NICHE-MARKETING A WAR. It wasn't so much where Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice turned up on the airwaves last night, but that she landed on these two shows on the same day: The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer (PBS) and The O'Reilly Factor (FOX News Channel). Secretary Rice, it seems, sees two influential groups that need persuading on the U.S. approach (hands-off?) to the current conflict in the Middle East: the small, intellectual "opinion-maker" crowd who watch Jim Lehrer, and the angry, right-wing anti-intellectuals who love Bill O'Reilly.

On both programs Rice was asked about the role of Iran in the war between Israel and Hezbollah. On PBS, she gave interviewer Ray Suarez a terse answer, marking the only time she mentioned the name of the Persian state in the course of her 10-minute interview. (For the eggheads, she also bandied about the phrase "status quo ante" some eight times.)

But when O'Reilly gave Rice an opportunity to hold forth on Iran, she took that ball and ran with it, repeatedly invoking the name of one-third of the Axis of Evil, asserting that Iran was conducting war by proxy against Israel. In fact, she invoked the name of Iran eight times, while dropping in the term "status quo ante" only twice before catching herself.

Several of my more paranoid readers have suggested that the Bush administration has gone hands-off on Israel in order to build a case for waging war on Iran on account of its apparently steady supply of rockets to Hezbollah. Watching Rice on O'Reilly -- a blatantly partisan show devoid of journalistic content, and an odd choice for a diplomat -- their concerns look a bit less paranoid. If that's the case, however, it would seem that Rice forgot the words of recently departed White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card, who famously said of the 2002 effort to sell the public on the invasion of Iraq, "From a marketing point of view, you don't introduce new products in August."

--Adele M. Stan