THE DISAPPEARING SECRETARY….A few days ago I got an email from a reader saying that it seemed as though we weren’t hearing much from Don Rumsfeld these days. What was going on? Could I do a Nexis search or something and see if he really has dropped off the face of the earth?

So I did a quickie search ? and found nothing: Rumsfeld had about as many mentions in the New York Times in June and July as he did in January and February. I didn’t feel like pursuing it further and moved on.

But it turns out my reader was smarter than me. Today in the Prospect, Harold Meyerson looks into this question and concludes that, indeed

Rummy had all but vanished in the past six weeks or so. All those Pentagon news conferences and Sunday morning shows were suddenly Rummy-less. Somebody was clamming him up, or jamming him — or worse.

That’s still a little vague, though. Has Rumsfeld really disappeared? It turns out the Los Angeles Times has the scoop:

The man who gave daily progress reports at the Pentagon in the heat of the war has appeared only twice at Pentagon briefings since May.

And the White House, which coordinates which administration officials appear on the networks’ news-making Sunday talk shows, has not lined up a Rumsfeld interview for months, although a senior administration official, speaking on condition of anonymity, denied that the White House did not want Rumsfeld speaking out.

The wisecracking defense chief has not disappeared entirely ? he still draws throngs for speeches and handshakes from tourists when he appears on Capitol Hill. Since May, he has appeared 13 times before groups of reporters and twice before Congress, as well as giving other television and radio interviews, a Pentagon tally shows.

Among 19 television and radio interviews Rumsfeld has done since May, many have been with local media or with supportive satellite and cable networks, which often give more favorable coverage than other national media.

So Rumsfeld really has disappeared, and stuff like that doesn’t happen by accident. My guess: the Bush campaign team has decided that Iraq is a liability and wants to keep it out of the news between now and November. The best way to do that is to keep people like Rumsfeld and Iraq “ambassador” John Negroponte out of the public eye as much as possible while Bush is busy transforming himself from a war president into a man of peace. We can probably expect the Rummy drought to continue until then.