Advertisers bail on Imus

041107imus.jpgStaples Inc. and Procter & Gamble Co. have pulled their advertising from Don Imus’ radio show in the wake of the furor caused by his comments about the Rutgers women’s basketball team (left).

The two companies on Tuesday added to the fallout that began when the now-suspended radio show host called the players “nappy-headed hos” on his April 4 show.

“Because of the recent comments that were made on the program it did prompt us to take a look at our decision to advertise on the program and we have decided to stop advertising,” Staples spokesman Paul Capelli said Tuesday night.

“Once we became aware of the comment, we sort of stepped back and took a look at it,” he said, declining to disclose the dollar amount of the advertising involved. “We weren’t on today and are not planning on being on going forward.

“I can’t speculate on what we might do in the future,” he said.

P&G spokesman Terry Loftus said the company pulled ads from the show as of last Friday. Another sponsor, Bigelow Tea, said in a statement posted on its Web site that the remarks have “put our future sponsorship in jeopardy.”

Calls for the radio host’s dismissal have been growing, including from groups such as the National Organization for Women and the National Association of Black Journalists.

The 10 members of the Rutgers team spoke publicly for the first time Tuesday about the on-air comments, made the day after the team lost the NCAA championship game to Tennessee.

Some of them wiped away tears as their coach, C. Vivian Stringer, criticized Imus for “racist and sexist remarks that are deplorable, despicable, abominable and unconscionable.” The women, eight of whom are black, called his comments insensitive and hurtful.

“It kind of scars us. We grew up in a world where racism exists, and there’s nothing we can do to change that,” said Matee Ajavon, a junior guard. “I think that this has scarred me for life.”

The women agreed, however, to meet with Imus privately next Tuesday and hear his explanation. They held back from saying whether they’d accept Imus’ apologies or passing judgment on whether a two-week suspension imposed by CBS Radio and MSNBC was sufficient.

Several players said they wanted to ask him why he would make such thoughtless statements.

Junior forward Essence Carson said she had done some research on Imus and his past inflammatory and derogatory statements about other people.

“Just knowing that this has happened time and time before, I felt that it might be time to make a stand,” she said Wednesday on NBC’s “Today” show.

“He doesn’t know who we are as people,” Carson said. “That’s why we are just so appalled with his insensitive remarks, not only about African-American women, but about women as a whole.”

In Washington, White House spokeswoman Dana Perino was asked if the president thought Imus’ punishment was strong enough, but said it was up to Imus’s employer to decide any further action.

“The president believed that the apology was the absolute right thing to do,” Perino said Tuesday.

Imus has apologized repeatedly for his comments. He said Tuesday he hadn’t been thinking when making a joke that went “way too far.” He also said that those who called for his firing without knowing him, his philanthropic work or what his show was about would be making an “ill-informed” choice.

MSNBC has said it will watch to see whether Imus changes the tenor of future programs.

The radio show originates from WFAN-AM in New York City and is syndicated nationally by Westwood One, both of which are managed by CBS Corp. (MSNBC, which simulcasts the show on cable, is a part of NBC Universal, which is owned by General Electric Co.)

Insults are nothing new on his show, where Colin Powell was once called a “weasel” and New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson was referred to as a “fat sissy.”

Rutgers’ coach said Wednesday that he crossed the line with her team. She first heard about the remarks as she was leaving a celebration honoring the players’ success in making it to the NCAA championship game. When the players should have been taking congratulations they were getting calls about Imus’ insults instead, she told “Today.”

“I’ve heard so many other talk show hosts speak on this, they say that’s the way our society is,” Stringer said Wednesday. “You know what? The society is the way it is because adults don’t take leadership roles.”

“We need to be shining examples of what should be,” Stringer said. “No one is right in speaking about any person in such a derogatory way.

–DAVID BAUDER


___

Associated Press writer Rebecca Santana in Piscataway, N.J., contributed to this report.

Copyright © 2007 The Associated Press

When people die, photo ops fail

Last week, Sen. John McCain staged a truly Orwellian publicity stunt in a Baghdad market. In a desperate attempt to give some sliver of credence to claims that the dreaded “liberal media” are failing to report on all the wonderful things happening in Iraq, McCain took a brief walk outside the American-maintained fortress that is Baghdad’s Green Zone.

