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WH Reporters Suggest Confused Anecdote Mars Bush's Iraq Trip --12/5/2003


1. WH Reporters Suggest Confused Anecdote Mars Bush's Iraq Trip
Obsessive White House press corps interest in the irrelevant, part one of two. At Thursday's White House press briefing, reporters for major outlets treated a slight change in the particulars of which pilot asked who whether a plane the pilot saw was Air Force One, as some kind of scandal which undermines the integrity of the Bush White House. NBC's Norah O'Donnell suggested the confused anecdote marred the entire trip: "Do you think, though, that this third revision of this story now, takes some of the shine off the President's surprise visit to the troops?" CBS's John Roberts seriously asked: "What are the legalities of filing a fraudulent flight plan?" Ed Chen of the Los Angeles Times contended: "There's a level of trust that has been eroded."

2. WPost Uncovers Turkey Platter Fraud, CNN's Brown: "Turkey-Gate"
Obsessive White House press corps interest in the irrelevant, part two of two. Thursday's Washington Post featured a story by the paper's White House reporter, Mike Allen, on how the turkey on a platter being held by President Bush in Iraq in a widely distributed photo was really a "decorative" turkey. Picking up on this scandalous revelation, CNN's Aaron Brown dedicated two interview segments to "presidential image tricks" and what he dubbed "Turkey-Gate." Brown saw it as symbolic of Bush White House duplicity: "Do you worry that, when the White House...said, well, when the President flew to the aircraft carrier, he had to fly in a jet, and then later had to retract that, that it just raises questions about the veracity of the White House itself, not the President?"

3. Time's Klein Smears Conservative Group as "Lunatic...Fanatics"
Upset by a new TV ad from the Club for Growth, about how Democratic candidate Howard Dean will raise taxes, on CNN on Thursday night Time magazine's Joe Klein derisively denigrated the conservative group as "a kind of lunatic fringe tax-cutting group" and dismissed them as "tax-cutting fanatics."

4. Lauer: Reagan-Era "Sexual McCarthyism" Preceded Hefner's Stroke
Hugh Hefner's stroke was the fault of Ronald Reagan and Jerry Falwell? During a taped interview with Playboy founder High Hefner on Thursday's Today to mark the magazine's 50th anniversary, Matt Lauer reminded him of the days after Reagan's inauguration: "I think you refer to it as we went through in this country a period of 'sexual McCarthyism.'" After Hefner identified Reagan and the Moral Majority as threats to him, Lauer, over footage of Jerry Falwell and anti-pornography protestors, recalled: "The backlash against Playboy was expensive. Hefner and the magazine were marginalized. By mid-decade he suffered a stroke."

5. New HBO Film: "Reaganism" as "Denial and Deadly Indifference"
Mr. Diane Sawyer, film director Mike Nichols, was the director for Angels in America, a six-hour movie, starring Al Pacino and Meryl Streep, premiering Sunday night on HBO, which denounces President Reagan for not doing enough to fight AIDS and portrays conservatives as scoundrels. The AP's Frazier Moore observed that the movie portrays "Reaganism as a policy of denial and deadly indifference." Time noted: "Reagan comes in for frequent insults, and when [screenwriter Tony] Kushner has a corrupt, disease-ravaged [Roy] Cohn say, 'If you want to look at the heart of modern conservatism, you look at me,' he is not trying to be fair and balanced."


WH Reporters Suggest Confused Anecdote
Mars Bush's Iraq Trip

Obsessive White House press corps interest in the irrelevant, part one of two. At Thursday's White House press briefing, reporters for major outlets treated a slight change in the particulars of which pilot asked who whether a plane the pilot saw was Air Force One, as it was on its way to Baghdad for a surprise Thanksgiving visit to the troops by President Bush, as some kind of scandal which undermines the integrity of the Bush White House.

Press Secretary Scott McClellan explained how an investigation by the British determined that it was not a British Airways pilot who asked if a plane he saw was Air Force One and an Air Force One pilot who told him no, it was a "Gulfstream V," but that a pilot for another airline had asked and a ground controller informed him it was a Gulfstream V. So, a simple mix-up by the Air Force One pilot in misidentifying the employer of the other pilot in relaying the color to Bush Communications Director Dan Bartlett who also jumbled who answered the other pilot.

