On Air Force One, They Don't Excuse the French

The White House is taking patriotic cues from House Administration Committee Chairman Bob Ney (R-Ohio) and Rep. Walter Jones (R-N.C.), who two weeks ago protested the anti-U.S. comments of French President Jacques Chirac and company by expunging all things franc{cedil}ais from the menus of House restaurants.

Yesterday, in "an important culinary note" from President Bush's visit to Central Command headquarters in Tampa, the Houston Chronicle's Bennett Roth led his White House pool report: "The French are toast on Air Force 1."

Roth went on: "Before our rendez-vous with Ari [Fleischer], poolers were served breakfast. It is now gauche to refer to the French on the president's plane. The written menu informed us we were having 'stuffed freedom toast topped with strawberries.' This gourmet meal included cream cheese stuffed into the toast. Not being a gourmand, your pooler skipped that item and opted for a politically correct bagel instead. Ari said he was unaware of the change in the menu."

Fleischer dodged the question of whether the menu -- conceptualized and executed by the jumbo jet's crew -- was changed at the Bush administration's request. "We're always proud of the men and women of our Air Force," he answered.

Responding to this new blow to Franco-American relations, a French Embassy employee told us on condition of anonymity: "I'm not surprised, because we have so many people calling us. It's so ridiculous, we don't even pay attention. If Air Force One wants to call it 'freedom toast,' it has nothing to do with us."

Special interest organizations of every stripe are having trouble pushing their messages through the fog of war. It has been especially tough for the liberal activist nonprofits touting environmentalism and other causes unrelated to the dominant story.

Thus the Washington-based public relations firm Fenton Communications, which has been flacking for left-leaning outfits and cause celebs such as Susan Sarandon and Martin Sheen for the past two decades, recently issued a PR primer to harried clients. It's titled "Fenton Fundamentals: Navigating Media in Wartime."

The e-mailed version begins: "DON'T bash Bush. 2 out of 3 Americans approve of Bush's handling of the confrontation with Saddam Hussein. In times of war -- especially the early stages -- the public's instinct is to stand behind its leader. You won't win any allies by alienating yourself with harsh attacks."

But that "Fenton Fundamental" is missing from the list of dos and don't on the firm's Website, fenton.com. When we asked CEO David Fenton to resolve this mystery, he initially claimed ignorance. "I don't even know about that," he told us.

But after several testy exchanges, he finally acknowledged yesterday: "I didn't write it. We have a very able staff. But I did not agree with the proposition that people shouldn't feel free to criticize the president. That seemed anti-Jeffersonian. I objected to it, so they took it off the Web site."

We hope Fenton feels fundamentally better for having told the truth.


* Yesterday's item about Georgetown resident and Iraq war opponent Wanda Baucus landed with a thud in Montana -- the conservative, Bush-supporting state that her husband, Max Baucus, has represented for the past quarter-century as a centrist Democratic senator. "I'm calling it 'The Baucus Situation,' " Billings radio producer Kevin Wilcox, of the statewide Northern News Network, told us. "Around here it's big news -- very interesting, to say the least."

* Papa's Got a Brand New Parking Ticket: As Godfather of Soul James Brown was singing and gyrating his heart out at Tuesday night's National Republican Senatorial Committee fundraiser at the Capitol Hilton, an enforcer of Washington's parking regulations was apparently following his own vocation. Witnesses in front of the downtown hotel saw a pink citation on the windshield of Brown's tour bus, nicknamed "Big Blue," which a 22-piece band has been using for the 69-year-old Brown's year-long "Seven Decades of Funk" tour. Yesterday the bus was on its way to Dallas, and Brown manager Howie Greene -- who, like the funk legend, was planning to fly -- told us: "We're not aware of any parking ticket the bus got. If so, we'll find out about it in Dallas and pay it. We're aware of the economic crisis in D.C. and we'll help Mayor Williams any way we can."

* The Cactus Cantina in Cleveland Park is becoming a Bush administration favorite. Tuesday evening, Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge was spotted downing margaritas with staffers at the bar. Back in January, the President and Laura Bush treated friends to dinner at the Tex-Mex restaurant.