Afterward, McCain declared his walk through the market was a sign that security had improved significantly in the Iraqi capital, and the administration’s current troop escalation is working. What he didn’t mention was that, during his short stroll, he was accompanied by dozens of heavily armed U.S. troops and several armored vehicles, while a couple of attack helicopters hovered overhead.

McCain’s photo op (which included the spectacle of the elderly senator wearing a flak jacket) was ludicrous on so many levels that even the normally docile national press, which has always treated McCain with kid gloves, pointed out he was making a fool of himself. Chastened, McCain issued a half-hearted apology a few days later, saying he “misspoke” when he pointed to his little walk under the protection of several platoons from the world’s most powerful military as evidence of Baghdad’s excellent shopping opportunities.

The most interesting question raised by McCain’s pathetic stunt is why this genuine war hero — who after all knows far better than most politicians the difference between real courage and the made for TV kind — thought he could get away with it.

The answer can be found by taking a random stroll through the archives of the very media McCain was trying to manipulate. From the first days of the Iraq war, it has been an article of dogmatic faith among the movement conservatives McCain is trying to woo that the liberal media have given Americans a far too bleak picture of what’s happening in Iraq.

Here are just a few examples out of literally hundreds: In September of 2003, former Clinton adviser-turned right wing media pundit Dick Morris declared that the “incredibly biased” liberal media were claiming “that Iraq is a ‘quagmire’ and that there ‘aren’t any weapons of mass destruction,’ and that ‘Bush lied’ — and all the while, thanks to Fox News are seeing with their own eyes how much this is crazy spin.”

A year later syndicated columnist and Bush administration stenographer Mark Steyn announced that the “liberal media” were doing their best to hide the fact that “the glass in Iraq is about 2/3rds full. The bulk of the violence is confined to one province and parts of Baghdad … There is no ‘civil war.'”

And last April President Bush himself took the media to task: “The kind of progress that we and the Iraqi people are making in places like Tal Afar is not easy to capture in a short clip on the evening news,” he said. “Footage of children playing, or shops opening, and people resuming their normal lives will never be as dramatic as the footage of an IED explosion, or the destruction of a mosque, or soldiers and civilians being killed or injured.” (Two weeks ago, almost exactly a year to the day after Bush uttered these words, Tal Afar was the site of a particularly horrible massacre, in which 70 men and boys were lynched. Some of the murderers were members of the town’s police force).

Over the past four years it’s become clear that, when it comes to Iraq, perhaps a quarter of Americans are equipped with skulls that can successfully deflect almost all unpleasant facts. These people will account for the majority of the votes cast in next year’s Republican primaries — hence McCain’s extraordinarily well-armed stroll.

Here’s another unpleasant fact: the day after McCain’s photo op, 21 people from that same market were kidnapped, taken north of the city, and murdered.

–PAUL F. CAMPOS

(Paul F. Campos is a law professor at the University of Colorado and can be reached at Paul.Campos(at)Colorado.edu.)

Imus suspended for two weeks

By DAVID BAUDER

040907imus.jpgCBS Radio and MSNBC both said they were suspending Don Imus’ morning talk show for two weeks following his reference last week to members of the Rutgers women’s basketball team as “nappy-headed hos.”

The suspension begins next Monday.

While CBS made its announcement without comment, MSNBC said Imus’ regret at making the inappropriate comment and his stated dedication to changing the show’s discourse made it believe this was the appropriate response.

“Our future relationship with Imus is contingent on his ability to live up to his word,” the network said. MSNBC simulcasts his radio program weekday mornings.

Imus, who has made a career of cranky insults in the morning, was fighting for his job following the joke that by his own admission went “way too far.” He continued to apologize Monday, both on his show and on a syndicated radio program hosted by the Rev. Al Sharpton, who is among several black leaders demanding his ouster.

Related articles:

Did Imus go too far?


Imus in the mourning

Copyright © 2007 The Associated Press

Gingrich says Gonzales should quit

By HOPE YEN

040907gingrich.jpg

Joining a growing list of Republicans, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich said Sunday that Attorney General Alberto Gonzales should consider resigning. The possible presidential candidate said the botched firing of U.S. attorneys has destroyed Gonzales’ credibility as the nation’s top law enforcer.

