A Different Path for Hurricane Campbell
It's probably the most important story about the media's coverage of Hurricane Katrina that you didn ' t read: Today, Weekend Edition coanchor Campbell Brown 's gutsy and heartfelt reports cemented her position as NBC's top choice to replace the Today show's Katie Couric. "Campbell's stock has really surged," says a key network insider. While network suits hope Couric will stay with NBC next year, she is considered a leading candidate for the nightly news anchor jobs at ABC and CBS.
How Brown vaulted to the front of the pack is an unusual industry story, fully on display during Katrina. Long urged to "girlie up" her image, as her competitors have, Brown has chosen instead to report from places like Baghdad and New Orleans. "It's very hard," she says, "to take comments like that seriously when you're standing in the aftermath of a hurricane and you haven't showered for three days." Brown's not just a news junkie but also a hurricane hound: Last year's Ivan leveled her parents' Florida home. Even before Katrina hit, she flew south, lived out of a car, and ate PowerBars and SpaghettiOs. Her big score was finding 9-year-old Charles Evans, who guided her around the ghastly convention center. "I was in tears," she says. Ironically, it was her undolled-up looks and go-get-'em attitude that jazzed NBC insiders. Groupies loved the T-shirts and wrinkled shorts, too. "What," she joshes, "you had a problem with that?"
Another Win for 'Friends & Allies'
When John G. Roberts is approved as chief justice of the United States, as expected, he can thank President Bush 's "Friends & Allies" program, which went to work on him immediately after he was nominated. The project, started by the Republican National Committee in the 2004 re-election campaign, is simple and effective: Give opinion makers, media friends, and even cocktail party hosts insider info on the topic of the day. How? Through E-mailed talking points, called D.C. Talkers, and conference calls. For Roberts, it worked this way: A daily conference call to about 80 pundits, GOP-leaning radio and TV hosts, and newsmakers was made around 9 a.m. On the other end were the main Roberts gunslingers like Steve Schmidt at the White House and Ken Mehlman and Brian Jones at the RNC. D.C. Talkers would then be distributed to an even larger list filled with positive info about Roberts and lines of attack on his critics. "The idea," said one of those involved, "is to feed them information and have them invested in us." It has even created addicts, he added. "Now they come to us before going on TV."
Jumping Back in the Saddle--Too Soon
Ex-FEMA Administrator Michael Brown seems to be doing for his career what he did for the beleaguered agency. Less than a week after FEMA's dismal Hurricane Katrina response forced Brown out of the agency, he has been shopping his resume to headhunters and Washington PR firms. And it's not working. "He's radioactive," said one exec. An ally of Brownie in the PR world said he should have waited a month before starting his job hunt. "It's just a bad play."
Hollywood Still Loves New Orleans
They might be living in Washington now, but that doesn't mean 40 New Orleans-area residents displaced by Hurricane Katrina aren't loyal to their hometown. We hear that the Motion Picture Association of America last week invited them to a dinner of flank steak and chicken and a screening of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory at the group's HQ a block from the White House. One of the evacuees pushed the group to promise that Hollywood would not forget New Orleans and would take advantage of special tax credits to return there and film movies. "It's a really big issue," says an MPAA official. "Of course we'll return." Need proof? The group, which represents major studios, is meeting with the Louisiana congressional delegation this week to discuss future film projects.
Just Nostalgic or Out of Touch?
The Bushies who recently wrote the plan to boost the mileage of light trucks are either nostalgic or blind to the prices we're paying for gas. That's because their program to require that mileage increase an average of 1.3 miles per gallon by 2011 was based on a two-year-old price of $25 to $30 per barrel of oil, not the current $65 price. So what? you ask. William Pizer, a former Bush economist now with Resources for the Future, a think tank, suggests the administration take advantage of the high prices and boost mileage another 4 to 5 miles per gallon. With gas higher than the White House figured, the added cost of making engines fuel efficient would be offset by the savings at the pump.
How the Pentagon Caught Katrina
Did Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld have a premonition about hurricane season? Turns out that some two weeks before Katrina hit the Gulf, he signed a "severe weather execution order" that let the Northern Command dispatch officials to hurricane sites on its own, without Washington's OK. Officials report that the order helped speed the military response.
Dr. Scholl's in the Oval Office?
Is America ready for a president who wears clogs and plays with a teddy bear? Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist thinks so. The heart surgeon and undeclared White House hopeful has recently been sending us colorful E-mails about his travels in what appears to be a bid to show a folksier side as he considers the 2008 race. His latest includes "12 Things You Probably Didn't Know About Bill Frist," as written by his kids. Among them: He prefers Dr. Scholl's clogs in the operating room and practiced stitches on his teddy bear.
The Trials of le Tour de Bush
Don't tell former Commerce Secretary Don Evans that mountain biking is a kid's sport. We hear that he fell and broke his collarbone last month while training to bike with his pal President Bush in Crawford, Texas. "He's in a lot of pain," says a friend, but recovering fast.
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With Marianne Lavelle and Julian E. Barnes
This story appears in the September 26, 2005 print edition of U.S. News & World Report.