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April 27, 2004
NY Times Spreads Gossip, Tweaks Bush

Normally, newspapers print gossip -- unsubstantiated rumors that tend towards the salacious or damaging -- in specialty columns, such as the New York Post's Page 6 or the syndicated Liz Smith column. However, if the unsubstantiated and unsourced rumor involves high-ranking members of the Bush administration and can be used to tweak the president, the New York Times feels free to run gossip as a "news" story, as it does today regarding the latest (ho hum) Colin Powell rumor:

Forget the official pronouncements that Secretary of State Colin L. Powell is staying put at the State Department.

The buzz in the capital is at least a couple of steps beyond that, as people in business and finance circles here are speculating that he could become the next president of the World Bank, the largest and most influential development agency in the world.

The whispers only grew louder the other night after Mr. Powell dined with James D. Wolfensohn, the current bank head, at his home in the Kalorama section of Washington.

Ooh -- Powell attended a private dinner! Wow, that never happens. Elizabeth Becker notes that Wolfensohn said that Powell came as a friend and not in any official or business capacity. Wolfensohn also dismissed out of hand the idea that Powell would want to take over his job in a subsequent Bush administration, even if the president wanted to replace him. Wolfensohn hasn't even given any indication he wants out.

At least she quotes Wolfensohn by name. He's only one of two sources to be identified in the rest of the article; the other, a spokesperson for the Treasury Department, refused to comment. In the middle of the article, Becker gets to the point:

The speculation about Mr. Powell increased after the publication of Bob Woodward's book, "Plan of Attack.'' Mr. Woodward's portrait of the secretary of state as dissenting from the hawks in the Bush war cabinet seemed to confirm what many believed inevitable, that Mr. Powell will not remain as secretary in a second Bush administration.

Ah, yes, the oft-reported, oft-denied "Powell was betrayed" scenario that Powell pichimself has repeatedly and forcefully denied. Not only does Becker manage to maneuver that into her gossip column (titled "Psst! Is Powell Bound for the World Bank?" in a rare example of truth in headlining) but she even includes this picture of a poor African family with the caption, "The agenda of the World Bank is to help the world's poor, like this family in Soweto, South Africa." Why this picture?

To those pressing for Mr. Powell to make the move, what better position than as spokesman for the world's poor? He served as chairman of America's Promise, a charity aimed at helping children at risk.

While his policy speeches are replete with praise for the Iraq war and Mr. Bush's more muscular initiatives, Mr. Powell never fails to list as major accomplishments the administration's contributions to the fight against AIDS and world poverty - all items on the bank's agenda.

Well, sure, but they're also items on the Bush Administration's foreign-policy objectives, too, and Powell is the head of the State Department that is tasked with implementing them. Remember the $15 billion earmarked for AIDS?

Powell may well be a great candidate for the World Bank top spot. Heck, I'd pick him to run almost any organization; he has been tremendously successful no matter where he's gone. But this isn't a story, it's wishful thinking. The position isn't open, Powell has never said he'd leave his current position, and Bush hasn't been re-elected yet. No one has gone on record -- or even off-record -- saying he wants to take the job or that Bush wants to offer it to him. Becker relies on Powell's attendance at a private dinner and some unnamed functionary telling her, "Wouldn't that be great?"

Becker must have felt left out of the Bush-bashing lately and decided to get in a mild shot by proxy. If this is what passes for journalism at the Gray Lady these days, then Howell Raines clearly was not the only problem on the editorial board.

Sphere It Digg! View blog reactions
Posted by Ed Morrissey at April 27, 2004 5:47 AM

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