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Authors: Mo Rocca

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All the Presidents' Pets

BOOK: All the Presidents' Pets
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Contents

 
TITLE PAGE

 
DEDICATION

 
WHITE HOUSE PRESS BRIEFING, APRIL
1, 2004

 
PROLOGUE

1. Strangeness on a Train

2. Some Background on How I Became Jim Traficant's Bitch

3. There's Something About Harry (and All Our Other Presidents)

4. Stepping in Dhue-Dhue

5. The Karate Yid

6. Fast Times at White House High

7. Vanity Fair and Balanced

8. The Lair Down There

9. How the Pupniks Saved Civilization

10. The Alien and Sedition Acts,
or
How I Went to the Outback Steakhouse with Coulter, Crowley, Hannity and Colmes and Almost Lost My Mind

11. Federalist Smackdown

12. Thai Me Up, Thai Me Down

13. The Fox and the Pussy

14. Helen Thomas Underneath It All

15. Bird of a Nation

16. The Age of Jackass

17. First in War, First in Peace, First in the Field of Animal Husbandry

18. A Conspiracy So Great

19. The Dog of War

20. Book Clubbed

21. Vest in Show

22. Dick Morris's Feet

23. When Good Presidential Pets Go Bad

24. Eyes Wide Open

25. The Great Hallucinator?

26. The Compromise of Helen Thomas

27. That's Infotainment!

28. The Chapter That Only Jerry Bruckheimer Could Bring to Film

29. In Which Everything Ends Happily for Everyone Except the Several Dozen Casualties in Chapter 28

30. All the Presidents' Pets: The Next Generation

THE PRESIDENTS AND THEIR PETS: A SELECTED LIST

ENDNOTES

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

PHOTOGRAPHY CREDITS

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

COPYRIGHT

For Pop and Mamita

White House Press Briefing

APRIL 1, 2004

PRESS SECRETARY SCOTT M
C
CLELLAN:
Helen, go ahead.

HELEN THOMAS:
When is the President going to hold a news conference? He has not tackled any of these issues in an overall news conference, full-scale, since last December 15th. Isn't it about time that we had a time—chance, that is, to question?

SCOTT:
I appreciate your question, and I always try to work to accommodate your needs.

HELEN:
Well, is there any possibility of having one—

SCOTT:
Well, there's nothing I'm announcing today. But I understand your question and I will certainly take it into consideration.

HELEN:
Is it a difficult question?

. . .

2ND REPORTER:
A couple things. First, I just wanted to associate myself with Helen's request here. There are a lot—

SCOTT:
Anybody else? Anybody? Okay.

2ND REPORTER:
It would be great to hear from the President.

SCOTT:
Okay, we will do one later today. Oh, April Fool's, I'm sorry.

Prologue

 

The remarkable thing about Daniel Chester French's sculpture of a seated Abraham Lincoln is the way it captures both the sixteenth President's godliness and his humanness. Lincoln, the former rail splitter with almost no formal schooling, is memorialized in a nineteen-foot-high statue of Georgia white marble and seated inside a Greek temple—a fitting tribute to the man who saved, then died for, our democracy.

And yet he is totally approachable, even kindly, not aloof like Jefferson or inscrutable like Washington. The statue may be colossal but the expression is undeniably human—worn and pensive, eyes cast downward, modeled after Mathew Brady's photographs.

Lincoln has always been both a leader of irreproachable principle and at the same time eminently reasonable, political in the best sense of the word. He compromised, even wheeled and dealed, for an uncompromisingly noble goal—the survival of America. Lincoln was strong because he could bend, like the mature branch of a willow tree. Today's so-called ideologue is ineffectual, a brittle twig.

Surrounding the President, etched on the north and south walls of the Lincoln Memorial, are the Gettysburg Address and my personal favorite, the second inaugural speech. “With malice toward none; with charity for all,” Lincoln urges us to strive on to finish the work we are in—with firmness, yes, but always with compassion.

