Memo to Couch: Run for Your Life!

By Amy Argetsinger and Roxanne Roberts
Thursday, February 16, 2006

We didn't even hear Tuesday's report that Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes were splitting up, published in Life & Style magazine (kind of the poor man's In Touch, which is kind of the poor man's Us). That all changed when Cruise's publicist sent out a hotly worded denial that lit up the gossip blogs, generated worldwide headlines and catapulted a bit of checkout-line ephemera into the next day's news cycle.

A rep for the superstar, 43, and his pregnant fiancee, 27, said the story "is 100 percent false." The magazine responded, "We stand 100 percent behind our story." Considering this was the tabloid that announced Brangelina's Thanksgiving marriage (didn't happen) and Nick and Jessica's baby (nope), we wondered why publicist Paul Bloch bothered. He told us he had to, after getting 50 calls from around the world in 35 minutes.

When to stonewall, and when to talk? We asked three Washington experts at damage control (who thought we were calling about that other situation) :

Sheila Tate , press secretary for Nancy Reagan: "If the objective is to contain the story, then you don't comment. Any time anyone says, 'It's 100 percent not true,' I get suspicious."

Crisis doctor Marina Ein: "For the Hollywood crowd who are the focus of this relentless 24-7 attention, it's very difficult not to take a rumor head-on and defuse it. Failing to do it subjects them to endless demand for comments."

Former White House spokesman Mike McCurry : "Who's Katie? Is this the woman Tom jumped up and down on the couch about?" We shared the latest Cruise news. "In Washington, make it go away. In Hollywood, bring it on. The bottom line is I have no clue."

As of last night, TomKat are still officially a couple, their baby still due sometime this spring, and a wedding still scheduled for the summer or early fall.

Art Buchwald, King of the Hospice

Syndicated humorist Art Buchwald , whose column has been on hiatus since he took ill last month, is holding court in a hospice center in Washington. Kidney and vascular problems forced doctors to amputate one of his legs just below the knee a few weeks ago, said longtime assistant Cathy Crary .

"He's doing unbelievably well, considering everything," she said, adding that the Pulitzer Prize winner, whose 80th birthday was feted at the French Embassy last fall, is not on dialysis. "His kidney function is actually better than they thought. He looks great, and he's in a good mood."

His sense of humor is certainly healthy, she said. "He sent a friend of his flowers the other day, and the note said, 'You're missing another great movie night at the hospice -- wish you were here.' "

The Pink Elephant? He's a Regular.

So an armadillo, an anteater and a warthog walk into a bar . . . no, really! Just yesterday, at the complimentary wine hour at Dupont Circle's hipster Hotel Rouge, where the Sea World land-based stars and their keepers were staying, in town to raise celebrity animal visibility. Arusha the warthog stayed on a leash, but Cypress the anteater lolled in his handler's arms and Roswell the armadillo pranced on a lobby table. A couple of ibises, Penelope and Ruby , perched on the chairs. Have you seen anything remarkable lately? reliablesource@washpost.com .

HEY, ISN'T THAT . . . ?

· Bill Clinton and Alan Greenspan lunching together yesterday at the Four Seasons restaurant, their mere entrance causing the entire room to freeze. The ex-prez peered at the menu through bifocals before settling on pumpkin soup and grilled salmon; the Maestro went with endive salad and roast chicken. Maybe Greenspan was getting some literary advice from the "My Life" author now that he's shopping his own memoir proposal around?

· Ryan Phillippe and Laura Linney , fascinating the late-shift lanyard-wearing crowd on a Tuesday night shoot for "Breach" at Federal Triangle -- the very last day of filming for the Robert Hanssen spy drama, due out in the fall. But if you thought you saw Reese , you may have been suffering cubicle fatigue -- she left town early for Monday's Oscar nominee luncheon in Beverly Hills.

THIS JUST IN . . .

· More Britney- bashing! On Monday, Transportation Secretary Norm Mineta said the pop tart's now-infamous baby-on-lap driving will "send the wrong message" to her fans. Now Iowa's governor is using her first (lost weekend) marriage to illustrate his support for same-sex civil unions. In a Valentine's Day speech in Des Moines, Democrat Tom Vilsack said Iowa should provide legal rights to committed gay couples, and used Spears's 55-hour Las Vegas marriage to childhood pal Jason Alexander as proof the current system is unfair.

"That guy had more rights than someone who's been committed to one person for 25 years," Vilsack said. Yeah, the right to be unceremoniously dumped.


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