"I think the country, in fact, would be much better served to have a new team at the Justice Department, across the board," Gingrich said. "I cannot imagine how he is going to be effective for the rest of this administration. … They’re going to be involved in endless hearings."

Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., who is helping lead the investigation into the firing of eight federal prosecutors, said Gingrich’s comments pointed to building bipartisan support for a new attorney general.

"This is another important voice who believes that the attorney general should step down for the good of the country and the good of the department," Schumer said in a statement. "We hope both the attorney general and the president heed Speaker Gingrich’s message."

Gonzales, a former White House counsel who became attorney general in 2005, is scheduled to testify April 17 before the Senate Judiciary Committee. It is a congressional showdown believed to be a make-or-break appearance for Gonzales.

The committee also has pledged to compel the testimony of White House officials such as Karl Rove and former counsel Harriet Miers to determine the extent of White House involvement. On Friday, Monica Goodling, the Justice Department’s liaison to the White House, abruptly quit after telling Congress she would not testify.

After the firings earlier this year, Gonzales initially asserted that the dismissals were performance-related, not based on political considerations, and that he was not directly involved in the decisions.

But testimony from his former chief of staff, Kyle Sampson, as well as e-mails between the department and the White House contradicted those claims, leading to a public apology from Gonzales.

On Sunday, Gingrich harshly criticized Gonzales’ judgment in allowing the firings to escalate into such a political scandal.

Gingrich noted that a president has every right to fire U.S. attorneys for any reason. Therefore, he said, all Gonzales had to do was to say that Bush wanted new people. Instead, Gingrich said, the attorney general made a series of misstatements from which he was forced later to backtrack.

"This is the most mishandled, artificial, self-created mess that I can remember in the years I’ve been active in public life," Gingrich said. "The buck has to stop somewhere, and I’m assuming it’s the attorney general and his immediate team."

In recent weeks, several Republicans have joined Democrats in saying Gonzales should consider resigning, including Sens. John Sununu of New Hampshire and Gordon Smith of Oregon and Reps. Dana Rohrabacher of California, Tom Tancredo of Colorado and Lee Terry of Nebraska.

Other Republicans, including administration allies Jon Kyl of Arizona and John Cornyn of Texas, have acknowledged that Gonzales badly mishandled the matter and needed to explain himself quickly.

"I think the confusion and the ham-handed way that these firings was done certainly undermines the confidence of the Justice Department," Kyl said Sunday. "And part of his effort to come up and testify before the Hill will be to restore some of that confidence."

Schumer said the controversy is the latest evidence of a leadership failure at the department.

"The gravity of this situation is shown by the fact that several Republicans have called for the attorney general to resign," he said. "The fact that the attorney general is the president’s friend and was the president’s counsel for years does not alone make him qualified to be attorney general."

Gingrich and Schumer appeared on "Fox News Sunday," and Kyl spoke on ABC’s "This Week."

Copyright © 2007 The Associated Press

Did Don Imus finally go too far?

040807imus.jpgUnimpressed by his on-air apology or corporate promises of a tighter leash, angry critics of nationally syndicated radio host Don Imus called Saturday for his dismissal over his racially charged comments about the mostly black Rutgers women’s basketball team.

“I accept his apology, just as I want his bosses to accept his resignation,” said the Rev. Al Sharpton. He promised to picket Imus’ New York radio home, WFAN-AM, unless the veteran of nearly 40 years of anything-goes broadcasting is gone within a week.

Sharpton was not alone in his anger over Imus’ description of the Rutgers’ women as “nappy headed hos” during a Wednesday morning segment of his show, which airs for millions of listeners on more than 70 stations and the MSNBC television network.

On Friday, after Imus delivered an on-air apology, both WFAN and MSNBC condemned his remarks. WFAN issued a statement promising to “monitor the program’s content” but Imus, a member of the National Broadcasters Hall of Fame, was not publicly disciplined.

The National Association of Black Journalists, the editor-in-chief of Essence magazine and a New York sports columnist joined the chorus against Imus.

“What he has said has deeply hurt too many people — black and white, male and female,” said NABJ President Bryan Monroe. “His so-called apology comes two days after the fact, and it is too little, too late.”

