Washington Prowler

Sweating the Dems

Daschle, Gore, Clinton, Oprah and the most faithful one of all, Peter Jennings.

By 5.13.02

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A DASCHLE OF CLINTON
In a brief discussion recently with senior White House staff, Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle is said to have suggested that if the Bush Administration were to bring former President Clinton into Middle East negotiations or peace plan consultations, Democrats on the Hill might be more open to pushing through a number of administration nominations hung up in committee.

"It's [expletive deleted] ridiculous," says a White House consultant. "But if he did make that kind of offer it shows just how weak we are on the Hill. It's exactly the kind of thing Democrats would think of doing, if only to highlight just how badly things are going for Republicans."

IT'S NOT OVER
When news broke a few weeks back that Bill Clinton might launch a talk show of his own, his associates made a big deal of saying their boss is interested in becoming the "next" Oprah Winfrey. Now comes word from Chicago that Winfrey herself may be interested in helping the president out.

According to a freelance production assistant at Winfrey's Harpo Productions in Chicago, where the Winfrey show is shot, some staffers are curious to see just how good Clinton could be in their environment. There is an ongoing discussion to bring Clinton in for several shows on issues of national importance, such as race.

PIT STOPS
Recently Al Gore stopped by Capitol Hill for meetings with House and Senate Democratic campaign committees as well as with Democratic National Committee chairman Terry McAuliffe. The meetings were all casual, but even so Gore had to worry about perceptions, in the wake of his latest bad experience in Florida.

During his speech to the Florida Democratic Party convention in Orlando last month, Gore took off his suit coat -- only to reveal huge sweat stains under each arm. Aides blamed it on a hot convention center and poor air conditioning and ventilation.

To avoid any repeat of that embarrassment, Gore advance people asked that temperatures be kept low in the Hill meeting rooms. Everyone knows how hot and humid it can be in Washington.

Apparently the advance work paid off, because the former vice president was in good form during his visit, according to several House and Senate staffers who met him. "He's obviously been on a diet," said one House staffer. "He looks good, and he's doing something different with his hair to hide that growing bald spot."

But as often happens in cases of weight loss, unkind rumors began to spread on the Hill as well, especially on the Senate side. A staffer on the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee says aides to Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina, a potential Gore rival for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2004, were making cracks that Gore's weight loss was the result of an undisclosed illness.

IS PETER JENNINGS AN ACTIVE DEMOCRAT?
There's media bias, and then there's media bias. A letter writer to Saturday's Washington Post wondered whether its reporter had already endorsed Kathleen Kennedy Townsend for Maryland governor, given these sentences in the reporter's May 6 story: "But Townsend's most potent asset may be her intense sincerity. When she works a room, people feel a connection." NBC's Tim Russert devoted half of yesterday's "Meet the Press" to a fawning discussion of new Kennedy balderdash, this time a volume of "Profiles in Courage for Our Time," edited by Caroline Kennedy, Russert's star guest -- in whose presence he simply couldn't stop beaming and swooning. Has any man ever shown himself to be more in love?

Last week ABC's Peter Jennings gave the game away differently. Midway through the May 6 "World News Tonight," he introduced a Linda Douglass item on a National Republican Campaign Committee telemarketing scheme with these words: "Tonight a slightly dubious, particularly stealthy form of fund-raising art, this one comes from the Republicans." What followed was a report on a rather typical fundraising hustle that tried to flatter the giver into contributing to some GOP effort. As laid out by Douglass, the project clearly made the Republicans look bad. She even discovered that its real purpose was "to help elect Republican candidates." Horrors. But what stood out was the smug, dismissive, gotcha satisfaction on Jennings face during the segment. No one could mistake which political side he's on or why he found news value in the report.

One of the "slightly dubious" aspects of the GOP scheme is that donors were told they'd "be invited to private dinners with congressmen," according to the ABC report. Of all people Jennings shouldn't have found that unusual. In the past, he himself has been a drawing card for Democratic candidates in New York, though he might not known it -- in which case he was duped no less than those who might have contributed to the GOP scheme his news show reported on.

Regardless, as the Prowler has learned, Jennings's presence at fundraisers for such Democratic luminaries as Mario Cuomo, David Dinkins, Mark Green, and Hillary Clinton has been used by hosts of the events to bring people in. "Much more than Rather or Brokaw, Jennings is a social animal. You see him at parties, at events," says a New York socialite. "And I've been to Democratic events where his presence has been leaked beforehand, 'Oh, Peter Jennings will be there.' Whether he was aware he was a drawing card, who knows?"

It might be recalled that Jennings was the least enthusiastic anchor when it came to covering the Whitewater and Lewinsky scandals. According to ABC News staffers in New York, he was openly critical of his "Nightline" colleagues in Washington who did some of the most aggressive reporting in the early days of the scandals. "He hated that stuff, hated having to report it," says a staffer.

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