The Hill's ill timing

Paper picks a bad time to endorse reducing White House security; is Oscar an enemy of democracy? Plus: Wednesday morning briefing.

Published February 7, 2001 12:17PM (EST)

The Hill, a D.C. weekly covering the business of politics, hit newsstands Wednesday with a lead editorial calling for President Bush to lower the security barricades in front of 1600 Pennsylvania Ave., opening the street back up to motorists. Within hours, a man brandishing a gun was shot by Secret Service agents just a few hundred feet from the White House.

Bad timing, for sure. But Albert Eisele, editor of the Hill, wasn't willing to back away from the editorial so easily. To a certain degree, gunman Robert Pickett proved its point. "The kind of protection they have now doesn't prevent what happened there today," he said. And, as the editorial points out, any attempt to create a "zero risk" zone will ultimately fail.

The Hill has proselytized for reopening Pennsylvania Avenue since shortly after President Clinton, at the behest of the Secret Service, closed off the street in front of the White House, between 15th and 17th streets, in 1995 -- after someone had shot directly into the White House from the sidewalk. But the result, Wednesday's editorial claims, "tied up downtown traffic, shut out tourists, scared away businesses and inconvenienced residents."

The paper does offer two solutions to the current cutoff. One would "bend" the avenue away from the White House, in an arch, which would "increase the distance . .. to the executive mansion, and prevent trucks and vans from using the street." Another plan calls for burrowing a tunnel under the existing two-block stretch.

"My first thought," says Eisele, upon hearing of the Wednesday incident, "was at least it wasn't a truck bomb." The argument for keeping the street blocked off, of course, is fear of something greater than a pistol-packing loner. Still, Wednesday's incident only hinders the paper's cause. "This doesn't help the mind-set of the Secret Service people," Eisele says. Any upshots? Well, he says, he's fielded an awful lot of phone calls. "It's proof people read us," he says. --Kerry Lauerman [2:30 p.m., Feb. 7, 2001]

Oscar: Enemy of democracy
With the Florida recount now a distant memory, the, Center for Voting and Democracy can now focus on more contentious and important matters like ... the Academy Awards.

Led by former independent presidential candidate John Anderson, the center put out a news release this week detailing the process by which the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences chooses nominees for best picture, making a very important connection in the process.

"The Academy uses a very inclusive voting system: proportional representation," the release states. "This is designed to create a diverse slate of nominees that reflects the preferences of the broad spectrum of film artists who make up the organization's various branches. "

That's when the plot thickens. When it comes time to choose a winner, the academy switches to plurality representation, "where you don't have to earn a majority of votes ... the same system we use to elect the president of the United States." And just in case the center's point wasn't entirely clear, it states: "It is also the system used to eliminate participants in the CBS show 'Survivor.' George W. Bush and Richard Hatch can both thank plurality voting for their victories." --Anthony York [2 p.m., Feb. 7, 2001]

Nothing spoils a beautiful relationship like a sloppy affair. Just ask former Vice President Al Gore.

The Washington Post reports that on the night of his well-received concession speech, Gore confronted President Clinton, blaming him for spoiling Gore's chance to win the White House with the crippling legacy of Monica Lewinsky and other scandals. The president reportedly returned fire, saying that Gore lost the race all by himself by running away from the administration's accomplishments.

The "tense" postmortem chat doesn't bode well for Gore's prospects for running again in 2004. Clinton still wields a lot of authority in the Democratic Party, with his wife as a rising star and his chief fundraiser, Terry McAuliffe, now chairman of the Democratic National Committee.

President Bush has a lesson or two to learn from his own rumble with Gore. On Tuesday, Bush announced that he would call Ariel Sharon and congratulate him for winning the prime minister's post in Israel. Unfortunately, Bush made the statement an hour before exit polls definitively showed a Sharon victory. Nevertheless, Sharon had so thoroughly trounced Ehud Barak by that time that Bush didn't have to retract his well-wishing. That's what several world leaders had to do in November after news networks backed off their Election Night declaration that Bush had won.

So far, Bush has backed off America's activist role in the Middle East peace process. Secretary of State Colin Powell has pledged that the United States will largely limit itself to making supportive statements in any negotiations. Policy experts, however, express concern that without a more active American role, the hawkish Sharon could provoke anti-American sentiment in the region's Arab states.

Closer to home, the Bush White House is taking a different road on two of Clinton's pet projects. The White House offices on AIDS and race relations, opened with fanfare during the Clinton administration, will be shuttered by Bush. The offices' functions will be handled by the Domestic Policy Council and the Office of Public Liaison, respectively. Both AIDS and civil rights activists are concerned that the move, which they consider a step backward, means Bush doesn't view those issues as a priority.
-- Alicia Montgomery [6 a.m. PST, Feb. 7, 2001]

By Salon Staff

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