White House press reports are given a humour bypass

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The Independent Online

* A last vestige of free speech at the Bush White House may be under threat. Pandora refers to the White House pool reports, those chronicles of Presidential routine - motorcades, stump speeches, and official dinners -- written by a designated scribe for his colleagues in the White House press corps.

* A last vestige of free speech at the Bush White House may be under threat. Pandora refers to the White House pool reports, those chronicles of Presidential routine - motorcades, stump speeches, and official dinners -- written by a designated scribe for his colleagues in the White House press corps.

They can be little jewels, full of in-jokes and funny details and 10,000 different descriptions of unremitting tedium: "Uneventful does not even begin to cover how sensory-deprived the trip was," a pooler wrote of one Bush foray to a Chicago fundraiser.

Or take the public debut of the new Presidential dog, Beazley, "confined to an Abu Ghraib-like cage on the edge of the South Lawn."

Alas, courtesy of the internet, too many people now read these once-restricted documents, as the White House has taken to sending them to selected conservative pals. Complaints have rolled in from Bush fans outraged at snide potshots at the great man by representatives of the despised liberal media, prompting one recent president of the White House Correspondents Association to send a memo warning colleagues to avoid "tossing in gratuitous asides and inside jokes."

But in this control-obsessed, leak-proof White House, what else is left?

* THE RACE to succeed the outgoing World Bank President, Jim Wolfensohn, is really heating up. First the Los Angeles Times endorsed Bono; now Angelina Jolie is getting into the act.

The Hollywood diva was in town last week as a goodwill ambassador for the UN, honoured for her work on behalf of refugees at a black-tie dinner hosted by the Kuwaiti Ambassador.

Naturally she utterly stole the show from the usual star-struck Washington types and sundry corporate sponsors. But she has serious views on the Bank too.

"I've met Bono, and I think he is a great guy," says la Jolie. "But my choice for the World Bank would be Colin Powell."

The former Secretary of State may be out of work no longer.

* THE UNGUIDED missile of Election 2004 is back. The lady's penchant for speaking her mind gave her husband's campaign staffers fits last year, and at a Democratic fundraiser in Seattle Teresa Heinz Kerry was at it again.

Was the vote rigged? Heinz Kerry, pictured, openly doubts the reliability of the optical scanning machines supplied by companies owned by "hard-right Republicans", used to count many of the votes and allegedly vulnerable to politically-motivated hackers.

"We in the United States are not a banana republic," thundered the Mozambique-born groceries heiress. Nor does she rule out a John Kerry run in 2008: "If he felt right, he would do it again."

* ANOTHER TOP-FLIGHT diplomat and household name for the US Embassy in London. Word is that Washington's next man at the Court of St James will be one Robert Holmes Tuttle, a California car dealer whose main claim to fame, apart from the oodles of money he has donated to Bush campaigns over the years, is that his father sold a car to Ronald Reagan in 1946.

Still, he can hardly be more ineffectual than Mr Bush's first envoy, William Farish, who raised the diplomatic art of invisibility to unprecedented heights. Tuttle, if indeed it is he, will of course be perfectly acceptable to HMG, even though, as one seasoned British official put it, "I've never heard of him."

It is just as well that Bush and Tony Blair do so much business directly.

* The annual St Patrick's Day manoeuvres are already in full swing (Pandora attended an excellent breakfast bash on 5 March, fully 12 days before the shamrock truly hits the fan). But let the Irish beware: the Scots are coming. The House of Representatives has passed a resolution for an annual Tartan Day on 6 April, the date in 1320 on which Scottish nationalists signed the Declaration of Arbroath, affirming that "never will we on any conditions be brought under English rule." Pandora, English to the marrow, welcomes this innovation. Indeed, he will tolerate daily re-enactments of Braveheart on the Mall - as long as the Scots throw good parties.

pandora@independent.co.uk

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