Welcome to the all-new, we-can-take-a-hint, reformed and re-educated, unstained and upstanding, 95 percent Clinton-scandal-free Quick & Dirty. Er, make that "Slow & Clean." It's a

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Scraping off the Barnicles

Welcome to the all-new, we-can-take-a-hint, reformed and re-educated, unstained and upstanding, 95 percent Clinton-scandal-free Quick & Dirty. Er, make that "Slow & Clean." It's a whole new era, now that Mike Barnicle has joined fellow ex­Boston Glober Patricia Smith in the Limbo of Lost Plagiarists, Undone Fabricators, and Cashiered Columnists. Now columnists must uphold the same exalted standards as reporters—which won't be easy. You know the ink-stained catechism: If you can write and report but you can't think, you become a reporter. If you can write and think but can't report, you're an editorialist. If all you can do is write, you get a column. And if you can't do any of the above—you get to be editor! Whoops.

It's going to get more dangerous out there. Last week, Slate's Today's Papers columnist, Scott Shuger, sounded a warning to the Pecksniffs of the press who have waxed self-righteous over Clinton's lapses: "The papers have been fairly spattered with editorial complaints that Bill Clinton should have come clean seven months ago—he shouldn't have had to be cornered first. Well, the same goes for the papers themselves. Many of them know that they are harboring on their staffs fiction artists and plagiarists. Today's Papers knows about a few of them, still drawing fat salaries, still writing with undeserved reputations—and will print their names here if it comes to that. So Today's Papers issues this challenge to America's press: Come clean about the Mike Barnicles still in your midst before you have to."

Queried about this ("You have a list of names, Sen. McCarthy?"), Shuger concedes he was referring to some big-time reporters he already outed a few years back in Forbes Media Critic, who are still working "unchastised." So his warning is really a ploy to flush new game out—but a useful and timely one. Remember when the media hounds sank Joe Biden's presidential bid by revealing that he'd cribbed a speech from Tony Blair ? (Biden never sounded so eloquent.) It's only fair to turn the same spotlight on us—a pronoun I do not use lightly.

Fiction was stranger than truth

First I must stipulate that I thought of that "Scraping" headline before I saw Slate use it. Honest. But having learned from Bill's and Barnicle's errors (and from Orrin Hatch, who says confession is good for the career), I now make my preemptive mea culpas. First, a Patricia Smith 'fess-up: The following persons and institutions, cited as sources and subjects in past columns, do not and never did exist. I merely fabricated them to strain your credulity: Mike Fancher. Tim Keck. Slade Gorton. Susan Paynter. The Fox Network. The Northern Marianas Islands. Microsoft. I apologize to you and would apologize to them, if they existed.

Second, the Barnicle baring: I never credited the sources from whom I knowingly and willfully stole these jokes: A rising tide lifts all boats. The Regional Transit Plan will lick congestion and let us trade in our cars for transit passes. New stadiums will ensure that the Seahawks and Mariners make money and never leave us. The people, businesses, and governments of the Puget Sound region will do what it takes to save their salmon, forests, and quality of life.

I suppose those were funnier the first time.

Rants at a picnic

You knew you were on Vashon Island; this year's GOP weenie roast at Tom Stewart's Vashon spread may have been the first major political (let alone Republican) event punctuated by cries of "Tofu! Tofu!" But they had a hard time giving the wonder curd away; the Republicnickers flocked to the triple-jumbo hot dogs and burgers. At least none were heard to exclaim, "Keep that donkey food away from me."

Other highlights:

Congressman Rick White won the false good cheer for recounting all the wonderful GOP upsets of 1994 and concluding: "And my favorite—Doc Hastings beat Jay Inslee!" Never mind what an odd couple the urbane White and know-nothing Hastings make. That sent Inslee back here to threaten White's seat.

American-flag garb was more common than at any event since Woodstock. Its wearers had better hope the flag-desecration amendment doesn't pass.

Even here, money politics reared its ugly head. Chris Bayley beat Linda Smith 72 percent to 28 percent in a vote-with-your-dollar straw poll, but those wearing Smith buttons and stickers outnumbered visible Bayley boosters by the same margin. "I saw him stuffing a whole wad of dollars in there!" one passer-by muttered.

Master of ceremonies John Carlson saluted Sen. Slade Gorton as "a legend" and pioneer who proved you needn't win King County (where Carlson, Gorton, and all the attendees I queried live) to win statewide. Gorton decried Democratic "fanaticism." Good thing there aren't any Republican fanatics.

House Speaker Newt Gingrich gave an ebullient keynote after posing (and presumably smiling) for 3,600 photos with paying fans. "People ask, 'How can you keep smiling?'" he led off. "After this week, how can you not keep smiling?" Thereafter, Gingrich (known for insisting on oral sex so he could say ,"I never slept with the woman") overlooked Clinton's woes and bashed Patty Murray instead. "Let me say how glad I am to be here. I'd heard a lot about this event," he gushed, forgetting perhaps that he also keynoted here two years ago.

Nevertheless, Gingrich spoke with a notes-free command of facts and syntax worthy of . . . Bill Clinton. But he seems to have trimmed his vision thing. He waxed most passionate when he recounted, "The state of Arizona has a win-win-win solution, which is the American model!" and explained that this entailed letting motorists order vanity plates by mail, instead of going down to the DMV. "That's an example of the kind of future we're trying to build. And Rick White plays a very important role in that!" But he only got standing applause when he urged using the budget surplus for Social Security savings accounts. Dare to dream big dreams.

"I think reporters ought to meet all 8,000 people here and see just how diverse we are," the Speaker declared. "We're a very diverse party!" I couldn't survey all 8,000, but scanned as many as I could through the afternoon and spotted eight African Americans (one serving stir-fry and one collecting trash) and three Asian or Native Americans, including one gathering signatures for a concealed-weapons initiative who, asked if she works for Alan Gottlieb, said, "No, I'm just the pretty face in the booth."

Afterward, Gingrich signed copies of his book for a tightly controlled queue. A woman wearing a "Linda Smith" sticker got shunted away when she presented a tattered 47-year-old copy of Prayers of the US Senate by Chaplain Peter Marshall for signing. "It's for my family," she explained afterward. "This is the only thing we had left after everything else burned in a fire." She was still smiling.

Till next year

The faithful packed around the corral fence to wave goodbye to the Speaker's chopper. "It's too bad he made such a jerk of himself in the beginning," said one in a flag shirt, "because he's really... " The fan clutched for the right word. "He's really—I mean, to hear him speak, he's good! And he's taking a laid-back approach on this Clinton thing. He could be jumping on the man, but he's not."

 
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