Ahmadinejad over Obama?

Al Kamen
Columnist October 2, 2012

Some people just don’t get satire.

Fars News Agency, described as “Iran’s leading independent news agency,” was the latest in a proud tradition to mistake an Onion story for the real deal. The Onion’s signature deadpan description of a poll finding that the “overwhelming majority of rural white Americans said they would rather vote for Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad than U.S. president Barack Obama” was lost on the Iranian news service, which ran a story about the poll — which it later took down.

Al Kamen, an award-winning columnist on the national staff of The Washington Post, created the “In the Loop” column in 1993. View Archive

Interestingly, the Fars story was a word-for-word reprint of the Onion piece, so it seems that the agency might be guilty of unoriginality as well as gullibility.

Later, Fars apologized for the error — but the mea culpa came with a big asterisk. It explained the error by hinting that it didn’t see the Onion’s story as so outlandish as to be unbelievable.

In fact, the unnamed editor of the news agency’s English-language service opined that just about anyone — presumably, including Ahmadinejad — could best Obama in a popularity contest.

“Although it does not justify our mistake, we do believe that if a free opinion poll is conducted in the U.S., a majority of Americans would prefer anyone outside the U.S. political system to President Barack Obama and American statesmen,” the editor said.

The line between total absurdity and outrageous-but-true can be a fine one, but most savvy readers would have been tipped off by the Onion’s over-the-top treatment: The poll found that 77 percent of rural Caucasian voters “would much rather go to a baseball game or have a beer with Ahmadinejad, a man who has repeatedly denied the Holocaust and has had numerous political prisoners executed, than spend time with Obama.”

And if that hadn’t sent up flags, this line should have been a dead giveaway: “According to the same Gallup poll, 60 percent of rural whites said they at least respected that Ahmadinejad doesn’t try to hide the fact that he’s Muslim.”

Ink-Stained Wretch Hall

Renaming anything in Washington — a town of monuments and dedications — can be dicey. Remember the fight over Reagan National Airport?

A recent name change is ruffling feathers over at the Pentagon, where a hallway known for some 40 years as “Correspondents Corridor” has been rechristened “OSD Public Affairs,” as in the Office of the Secretary of Defense. Mark Thompson, a veteran national security reporter for Time magazine, has the story of the switcheroo, in which the Pentagon brass, in the process of remodeling the area where reporters have their desks, renamed the hallway.

Thompson sees the symbolism of a new era in the name change. “Perhaps it’s only fitting that the corridor be renamed in honor of the spinners instead of the spun,” he writes.

And he quotes Melvin Laird, the former defense secretary who first dedicated the hallway — where newspaper clippings and other Fourth Estate memorabilia are displayed — in honor of journalists. “I think it’s really a disaster — I don’t understand why they would do that. Public relations is not the reason we set that corridor up. We set it up to honor reporters.”

Perhaps if Pentagon brass had wanted to put journalists in their place, it could have gone for something subtler, like “Hacks’ Alley.”

Man the poop deck!

This just in: The Navy is working to finally fix a chronic problem that has been bedeviling sailors aboard its newest aircraft carrier — clogged toilets.

The USS George H.W. Bush is under maintenance in Portsmouth, Va., to prevent clogging in the ship’s 493 toilets by putting in “anti-snag” devices, the Newport News Daily Press reported over the weekend.

The stopped-up toilets have been causing frustration since the ship first deployed in May 2011, the newspaper reported, with workers finding things like shirts, underwear, socks, hard-boiled eggs, bolts and mop heads jamming the pipes.

“You’d be amazed what gets flushed down the toilet of a ship,” an engineer said. “Anything that can fall out of a pocket or off a person, like sunglasses.”

So remember: Always pull up your socks.

Romney’s Florida asterisk

Finally, maybe a teensy ray of improvement for Mitt Romney in his efforts to boost his standing with the critical Latino vote. The latest tracking poll by ImpreMedia-Latino Decisions puts Obama ahead of Romney in the battleground states by 61 percent to 33 percent.

That’s relatively close to what the Romney campaign says it needs to have a decent chance to win.

The only problem is that the battleground states’ numbers include lots of Hispanics from Florida, where Romney does his best by far because of that state’s large Cuban population. (And the small numbers polled leave a margin of error of plus or minus 5.6 points.)

The bad news is that the tracking poll shows Obama pulling even further ahead in terms of his national numbers among Latinos. Where last week’s numbers showed Obama ahead of Romney 69 percent to 24 percent, this week’s poll showed Obama’s lead widening by seven more points, to 73 to 21.

With Emily Heil

The blog: washingtonpost.com/
intheloop. Twitter: @InTheLoopWP.

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