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NBC's Mitchell still fuming about run-in with security detail



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After taking on Frank Rizzo, how tough can the Sudanese president be?

NBC's Andrea Mitchell, who tousled with the Philadelphia mayor as a young journalist in the mid-'70s, is still "mad as hell" at being roughed up by Omar el-Bashir's security detail during a photo op at his residence on July 22.

"On a scale of 1 to 10, I was a 12," says Mitchell, in Philadelphia on Thursday to flog her just-published memoir, "Talking Back ... to Presidents, Dictators and Assorted Scoundrels" (Viking Penguin).

As Bashir posed with visiting Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Mitchell, NBC's chief foreign-affairs correspondent, had the temerity to question him about Sudan atrocities.

"Two guys came up behind me, grabbed me, and pulled me out," recalls Mitchell, 58, an NBC veteran of 27 years. "I was in a lot of pain. It was really humiliating to be dragged out of an event in a president's office."

Mitchell suffered a torn rotator cuff in her left shoulder, for which she still undergoes daily physical therapy. "It hurts all the time, as anyone with a torn rotator cuff knows."

Also, she didn't cotton to becoming part of the widely reported story.

"I was surprised at how much publicity this got. I was upset at being the focus of attention, instead of the thousands of women who had been forced out of their villages and abused by the Sudanese army."

At the request of her publisher, Mitchell began writing "Talking Back" two years ago. The process "was very hard," she says. "We're trained to keep ourselves out of stories, and to always speak in the third person."

Now that the book's finished, she has to sell it.

Mitchell took three weeks of vacation time, a personal record, for her 10-city tour. "I feel terribly guilty. I'm not used to taking off time at all."

In the book, she publicly discusses, for the first time, her marriage to Federal Reserve Board chairman Alan Greenspan, 79.

"For me to be honest, I had to at least talk about how our marriage affects my work and how it changed my life," she says. "I wanted some measure of privacy, though. It's a professional memoir, not a kiss-and-tell book."

Mitchell broke into journalism in '67 at Philadelphia's KYW-AM fresh out of Penn. (Her freshman roommate was Candice "Cappy" Bergen.) Five years later, she made the move to local television.

Mitchell says her legendary battles with then-Mayor Frank Rizzo were "absolutely critical" to her development as a journalist. One of the few women in the City Hall press corps, she never backed down from the larger-than-life politico.

"My experience in Philadelphia shaped everything I do. It taught me to be aggressive and skeptical and, when necessary, adversarial. I learned in Philadelphia how to talk back to very powerful men."

By her measure of toughness, Rizzo ranks with Fidel Castro, Margaret Thatcher and Jeane Kirkpatrick.

"There were so many sides to Rizzo," she says. "He was a tough guy, but also an engaging, warm, charismatic personality."

Years later, shortly before Rizzo's death in July '91, the former combatants made peace. When Mitchell heard of his passing, she wept.

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NBC has ordered six episodes of "Filmore Middle" (working title), a midseason comedy about a renegade teacher (Justin Bartha) at a New Jersey public school.

Costars include Sarah Alexander as a rookie teacher and Bartha's love object; Deon Richmond as a drama teacher, his best friend; and Phil Hendrie as a burned-out instructor.

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Fox News Channel's Mike Jerrick and Juliet Huddy, hosts of the weekend-morning "Fox and Friends," will move up to the 1 p.m. weekday "DaySide," according to buzz in the biz. ... VCR alert: HBO will repeat the first three episodes of "Rome," back to back, at 8 p.m. Friday.

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(c) 2005, The Philadelphia Inquirer. Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune News Service.

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