Washington Prowler

Cheney Makes the Call

How New York was won. Plus: PBS's prestige bias.

By 6.14.02

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FORWARD MARCH
Hand it to the White House: for every dumb move like backing a stiff like Richard Riordan, it'll pull off an elegant political coup just as you'd expect from a politically savvy shop run by Karl Rove. That capacity couldn't have been clearer last week when Vice President Dick Cheney stepped into the congressional redistricting mess in New York state. As a result of the 2000 census, New York loses two House seats, and Republicans and Democrats have been haggling over just how to split the difference. Under a plan that appeared to be on its way to approval after being handed down by a federal appeals court-appointed special master, 79-year-old Republican Ben Gilman would have held on to his seat, while two Democrats would have been re-districted out of office.

Then Republican State Senate president Joe Bruno got the call from Cheney. Bruno surprised everyone by going back to the negotiating table and cutting a deal that, on its face, was a big loss for Republicans.

"We thought Bruno was nuts," says a state party representative for the Democrats. "They'd won in some ways with this special master plan. Then he comes back and cuts a deal that appears more Democratically friendly."

But the White House saw something in the plan that may in the long-term help Republicans more than retaining the old dinosaur Gilman would. Under the original plan, Rep. Tom Reynolds, a fast-rising second-term conservative Republican from suburban Buffalo, would have found himself in a far less friendly district than the one he inhabits now. Several other northern New York Republicans would have faced similar troubles.

But Reynolds was key. He's slated to take over the House Republican Campaign Committee next year, an unheard of leap in the leadership for a third-termer. "But that just shows how much we think of Reynolds," says a House Republican member of the committee. "He's a future leader for the party."

Under the plan pushed by the White House, the Republicans lose one congressional seat -- Gilman's -- but have an improved chance of holding Reynolds's seat, as well as at least two others that, under the previous plan, might have swung more heavily Democratic in the 2002 election.

"You feel bad for Gilman," says the Republican House member. "But in this case, we and the White House had to think of our future. We sacrificed a guy who probably would have retired next go-round for a guy we think will be around for years to come, and who will vote consistently with Tom DeLay and Denny Hastert. That was pretty forward-looking for this White House."

And the news isn't all bad for Republicans. Liberal Democrat Louise Slaughter will apparently be out of a job too, as a result of the re-districting plan.

BEST BIAS IN THE BUSINESS
New evidence (as if we needed more) that the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and the Public Broadcasting System are out of touch with America: both PBS and CPB pulled strings to arrange funding to bring Mr. Christiane Amanpour, also known as Jamie Rubin, former State Department spokesman under Madeleine Albright, back from Europe to host an world affairs chat show.

Called "Wide Angle," the PBS show was originally presented to the network as an international affairs show that would be modeled after "Washington Week in Review."

"We wanted it to be a little livelier than that," says a CPB staffer who was involved in developing the original project. "But we also were looking at a broader, more inclusive set of guests and I guess that's what forced the liberals to flex their muscles."

That all inclusiveness included a list of potential hosts and panel members. The biggest name among possible hosts was Bernard Goldberg, formerly of CBS News, now a reporter for the HBO Sports newsmagazine show hosted by Bryant Gumbel, and author of Bias, the runaway bestseller.

"We'd put the list together before his book came out, so that must have just been a red flag for the PBS folks," says the CPB staffer. "We're disappointed they couldn't look past the politics and couldn't see that this show would have gotten them better ratings than anything else they're putting on the air."

Indeed, the programming staff at PBS is now calling "Wide Angle" a "prestige show."

"That's what they call programming that won't get ratings, but helps them with their liberal constituents in places like New York and San Francisco," says a PBS staffer. "Shows like 'This Old House' and Julia Childs's cooking shows get viewers. Those aren't prestige."

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