Which is why the sight of my body floating facedown at the western end of the Reflecting Pool, just a few yards from the bottom step of the Lincoln Memorial, my hand still clutching a faded Pinocchio chew toy, would have saddened him so deeply.

How did I, a thirtysomething journalist on a simple quest to save our once again imperiled democracy, get to this point? Only recently had I discovered the White House's deepest darkest secret. Now everything was hanging in the balance.

My story begins three and a half weeks before I ended up so unceremoniously in the water. And just like any story that's equal parts
All the President's Men
and
Charlotte's Web
(with a little
Da Vinci Code
thrown in), it's a tale that must be told—even if I never get invited back to the White House Correspondents Dinner.

1

Strangeness on a Train

 

All aboard!

The Acela Express between Washington and New York launched its maiden voyage in the fall of 2000 as a high-speed alternative to the poky, college-student-infested Amtrak train. With their double-espressos, laptops, and
New York Times
in hand, politicians, lobbyists, newscasters, and pundits flocked to the express service like it was the Concorde in its heyday, praising its ease and speed. Forget about the Delta Shuttle. After 9/11 no one was allowed to walk through the aisles once the plane was in the air, so it was impossible to network.

Because of its state-of-the-art everything (outlets at every seat!), the silver-and-turquoise bullet train quickly became a schmoozefest on wheels, a veritable kissass-ela. “It's so European!” gushed GOP leader-turned-lobbyist Dick Armey to Massachusetts Democrat Barney Frank. Across from them in a four-seater, columnist Tina Brown fawned over freshman congressman Ryan Seacrest. “How
do
you do it all?” she asked him. And in between cars, leggy conservative pundette Laura Ingraham canoodled in the shadows with pint-sized Clinton cabinet secretary Robert Reich—strange bedfellows indeed but on the Acela they shared one important trait: these powerbrokers were all arriving in Washington a full fifteen minutes faster than the lowly schmucks stuck on the Metroliner.

The Acela was especially busy the last time I took it. I wasn't en route to an assignment, though. My trip
was
the assignment, part of my current gig on MSNBC, also known as the Michelle Kwan of the twenty-four-hour cable news channels. (No matter how hard it tried, it always seemed to land on its ass.)

I wore a fake mustache and took my position behind the counter of the café car. It was the latest in my series of undercover reports focusing on different service jobs, appropriately called “Pressure”—and appropriately accompanied by the Billy Joel song “Pressure,” or, as the singer pronounced it, “Preshah!” Each segment featured me thrown into a different job, wearing a different disguise each time. As a furniture mover I got to wear a soul patch. As a mohel I wore
payos.

The segment was part of MSNBC's latest experiment in primetime news,
Hard Time with Jim Traficant,
starring the flamboyant former Ohio congressman and convict with the Davy Crockett hairpiece. From prison Jim had seen me on TV and become a fan. When MSNBC approached him, he demanded I join the ensemble. “You get me that Mo. He works my funnybone real good.”

Unfortunately
Hard Time
was scheduled against the mighty Bill O'Reilly. If O'Reilly and his two million viewers occupied a no-spin zone at the nucleus of cable news, we were a negatively charged speck in the outermost valence shell.

This was hardly the kind of work I envisioned when as a boy I dreamed of covering presidential politics. It was humbling, to say the least. (Only moments earlier C-SPAN's Brian Lamb had gone ballistic on me for overheating his Sara Lee cheese Danish. “You're supposed to poke a hole in the plastic before you nuke it, retard!” he shouted.) To make matters worse I was saddled with a 315-pound cameraman named Phil, who spent most of the day on his cell phone prattling on with his fellow conspiracy theorists: “It's absolutely true, Norma. The first President Bush and several Bin Ladens once went to hear cabaret singer Bobby Short . . . at New York's
Carlyle
Hotel. You can't make this stuff up.” If I tried to get sharp with him, he only threw it back in my face, reminding me of his own glory days. “When Morley interviewed Betty Ford, guess who did the light-meter reading,” he gloated.

