Thursday, October 2, 2003

Americans beyond the Beltway were wary — and weary — of the CIA-leak story yesterday.

“This sounds like another passing frenzy down there in D.C., getting hyped more than it should be,” said Rocky Wood of Hoonah, Alaska, on a large island about 30 miles west of Juneau.

Mr. Wood seemed amused by the amount of coverage devoted to speculation over who leaked the identity of a CIA employee to the news media.

“Now if this is a matter of real national security, we should all be paying attention,” Mr. Wood continued. “Things can get out of hand, though. Sometimes, I watch CNN and wonder, ‘What are they all thinking?’”

Mr. Wood, who says he’s “number two man” at Chichagof Island Aviation — a local flying-taxi service that can ferry a party of three to Juneau and back for $300 — said his community has other concerns.

“The weather is more critical to us than what’s happening in Washington,” he said.

A.J. Nute, proprietor of A.J.’s Bait & Tackle near the shores of Lake Winnipesaukee in central New Hampshire, was also skeptical about the leak situation and its implications.

“I’m following this story on the news, and I think it ought to be resolved soon. But I want to know why they’re bringing this issue up now. Is it one political party digging up dirt on the other?” Mr. Nute asked from his shop in Meredith, where preparations are under way for the upcoming ice-fishing season.

Phil Paleologos, who hosts a daily talk-radio show from his eatery in New Bedford, Mass., believes the CIA-leak story is a symptom of a greater “hate and obsession,” he said.

“This is the kind of thing that turns regular people off politics,” Mr. Paleologos said from the Shawmut Diner yesterday. “The left want to assault the White House, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Rush Limbaugh, traditional values. This CIA thing is part of the pattern.”

Listeners of “American Breakfast,” he said, are divided along partisan lines about the CIA leak, some categorizing the story as pure “Bush bashing,” others claiming that the Bush administration was “resorting to old Clinton tactics.”

Mr. Paleologos added, “Overall, I think this is going to have a fairly short shelf life.”

An ABC News/Washington Post poll of 505 adults taken Tuesday revealed 68 percent were familiar with the leak story; 82 percent called it “serious” and 62 percent said it is unlikely that President Bush knew in advance about it.

But ABC News itself is providing its viewers a whole treasure-trove of leak stories, advising them to “decide if you think this story is going anywhere.”

Meanwhile, America Online’s “Buzzline” — which charts public opinion based on Internet-user interest in top news stories — found that leaks are not the issue du jour.

The leak story was rated ninth in the top-10 story list this week, at least among 42,000 AOL members — trailing postwar Iraq, the Federal Trade Commission’s “do not call” list, three high-profile court cases and the partial-birth abortion debate, among other things.

Though they’re not scientific, online polls can provide at least a timely cultural snapshot.

One Internet poll ( released yesterday found 84 percent of the 5,958 respondents felt an independent probe of the leak is unnecessary. “This investigation is in its preliminary stages and should be handled by the Justice Department,” the voters agreed.

A new Gallup poll, meanwhile, had relatively good news for Attorney General John Ashcroft yesterday. According to a survey of 1,003 adults taken Sept. 19-21, 49 percent voiced a favorable opinion of Mr. Ashcroft, 31 percent had an unfavorable opinion and 11 percent offered no opinion.

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