By Jeff Dufour - 02/28/06 12:00 AM EST
It doesn’t open for two more weeks, and it has yet to be screened even in New York or Los Angeles, but a D.C. audience got a first look at “Thank You for Smoking” at a Georgetown screening Saturday night.
Based on the Christopher Buckley novel of the same name, the indie film stars Aaron Eckhart as Nick Naylor, the chief Washington spokesman for Big Tobacco.
“I talk for a living,” he proclaims. “You know that guy who always gets the girl? That’s me. On crack.”
Each night, Naylor drinks with the other self-styled “Merchants of Death,” lobbyists for the gun and liquor industries, as they compare notes on how best to dupe the public.
The laugh-out-loud satire includes cameos by Dennis Miller, the Capital Grille and this newspaper.
So what did the targets of the film think?
“I thought the movie was a terrific parody,” said Dan Berger, senior vice president for the National Association of Federal Credit Unions. “It was really funny.”
“Nothing like sitting there for two hours watching my profession take another kick to the groin,” he jokingly continued.
Former Rep. Dan Glickman (D-Kan.), who now heads the Motion Picture Association of America, was also impressed. “It does ring true,” he said, chuckling. “If you’re going to make a point, you’ve got to make a big point.”
Undeterred by the film’s send-up of his industry, Frank Coleman of the Distilled Spirits Council stayed on message. “Let’s go have a cocktail!” he said, beaming.
And so everyone went just up the street to Blue Gin for the VIP after-party hosted by Capitol File, which sports Eckhart on its current cover. There, we caught up with director Jason Reitman, who told us he’s not out to vilify any of the industries in the film.
“It’s about spin,” he said.
So does it take a political junkie to make a movie like this? Not exactly.
“Probably like most college kids, I get most of my news from ‘The Daily Show,’” he said.
Likewise for the film’s star. When asked how much background research he did on lobbying, Eckhart sarcastically replied, “Years and years,” before confessing that he doesn’t “know anything about politics.”
“I just want my water and my electricity to stay on,” he said.
Rehberg staffer punches belligerent bar-goer
A seemingly drunk constituent found himself on the wrong end of a knuckle sandwich Wednesday after harassing Rep. Denny Rehberg (R-Mont.) and his staff and then following one of the aides into the men’s room.
According to local TV station KECI, Rehberg and “several staff members” were having dinner at the Iron Horse in Missoula when they were interrupted by one Tim Hanson, who began giving Rehberg a hard time.
“A lot of constituents say hi to him or give him a piece of their mind politely,” Rehberg spokesman Todd Schreiber said. But Hanson, who seemed “intoxicated,” began voicing his “displeasure with Hamas being in control of the Palestinian state and blamed it on President Bush and the Republicans.”
After Hanson became increasingly belligerent toward Rehberg — and his own girlfriend — bouncers offered to remove him, Schreiber said, but Rehberg declined.
But when Randy Vogel, Reh- berg’s state director, went to the men’s room, Hanson followed him. What happened in there isn’t yet clear, but Vogel, a former police officer, “punched Hanson in the face,” authorities told KECI.
The station said Hanson “does not remember exactly what happened in the bathroom, but he does remember being punched and said he did not hit Vogel.”
Montana Democrats tried to make hay out of the incident. “It looks like Denny Rehberg and his band of jack-booted thugs have finally crossed the line, at least according to the Missoula police,” said state Democratic Party spokesman Matt McKenna. “I wonder if he’s planning on bringing his goons to the debates in case he gets asked too many tough questions.”
But Schreiber painted a different picture — one that had Vogel using violence as a last resort. He noted that Vogel was the one who first called police.
Levin assists in ice dancing silver medal
Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.) will probably never win an Olympic medal, but at least he can take partial credit for one.
Levin added an amendment to last year’s labor-health and human services appropriations bill that enabled Canadian ice dancer Tanith Belbin — a Michigan native — to obtain her U.S. citizenship in time to compete under the American flag in Turin.
Belbin and partner Ben Agosto took the silver medal, the United States’ first medal in the event in 30 years.
Belbin, who has lived in Michigan since 1998, initially applied for citizenship in 2002, but, Levin explained in a statement, “due to changes that were made to the law in 2002, the process has taken significantly longer than it would have if she had filed her paperwork two years later.”
Levin’s provision reduced the residency requirement from five to three years for prospective citizens with “extraordinary ability.”
“This common-sense fix will enable her to complete the citizenship process in time to represent the U.S. in the 2006 Olympics,” he said.
President Bush signed the law Dec. 30, and Belbin took the oath Dec. 31, only hours before the deadline.
Plenty of food, liquor and unattached ladies
Thanks to his granddaughter, Cissy Baker, those at the National Press Foundation awards dinner last week got a taste of the late Sen. Everett Dirksen’s views on lobbyists.
Introducing the award given in his honor, Baker played a 1963 clip from “Your Senator Reports,” the minority leader’s weekly TV broadcast to his constituents.
“Now there has grown up a peculiar sinister connotation about that word ‘lobbyist,’” he says. “You think of him as some sinister, sulking creature who is sneaking through the corridors of the Congress, buttonholing people and making representations, and perhaps misrepresentations, on behalf of some pending matter.”
Dirksen (R-Ill.) goes on to tell of some senior members regaling him when he arrived in Congress with tales of “parties on excursion boats, going down the Potomac River, where there was plenty of food, plenty of liquor, probably some unattached ladies aboard, and they would give this party for the legislators in order to get a chance to talk to them.”
But thanks to a full transcript of the broadcast provided by the Dirksen Congressional Center, we learn that he hadn’t in fact “seen anything like it,” only a party at someone’s house with “a very good steak dinner.” When the dinner was over and there were “only men present,” there ensued a two-hour discussion among “some of the most distinguished members of both House and Senate.”
Sounds like Signatures.
Nevertheless, concludes a confident Dirksen, “lobbying has very much been brought into the open, where all the world can see.”
Moby, Byrd, Ackerman unite
And now, from the Department of Odd Bedfellows: Sen. Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.), Rep. Gary Ackerman (D-N.Y.) and electronic-music guru Moby.
The three participated in a conference call Sunday night as part of a Humane Society effort to reduce the suffering of animals on large farms.
Moby attended a “Party Animal” party in Washington, one of 180 across the country designed to bring together those concerned about farm animals. Byrd and Ackerman called in.
“One of my lifetime goals is to do whatever I can to alleviate the suffering of animals everywhere, and I became aware of just how much suffering is inflicted upon animals on industrialized factory farms,” Moby said in a statement.
Byrd, who has pushed for animal-friendly legislation in the past, said, “Man is destined to rule this world, and with that charge comes the heavy responsibility of benevolent custody and faithful husbandry to all creatures found within nature.”
No word yet on whether Byrd and Ackerman are on board for the Human Society’s next campaign: demanding that the White House use only cage-free eggs during its annual Easter Egg Roll.
Karissa Marcum contributed to this page.