Loud and Clear

By Howard Kurtz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, October 25, 2006; 10:58 AM

It was cold on the White House driveway yesterday, even with gloves on.

I whine about this to give you a bit of the back story on the talk radio summit.

It never occurred to me that I'd have any trouble covering the event. If the administration calls in a bunch of mostly conservative radio hosts and trots out some of its VIPs to argue that the Republicans are actually going to maintain control of Congress despite all the naysayers out there, you'd think these folks would want some coverage, right?

Nope.

In fact, the event was closed to the press. That's right, all these interviews, which were broadcast on the public airwaves --we're not talking classified briefings here--was deemed off limits. Is there a message here for the MSM?

The White House did allow pool coverage, meaning that a small band of correspondents and one camera operator were let inside the tent for 10 minutes to get the flavor of the event. And the press office was gracious enough to allow me into the pool. And yes, it's fair to say that I overstayed my welcome and the Secret Service did not carry me away in handcuffs, nor did Michael Chertoff, who was granting interviews, deem me a threat to homeland security.

But why on earth would the White House not have invited coverage by any reporter interested enough to watch senior administration honchos make their case on one program after another? It wasn't the world's most spacious tent, but if there had been a big demand, we could have traded off in shifts. Certainly the radio hosts seemed perfectly happy to be interviewed by the likes of me.

But I hung in there--grabbing folks as they came out after a press aide banished me from the toasty confines of the tent--to bring you this report:

It sounded like the kind of friendly interview that administration officials expected when they invited 40 mostly conservative radio hosts to broadcast yesterday from beneath a long, heated white tent on the president's doorstep.

"The American people, in my humble opinion, don't realize we're at war," Neal Boortz, an acerbic libertarian based in Atlanta, told presidential counselor Dan Bartlett. "How do you communicate to the American people that there is a grave threat that must be addressed?"

Moments after Bartlett moved down the rows of folding tables to the next interview, however, Boortz said during a break: "I've adopted the opinion that maybe I'd like to see the Republicans take it in the teeth in this election, lose the House and lick their wounds. They just haven't done enough to be rewarded with continued control in Washington."

For 15 years, the conservatives who dominate talk radio have served as shock troops for the GOP, bashing Democrats, hitting the hot buttons and rallying their listeners. Since the Republicans' 1994 takeover of Congress, in which Rush Limbaugh played a catalyzing role, through the disputed election of 2000 and President Bush's first term, the radio talkers have wielded a powerful megaphone for their ideological side.


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