But NBC's Norah O'Donnell suggested, as FNC's Brit Hume noted on his FNC show Thursday night, that this confused anecdote marred the entire trip. She demanded of McClellan: "Do you think, though, that this third revision of this story now, takes some of the shine off the President's surprise visit to the troops?"

Picking up on how the ground controller identified Air Force One, a 747 that day, as a much smaller Gulfstream jet because that was the flight plan filed for the cross-Atlantic trip, CBS's John Roberts seriously asked: "What are the legalities of filing a fraudulent flight plan?"

Turning the topic to President Bush secretly leaving Crawford for the trip, Ed Chen of the Los Angeles Times felt the White House had betrayed the public: "So the White House has no compunctions about having misled the American people on this trip?" Chen contended: "There's a level of trust that has been eroded."

Excerpts from the December 4 exchange which illuminates the bizarre interests of White House reporters as they quizzed McClellan about such a minor matter:

Norah O'Donnell, NBC News: "Scott, you promised us more information about the Air Force One sighting. Was it a British Airways plane?"
McClellan: "Yes, I'm actually -- I'm going to give you a copy of a release that was put out by the National Air Traffic Services, which is the London-area control center. Let me just read that to you first, and then I'll be glad to get into any follow-up you have. 'NATS has now concluded its investigations and can confirm that a conversation between the crew of an aircraft belonging to a non-U.K. operator and its control center took place around 9:30 GMT, on Thursday, the 27th of November, 2003.
'The pilot of the aircraft asked whether the aircraft behind it was Air Force One. After consulting the flight plan of those aircraft in the sector at that time, the center responded that the aircraft was a Gulfstream V. NATS notes reports that U.S. officials have said that for security reasons, Air Force One had filed a flight plan which stated that the service would operated by a Gulfstream V.'
"So as they pointed out, it was a non-U.K. operator. What Colonel Tillman and the pilots on board Air Force One believed at the time when they heard the conversation was that it was a British Airways plane, because there had been a British Airways plane that had been in the vicinity of Air Force One on the way across. And Colonel Tillman -- and, in fact, they knew it was there because they had been using the call sign that British Airways uses when they communicate with the control center. Colonel Tillman and the pilots then heard the conversation, and to them the conversation sounded like it was coming from a pilot with a British accent. And so that's why they had concluded that it was a British Airways plane."
Jim Angle of FNC realized: "Scott, the conversation itself was as it was relayed?"
McClellan confirmed: "That's correct. I think that that was in here. Go ahead, Norah."
O'Donnell was appalled: "Why then did the White House, repeatedly, in two different versions, tell reporters that it was British Airways? How could the White House be so wrong?"
McClellan: "For the reasons I told you. Colonel Tillman and the pilots in the cockpit believed that it was British Airways for the reasons I just stated. And what we always try to do for you all in the press corps is to provide you a little color of important events, because we believe that's helpful to you for your stories, and to do your reporting to the American people. And so we reported it based on what we knew, and the conversation did take place. It was heard by the pilots on Air Force One. That was relayed to White House staff, and it was shared with you all in the media to help you keep the American people informed about what was a very important event."
O'Donnell seriously asked: "And just finally, do you think, though, that this third revision of this story now, takes some of the shine off the President's surprise visit to the troops?"
McClellan: "Well, first of all, no, absolutely not. The President was pleased to go and visit our men and women in the military who are serving and sacrificing and defending freedom and making the world a safer and better place. And he was honored to be there and spend Thanksgiving with those men and women who are in Baghdad. The second point I was going to make is that, again, this conversation was relayed to you all to help you all have a little more color for your stories and to keep the American people informed about an important event that occurred over the Thanksgiving weekend."
John Roberts of CBS News: "Scott, so, let me just ask you a question. The other day you were saying that Tillman said -- or at least Dan Bartlett said that Tillman said he heard the call sign, Speed Bird."
McClellan: "That's correct."
Roberts: "Which is the designator for British Airways. You're now saying he didn't hear that? He just heard a British accent?"
McClellan: "No, that's what I -- in fact, that's what I -- if you listened to what I said at the beginning, there was a British Airways flight that was in the vicinity of Air Force One as it was crossing over for a good portion of that flight. And they were using the call sign, Speed Bird."
Roberts: "Oh, but he just heard another plane and thought that it was the same plane, is that what-"
McClellan: "Well, again, Colonel Tillman and the pilots in the cockpit of Air Force One heard the communications because they were off the western coast of England at the time, and heard the conversation between a pilot of the plane and the control center. And the pilot of the plane, to them, it sounded like he had -- that the pilot had a British accent. And so they -- from all the other things I told you -- believed that it was a British Airways flight."
Roberts: "Just one more follow-up here. So you said that the announcement from the National Air Traffic Services says that Air Force One had filed a flight plan that identified it-"
McClellan: "I'll be sure -- I'll be sure and give you a copy of this."
Roberts: "What is the legality of filing-"
McClellan: "Give you a copy of this."
Roberts: "What are the legalities of-"
McClellan: "Give you a copy of this release."
Roberts: "What are the legalities of filing a fraudulent flight plan?"
McClellan: "John, I think that the American people understand the security arrangements that are made in a circumstance like this. The American people understand the importance of not compromising security, not only for the President of the United States, but for those on board the plane, and those on the ground, as well. These are unusual circumstances. The President was pleased to go into Baghdad and pay tribute to our troops for their service and sacrifice, and show them that the American people stand fully behind them and support them in their efforts."