Angela Burt Murray, of Essence magazine, called on Imus’ bosses to take a harder stance over his “unacceptable” remarks. “It needs to be made clear that this type of behavior is offensive and will not be tolerated without severe consequences,” Murray said.

Columnist Filip Bondy of the Daily News, in a column headlined “Imus spews hate, should be fired,” said the radio star “should be axed for one of the most despicable comments ever uttered on the air.”

The Rutgers team, which includes eight black women, lost the NCAA women’s championship game Tuesday, and Imus was discussing the game with producer Bernard McGuirk.

“That’s some rough girls from Rutgers,” Imus said. “Man, they got tattoos …”

“Some hardcore hos,” said McGuirk.

“That’s some nappy headed hos there, I’m going to tell you that,” Imus said.

Karen Mateo, a spokeswoman for WFAN’s parent company CBS Radio, said Saturday there was no additional comment on the Imus situation.

Imus’ success has often been a a result of his on-air barbs.

“That Imus is in trouble for being politically incorrect is certainly not new,” said Tom Taylor, editor of the trade publication Inside Radio. “He’s lived his life in and out of trouble … This is something CBS will be watching very carefully.”

Recent controversies involving Imus focused on a member of his morning team, Sid Rosenberg, who was fired two years ago after a particularly vile crack about cancer-stricken singer Kylie Minogue. Before that, a racially tinged comment by Rosenberg about Venus and Serena Williams stirred another controversy.

The NABJ cited two other incidents in which Imus himself insulted two black journalists. Imus has called PBS’ Gwen Ifill a “cleaning lady” and described William Rhoden of The New York Times as “a quota hire,” the group said.

Sharpton said he was writing to the Federal Communications Commission about Imus’ remarks.

“This is not some unemployed comic like Michael Richards,” Sharpton said, referring to the “Seinfeld” actor who used the N-word and referred to lynching in a rant last year. “This is an established figure, allowed to use the airwaves for sexist and racist remarks.”

The intelligence that wasn’t

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American Troops on Patrol in Baghdad (AP)

By DALE McFEATTERS

Pre-war assertions by top Bush administration officials that there was substantive cooperation between Iraq and al Qaeda were at best a stretch and at worst flat wrong, according to a report by the Pentagon inspector general’s office. The complete report was released this past week by the Senate Armed Services Committee.

A summary released earlier found that Douglas Feith, then undersecretary of defense for policy and an ardent advocate of the war, had made inappropriate use of what turned out to be sketchy intelligence. It was incorporated into a 2002 briefing intended to make the case for war and given to President Bush’s advisers.

The briefing stated that “fragmentary reporting points to possible Iraqi involvement” in the 9/11 attacks, for which no such proof has ever surfaced and which was debunked by the 9/11 commission.

Feith’s office was claiming a “symbiotic, mature” relationship between al Qaeda and the Saddam Hussein regime when both the CIA and the Defense Intelligence Agency had found no conclusive evidence of cooperation or an ongoing relationship.

The report, by acting Pentagon Inspector General Thomas Gimble, is based on captured Iraqi documents and the U.S. interrogations of Saddam, his foreign minister, his intelligence minister and a senior al Qaeda operative in Iraq.

Even as the report came out, Vice President Cheney was insisting that a U.S. pullout from Iraq “would play right into the hands of al Qaeda.”

By getting into a war that we can’t seem to win or let go of, we may already have played into the hands of al Qaeda.

Independent agency investigating firing of U.S. attorney

By JAMES W. BROSNAN

An independent government agency is investigating a complaint that President Bush illegally fired the U.S. attorney for New Mexico because the prosecutor spent too much time away from the office on Naval Reserve duty.

Former U.S. Attorney David Iglesias said he filed the complaint this week with the Office of Special Counsel, the agency that enforces the federal law that bars employers from denying benefits to employees because of their National Guard or Reserve obligations.

Iglesias was one of eight U.S. attorneys fired by Bush last year. All eight were Republicans initially appointed by Bush.

Justice Department officials have not directly claimed that Iglesias was fired because of the more than 40 days a year he was away on Reserve duty, but they have accused him of being an "absentee landlord" who delegated too many responsibilities to his first assistant, Larry Gomez, now the acting U.S. attorney.

