Wednesday, May 26, 2004

Tipsy Nixon?

Five days into the 1973 Arab-Israeli war, with the superpowers on the brink of confrontation, President Nixon was too drunk to discuss the crisis with the British prime minister, according to newly released transcripts of tape recordings.

Henry Kissinger‘s assessment of the president’s condition on the night of Oct. 11, 1973, is part of more than 20,000 pages of transcripts of Mr. Kissinger’s phone calls as the president’s national security adviser and secretary of state — records whose privacy he had guarded for three decades. The National Archives released them yesterday.

In October 1973, U.S.-Soviet tensions were peaking over the Arab-Israeli war, and British Prime Minister Edward Heath‘s office called the White House just before 8 p.m. to ask to speak with the president.

“Can we tell them no?” Mr. Kissinger asked his assistant, Brent Scowcroft, who had told him of the urgent request. “When I talked to the president, he was loaded.”

Mr. Scowcroft replied: “We could tell him the president is not available and perhaps he can call you.”

Mr. Kissinger said Mr. Nixon would be available in the morning.

Communion rail

Archbishop Charles Chaput of Denver yesterday became the latest Catholic bishop to enter the debate over Catholic politicians and Communion, saying that anyone who strays from the teachings of the church should refrain from receiving the Eucharist.

At the same time, he said that denying Communion to any Catholic is a “very grave matter,” in apparent contrast with bishops who have said they would deny the Eucharist to specific candidates or rebuked Catholic voters who back candidates who deviate from church teachings.

“Denying anyone Communion is a very grave matter. It should be reserved for extraordinary cases of public scandal,” Archbishop Chaput said in yesterday’s column in the Denver Catholic Register.

“But the Church always expects Catholics who are living in serious sin or who deny the teachings of the Church — whether they’re highly visible officials or anonymous parishioners — to have the integrity to respect both the Eucharist and the faithful, and to refrain from receiving Communion,” he said.

Many Catholics had been waiting for the archbishop’s comments after Bishop Michael Sheridan, who heads the adjacent Colorado Springs Diocese, drew national attention by saying two weeks ago that Catholic voters shouldn’t receive Communion if they support candidates who disagree with the church on issues such as abortion, euthanasia, stem-cell research and homosexual “marriage.”

Archbishop Chaput didn’t mention Bishop Sheridan directly in his column. Denver Archdiocese spokesman Sergio Gutierrez said his boss “respects Bishop Sheridan, he admires the clarity of his pastoral letter, and he admires his courage.”

The issue has erupted this year with the presidential candidacy of Democratic Sen. John Kerry, a Catholic who supports legal abortion. More than a dozen bishops across the country have weighed in on the matter, some taking contrary positions.

Herseth’s lead

With less than a week remaining in the campaign for South Dakota’s U.S. House seat, Democrat Stephanie Herseth maintains a comfortable lead over Republican Larry Diedrich, according to a new poll.

However, Mr. Diedrich has been able to chip away at the 16-point lead Ms. Herseth held six weeks ago, the Rapid City Journal reports.

Ms. Herseth leads Mr. Diedrich 52 percent to 41 percent, according to a poll of 503 likely voters conducted May 19 and 20 by Zogby International of Utica, N.Y., for South Dakota media outlets. The poll has a margin of error of plus or minus 4.5 percentage points.

Seven percent remain undecided.

Mr. Diedrich, 46, and Ms. Herseth, 33, are running to serve the final seven months of former Rep. Bill Janklow‘s House term. Mr Janklow resigned Jan. 20 after a manslaughter conviction. The special election is Tuesday.

A Kerry backer

Hans Blix, the former Swedish diplomat and U.N. weapons inspector in Iraq, has endorsed John Kerry in the U.S. presidential election.

“I place my trust in the multilateralism of Democratic candidate John Kerry,” Mr. Blix told the Italian newspaper La Stampa. “And in any event, I think that the whole world should vote on 2 November because so much depends on the outcome of that vote.”

The Wall Street Journal, which in an editorial yesterday noted both Mr. Blix’s statement and his earlier propensity to give Saddam Hussein “the benefit of every doubt,” commented:

“Mr. Kerry remarked in March that foreign leaders were privately supporting his candidacy. Mr. Blix has now revealed the kind of foreigners he was referring to.”

Mea culpa

The New York Times said yesterday it had failed to adequately challenge information from Iraqi exiles who were determined to show Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction and overthrow him.

In an unusual note from the editors, “The Times and Iraq,” the newspaper said it found a number of instances before the March 2003 U.S. and British invasion of Iraq and early in the occupation of “coverage that was not as rigorous as it should have been.”

The note said editors “should have been challenging reporters and pressing for more skepticism.”

The Bush administration also has been faulted for relying on inaccurate or incomplete intelligence in asserting Saddam had an ongoing weapons program.

The Times said it had relied on Iraqi exile Ahmed Chalabi, once considered Washington’s top Iraq ally. Mr. Chalabi was an “occasional source” in its articles since at least 1991 and introduced reporters to other exiles, the newspaper said.

“Complicating matters for journalists, the accounts of these exiles were often eagerly confirmed by United States officials convinced of the need to intervene in Iraq,” the note said. “Administration officials now acknowledge that they sometimes fell for misinformation from these exile sources.

“So did many news organizations — in particular, this one,” the note said.

While the newspaper assigned no blame to individual reporters, a good deal of criticism has been directed at Times reporter Judith Miller, who wrote several articles about Iraq’s purported weapons of mass destruction, Reuters news agency reports.

Name game

CNN’s John Mercurio, writing in the Morning Grind column at, offers the following tidbit from the network’s Mike Roselli, traveling with the John Kerry campaign.

“On the plane [Tuesday] night before taking off for Seattle, Roselli reports that Kerry was chatting with the traveling press when one airborne scribe asked him what the name of his new plane was. ‘I don’t know, maybe Freebird?’ Kerry said, referring to the name given by troops in Vietnam to the transport jets that ferried American servicemen back home.

“Then Kerry joked, ‘How about “Bush-whacker one or two?”’ Some groans were heard, and Kerry returned to the ‘Freebird’ name.”

• Greg Pierce can be reached at 202/636-3285 or

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