Fox, CNN gear up for the mother of all media wars
There's one serious arms race going on in the Persian Gulf, and we're not talking about the military. This expensive buildup could determine the king of cable news: Fox or CNN. Both are flooding reporters outfitted with videophones, helmets, and other gear into five-star hotels near the front. Blank checks are being signed to cover 21st-century gadgets to wow audiences. Slumping CNN appears to be spending more. It's got a fleet of humvees. Fox has one but spruced it up with desert camo. Fox is spending on night-vision goggles and tiny "lipstick cameras" that provide lots of angles on the cheap. Network bigs say the expense is more than simply the cost of doing business. They say the 1991 Gulf War made CNN the top cable dog. CNN wants to repeat, but upstart Fox sees Iraq as its rainmaker. Spending, however, isn't always the trick. Consider: CNN flew a team to Qatar to cover a recent military exercise. It turned out to be a closed-door computer drill in Central Command HQ. For comparison: U.S. News has spent $26,000 on stuff like flak jackets and chem-bio suits.
The John Wayne of generals
There's a reason why we don't know a lot about Gen. Tommy Franks, the military's point man on Iraq. He just hates stories about himself. "Moms and dads of the troops," says spokesman Jim Wilkinson, "would rather have him working on the details of protecting their kids' lives than doing interviews." That said, Whispers does have some skinny on the four-star Army general. First, he's a 24-7 guy. Staff arrives at Central Command HQ at 4 a.m. just to prepare for the boss. He's a news junkie, though he watches no TV. For fun, the movie-loving Franks bought a portable DVD player for long flights to the gulf. His tastes can be simple. "He likes MREs, " groans one associate, and noshes at the Tex-Mex restaurant Chevys. But what really jazzes him is hanging out with troops, bringing them entertainers or getting Outback Steakhouse to deliver rib-eyes. "He's got a folksy John Wayne style," says a pal. Example: Not big on speeches, he brings troops in a circle for a few jokes and a short pep talk. Franks then shakes every hand.
A Hoosier plea
Indiana Republicans want Office of Management and Budget boss Mitch Daniels to run for governor in 2004. The Hoosiers have enlisted party bigwigs, like the state's last GOP governor, Robert Orr, to pitch Daniels, a former Eli Lilly & Co. exec, Reagan political aide, and state political insider. Local party players are also helping. Jim Whiten, an Indianapolis businessman, created www.draftmitchdaniels .com and a political action committee called "Frugal Hoosiers for Mitch." Donations are capped at $10, a tribute to the famously tight Daniels. Bushies don't want the pork buster to leave, but he's interested; Daniels attended this month's state GOP Lincoln Day events.
Retired Army Gen. Wesley Clark seems to have cleared up some lingering questions about his party affiliation and presidential plans. Democratic Party sources say Clark, a former NATO boss, this month called Arkansas Democratic Party Chair Ron Oliver and asked him to hold off endorsing a candidate. "Endorsing anyone else by his home state party," says our source, "would hurt him bad." Clark said he'd decide after the anticipated war with Iraq. Clark is on contract to analyze the war for CNN.