Ed Chen of the Los Angeles Times soon got into the act: "So the White House has no compunctions about having misled the American people on this trip?"
McClellan: "Well, first of all, one, I was not there, but I've gone and gathered the facts. And I'm not sure that -- again, Colonel Tillman and the pilots on board the Air Force One are people that relayed this information to White House staff. And for very good reason, they believed it was a British Airways flight, for the reason I stated. But now that we know more information, we made an attempt to get you all that information as quickly as possible. And that's what we always do."
Chen: "I'm talking about having misled the public in thinking the President was at the ranch. In other words, you know, that there's a level of trust that has been eroded."
McClellan: "Look, I understand, and I appreciate the question you're asking. But I think that the American people fully understand the security arrangements that were made so that the President of the United States could go and thank our troops in person, on Thanksgiving, during a very special moment for them, while they were celebrating Thanksgiving Day."

A male in the front row, so with a top outlet, asked: "So did the President then -- I mean, he made a decision that it was worth telling a white lie to accomplish this policy goal -- or a political goal."
McClellan: "I don't know exactly what you're referring -- I don't think we viewed it that way. We kept the trip a secret because of the security demands. And I think the American people fully understand that. I appreciate you asking the question, but I take exception with the premise of the question that you're asking. I strongly do, that the President of the United States -- that those security arrangements, and that the steps we went to, to make sure he could go there and that nobody's security would be compromised."
Same male reporter: "No, he decided all of that was worth it, all of the security arrangements and the cover story and everything, was worth it for this particular goal, which was-"
McClellan: "Absolutely, his trip to go visit the troops in Baghdad on Thanksgiving was worth it. Absolutely."

An absolute example of what sets the White House press corps apart from the rest of America.

The above transcript is based upon the one posted by the White House at: www.whitehouse.gov

I matched it against the video so I could identify the reporters.

That page features video you can play, but the camera focuses only on McClellan. C-SPAN's posted RealPlayer video swings between the podium and the questioners. Direct launch address for the RealPlayer clip: video.c-span.org

You should also be able to find the video linked on this HTML page: www.c-span.org

The C-SPAN video seems to start in the middle of a sentence, but that's because it picks up after about a 40-minute briefing on steel tariffs conducted by Trade Representative Robert Zoellick.

WPost Uncovers Turkey Platter Fraud,
CNN's Brown: "Turkey-Gate"

President Bush in Iraq on Thanksgiving Day Obsessive White House press corps interest in the irrelevant, part two of two. Thursday's Washington Post featured a story by the paper's White House reporter, Mike Allen, who was part of the pool which accompanied President Bush to Iraq on Thanksgiving Day, on how the turkey on a platter being held by Bush in a widely distributed photo wasn't meant to be eaten and was really a "decorative" turkey.

(I don't know about you, but I realized the turkey was a display item the second I saw Bush holding it on TV last week with the turkey surrounded by perfectly arranged grapes. And later when Bush helped distribute food, he did so from behind a counter with steam trays, so it's not as if he somehow tried to pretend he was serving turkey from that tray to soldiers.)

