- The Washington Times - Monday, March 12, 2007

Missed the punch line

Sen. Edward M. Kennedy is probably kicking himself after rudely getting up from his table and walking out of the Radio-Television News Directors Association dinner just as Fox News Channel President Roger Ailes was stepping up to the podium to accept his First Amendment Award on Thursday night.

As it turned out, the Massachusetts Democrat —who was seated near this columnist — missed the most controversial joke of the night — and it was on President Bush, no less.

Furthermore, had Mr. Kennedy remained in his seat, he might have been able to explain to fellow liberal Democrats that Mr. Ailes’ humorous one-liner was not aimed, as they quickly assumed, at Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama, but rather it was an obvious swipe at the president and his frustrating hunt for terrorist mastermind Osama bin Laden.

As it was, those Democrats who didn’t get the joke, including Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada, immediately bowed to their liberal-activist wing MoveOn.org, which has always despised the Fox News Channel, and canceled a presidential debate to be held in Nevada co-sponsored by Fox.

The joke told by Mr. Ailes, if you haven’t heard it by now, points out the similarity between Mr. Obama’s and bin Laden’s names as one reason Mr. Bush can’t capture the notorious terrorist.

“It’s true that Barack Obama is on the move,” Mr. Ailes told the audience. “I don’t know if it’s true that President Bush called [Pakistani President Pervez] Musharraf and said ‘Why can’t we catch this guy?’ ”

The next morning, Democrats fired off a letter to Fox. “We cannot, as good Democrats, put our party in a position to defend such comments,” it read. “We take no pleasure in this, but it the only course of action.”

No response from Mr. Kennedy, who we assume made it safely to his car.

Grows on trees

The exact amount unfortunately will never be known, but the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) dished out anywhere from $600 million to $1.4 billion in “improper and potentially fraudulent payments” to applicants who used false information when applying for expedited cash assistance after Hurricane Katrina.

That’s according to William O. Jenkins Jr., director of homeland security and justice issues for the Government Accountability Office (GAO), who testified last Friday before the House Appropriations homeland security subcommittee.

Hope is on the horizon, however. A GAO report that accompanied Mr. Jenkins’ testimony says that both FEMA and the Department of Homeland Security have a number of measures that are to be in place for the 2007 hurricane season to “provide accountability.”

All that jazz

Tomorrow, as part of Arts Advocacy Day 2007 on Capitol Hill, lawmakers will hear from BET television co-founder Sheila C. Johnson and actor Chris Klein, among others, on the importance of investing in the arts.

The day starts with a Congressional Arts Caucus breakfast, followed by testimony from Wynton Marsalis, the world famous jazz trumpeter and Pulitzer Prize-winning composer, who is also director of jazz at the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts in New York.

American glory

Not everyone who lives inside the Beltway has to be politically connected in order to stand out.

Take the case of 15-year-old Ashley Wagner, a sophomore at West Potomac High School in Fairfax County, who recently placed third in the World Junior Figure Skating Championships in Oberstdorf, Germany.

She, along with Americans Caroline Zhang and Mirai Nagasu, made history by giving the United States its first-ever sweep by taking the top three spots in the ladies’ event.

As it turns out, Ashley was born in Germany, while her dad, now retired from the military, was stationed there. During a press conference, a reporter asked Ashley if the topic of “poaching” had popped up, referring to the fact that the German Federation is known for recruiting top-notch skaters.

As a matter of fact, it had, Ashley replied, but she assured her audience that she loved her country and would continue to compete here.

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

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