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Torie Joins the Other Side

Torie Clarke is in front of a TV camera again. These days, though, the former Defense Dept. spokeswoman is commenting on the news, rather than doling it out. In September, Clarke signed on with CNN as a contributor; the bulk of her appearances will be on CNN's new 8 p.m. show, Paula Zahn Now.

After being courted by several cable and broadcast news outlets, Clarke says she opted for CNN because "they are focused on ... trying to raise or elevate public discussion of really important issues." And she showed how good she was at the job she left in June. Baited to throw a little dirt at competitors, she consistently demurred.

For CNN, Clarke will comment on national-security issues and says she'll be frank on both sides of the political spectrum. "I agree with this administration on a lot of things, but, if I disagree, then I will say so."

Clarke now will be part of a new war, the one being waged between the cable news channels.

CNN, with new President Jim Walton and even newer news chief Princell Hair, is trying to claw back into the ratings race against Fox News and to get its viewers to stick around longer. Fox News Channel has beaten CNN in prime time ratings now for 21 straight months and commands almost double the audience in prime time.

But Clarke says that, in her two years at the Pentagon, the cable news wars largely passed her by. "We were heavily focused on our issues. If it wasn't about our issues, I wasn't paying attention."

This isn't her first exposure to cable industry. In the mid 1990s, Clarke headed public affairs for the National Cable and Telecommunications Association.

At the Pentagon, she was a key architect of the military's embedding program for journalists covering the war in Iraq. She grades the program as a big success but would like to see more continuing coverage from Iraq. "There are bad things happening there and good things as well. The best thing is for there to be very comprehensive coverage in Iraq."