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Paulson Gets a Leg Up as Reporters Lag

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By Al Kamen
Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Treasury Secretary Henry M. Paulson Jr. apparently was surprised to learn that he would not be getting his own large private jet -- a la the plane used by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice -- even to take him on his big trip to China this week.

Buzz among Treasury reporters is that he made something of a fuss about it and was given a very fine, but smaller, Air Force plane for the trip. This left reporters holding the short stick, because they flew commercial and scrambled to catch up with Paulson in Hangzhou -- where beautiful West Lake and the Lingyin Temple and the Laughing Buddha are not to be missed -- and then in Beijing.

Normally, the Treasury secretary and staff and reporters fly together in the same commercial plane, though the top guy may go business class. Even former Treasury secretary Robert Rubin , who could buy his own fleet, was known to fly commercial on some trips. Reporters often get a chance to mingle with the secretaries and their aides in the VIP lounges while changing planes. No such luck on this trip.

Paulson probably can afford to buy his own 737 and donate it to the United States, but he hasn't flown commercial in years and certainly wasn't going to start now.

Dead Wrong

So President Bush and his aides have been arguing that they need the authority to rough up terrorism suspects to extract critical information from them. On Sunday, in fact, national security adviser Stephen J. Hadley went on CBS's "Face the Nation" to make that point: "Do we want a program run by the Central Intelligence Agency that questions these al-Qaeda terrorists like Khalid Sheik Mohammed and Hamza Rabia ?"

Sure do. After all, Hamza Rabia is dead. Or at least that's what the Pakistanis told us last November when he was supposedly killed by a missile fired by an unmanned U.S. Predator drone in a tribal area near the border with Afghanistan.

So was Hadley letting loose with a great national secret? Is Rabia alive in a secret CIA prison somewhere getting the once-over from Jack Bauer ? Or has the CIA perfected that old trick of interrogating a corpse? (What would the Geneva Conventions say about that?) Folks around town were scratching their heads after Hadley's comments, including some in the White House.

Nothing so interesting, Hadley insists. Through a spokeswoman, he said he meant to say Ramzi Binalshibh , not Hamza Rabia. Hate when we mix those guys up.

Early Bird, but No Worm

Earlier this year, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld wrote that "some of the most critical battles" in the fight against terrorism "may not be in the mountains of Afghanistan or the streets of Iraq but in newsrooms in New York, London, Cairo and elsewhere."

And the Pentagon, determined to be proactive in its battle with the media, has been demanding that news organizations correct "mischaracterizations" of Rumsfeld's speeches and other alleged errors. The battlefield in recent weeks has extended to newspapers in Newport News, Pittsburgh, San Francisco and Seattle.

The campaign demanding that the media report all the "good news" from Iraq has diminished in recent months.

If the news organizations balk, the Pentagon puts the "correction" on its Web site and in its "Early Bird" compendium of clippings. So yesterday's Early Bird ran a letter from J. Dorrance Smith , assistant secretary of defense for public affairs, to the New York Times demanding a correction of a Sept. 7 editorial about alleged terrorists held at Guantanamo Bay.

The Times refused, but Early Bird readers throughout the military and Pentagon reporters could at least see the Pentagon's view. (Unclear how many Times readers also get the bird.)

Aiding the Aides

Can't reach any congressional aides this week? That's because they're glued to their computers, finding out how their salaries compare with those of their colleagues. The information has always been available in fine-print congressional books. But a new, searchable Web site -- http://www.legistorm.com -- allows anyone to easily see what lawmakers are paying their aides. The limit on salaries is about $162,000 a year.

The highest-paid staff members naturally work on the House and Senate appropriations committees, where the data indicate nearly one-fifth make more than $150,000 per year.


© 2006 The Washington Post Company

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