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In the Loop

Trouble Bubbling Up? Nautical Nonsense!

By Al Kamen
Friday, January 28, 2005; Page A25

Outgoing Federal Communications Commission Chairman Michael K. Powell made a name for himself with his noble efforts to protect Americans from "wardrobe malfunctions" and other indecencies on the airwaves.

But Powell, who is leaving in March, is unlikely to weigh in on recent concerns that cartoon character SpongeBob SquarePants, who lives in a pineapple with his pet snail under the sea, is being manipulated as a frontsponge for a "pro-homosexual video."

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James C. Dobson, founder of Focus on the Family, leveled the charge against a music video during inaugural week. The music video, which features SpongeBob, Barney and the sexually suspect Bert and Ernie, was created by Nile Rogers, founder of the We Are Family Foundation -- and author of that hit song. It has reportedly been on television networks, and the foundation plans to send the video to schools to encourage toleration of others.

Dobson did not say SpongeBob is gay, although he does hold hands with his pal Patrick the starfish and likes an underwater TV show called "The Adventures of Mermaid Man and Barnacle Boy."

Powell reacted with commendable alacrity and horror at Janet Jackson's bare breast, Bono's language and Howard Stern's show.

But he has been strangely quiet on this latest crisis. And Loop Fans know why: Powell is quite close to the sponge dude, knowledgeable sources tell us. He's even been seen cavorting with him, including publicly on one occasion.

Back on March 10, we noted Powell's FCC Web site featured a photo of the chairman and the sponge, grinning and holding hands no less in the MTV booth at a trade convention. This and similar fun photos were removed from the site not long after that item ran. Even so, we are told the Powell/SpongeBob relationship remains, let's say, very special.

Consummate Pro to Greet Rice Crisply

Richard A. Boucher, the State Department's near legendary spokesman, today breaks the 48-year-old record held by Carl W. McCardle as longest-serving assistant secretary for public affairs in the history of the department.

Boucher also has been top spokesman -- or deputy spokesman -- for six secretaries of state: James A. Baker III, Lawrence S. Eagleburger, Warren M. Christopher, Madeleine K. Albright, Colin L. Powell and Condoleezza Rice.

A career foreign service officer, he's been ambassador to Cyprus and consul to Hong Kong and is reputed to be in line for a top post in the Rice Regime, possibly in the economic arena. (His successor is to be Sean McCormack, now at the National Security Council.) Boucher is a consummate professional -- generally unflappable and indefatigable -- but he does have his moments, when provoked.

When reporters last fall repeatedly asked about stories that the White House refused to let Powell represent the country at the Olympic Games in Athens, Boucher said: "I'm trying to decide -- well, I'm going to -- that's a pile of crap, and it was a pile of crap. We said so when the original story came out."

And there was this recent slap at Belgium, France, Germany and Luxembourg, which he dismissed as "chocolate makers."

Boucher never failed to protect his bosses. Here's his adroit distancing of Powell and the department Wednesday from the presence of a Ukrainian American anti-Semite in the official delegation Powell headed to the presidential inaugural in Ukraine -- during Holocaust remembrance week, no less.

"But in terms of how the gentleman came to be on the delegation, I think that's really a White House question. It was a White House delegation. They did accompany us, but . . . they didn't attend the secretary's meetings, nor did they sit with him at the big public events or spend any appreciable amount of time with him," Boucher said. "So I think the question of how somebody was chosen really is a White House question that they'll have to explain to people."

If either Donovan McNabb or Tom Brady could pass the football as smoothly as Boucher can pass the buck . . .

He will be missed.

Scolinos Wins Shootout at the OK Corallo

Speaking of flacks, the new director of public affairs at the Department of Justice is to be Tasia Scolinos, currently a deputy press person at the Department of Homeland Security. She's a lawyer and, most important, worked as a clerk for Judge Lance A. Ito in the Trial of the Century. We would invite you to Google a picture of her in a toga on an Ahepa Hellinic Foundation parade float, but that would be wrong.

A news release about her appointment was to have gone to the media on Friday, but apparently no one outside the department got it. "A massive computer glitch" is said to be the culprit.

Meanwhile, Mark Corallo, the redoubtable current Justice Department spokesman, may well end up working at an agency engaged in national security matters.

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