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McClellan's Out: Who's Next?



It was so blatant, NPR pointed it out this morning: As President Bush was announcing staff changes Tuesday, press secretary Scott McClellan stood by his side as a silent symbol of the ineffective old guard.

Bush solved that problem later today with McClellan's resignation, just announced earlier today. A 35-year-old Texan who served as Bush's deputy press secretary when he was governor there, McClellan barely lasted three years after replacing Ari Fleischer in July 2003, departing less than 48 hours after revealing the incoming White House chief of staff's advice that staffers thinking about leaving should get out now.

It has been tough to gauge whether McClellan was simply an awful press secretary or he was made to look awful by the conduct of the administration. Forced to explain constant gaffes and problems -- the President's plunging approval ratings, the vice president's shooting accident, the continuing carnage in Iraq, the Scooter Libby scandal, the pressure to fire Donald Rumsfeld, etc., etc. -- the pudgy press secretary often looked more like a press punching bag, as reporters such as NBC's David Gregory made their reputations by taking apart his thin explanations and doubletalk during nationally televised press briefings.

As some are quick to note, presidential press secretaries rarely last longer than a few years in the job. But on the long list of Bush administration problems, an inability to communicate effectively with the press and the public scores high, making McClellan's imminent departure one of the adminitration's worst kept secrets this week.

Once McClellan has gone on to his cushy corporate executive position -- a lovely parting gift, if you ask me -- we can see whether his successor repeats the mistakes we've seen on his watch (telling reporters he went to bed on the night of Cheney's hunting accident unaware whether the vice president was shot? Riiight).

Among the rumored successors: Fox News employees Tony Snow and Den Senor. Really.

Disappointed Most by Al-Arian Deal: Local Media

News that former USF professor and accused terrorist Sami Al-Arian cut a deal allowing a relatively quick deportation left few people happy. Especially in local media.

From its start with a Tampa Tribune expose in 1995, allegations that Al-Arian helped run the Palestinian Islamic Jihad from a think tank he established at the university have divided the Tampa Bay area's two biggest newspapers.

The Tribune has pressed the question of Al-Arian's guilt aggressively, backing its initial revelations based in part on a 1994 documentary by controversial terrorism expert Steve emerson called "Jihad in America." The Times has often been skeptical of government prosecutors, sensitive to al-Arians claims he was an academic and vicitm of anti-Arab hysteria. Didn't hurt that the scoop of his PIJ activities came from the competition.

With this plea deal -- involving admission to lesser charges -- no one gets all they wanted, media-wise. The Tribune doesn't get the court verdict connecting Al-Arian to specific acts of terrorism, and the Times gets Al-Arian's admission that is snookered at least one reporter here and that his group did indeed pass money to a terrorist organization.

I think this prosecution also shows the danger of corner-cutting, post 9/11 legislation such as the Patriot Act, which seemed to only help the govenrment pull together an overly complex, 51-count indictment that couldn't convince jurors Al-Arian was guilty of anything but prosecutorial overreaching. Turns out, there's a reason for all those laws about gathering evidence: to help convince a jury the case is solid.

Bad prosecution. Lying defendant. An 11-year string of conflicted local news coverage. I have a feeling there's more than a few local media types who will be glad to see this case hit the rear view mirror.

Short Takes

Seems the new graphic look pioneered by WTVT-Ch. 13 for its News Edge 11 p.m. show has migrated to other markets. TV Newser web site reports WNYW in New York and KTVI in St. Louis are now sporting the new look, amid rumors all of Fox's owned and operated stations will get the makeover. And they say the Tampa Bay area is behind the times...

[Last modified: Wednesday, July 21, 2010 2:36pm]


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