'Fahrenheit' Raters Leave Cuomo Out in the Cold

Noted orator, lawyer and Democrat Mario Cuomo wanted to be in Los Angeles yesterday to argue director Michael Moore's appeal for a PG-13 rating for "Fahrenheit 9/11," but he never got the chance to face the jury. "They suddenly invented this notion that you can't have an attorney speak to the ratings board," the irritated ex-governor of New York told us. "Look, I think the process should have allowed me in."

The Motion Picture Association of America's appeals board rejected the film distributor's last-ditch effort to reduce its R rating for "violent and disturbing images" and a few curse words. Tom Ortenberg, president of Lions Gate Films Releasing, argued that 15- and 16-year-olds, who might end up fighting in the war on terrorism, should be able to see the anti-Bush polemic, which shows gravely wounded Iraqi citizens and U.S. troops. The harshest expletives come from a U.S. soldier who repeats lyrics from the Bloodhound Gang's 1997 hit, "Fire Water Burn."

Rich Taylor, an MPAA spokesman, said the appeals process "is not set up to be a courtroom," adding, "only persons directly associated with creation of the film" can argue their points. Cuomo, who was retained by the distributors, said, "I don't have any magic power that deludes people into doing things they don't want to do. I'm just a citizen who wanted to make the case." As for his other qualifications, he noted, "I was invited to serve on the Supreme Court of the United States by Bill Clinton."

Moore's $6 million documentary opens Friday. "Let the public debate begin," said Ortenberg. Wait: You mean the debate hasn't begun yet?

For CNN, a Story That Won't Wash

* Drip, drip, drip: CNN had to endure its own kind of water torture yesterday, repeating at least five times in five hours that a story was wrong, dead wrong, couldn't have been more wrong when it said Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld had signed off on an interrogation technique called "water boarding" for detainees at Guantanamo Bay.

Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz publicly chastised the network, telling the House Armed Services Committee: "I'd like to clarify at least one thing that's been seriously misreported for almost the last 24 hours by CNN claiming that Secretary Rumsfeld authorized some kind of extreme interrogation method in Guantanamo. . . . I was in discussions with Secretary Rumsfeld where he specifically ruled out the use of that kind of technique."

A retraction posted on CNN.com said, "The tactic involves strapping a prisoner down and immersing him in water and making the subject feel as though he is drowning." CNN senior Pentagon correspondent Jamie McIntyre chalked it up to an "honest misunderstanding," telling Wolf Blitzer, "Let's just say that we had another discussion today in which it was clear that the understanding that we had yesterday was not the same understanding we had today."

As clear as water.

A Denial That's More Than Academic

* Bill Clinton's "My Life" was only hours past its official release, and Harvard professor Roger Porter was already getting nastygrams by e-mail yesterday. "Shame," said one person who'd read Clinton's version of a warning supposedly given by Porter, a policy aide in George H.W. Bush's White House, if Clinton were unwise enough to seek the presidency in 1992.

Porter's alleged quote: "The press has to have somebody in every election, and we're going to give them you. . . . We'll spend whatever we have to spend to get whoever we have to get to say whatever they have to say to take you out."

A mild-mannered presidential scholar at the Kennedy School of Government, Porter says there's one problem with Clinton's account of the conversation. "It never happened," he told The Washington Post's John Harris yesterday. "I will attest to you and swear on a stack of Bibles that I never had a conversation with him like that. He's making up the story."

Porter said he did work on a friendly basis with the then-governor of Arkansas on education, and once -- a year before the purported July 1991 conversation -- joked that Clinton should run for president as a Republican because he was too moderate for his own party. Porter, who works with the White House Historical Association, bumped into the former president just last week at the unveiling of Clinton's portrait. There was no mention of the story, which Clinton has been recounting to aides for years. "The fact that Bill Clinton has now repeated this story over and over does not make it true, although I suspect it has now become a legend in his own mind," Porter said.

SQUIBS

* Mary-Kate Olsen (she's the brunette) won't be glued to her twin sister Ashley's hip for at least a few weeks. The 18-year-old has checked herself into rehab, reportedly for an eating disorder. The teenage multimillionaire's rep will say only it's for "a health-related issue."

* Sen. Joe Biden (D-Del.) might not be invited back to the Oval Office anytime soon to do his Donald Trump imitation. In May he dispensed blunt advice to President Bush on whom he would fire. As Biden recounts in the new Rolling Stone:

"I turned to Vice President Cheney, who was there, and I said, 'Mr. Vice President, I wouldn't keep you if it weren't constitutionally required.' I turned back to the president and said, 'Mr. President, Dick Cheney and Don Rumsfeld are bright guys, really patriotic, but they've been dead wrong on every major piece of advice they've given you. That's why I'd get rid of them, Mr. President . . .' They said nothing. Just sat like big old bullfrogs on a log and looked at me."

With Anne Schroeder