LAST CALL: US Treasury Dept. gets wake-up call

When US Treasury Department spokesman Robert Nichols' telephone

rang at 3am last Friday, he knew there was trouble. 'I've been a flack

for about 10 years now, and you just know that any phone call at 3am is

not good,' he said.

Nichols soon found himself talking to the first of many reporters who

would be calling that morning to further discuss the stunning oped

running under Nichols' byline in The Washington Times that day - the one

announcing major adjustments in US policy toward the Organization for

Economic Cooperation and Development.

Only one problem - 'I did not write it,' swore Nichols, who says the

piece should have been credited to Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill. 'I

sent the article to The Washington Times by e-mail and somehow my name

ended up on it. I would love to know how it happened.'

The Times acknowledged its mistake the following day, but it was too

little too late for Nichols, who had to spend a very long day convincing

the world the US doesn't let its PR reps decide foreign policy (not that

there would be anything wrong with that).

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