The Office of Special Counsel, which also investigates whistleblower complaints and suspected illegal political activity by government workers, has the power in a normal case to order reinstatement and back pay for an employee who has suffered discrimination.

But the Constitution gives Bush the authority to hire and fire U.S. attorneys, and the Office of Special Counsel would have to resolve the conflict.

"There is some interpretation that needs to be done since a U.S. attorney is a political appointee," said Jim Mitchell, director of communications for the Office of Special Counsel.

Iglesias said he is not seeking reinstatement but would accept back pay. He said he filed the complaint to avail himself of another agency with subpoena power to determine the truth behind his dismissal.

Iglesias was one of seven U.S. attorneys fired Dec. 7. Another U.S. attorney was fired earlier.

Justice Department officials initially claimed that all were fired for performance problems, but Democrats in Congress are investigating to determine whether politics played a role.

In the case of Iglesias, Sen. Pete Domenici, R-N.M., other influential New Mexico Republicans and White House deputy chief of staff Karl Rove all complained to Attorney General Alberto Gonzales that Iglesias did not prosecute alleged voter fraud in the 2004 election.

Iglesias has said he believes his firing was triggered by two phone calls last October — one from Domenici and one from Rep. Heather Wilson, R-N.M. — that Iglesias charges were attempts to pressure him to speed up indictments in a local corruption probe involving a prominent Albuquerque Democrat.

But a "talking points" memo prepared for Justice Department officials testifying before Congress said Iglesias was "perceived to be an ‘absentee landlord’ who relies on the FAUSA (First Assistant United States Attorney) to run the office."

"I still believe my firing was political in nature, but I’m taking their statements at face value," said Iglesias.

Iglesias said Justice officials can’t be complaining about the two to three weeks of vacation he took each year or the trips he took on Justice Department business.

"That leaves the military duty. I want to see whether there is any documentation that corroborates that possibility," said Iglesias.

Iglesias, who remains unemployed, is about to start another two weeks of Reserve duty on Friday.

Trumpeting global warming

By DAN K. THOMASSON

What’s that old line: "The end of the world has been delayed indefinitely because of a shortage of trumpeters"? Well, there’s an increasing number of them now. Hardly a day goes by when someone hasn’t signed up to trumpet the Apocalypse, from Al Gore to international scientific panels and even the U.S. Supreme Court.

Whatever your feelings about global warming, the political realities of it are here to stay. If there was any doubt about that, the high court dispelled it with its narrow ruling that puts the Environmental Protection Agency on notice that claiming lack of authority to regulate greenhouse gases in auto emissions won’t cut it.

Between the lines of the court’s opinion is the recognition that "yes Virginia, there is a boogeyman" and it comes in the form of chemical elements that are trapping the heat of the Earth, an opinion that preceded by only a few days a long anticipated international report that 90 percent of the problem is manmade. For any agency or administration to ignore this issue in the face of such an overwhelming chorus of warnings is to flirt with political suicide.

But until the 5 to 4 decision in a suit brought by the state of Massachusetts, that is exactly what the Bush administration has done through EPA, which has maintained it had no authority to regulate the heat-trapping elements in vehicle exhausts, a stance that helped those dwindling few who believe there is scant evidence that cars or any other human endeavor is responsible for the dramatic climate change. Just to nail down things a bit, the court further allowed that the EPA could not sidestep that authority.

Although the court’s ruling doesn’t force the EPA to regulate the gases, the practical impact of the decision is just that. The agency would expect to face a new blizzard of legal challenges filed by environmentalists if it did not. Actually, a number of such cases, including a similar one on the regulation of carbon dioxide emissions from power plants, have been held up waiting for the regulations on cars.

It is not overstating the matter to predict that this, coupled with another decision that broadens EPA authority over factories and power plants that increase pollutants by adding capacity, may have handed environmentalists their single biggest day in the long fight over global warming.

