Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Thin skins

“Why didn’t you call me?” Washington pollster and crisis-control manager Frank Luntz said yesterday when bumping into Steve Scully, president of the White House Correspondents’ Association (WHCA), who spent the past week defending the choice of “aging” impersonator Rich Little to headline this April’s WHCA dinner.

“I know what you’re going to say; I know what you’re going to say,” Mr. Scully replied.

What Mr. Luntz didn’t mind saying was that he personally puts Mr. Little in the “Johnny Carson camp” of has-been performers. Still, Mr. Scully, senior executive producer and political editor of C-SPAN, defended the seasoned entertainer.

“I spoke to Little yesterday, and he’s excited with all the publicity” and the chance to appear before the Washington crowd of reporters, politicians and visiting celebrities, Mr. Scully said.

He similarly downplayed reports that the WHCA had sought a more mild-mannered headliner for this year’s dinner, so as to prevent a repeat of last year’s routine by Stephen Colbert of Comedy Central, who some complained was too critical of President Bush, and for that matter, the press.

Lesson learned

It’s taken him two-plus years to pick up the book, or else find it’s worthy of a second read. Either way, that’s the nose of Rep. Mike D. Rogers, Alabama Republican, buried in the 2004 bestseller, “Speaker: Lessons from Forty Years in Coaching and Politics,” by former House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert, Illinois Republican.

Mr. Rogers was reading the book on a Monday evening flight from Atlanta to Washington. As for the lessons Mr. Hastert said he learned: When it comes to winning in politics, “underpromise and overproduce.”

Outing Art

To show how times have changed in “journalism,” Patrick W. Gavin, editor of the press-gossip Web log FishbowlDC, wonders if bloggers such as himself could have prevented Art Buchwald‘s successful career as a syndicated columnist had the Internet been up and running a half-century or more ago.

He cites the recent obituary of the widely read columnist in The Washington Post, which pointed out that Mr. Buchwald dropped out of the University of Southern California after learning that he could use the GI Bill to study in Paris.

“Once there, Buchwald conned his way into a glamorous, albeit low-paying, job as nightlife and entertainment columnist for the European edition of the New York Herald Tribune. He knew nothing about haute cuisine, he later recalled, but got the job by claiming to have been a wine taster in the Marine Corps. He said he faked his role as food critic by making sure to ask if the mushrooms were fresh.”

Writes Mr. Gavin: “You’ve gotta be honest: Nowadays, had someone secured a columnist gig for a major paper by lying about his credentials, it wouldn’t take long before bloggers outed them. That’s a noble service that bloggers provide, for sure, but it’s also interesting to note, in Buchwald’s case, what we may have potentially lost (Buchwald’s career) had his little fib been discovered and, as a result, it permanently set him back or discouraged him from journalism.

“Food (with fresh mushrooms) for thought.”

Fully recovered

So Jed Babbin, former deputy undersecretary of defense, how does it feel to officially enter the Fourth Estate as editor of Human Events?

“Well, it’s kind of like being handed the Crown Jewels right before somebody tries to steal them,” Mr. Babbin told Inside the Beltway yesterday. “The [conservative] coalition is kind of ‘Balkanized’ right now, and I’m going to see what I can do to get it back together again — stir people up, get them to talk to teach other … and try to get back to the days of the Reagan revolution.

“But we have no Ronald Reagan to rally around,” he pointed out. “We have to facilitate this sort of conversation, and that’s what I aim to do.”

Regarding his new position, Mr. Babbin agrees “this is no doubt different, but it’s something I’ve been trying to do, golly, for more than a decade now. I started writing for American Spectator and doing radio broadcasts seven or eight years ago at least.”

He added: “I’ve always been billing myself as a recovering lawyer, and now I feel recovered.”

Human Events was founded in 1944, touting itself the country’s oldest conservative weekly. It was said to be Mr. Reagan’s favorite magazine.

Classy bidding

When embedded with the Marine Corps in Iraq in 2003, CNN’s correspondents and producers kept safe in Warrior One, a refurbished Hummer that came under heavy fire near Baghdad.

Now, network spokeswoman Edie Emery tells us that after going on the auction block, Warrior One has raised $1.25 million for the Fisher House Foundation, which builds “comfort homes” for families of hospitalized military personnel.

The high bid of $1 million was offered by Dave Liniger, co-founder and chairman of RE/MAX International Inc. And get this: even though he was outbid, Dave Ressler, a Corvette car dealer, still donated $250,000 to Fisher House.

• John McCaslin, whose column is nationally syndicated, can be reached at 202/636-3284 or jmccaslin

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