Picking up on this scandalous revelation, CNN's Aaron Brown on Thursday night pegged two interview segments, lasting nearly eight minutes in total, to "presidential image tricks" and what he dubbed "Turkey-Gate." Brown, realizing the ludicrousness of his topic, but still devoting valuable air time to it, asked on the December 4 NewsNight: "Remember that perfectly roasted turkey the President held for the cameras? Well, it was sort of a stunt bird, a centerpiece meant for decoration not dinner. The troops didn't get a taste of it and so tonight we ask does this constitute, get ready, Turkey-Gate?"

Brown saw "Turkey-Gate" as symbolic of Bush White House duplicity and lack of veracity. After quizzing the Post's Allen about how "obsessed" the White House is "with managing the picture and the message and how the president looks," he set up a session with Mary Matalin by worrying: "What did we learn from that bird that was deemed better than dinner and what price to be paid?" Brown pressed her: "Do you worry that, when the White House, at one point, said, well, when the President flew to the aircraft carrier, he had to fly in a jet, and then later had to retract that, that it just raises questions about the veracity of the White House itself, not the President?"

Allen also saw larger credibility issues in the Turkey fraud, contending in his Thursday story that Bush's "foray" to Iraq "has opened new credibility questions for a White House that has dealt with issues as small as who placed the 'Mission Accomplished' banner aboard the aircraft carrier Bush used to proclaim the end of major combat operations in Iraq, and as major as assertions about Saddam Hussein's arsenal of unconventional weapons and his ability to threaten the United States."

"The Bird Was Perfect But Not For Dinner: In Iraq Picture, Bush Is Holding the Centerpiece," read the headline over the December 4 Post story by Allen on the "Federal Report" page. An excerpt:

President Bush's Baghdad turkey was for looking, not for eating.

In the most widely published image from his Thanksgiving day trip to Baghdad, the beaming president is wearing an Army workout jacket and surrounded by soldiers as he cradles a huge platter laden with a golden-brown turkey.

The bird is so perfect it looks as if it came from a food magazine, with bunches of grapes and other trimmings completing a Norman Rockwell image that evokes bounty and security in one of the most dangerous parts of the world.

But as a small sign of the many ways the White House maximized the impact of the 2 1/2-hour stop at the Baghdad airport, administration officials said yesterday that Bush picked up a decoration, not a serving plate.

Officials said they did not know the turkey would be there or that Bush would pick it up. A contractor had roasted and primped the turkey to adorn the buffet line, while the 600 soldiers were served from cafeteria-style steam trays, the officials said. They said the bird was not placed there in anticipation of Bush's stealthy visit, and military sources said a trophy turkey is a standard feature of holiday chow lines....

END of Excerpt

For the story in full, with the "Turkey-Gate" photo: www.washingtonpost.com

For a bigger version of a photo showing Bush holding the tray: story.news.yahoo.com

Brown plugged his upcoming segment: "Also ahead on the program tonight we talk with Mary Matalin, a former adviser to President Bush and the Vice President too about presidential images and presidential image tricks."

Brown introduced his two interviews: "This is about politics and perception and the fallout when someone decides reality isn't good enough. Apparently it wasn't when it came to the President's surprise Thanksgiving visit to Baghdad. Much was made of the secrecy surrounding the trip. Even the President's father, we're told, was left in the dark but now another secret has emerged.
"Remember that perfectly roasted turkey the President held for the cameras? Well, it was sort of a stunt bird, a centerpiece meant for decoration not dinner. The troops didn't get a taste of it and so tonight we ask does this constitute, get ready, Turkey-Gate?"

Brown's first question to Mike Allen: "First explain the turkey part quickly and then let's talk about the implications of it all."

The "implications"?

After discussing how the White House stages events in a way to make Bush look good, Brown wondered: "Just tell me what sort of reaction you've gotten from all this because I have a feeling I know."

Allen relayed how many were less than impressed by his reporting: "Well, you're right, a lot of teasing about this. I've gotten more sarcastic e-mails about this than probably any story in a long time. I got one call today where they said you must not get out much. Haven't you ever been to a restaurant where they show you the steak or show you dessert? What we thought this story did was it pulled the curtain back just a little bit, showed people how carefully these photographs are controlled and it's not always quite what it looks like."