It is a severe setback for the president, whom they charge has shamefully neglected the obvious threat to human kind. The ruling also provides new impetus for congressional action on this volatile issue. Whether or not the justices had seen Gore’s Academy Award-winning "An Inconvenient Truth" about the devastating possibilities of global warming is not known. The fact is millions of Americans have and the 2000 Democratic presidential nominee has realized a rebirth of popularity, especially in the burgeoning Green movement, since it was released last year. Contrary to its image as a cloistered panel immune from daily realities, the court is almost always aware of public furor over most issues, particularly those general outcries that have become as deafening as this one.

With the handwriting on the wall, even industry groups that have until recently opposed further controls on emissions are now lining up to work with environmentalists on proposals for limiting pollutants. Dave McCurdy, the president of the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, was quoted after the ruling as saying the group was looking forward to working with the White House and the Congress on the issue. Activists recently began to take their cases to a growing number of states where the climate change fear is more prevalent, especially car-glutted California, which has moved to set its own standards for emissions.

Gore can and should claim major credit for pushing the climate change issue to the forefront, convincing millions of doubters of the dire consequences of inaction. Gore literally has gotten fat off his success, prompting one wag to predict that if he jumped off the polar ice cap it would further raise the levels of the oceans.

No matter where one stands on this issue, the court’s decision, the latest report and mounting outdoor evidence that something is wrong have launched an entirely new urgency in the efforts to save the planet from extinction. The threat will be with us probably until none of us is here any longer. For the White House or the Congress to continue to ignore it brings us closer to the day when there will be sufficient trumpeters.

Iraq war vets come home to find their jobs gone

By ANN McFEATTERS

Last week we learned that many of our disabled Iraq-war veterans are being shafted by the military and medical bureaucracy. Now we find out that some reservists and members of the National Guard are returning home to find their jobs gone.

Although there is a 1994 law — the Uniformed Services Employment and Re-employment Rights Act — requiring reservists to be fairly and quickly re-hired after deployment, it is often not enforced. A military office called Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve, whose local branches returning soldiers are to contact if they can’t get their jobs back, has just two press releases on its Web site for 2007.

One said: “The military is grateful to the civilian employers of National Guardsmen and reservists who support their employees when they’re called to duty, said Marine Gen. Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff,” in a statement in Anchorage, Alaska, a few days ago.

January’s press release said the Department of Defense will mobilize Guard and reserve members by units, increasing the odds of multiple deployments by individuals. While it said the goal is only one year of involuntary deployment and five years of non-mobilization, because of “today’s global demands” that will not be possible for all units.

Since Sept. 11, 2001, the Department of Defense has mobilized more than 500,000 reservists and Guard members. Sometimes they make up nearly half of the U.S. ground troops fighting abroad.

An investigation of the military’s employer-support office last year for Denver magazine, by Maximillian Potter, argued that although it should be a “tremendous resource” for returning U.S. troops, it is “a bureaucratic mess, mired in incompetence, undermined by conflict of interest and accountable to no one.”

A new report in February by the Government Accountability Office found that the Pentagon does not even know the scope of the problems reservists face when they try to go back to work. In 2005, one out of seven was thought to return jobless.

Under the 1994 law, there are about 12,400 formal complaints filed each year alleging that employers refused to give returning reservists and Guard members their old jobs. The GAO said Congress hears about 2,400 of those complaints.

The GAO report concluded that the Departments of Defense, Justice and Labor and the Office of Special Counsel have different ways of approaching the law and don’t compare cases, one reason for the chaos and confusion. The Department of Veterans Affairs, which is taking heat for the problems that returning soldiers face, oddly, is not involved in employee claims under the 1994 law.

An Air Force nurse with 32 years in the military, seven in active duty, and nearly two-dozen medals for valor and service was terminated from her civilian health-care job of 10 years when she was sent to Iraq for four months last year.

She is not alone. Increasingly, as reservists and Guard members return home after service in Iraq, they are finding their jobs were eliminated or their pay checks were smaller or promised promotions disappeared.

Last November, the U.S. Office of Personnel Management sent its annual report to Congress on veterans and disabled veterans working for the federal government. The press release said, “And by every measure, the Bush administration is living up to its commitment to make career opportunities available to soldiers, sailors and airmen.” The report said the total number of veterans employed in 2005 out of a federal government work force of 1.8 million was 456,254. But the number of veterans newly hired in 2005 was only 5,000 more than the number hired in 2004.

