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In the Loop

No News Is Good News

By Al Kamen
Friday, April 8, 2005; Page A23

The Pentagon often whines about how the U.S. media only harp on the negative in Iraq. But there's some cheery, morale-building news about military-media relations in a recent internal Army study of its operations in the region around Mosul.

The Army's Stryker Brigade -- equipped with vehicles that have been criticized for bad design and components that don't work -- organized an event of the type the Pentagon says it wants the media to cover more often.

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Friday's Question:
It was not until the early 20th century that the Senate enacted rules allowing members to end filibusters and unlimited debate. How many votes were required to invoke cloture when the Senate first adopted the rule in 1917?
51
60
64
67


Seems the unit transported an embedded reporter to a site "where school supplies were to be handed out to needy students," according to the Dec. 21 restricted "Official Use Only" report for the Center for Army Lessons Learned.

An excellent idea, but when they arrived at the school, the unit was "surprised to find that no schoolchildren were present and that an Iraqi family was homesteading in the building," the report said. What's more, "the Iraqi police were unwilling to remove the family and no school supplies" could be issued because the children were nowhere to be found.

Could there be a silver lining to this dark cloud? Yes. The media come to the rescue!

"Fortunately," the Army folks said in their report, "the reporter elected not to cover the event, which could have made us look bad, since we didn't know what was going on with the school after we funded its construction." The reporter, who was not named, "understood what had happened and had other good coverage to use . . . rather than airing any of this event."

Apparently, there was always something else negative to harp on.

Baffled by the Shell Game

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice wants to make one thing clear: The intelligence community was in no way to blame for the extraordinary intelligence failures leading up to the Iraq invasion.

"We all know that the Iraq case was a difficult case because Saddam Hussein went out of his way to hide what he was doing, to deceive," Rice said in an interview with the Associated Press. "There were obviously efforts to deceive on the short side as well as on the -- in the sense that he was perhaps giving the impression that he had things that he did not have, as well as efforts to hide that which he did have. And so when you're dealing with a very closed society like that, it is not very easy; it's not a very easy intelligence target."

So it was Hussein's fault any way you look at it. He simultaneously lied about not having weapons of mass destruction, and lied about having them. What's a pre-empting superpower to do?

From Here to Obscurity

Question of the week. During Monday's news briefing, Scott McClellan engaged in some spirited jousting with a reporter over how President Bush squares his espousal of a "culture of life" with his modern-day, record-breaking application of the death penalty in Texas.

Then he called on Baltimore radio personality and former Episcopal priest Lester Kinsolving for a question.

"The New York Times reports a Supreme Court case involving Oregon's assisted suicide law," Kinsolving said, "which the Bush administration wants to prosecute doctors who administer lethal doses of federally controlled drugs. And my first question, is the president, as a devout Christian, aware of early church father Lactantius, the tutor of Emperor Constantine's son, and his justifying suicide for impending torture, or St. Jerome's justifying suicide in defense of chastity, and in 16th century Britain, the use by priestly permission of the holy stone?"

"You lost me at [the beginning], Les," McClellan said amid the laughter. "The president and I have not had that discussion."

"Follow-up?" Kinsolving asked.

"Okay, follow up," McClellan said.

"Is the president aware of the years of acute agony preceding the death of cathedral dean, journalist and 'Gulliver's Travels' author Jonathan Swift?"

"I will take your question," McClellan said, meaning he'd look into it. "If there's more to say on it, I'll get back to you. I don't think we -- we haven't discussed that one, either."

But how could they not have discussed Swift's terrible misfortunes? Is there a coverup afoot?

There's a There There

Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales got many kudos on the Hill this week for his performance in testifying before the House and Senate Judiciary committees.

For example, Rep. Howard L. Berman (D-Calif.) thanked Gonzales "for being here and for at least conveying the impression that you sometimes hear and even understand the questions we ask. That's already an improvement over your predecessor."

South Carolinian to Canada?

No rumor like an old rumor? Longtime South Carolina House Speaker David H. Wilkins, 58, a supporter and top fundraiser for President Bush in both presidential campaigns, is reportedly the pick to be the next ambassador to Canada.

South Carolina news accounts in recent days about the possible selection, dismissed by the attorney as "old rumors recycled," sparked a jockeying frenzy in the legislature over a successor.

Members of the Canadian media quickly began picking through his prior statements to see if they could glean something of Wilkins's views on trade matters. He has apparently turned down earlier job offers -- an ambassadorship in Chile and a federal judgeship. Ottawa can be perhaps a bit chilly in January, but this is a serious plum.


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