Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Try a bake sale

Is the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) using former White House reporter Jeff Gannon as a fund-raising inspiration?

Depends on how one interprets a dramatic plea from Rep. Louise M. Slaughter yesterday, asking loyal Dems to sign a petition against him.

The New York Democrat characterizes Mr. Gannon as a Republican shill who was awarded under-the-table credentials by the White House press office to deliver “softball” questions at press conferences.

Mr. Gannon — whose real name is James Guckert — was issued credentials in 2003 as a representative of Texas-based “GOPUSA,” according to White House press secretary Scott McClellan in an Editor & Publisher interview. His staff, Mr. McClellan said, had determined the group to be a “legitimate” news organization.

Mr. Gannon, meanwhile, might sue “liberal interest groups, bloggers and others for a ‘political assassination’ that drove him from his job as a reporter for a conservative news outfit,” according to Newsweek.

Meanwhile, Mrs. Slaughter has ramped up the drama via an e-mail and at the DCCC Web site.

“Sign the petition and stop the propaganda,” she advised in her missive, also accusing Mr. Gannon of recycling Republican press releases verbatim and characterizing Sen. John Kerry “as ‘the first gay president.’ ”

The accompanying petition is a weighty read, indeed.

“The independence of the free press from interference and manipulation on behalf of the government is a sacred check & balance, enshrined in the Constitution to ensure that democracy continues to serve the free people of the United States,” it states.

But wait, don’t forget the cause, now.

“I ask you to stand with me — and the DCCC — in demanding an end to the propaganda,” Mrs. Slaughter wrote in closing.

Saving Private Jacobs

Those close to U.S. Army Pvt. Rob Jacobs are mighty irked over demoralizing letters that he received from elementary-school children in Brooklyn that were rife with political rhetoric, dire predictions and accusations.

The soldier is stationed 10 miles from the North Korean border and might be deployed to Iraq soon. The letters arrived last month under the auspices of a “social studies” assignment from Alex Kunhardt, the teacher behind it all.

Excerpts of the disturbing “rants” — some penned by Muslim students — were published Monday in the New York Post.

Although city officials scrambled to make amends and Mr. Kunhardt remained mum, Pvt. Jacob’s father cut to the chase.

“This is an act of comfort for the enemy. It’s disgraceful,” the senior Rob Jacobs told Fox News yesterday.

No signs of decay

Amnesty International may call Guantanamo Bay “a legal black hole,” but they can rest assured that at least the 545 detainees at the U.S. Navy facility in Cuba are getting great dental care, courtesy of Navy Lt. Jennifer Tharp — the sole dentist assigned to Joint Task Force (JTF) Guantanamo.

“My biggest fear was that I would get bitten,” she told the Armed Forces Press Service yesterday.

That hasn’t happen yet. Guards and a translator are present, and detainees are shackled in the dentist chair — although Lt. Tharp still uses a “bite block” during the exam.

Many of the detainees have never seen a dentist, presenting the consummate professional challenge. Lt. Tharp also said that none would allow her to pull a tooth, some citing religious reasons.

The determined officer hopes to bring detainees up to at least “baseline” dental standards.

According to the press account: “A large portion of Tharp’s time is dedicated to detainee care. But, she’s quick to add, ‘That in no way means my troopers are being left in the dust.’ JTF service members always receive an appointment when they require care, she said.”

New realities

As part of “the new realities of a post-September 11 world,” CNN is adding a trio of former Bush administration heavies as news analysts.

To bulk up its new Washington-based “America Bureau,” the cable network has hired John E. McLaughlin, who served as acting CIA director last year; Clark Kent Ervin, former inspector general for the Homeland Security Department; and Richard A. Falkenrath, former White House deputy homeland security adviser.

The new bureau will cover the Justice Department, homeland security and national security beats, CNN vice president of news and production David Bohrman said yesterday.

“CNN is fundamentally changing the way we gather and report security news,” he said. “As government agencies strive to become more interconnected and open to information sharing, so, too, will our Justice Department, national security and homeland security beats.”

Old realities

Some think that CNN is clueless about homeland security, however.

The 650,000-member Citizens Committee for the Right to Keep and Bear Arms is criticizing the network for airing a report that focused on what might happen to a commercial jet aircraft if a terrorist fired at it with a .50-caliber hunting rifle.

“In yet another media attempt to demonize a particular firearm,” said Alan Gottlieb, president of the Belleview, Wash.-based group. “This outrageous report suggests to potential terrorists how such a gun might be put to criminal use.”

The committee’s executive director, Joe Waldron, agreed, noting, “The CNN report comes awfully close to being an attempt by a news organization to encourage an incident, just so CNN can later say, ‘We warned you.’ ”

“Naturally, if such an incident occurs, CNN will quickly blame everyone but themselves. That’s not simply disingenuous, it’s despicable,” Mr. Gottleib added.

A Laura moment

Arriving in Germany a day ahead of President Bush, first lady Laura Bush paid a call at Ramstein Air Base to clarify things for some 1,500 troops and their families yesterday.

“Team Ramstein is on the front line of the new war of the 21st century to confront terror and to defeat it. On behalf of my husband and all Americans , we support you, we believe in you and we’re proud of you,” Mrs. Bush said.

“Each of you has a greater impact than you can ever imagine on people that you will only know for a brief time,” she continued. “All of you are delivering the greatest gift they’ll ever receive by sacrificing your own comfort, your own safety and your own lives so that others might know freedom.”

She also visited wounded soldiers at nearby Landstuhl Regional Medical Center and will rejoin the president today in the city of Mainz, near Wiesbaden.

• Contact Jennifer Harper at jharper@washington times.com or 202/636-3085.

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