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A Bestseller Race That May Not Go to the Swift

By Richard Leiby
Thursday, September 23, 2004; Page C03

Looking out for Number One: Conservative luminaries and Swift Boat vets who loathe John Kerry threw a book party Tuesday night at Morton's steakhouse to celebrate the success of "Unfit for Command" and congratulate its authors, John E. O'Neill and Jerome R. Corsi. "New York Times #1 BESTSELLER," declares the newly printed cover. But not far away, partying at the Warner Atrium, fans of Kitty Kelley whooped at the announcement that her Bush family exposé is selling briskly enough to blow the Swifties out of the water, so to speak.

Doubleday President and Publisher Steve Rubin told more than 300 Kelley supporters at a reception benefiting Planned Parenthood that "The Family: The Real Story of the Bush Dynasty" is poised to arrive at the top of the Times's list on Sunday, Oct. 3. Meanwhile, at Morton's, Regnery publishing execs crowed about "Unfit for Command's" 850,000 copies in print. A withering critique of Kerry's Vietnam service as a Navy Swift Boat commander and his subsequent peace movement activities, the book has been buoyed by Internet partisans and conservative talk show yakkers.


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Speaking of which: Pro-Bush radio queen Laura Ingraham was there, accepting personal thanks from O'Neill's wife, Anne, while frequent cable commentators Victoria Toensing and husband Joe diGenova handed out "Kerry is Scary" bumper stickers. GOP direct-mail pioneer Richard Viguerie schmoozed with African American radio host Armstrong Williams, calling him "my unknown brother here." Viguerie praised the "new alternative media" for daring to swim against the tide: "For six weeks, the Swift Boat and Dan Rather stories have kept Kerry's campaign frozen below the water."

But moving on to other metaphors: The next skirmish in the seemingly endless battle over Vietnam comes next week with the opening of "Going Upriver: The Long War of John Kerry," a documentary by the senator's longtime friend, George Butler. It quotes vets who admire Kerry and served directly under his command. It also reprises, for those of us who unfortunately missed it, the clashes between Kerry and his fellow Navy vet O'Neill, including their debate on Dick Cavett's show in 1971.

On Tuesday night we showed O'Neill a photo that appears in the movie, documenting his June 1971 White House meeting with President Nixon, Chuck Colson and Vietnam affairs adviser Melville Stephens. O'Neill hasn't seen the movie, but said he resents the implication he was doing Nixon's bidding at the time by attacking Kerry. "The very first words I said to Nixon were: 'I'm a Democrat and I voted for Hubert Humphrey.' "

How quaintly bipartisan. Those were the days.

For O'Reilly and Gross, a Spirited Second Date

• Broadcasters Terry Gross and Bill O'Reilly are on speaking terms again, sort of. O'Reilly welcomed the host of NPR's "Fresh Air" to his Fox News Channel show Tuesday to plug her book, "All I Did Was Ask," but wanted to know why the book didn't mention that NPR's ombudsman took her to task for an "unfair" interview she conducted with O'Reilly last year. (O'Reilly had walked out in a huff.)

"Why did you leave that out?" O'Reilly asked.

"I don't know why I left it out," she said, then asked, "Does Fox News have an ombudsman?"

"We have an ombudsman someplace, I think."

"I don't think so," she said.

"He's in the closet."

She shot back: "Give me a call when you find him."

SQUIBS


It's hard to get by just upon a smile: The former Cat Stevens. (Adam Butler - AP)
• Sure, there are obvious jokes about the detention and deportation of Yusuf Islam (the former Cat Stevens) to be found in his heartfelt lyrics. You know: Next time, instead of flying to America, he'll take the peace train. Because, baby, it's a wild world. (And let's include "Trouble, oh, trouble set me free" for non-Top 40 fans.) But some may suggest the issue isn't the onetime pop singer's alleged ties to terrorism; it's protecting the homeland from '70s musicians. Would somebody please put the following on a no-fly list: Donovan, Phil Collins, Rod Stewart. Also, the members of Abba. Thank you.

• "Invasion Iowa": It's not a movie about the presidential primary season; it's the sci-fi brainchild of "Star Trek" stars William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy. Shatner, who says he has wanted to put the story on the big screen for 30 years, is shooting this week in Riverside, Iowa. Trivia via the Associated Press: In 1985 the Riverside City Council declared a site behind what used to be the town's barbershop as the "future birthplace" of Capt. James T. Kirk -- Shatner's character -- who, per series lore, was born in a small town in Iowa. Why do we care? Because those geeks touting the DVD release of "Star Wars" shouldn't get all the ink this week!

• Are they or aren't they? People mag says pop singer Britney Spears and backup dancer Kevin Federline definitely tied the knot last weekend and published pix to prove it -- but rival Us Weekly claimed yesterday that the whole thing was an elaborate hoax. Us cited a four-page document (here we go again with those pesky documents) stating that the couple agreed "to participate in a 'faux' wedding with one another on Sept. 18 . . . however they do not intend to and shall not validly marry one another on said date." Spears's publicist told Reuters that Spears and Federline "are married. It is not a fake anything." But Spears admitted that no marriage license had been filed with authorities.

Richard Leiby's online chat, at www.washingtonpost.com/liveonline, has moved to Thursdays at noon.

With Anne Schroeder


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