But like it or not, Phil was my cameraman, and I needed his cooperation if I was ever going to prove that I was worthy of a meatier assignment. I picked up a copy of the
Washington Post
I'd been keeping behind the counter. “Hey, Phil, did you know that Amtrak requested $1.82 billion in federal assistance last year?”

Phil didn't hear me. He was polishing off a pack of peanut M&M's and staring at the café car TV, which was tuned to CNN.

Earlier that day, President Bush had once again dropped his dog Barney, this time at a gathering of Hispanic businesswomen. (It had happened once before, at an airfield in Waco.) It didn't seem like a particularly remarkable event—and playing it over and over didn't make it more so. In fact the only thing that was remotely interesting was the split-second startled look on Bush's face
before
he dropped the Scottie. But Phil didn't notice that.

“Poor doggie,” he whimpered. I tried again to get his attention.

“So anyway, Amtrak requested over $1.8 billion and yet its on-time record continued to decline.”

“And?”
Phil snapped without looking at me.

“And
that's pretty outrageous,” I said defensively. “This is the story we should look into.” Phil finally turned to me with a look one-quarter compassionate, three-quarters belittling that read, “You sad deluded clown. You really think they want you to be a real reporter?” But before I could respond, a woman's voice piped in.

The first strike in the War on Terriers?

“And
yet it's still faster than the shuttle door to door. How are you, cutie?” My cover was blown, by none other than CBS's Lesley Stahl, a former network “colleague.”

“Hey, Les,” I said, forcing a casual smile, then remembering it was no use pretending I wasn't embarrassed. I was wearing a fake mustache.

“Don't you ‘Hey, Les' me, Mr. Adorable Café Club Car Undercover Agent, you! Give me a hug!!” I awkwardly hugged Lesley over the counter. “I'd kiss you but your sexy
Magnum, P.I.
mustache might burn me! And, Phil, what on earth are you doing shooting for CABLE?!” The way she shrieked “cable” made me want to put my head in the microwave.

Phil seized the chance to take a swipe at me. “Helping the needy,” he sneered.

Lesley threw her head back with a laugh. “We really miss you at the network, honey,” she said to me, grabbing my hand. She couldn't resist adding, “But cable allows you to focus on
hard
news. No fluff here.” She and Phil both cackled.

There was no denying I looked silly. Then again, Lesley was wearing a pink leather jacket, miniskirt, and spike heels. Was she off to cover a rumble between the Sharks and the Jets?

“So what's going on in D.C.?” Phil asked her, hoping that she might sweep him off to an interview with some visiting head of state.

“The anniversary of Chandra Levy's disappearance,” she said, suddenly somber.


60 Minutes
?” Phil asked.

Lesley quickly changed the subject—she must have been shooting for
48 Hours.
She looked up at the menu. “Mo, sweetie, tell me about this Maine lobster wrap ‘enhanced with lemon mustard aioli, complemented by crisp cabbage slaw.' Very fancy-sounding.” By the time she finished reading she was leaning almost over the counter, one leg, bent at the knee, sexily kicked up behind her.

“Well, let's see,” I said, fumbling with one of the sandwiches. “It looks like the lobster is wrapped in some sort of a fennel tortilla with—”

“Why am I asking you?” she kidded, grabbing my collar and pulling my ear right up to her lips. “You're not a food reporter, Maurice,” she cooed, using my birth name. “You're an
investigative
reporter!” I'd just about had it with Lesley's Mrs. Robinson routine when her cell phone rang and she pushed me away to grab it. “It's Andrew calling! Must be important.” She wanted me to believe it was CBS News president Andrew Heyward, but of course I knew it was Andy Rooney. She covered the phone for a second. “Sorry, boys, but I have to take this. It's the
network.
” And she was gone in an instant, the clicking of her heels receding down the aisle of the café car.

“Isn't she amazing?” Phil said dreamily.

“Amazing,” I said, through clenched teeth.

BOOK: All the Presidents' Pets
9.41Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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