Who's Sorry Now?

Twelve years ago, when Peter Arnett was holed up in Baghdad for the first war on Iraq, Sen. Alan Simpson (R-Wyo.) was widely condemned for calling Arnett an Iraqi "sympathizer" whose brother-in-law had been "active in the Viet Cong."

After Arnett's son wrote in the New York Times about the pain Simpson's "smear" had caused the Arnett family, Simpson apologized to the New Zealand-born journalist, who won a Pulitzer Prize for his reporting in Vietnam. "I greatly regret the hurt, pain and anguish I have caused," Simpson wrote to the Times.

But yesterday the 72-year-old retired senator was in no mood to apologize.

"This does not surprise me, because whatever overtook him was hubris," Simpson told us from his home in Cody, Wyo., reacting to news that the 68-year-old Arnett has been fired by NBC and the series "National Geographic Explorer" for granting a controversial interview to state-run Iraqi television. "After the first war, every time you saw him, he was talking about his book and how important he was to the journalism world, and how he brought truth and light to the world.

"I know that in my own life, when you get a little hubris, when you get a little cocky, that's when you're headed for a fall. Man, oh, man. I think Peter got a little self-regarding, he got hubris, and now it's sad. But I'm sure he'll make it through and find something else to do."

We couldn't reach Arnett yesterday for comment.

The Young Turk as the Older Man?

* Rep. Harold Ford Jr. (D-Tenn.) is known for being a talented politician with ambition and star quality. He is also known, especially around Washington, as a dashing bachelor, one of People magazine's "50 Most Beautiful People," and the sort of guy who breaks hearts and leaves 'em swooning.

So we were fascinated to learn that Ford was spotted having dinner recently at Cafe Milano with one Julia Baugher, a 22-year-old student at Georgetown University and the author of the Hoya student newspaper's Sex on the Hilltop column.

Among the topics she has covered in her weekly column: "Revealing Your History: Sex, Lies and Lies About Sex"; "To Booty Call or Not to Booty Call"; and, on Feb. 28, "It's My Birthday and I'll Date Who I Want."

In that column, Baugher wrote: "According to the Rule of 1/2 His Age Plus 7, I can (and should) officially be dating 30-year-olds. That's right -- take the male's age, divide it by two, then add seven. The result is a numeral just the right number of years younger than the potential suitor." Ford is 32.

Baugher went on: "Recently I was out with a fellow in his early 30s, and all of a sudden I realized that I had absolutely nothing to say. I guarantee you, this happens very rarely. . . . It seemed as if any comment I made would be laughable or arbitrary. Him: 'I'm going to Europe, the Middle East and Australia next month for business.' Me: "Umm, I'm going home to Chicago for spring break!' The gulf seemed very wide indeed."

We hear that Ford hasn't been out of the country since last March. As for Baugher, she worked full time as a legislative assistant for Rep. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) between her freshman and sophomore years at Georgetown, where she's now a government major working toward a master's degree. We're told she met Ford by chance last year while dining at adjacent tables at Paolo's in Georgetown. They've talked on and off since then, we're told, but apparently have shared only a single meal.

"The congressman thinks she is a smart young lady," said Ford's spokesman, Anthony Coley. "They're not dating. He only wishes that his dinner with Colin Powell got as much attention as this."

THIS JUST IN...

* One down, two to go: Back in June we wrote about the heartwarming coincidence that the pregnant spouses of three members of the White House press corps -- NBC's David Gregory, Time magazine's John Dickerson and the Financial Times's Richard Wolffe -- shared the same Aug. 3 due date. We're pleased to report that Gregory's wife, Beth Wilkinson, delivered a 6-pound 12-ounce boy Tuesday evening. The 6-foot-5 Gregory's first child is named Maxwell, and yesterday White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer dubbed him "Mini-Stretch." Now that the TV newsguy's kid has arrived, Dickerson and Wolffe continue to wait. "Weekly newsmagazine people," Dickerson theorized, "have longer lead times."

* Those were Jordan's reigning royals, King Abdullah and Queen Rania, pushing shopping carts at a couple of Washington food stores yesterday. The Post's Nora Boustany, a longtime Middle East expert, was minding her own business at Dean & Deluca in Georgetown when His Majesty -- here to meet with President Bush today -- steered his mini-cart toward her to say hello. And Her Majesty was spotted at Whole Foods Market in Georgetown filling up three full-size carts with boxes of cereal, bags of grain and other transportable foodstuffs.