Turning to Matalin, Brown set up his session with her: "Now, some defenders of the stand-in turkey contend there is a deeper truth to be found in a false event if you will. We wondered what that might be. What did we learn from that bird that was deemed better than dinner and what price to be paid?"

Brown's questions:
-- "But if -- maybe the danger, maybe it doesn't matter in this sense that the people who support and believe in the president support and believe in the president and those who don't, don't, and then there's this group in the middle. Do you worry that, when the White House, at one point, said, well, when the president flew to the aircraft carrier, he had to fly in a jet, and then later had to retract that, that it just raises questions about the veracity of the White House itself, not the President?"

-- "I think you're probably right, so let's talk about some of the other things for a bit. The President got a pretty good bounce, it looks like, in the polls after the Thanksgiving visit. As somebody who has dealt in political strategy, clearly, there are risks and rewards to the policy from a political point of view. What are they? What are the dangers?"

-- "But, roughly, half the country -- it depends on the poll and it depends on the week -- half the country doesn't think the administration is dealing with Iraq especially well today."

Time's Klein Smears Conservative Group
as "Lunatic...Fanatics"

Upset by a new TV ad from the Club for Growth, about how Democratic candidate Howard Dean will raise taxes, on CNN on Thursday night Time magazine's Joe Klein derisively denigrated the conservative group as "a kind of lunatic fringe tax-cutting group" and dismissed them as "tax-cutting fanatics."

On CNN's Paula Zahn Now, Klein made one of his regular appearances to discuss the campaign. Zahn brought up "a new Republican ad that's running in New Hampshire and Iowa basically linking Howard Dean to Michael Dukakis. Let's watch together."
Clip of ad: "For three decades, Democratic presidential candidates have supported huge tax increases. This year, they're back. Howard Dean says he'll raise taxes on the average family by more than $1900 a year."
Zahn: "That's got to scare some Democrats, no?"
Klein: "Yeah, but it seems that the Republicans are the ones who are scared. Why put an ad like that up at this point in the campaign? And Howard Dean, who is this feisty guy, just probably loves it. He's saying, well, Gephardt is proposing the same sort of tax system as I am, and they're not putting ads up against him, and he went right back up on the air attacking the Republicans. Now, this isn't the Republican party, and it's not the President. It's the Club for Growth, which is a kind of lunatic fringe tax-cutting group, and I'm not so sure the White House likes the idea that they're tipping the Republican party's hand this early."
Zahn: "So why is the group doing it? They obviously think it's going to have some kind of traction."
Klein claimed: "They're tax-cutting fanatics. And it's a good question why they're doing it. Because if they think that Dean is so easily attacked, why do it now? Why not let him be the nominee first?"

Why denigrate a group with name-calling instead of providing a cogent analysis of the accuracy of the ad?

Club for Growth is a group founded a few years ago by Stephen Moore, a veteran of the libertarian Cato Institute, to support anti-tax hike/pro-tax cut candidates.

For the full text of the ad, which they are placing on New Hampshire and Iowa TV, and video of it: clubforgrowth.org

Lauer: Reagan-Era "Sexual McCarthyism"
Preceded Hefner's Stroke

Hugh Hefner's stroke was the fault of Ronald Reagan and Jerry Falwell? During a taped interview with Playboy founder High Hefner on Thursday's Today to mark the magazine's 50th anniversary, Matt Lauer reminded him of the days after Reagan's inauguration: "I think you refer to it as we went through in this country a period of 'sexual McCarthyism.'" After Hefner identified Reagan and the Moral Majority as threats to him, Lauer, over footage of Jerry Falwell and anti-pornography protestors, recalled: "The backlash against Playboy was expensive. Hefner and the magazine were marginalized. By mid-decade he suffered a stroke."

MRC analyst Geoffrey Dickens caught this part of the interview on the December 4 Today, which Lauer co-hosted from Burbank, in which Hefner played a martyr to the tyrannical Reagan. The segment mixed video which Lauer narrated with clips of Hefner talking to Lauer:

Lauer: "With the 1980s the party slowed-"
[footage of Reagans at inauguration]
Lauer: "-for Hefner and for the country. Not the best time for Playboy."
Hefner: "No. Tough time."
Lauer helpfully reminded Hefner: "I think you refer to it as we went through in this country a period of sexual McCarthyism."
Hefner: "Yes."
Lauer: "What threats did you see?"
Hefner: "Reagan was in the White House, put there, in part, by the Moral Majority. I really didn't know how, how to respond to the forms of criticism that were taking place in the 1980s."
Lauer, over footage of Jerry Falwell and anti-pornography protestors: "The backlash against Playboy was expensive. Hefner and the magazine were marginalized. By mid-decade he suffered a stroke."

