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What's the Opposite of 'Mainstream'?

By Al Kamen
Friday, October 31, 2008

State Department spokesman Sean McCormack has long had it up to here with some in the mainstream media -- the regulars who cover the department and travel with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice-- complaining that they're constantly pushing to be "edgy" rather than just reporting the news.

To get around the MSM "filter," the State Department, along with other agencies, has gone to the Internet, presenting online chats, Q&As and blogs.

Last week, McCormack took the department into the YouTube world of "vlogging," or video blogging. He inaugurated the venture with a brief video, done in amateur YouTube style, with a jerky camera and the top of his head generally lopped off. It showed him entering the briefing room with the camera focused on his tie before it eventually got most of his face in the frame.

"Hi, I'm Sean McCormack," he began. "I'm the spokesman here at the U.S. Department of State. I'd like to invite you to try something that's going to be a little bit new, a little bit different and hopefully a whole lot of fun. . . . The idea is that you would be able to ask questions of me directly by posting video on YouTube.

"So, what you need to do in order to participate in this," he continued, "is go to the State Department channel on YouTube and click on this video. . . . It's pretty easy.

"This should be a lot of fun. I know it's going to be fun for me. I get to hear from the press corps every single day and give them answers. This is an opportunity for me to hear directly from you and for you to hear directly from me with answers to your questions, whatever happens to be on your mind. So give it a try."

All we can say is: Be careful what you wish for.

"Good [pause] morning, Sean," said one fellow in a dimly lighted room wearing a black scarf with images of ghosts on it. "This is William Theuer of Anchorage, Alaska. I'm excited by the prospect of this digital diplomacy concept. . . . My question would be what implications for national security and foreign policy will we confront as we examine our response to climate change and the climate crisis. I'm especially interested in what solutions there would be for areas of the high latitudes."

A bit later, he vlogged again. "This is William Theuer of Anchorage, Alaska, again. I'm a bus driver, as you may know," he said. "And I'm concerned about the welfare of Mansour Osanloo. He's the president of the syndicate of bus drivers in Tehran, Iran, and I'm wondering what we're doing as the United States with our friends and allies in the region to secure his release." This is a relatively obscure but nonetheless significant issue.

Then Peter Dow weighed in from Britain, seated in front of a wall of news stories and photos of Rice.

"Hello, Sean, and hello to the American people," Dow began. "Thank you very much for saving us, the people of Europe, from the Nazis. We sacrificed together for freedom and we love you very much, more than you know.

"No individual helped us more than the British computer scientist Alan Turing [picture of Turing appears], who decoded the Nazis' military secret signals. Yet after the war Turing was harassed by officers of the United Kingdom state and driven to suicide."

Dow, starting to get agitated, told McCormack that "the officers of the U.K. royalist fascist police state do abuse good, patriotic, clever people over here, and I know to my own cost. So my question is this, Sean: Why don't you help us get the British, Scottish, Welsh, English republics clever presidents instead of a stupid U.K. monarch, and why have American presidents been so helpful to the U.K. monarchy [photo of President Bush smiling at Queen Elizabeth appears] and so unhelpful to British Republicans?"

McCormack promised to have answers up today. William the Bus Driver and Peter the Patriot will want to know.

Could be McCormack wishes he still had that filter.

A Junket in Ruins

Terrible news for lovers of fish and wildlife. Remember that spectacular week-long trip that 28 U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service officials were taking to Mexico to see the Mayan ruins and the rain forest and the famous butterfly reserve? Not gonna happen.

An e-mail yesterday from Deputy Director Rowan Gould informed top officials that Director Dale Hall"has decided to postpone the . . . meeting scheduled for the week of November 17 in Mexico." The problem, we were told, was that despite many months of planning, it was just discovered that not all of the top FWS folks would be able to go. "At the same time, some of the key players . . . within Mexico were not able to attend," the e-mail said. "Therefore, we have decided to postpone the meeting with Mexico until another time," Hall said. "Our Mexican partners have been informed of our change in plans, and we will continue to discuss the best opportunity to meet with them in the future." That means next year, after Hall has retired and Assistant Interior Secretary Lyle Laverty has probably moved on.

But a headquarters meeting on Dec. 18 to talk about transition matters will also include a one-day gathering of the topmost officials. "We will get out more information shortly about logistics and agenda items for that one-day meeting."

One day in Arlington instead of a week in Mexico?

One Vote for Stevens

And now, an answer to the question posed in yesterday's On the Hill column about whether convicted felon Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) retains the right to vote for himself on Tuesday.

Alaska law prohibited "a person convicted of a crime that constitutes a felony involving moral turpitude" from voting, so maybe Stevens could run for the Senate but not vote? Our colleague Del Quentin Wilber, who covered the trial, asked Gail Fenumiai, the state's top election official, who said she was awaiting a ruling from state lawyers on this question.

Fenumiai e-mailed yesterday. "The Department of Law has determined that until a final judgment and sentence has been entered by the federal court in his case, Senator Stevens is eligible to vote in the November 4 General Election."

Tricky Pick

Speaking of Stevens, his fellow lawmaker, Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska), himself under investigation, offered an unusual endorsement, comparing the senator to Richard Nixon.

"I can remember Richard Nixon, you know, his years of service, what he's done, and everybody [was] ridiculing him, and he ended up being the greatest president in the history of our century. . . . The senator will be re-elected. He will appeal it. When he does go, he will win it because there's no way this is a jury of his peers," Young told the Anchorage Daily News.

Nixon? Greater than Reagan? Roosevelt? Harding?

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