WASHINGTON – President Bush's nominee for chief Pentagon spokesman appeared in jeopardy Tuesday, with a senior Democrat leaving open the possibility of blocking it.
J. Dorrance Smith, the nominee, testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee in a closed session to answer questions about an opinion article in which he accused U.S. television networks of helping terrorists through their partnerships with Al-Jazeera.
The article has sparked concern among committee members, and has prompted Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., to pledge to defeat Smith's nomination to be the assistant secretary of defense for public affairs.
"I have deep concerns about whether or not he should be representing the United States government and the Department of Defense with that kind of attitude and approach," Levin said after Tuesday's hearing.
"I will consult with colleagues on the next step," he said when asked whether he intended to put a "hold" on the nomination.
Sen. John Warner, R-Va., the committee chairman, said he expected to forward Smith's nomination to the full Senate later this week. "I have confidence in this nominee," Warner said.
But Levin called Smith's comments in the article "extreme" and "over the top."
In an opinion piece published in April in The Wall Street Journal, Smith wrote: "Osama bin Laden, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, and al Qaeda have a partner in al-Jazeera and, by extension, most networks in the U.S. This partnership is a powerful tool for the terrorists in the war in Iraq," he wrote.
Smith also singled out U.S. networks, saying "Al Jazeera has very strong partners in the U.S. -- ABC, NBC, CBS, Fox, CNN and MSNBC. Video aired by Al Jazeera ends up on these networks, sometimes within minutes."
Tuesday's was the second confirmation hearing for Smith, a former ABC News producer who spent nine months in Iraq as a senior media adviser to then-U.S. Ambassador Paul Bremer.
If confirmed, Smith would replace former spokeswoman Victoria Clarke, who left in 2003.
The post has remained vacant since then, although Lawrence Di Rita, the principal deputy/assistant secretary of defense for public affairs, has assumed many of the responsibilities.