That was also when 36 members of the Florida National Guard got letters, while serving in combat in Iraq, informing them that their jobs in a federal drug-interdiction program were abolished.

The Denver magazine report told of a 53-year-old Marine, in the service for 29 years, who deployed for nine months in Kuwait and Iraq in 2002 and 2003.

When he got home, he was fired from his $88,000-a-year job in a firm where he’d worked for 19 years. He was allegedly told by the Department of Labor, where his commanding officer referred him, that he didn’t have a legal case unless he heard somebody say he was fired because of his military service.

The officer, a lawyer, was so outraged, that he fought for the Marine, who won $324,082 in U.S. District Court in Colorado. As of late last year, reporter Potter said the Marine was still looking for a job with health insurance for his family.

The National Committee of Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve says veterans with job problems should call one of its ombudsmen from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. CT Monday through Friday at 1-800-336-4590. Sometimes you can get a real person.

The betting is that there will be thousands of cases as returning reservists and Guard members try to reclaim their old jobs. The betting is that many will be out of luck.

(Scripps Howard columnist Ann McFeatters has covered the White House and national politics since 1986. E-mail amcfeatters(at)hotmail.com.)

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Catch a falling star

By ERIKA GONZALEZ

I could have been paying bills or writing thank-you notes about gifts for my now-15-month-old son.

But instead, I was Googling Britney Spears to find pictures of her newly shorn skull. A couple clicks later and I was staring in fascination at a slide show documenting the pop star’s sad metamorphosis into Mr. Clean:

  • An angry Britney glaring at the paparazzi, her long brown locks still intact and spilling out from the hood of a gray sweatshirt;
  • A focused Britney, electric clippers raised to her head, hair already half gone;
  • A bald, bold Britney, watching a tattoo artist tending a freshly inked black-and-pink cross on her lower torso.

But that photo fix wasn’t enough. I searched for video footage of Brit’s hair horror and stumbled upon an interview with an eyewitness to what will likely become the world’s most famous haircut.

I wasn’t alone.

That same video, broadcast on YouTube, had been viewed more than 2 million times as of one point last week.

Even more disturbing than our obsession with Brit’s bad hair day is the amount of time we’ve spent dissecting Anna Nicole Smith’s tragic life. According to Broadcasting & Cable magazine, “Entertainment Tonight,” “Extra,” “The Insider” and “Inside Edition” all experienced double-digit increases for the programs they aired the day Smith died.

Coverage of the blond bombshell’s death also helped CNN’s “The Situation Room” score a rare victory over Fox News, reported The Washington Post. The network also beat Fox in the much-sought-after 25-54 demographic that night.

But it’s not just Britney and Anna Nicole. We consume celebrity crash-and-burn stories like a sumo wrestler at a free buffet. Our fixation has given rise to dozens of gossip Web sites and a new breed of tabloid-style glossy magazines that are outpacing their more serious news counterparts in circulation growth.

So, why do we enjoy seeing stars fail? For starters, there’s a certain sense of superiority that comes from seeing someone rich and famous screw up. Who didn’t snicker a bit when Mel Gibson was arrested for drunken driving, so intoxicated he nearly urinated on the floor in his cell? We like to think that what we lack in wealth and notoriety, we make up for in better judgment.

Let’s be honest: We also have scripts we want our stars to follow. We expected Britney to remain a sweet, virginal young woman, not a tattooed single mom with an aversion to underwear.

Focusing on other people’s problems helps us escape our own. But it’s also a dangerous diversion. The more time we spend reading letters written to Lindsay Lohan by angry producers, the less we devote to understanding more pressing issues. I haven’t followed Anna Nicole’s story closely, yet I can name at least two of the baby daddies vying for custody of little Dannielynn. Ask me who the president of Iran is and I’m speechless.

As long we continue to watch tabloid TV and read Internet postings about star slip-ups, nothing will change. If we (myself included) want more coverage of Darfur, we have to change the channel when Wolf Blitzer starts talking about Anna Nicole. If we want Paris Hilton to disappear, we have to stop buying magazines with her picture on the cover.

Consider this my mea culpa.

The next time I find myself looking for a way to avoid a few chores, I’ll try picking up a book.

(Contact Erika Gonzalez of the Rocky Mountain News at www.rockymountainnews.com.)