot on the ballot as an unaffiliated candidate.

But any effort to gather signatures before the primary would be a sign of weakness, indicating that Mr. Lieberman, the Democratic vice presidential nominee in 2000, fears that he could lose to businessman Ned Lamont, the Associated Press said. The effort also would rile Democrats who already question Mr. Lieberman’s party loyalty and his perceived closeness to President Bush.

The senator has been a strong backer of the Iraq war.

Bill’s big bucks

Life after the White House has proven lucrative for Bill Clinton, who made nearly $7.5 million in speaking fees last year and sometimes earned as much as $350,000 for a single appearance.

Mr. Clinton earned $650,000 for just two appearances in two days before major gatherings in Canada by motivational speaker Tony Robbins, according to the financial-disclosure report filed yesterday by his wife, New York Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton.

In 2004, Mr. Clinton earned just $875,000 for speeches as he recovered from heart-bypass surgery and finished his memoirs. Last year, he made eight times as much on the speech circuit, the Associated Press reports.

Spokesman Jay Carson said the former president had “an exceptionally busy schedule” and paid speeches were sandwiched around charity work on global HIV/AIDS, childhood obesity and other causes.

“Between the foundation and work on Katrina and the tsunami, paid speeches are actually a very small part of his schedule,” Mr. Carson said.

‘The shade look’

President Bush, who often teases members of the White House press corps, apologized yesterday after he poked fun at a reporter for wearing sunglasses without realizing they were needed to stem vision loss, the Associated Press reports.

The exchange occurred at a press conference in the Rose Garden. Mr. Bush called on Los Angeles Times reporter Peter Wallsten and asked whether he was going to ask his question with his “shades” on.

“For the viewers, there’s no sun,” Mr. Bush said to the television cameras.

But even though the sun was behind the clouds, Mr. Wallsten still needs sunglasses because he has Stargardt’s disease, a form of macular degeneration that causes progressive vision loss. The condition causes Mr. Wallsten to be sensitive to glare and even on a cloudy day can cause pain and increase the loss of sight.

Mr. Wallsten said Mr. Bush called his cellular phone later in the day to apologize and tell him that he didn’t know he had the disease. Mr. Wallsten said he interrupted and told the president that no apology was necessary and that he didn’t feel offended because he hadn’t told anyone at the White House about his condition.

“He said, ‘I needle you guys out of affection,’” Mr. Wallsten said. “I said, ‘I understand that, but I don’t want you to treat me any differently because of this.’”

Mr. Wallsten said the president told him that he would not treat him differently, so Mr. Wallsten encouraged him to “needle away.”

“[Mr. Bush] said, ‘I will. Next time, I’ll just use a different needle,’” the reporter said.

Mr. Wallsten said he thought that was a pretty good line. And said his only complaint is that the president didn’t answer his question at the press conference.

Greg Pierce can be reached at 202/636-3285 or [email protected] times.com.

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