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Another Stab at the Truth

Eric Lichtblau of the New York Times notes that not absolutely everyone saw it as a significant reversal.

"Representative Jane Harman of California, the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, said she saw the Specter-White House agreement as an 'end run' around the FISA law requiring the approval of individual wiretapping warrants.

"'I have great respect for this guy,' she said of Mr. Specter, 'but he hasn't been briefed on this program, and he's giving away in this legislation a core Fourth Amendment protection by basically saying that the FISA court has permission to bless the entire program, which will abandon as best I can tell the requirement of individualized warrants.'"

Julie Hirschfeld Davis writes in the Baltimore Sun: "It's too early to tell how far-reaching or lasting Bush's shift is, analysts cautioned.

"'When there's some push-back from another branch, then they will respond somewhat, and the big question is the extent to which they're being responsive now,' said Carl W. Tobias, a University of Richmond law professor. . . .

"Michigan Sen. Carl Levin, the top Democrat on the Senate Armed Services Committee, said neither of this week's moves were concessions from Bush.

"'They'll be as unitary as they can get away with,' Levin said."

Davis also quotes former associate White House counsel: "Despite the appearance of some about-faces, the administration's overall approach has remained very consistent, and that is to do everything possible based on the president's authority alone, and then make adjustments only when forced to do so by outside factors -- whether that's an adverse court ruling or an obstreperous Senate chairman."

Foreign Policy Watch

Reuters reports: "President Bush wants Israel to minimize the risk of casualties in its campaign in southern Lebanon, but will not press it to halt its military operation, the White House said on Friday.

"White House spokesman Tony Snow told reporters that the U.S. leader spoke by telephone to Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora and other Middle East leaders as he sought to defuse a crisis between Israel and Hizbollah guerrillas in Lebanon."

Yochi J. Dreazen writes in the Wall Street Journal: "The surge in Mideast violence means conditions are deteriorating in the very places -- Israel, Palestinian territories, Lebanon and Afghanistan -- that President Bush had been able to point to as bright spots for his policies."

Peter Baker writes in The Washington Post: "President Bush and his top diplomats scrambled Thursday night to quell spiraling violence in the Middle East and protect the new democratic government in Lebanon as Israeli forces escalated their strikes."

Jim Rutenberg writes in the New York Times: "Even as he cautioned Israel to be careful not to destabilize the young democracy in Lebanon, Mr. Bush's position immediately put him at odds with European nations just before the annual summit meeting of the Group of 8 economic powers."

Fact Check

Paul Richter, Josh Meyer and Sebastian Rotella write in the Los Angeles Times: "The Bush administration was quick to pin responsibility on Iran and Syria when Hezbollah militants captured two Israeli soldiers this week. Yet those countries may not have specifically planned and ordered the raid that has brought the Middle East to the edge of war, U.S. officials and terrorism experts say."

Pig Watch

Steve Holland writes for Reuters: "President Bush put Middle East tension, violence in Iraq and Iran's nuclear program behind him on Thursday to feast on a wild boar roasting on a spit. . . .

"The barbecue was a much-anticipated highlight of Bush's visit to Merkel's political home base in northeastern Germany, a grilling he had been looking forward to all day."

Here are some wire photos, including a photo montage showing Bush clowning around with a ceremonial barrel of herring; and Bush gazing at the splayed boar , then slicing away at it.

Putin Watch

Thom Shanker and Jim Rutenberg write in the New York Times about "the continuing education of Mr. Bush in the ways of Mr. Putin, and through him, the ways of modern Russia" as the Russian president plays host to leaders of the Group of 8 economic powers.

"Presidents Bush and Putin met for the first time five years ago in Slovenia. Mr. Bush embraced the Russian leader with a startling statement of support, even empathy.

"'I looked the man in the eye,' Mr. Bush said, and 'I was able to get a sense of his soul.'

"But as Stephen Sestanovich, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, put it, 'It's always a risky business to put yourself in the position of validating the soulful qualities of a former KGB agent.'"

Poll Watch

So much for the bounce?

A Fox News poll finds Bush's job approval rating down to 36 percent from 41 percent two weeks ago.

And the Associated Press reports that Bush's approval rating is at 36, a negligible change from 35 in early June.

Jamming

Zachary A. Goldfarb writes in The Washington Post: "New Hampshire Democrats hoping to uncover who knew about plans to jam their phone lines on Election Day 2002 are free to . . . ask for White House phone records for then-White House political director Ken Mehlman, now chairman of the Republican National Committee . . . and others."

Pincus on the PR Presidency

Veteran Washington Post national security reporter Walter Pincus in Nieman Reports calls on editors and reporters "to decide not to cover the President's statements when he -- or any public figure -- repeats essentially what he or she has said before. . . .

"Journalistic courage should include the refusal to publish in a newspaper or carry on a TV or radio news show any statements made by the President or any other government official that are designed solely as a public relations tool, offering no new or valuable information to the public."

Pincus traces the problem back to the Reagan years, when Michael Deaver inaugurated the "message of the day" concept. "The Washington Post, which prior to that time did not have a standing White House story scheduled each day (running one only when the President did something new and thus newsworthy), began to have . . . daily coverage."

Pincus writes that he is coming "solely from the point of view of a reporter who has spent almost 50 years watching daily coverage of government in Washington become dominated by increasingly sophisticated public relations practitioners."

Froomkin on the Radio

I'll be on Washington Post Radio today, shortly after 2 p.m. Feel free to call in, at (877) 767-8107 or e-mail comment@washingtonpostradio.com .

Cartoon Watch

Mike Luckovich reads White House Briefing .


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