Roger Ailes-Bob Woodward Smackdown?

Roger Ailes went ballistic yesterday over our colleague Bob Woodward's new book, "Bush at War," in which the Fox News chairman -- once the media consultant to President Bush's father -- is portrayed as giving Bush political advice in the aftermath of 9/11.

Ailes insisted it didn't happen that way, and Woodward stood by his account. In separate interviews, they traded insults. "Woodward got it all screwed up, as usual," Ailes told us. "The reason he's not as rich as Tom Clancy is that while he and Clancy both make stuff up, Clancy does his research first." Woodward, referring to Ailes's tenure as Richard Nixon's media guru, told us: "It's the Watergate spin apparatus that is still in play with Ailes. You know what? President Bush has gotten beyond that."

But after a late afternoon kiss-and-make-up session, the combatants ceased hostilities. "There is no dispute between us," Woodward said. Ailes, who pointed out that he left Nixon's employ before Watergate, told us: "I feel terrible now that I trashed him. I wish I hadn't. There's no dispute, really. I disagree with what he wrote, and he agrees with what he wrote. We have since moved on."

How nice.

But in his book, Woodward wrote that when presidential adviser Karl Rove received "an important-looking confidential communication" from the news executive, he promptly shared it with Bush. "Ailes was not supposed to be giving political advice," Woodward continues. "His back-channel message: The American public would tolerate waiting and would be patient, but only as long as they were convinced that Bush was using the harshest measures possible."

Yesterday, Ailes acknowledged writing Bush a letter -- a copy of which he declined to provide -- "nine days after 9/11. I had been working around the clock and sleeping on a couch in my office. I was expressing my outrage at the killing of Americans on American soil -- purely as an American citizen." As for Woodward's journalistic criticism, "I don't give a damn," Ailes said. "American citizenship is a big concept. If I had to give that up to be in journalism, I wouldn't do it. What I wrote was completely nonpartisan. I would have written the same letter to FDR after Pearl Harbor. If Bill Clinton had been president, I probably would have sent him the same memo."

Woodward responded: "What he's saying is a classic non-denial denial. Why would Rove take Ailes's personal message down to the president? Just to say that 'Roger Ailes is expressing his outrage'? Obviously, if it was significant enough for Rove to carry it to the Oval Office, it had some recommendations for policy. Why else is Roger being so furtive about it?"

Rove didn't return our phone call.

Why Billy Bob Can't Type

* Before last night's Washington Lab School gala, movie star Billy Bob Thornton told us about his lifelong struggle with dyslexia.

"I finally went to a treatment center in Los Angeles when I was in my thirties," the 47-year-old Arkansas native said as he prepared to pick up a Learning Disabled Achiever award at the Hilton Washington. "When I was growing up they didn't have these diagnoses. I was basically 'just a lazy kid.' I got headaches from reading; reading put me to sleep and I couldn't retain what I read. I didn't make very good grades. When it was suggested that I might get myself checked out for dyslexia, I already suspected that something was wrong. I also had ADD [attention deficit disorder]. But then they called the problem 'Pay attention, you SOB!' "

Thornton -- a screenwriter as well as an actor -- started writing as a boy, creating short stories in longhand. "Even now I can't type -- I'm like a baby," he said. "Because reading "literally hurt," he chose the books carefully. "I've read very few books in my lifetime, but I read them over and over. I always try to read the books I knew I was going to like. I've read 'Confederacy of Dunces' five times."

Thornton said he learns his lines by having friends repeatedly read them aloud. As for poring over those multi-million-dollar contracts with Hollywood studios, "Fortunately, I have people to do that for me."


* If one of Queen Elizabeth II's loyal subjects is going to spill the beans, then let it be the keeper of the Royal Philatelic Collection. At Saturday's black-tie National Postal Museum dinner at the Old Post Office near Union Station, Charles Wyndham Goodwyn let slip--to an audience that included Postmaster General John Potter and Smithsonian Undersecretary Sheila Burke--that Her Majesty's stamp collection will travel to the Washington museum in 2004. The Post's Jacqueline Trescott reports that Goodwyn was among the Smithsonian's first-ever honorees--along with Monaco's Prince Ranier Rainier, in absentia, and American collector John Boker--for a lifetime of Philatelic Achievement.