New HBO Film: "Reaganism" as "Denial
and Deadly Indifference"

Mr. Diane Sawyer, film director Mike Nichols, was the director for Angels in America, a six-hour movie, starring Al Pacino and Meryl Streep, premiering Sunday night on HBO, which denounces President Reagan for not doing enough to fight AIDS and portrays conservatives as scoundrels. "Mike Nichols helms Tony Kushner's adaption of his own play about love in the AIDS-plagued time of Reagan," Entertainment Weekly's Jeff Jensen observed in the December 5 edition.

Earlier this week the AP's Frazier Moore noted the anti-Reagan theme of the multi-part movie and marveled at how it hasn't generated as much anger as did CBS's The Reagans which ended up on Showtime. An excerpt from Moore's December 2 preview:

....One thing hits you right away: "Angels" takes a dim view of Ronald Reagan.

Set in mid-1980s New York, it rejects Reagan's "Morning in America" gospel. Its characters are facing a terrible new twilight their president doesn't even seem to recognize.

Odd, then, that "Angels in America" has stirred little if any outcry from conservatives and other Reagan faithful, whose rage against CBS' "The Reagans," sight unseen, persuaded the network to pull that film for allegedly doing what "Angels" makes no bones about: Portraying Reaganism as a policy of denial and deadly indifference....

END of excerpt

For Moore's story in full: story.news.yahoo.com

In this week's Time, James Poniewozik provided an overview of the plot as well as a peak at its hostility toward Reagan and conservatives. An excerpt:

....Set mostly in 1985 and 1986 and adapted by Tony Kushner from his pair of Tony-and Pulitzer-prizewinning plays, Angels is equal parts domestic drama, agitprop and Scripture. It follows two New York City couples: Prior Walter (Justin Kirk), who is sick with AIDS, and his lover Louis Ironson (Ben Shenkman), who abandons Prior, unable to cope with his illness; and Joe and Harper Pitt (Patrick Wilson and Mary-Louise Parker), a closeted gay Mormon lawyer and his disturbed, pill-popping wife. Around them orbit historical and mythological figures: Roy Cohn (Al Pacino), the diabolical former aide to Senator Joseph McCarthy who is gay, closeted and stricken with AIDS; the ghost of Ethel Rosenberg (Meryl Streep), whom Cohn, by pulling strings, got executed for treason; and an angel (Emma Thompson) -- the spiritual avatar of America....

Reagan comes in for frequent insults, and when Kushner has a corrupt, disease-ravaged Cohn say, "If you want to look at the heart of modern conservatism, you look at me," he is not trying to be fair and balanced....

END of Excerpt

For the story in full from the December 8 issue: www.time.com

The director, Mike Nichols, is now married to ABC's Diane Sawyer. For a look at the career of Michael Igor Peschkowsky, now known as Mike Nichols: imdb.com

Time-Warner's HBO will run the movie in two three-hour segments over the next two Sunday nights with many re-plays broken into one-hour lengths. For HBO's page on their big movie project: www.hbo.com

Taking up how The Reagans painted Ronald Reagan as indifferent to the suffering of those with AIDS, this week on National Review Online Deroy Murdock documented how that is a left-wing lie. He concluded:
"As much as Reagan evidently has exhibited tolerance of homosexuality in his private life, when it comes to public policy, he opposed the persecution of gays and devoted considerable taxpayer resources to AIDS research and treatment.
"Could Reagan have said more about AIDS? Surely, and he might have done so were he less focused on reviving America's moribund economy and peacefully defeating Soviet Communism. Could he have done more? Of course. Who could not have? But the ideas that Ronald Reagan did nothing, or worse, about AIDS and hated gays, to boot, are both tired, left-wing lies about an American legend."

For Murdock's detailed piece in full, with quotes from those who knew and watched Reagan up close, as well as budget numbers: www.nationalreview.com

-- Brent Baker