Sunday, March 31, 2002

TV Punditwatch: A Somber Weekend

Will Vehrs
It was a somber Easter/Passover weekend for the pundits. The troubling events in the Middle East squeezed out most of the usual banter and humor. Instead, the pundits alternately blasted Arafat, Sharon, and the Bush Administration. Peace prospects have never seemed so dim.

The News Hour, which almost always concentrates on domestic affairs, devoted most of its discussion to the Middle East. Capital Gang ran a "Special Edition" on the Middle East and even eschewed its "Outrage of the Week." Fox News Sunday, Face the Nation, and This Week led with the Middle East. Only Meet the Press strayed from the pack, sticking with a full hour panel discussion of the crisis in the Catholic Church--also a depressing topic. Fox attempted to put the religous holiday and events in the Middle East into perspective with an appearance by "The God Squad," Msgr Thomas Hartman and Rabbi Marc Gellman. The Rabbi got off one of the few light-hearted comments of the weekend. Speaking of the meaning of Easter and Passover, he said:

Sometimes the message gets buried under marshmallow bunnies and chocolate bunnies and painted eggs ... and horseradish. We have a lot of horseradish. That's why there's 12 of us and a billion of you.

Criticism of the President and administration Mideast policy was the most noteworthy pundit message. It came mostly from liberal pundits:

Mark Shields: I'd say if there were an identifiable United States policy, I would say it was in tatters. I don't think there has been one. It was the anti-Clinton policy. There was a hands-off laissez-faire be removed and it has been a disaster. It has been a total disaster.

Al Hunt: I'm not sure who's really involved in the setting of Middle East policy right now. I have great admiration for General Zinni, but he's not a policy maker. The right can't stand Richard Haas, who's over at the State Department with Colin Powell. I don't think Condoleezza Rice has any great Middle East expert there. I'm not sure there is a policy.

Ceci Connally: The Bush policy is "Inconsistent, to say the least."

Terry Moran (ABC reporter): Bush's response has been "Hesitant, confused and contradictory."

George Stephanopolous: "We don't have a clear game plan."

Conservatives who had been criticizing Bush for tilting toward Arafat last week were somewhat mollified by the President's Saturday statement tilting back toward the Israelis, but Brit Hume noted that "Signals have been mixed." Fred Barnes was more critical: "There's such a hollowness to these pleas by President Bush. Asking Arafat to do more to stop terrorism--Arafat is cheerleading for terrorism."

Bombing Is Better David Brooks explains:

I really think the suicide bombers, which are a weapon, have transformed the whole culture of the Middle East because suicide bombers and the passions they arouse of martyrdom and vengeance, of murder, of religious purity are just more powerful than the passions of politics, of negotiations, and give and take.

And I think the care and nurturing and celebration on television of suicide bombers has been like a narcotic, an addiction that has transformed the situation, which will have to burn off until we can get back to where it was before, which was a negotiation between two people fighting over the same piece of land.

Transforming Arafat Andrea Koppel, CNN reporter, on Capital Gang:

Before this Intifada began, Yasser Arafat was not a terribly popular guy. Since then, his ratings have gone sky high. I mean, his ratings are about as high as George Bush's are here in the United States. And the reason, quite simply, is we're making the United States and Israel are making -- turning him into a hero. He, himself, just said yesterday that he's ready to die as a martyr for his people.

Who's Safer? Kate O'Bierne makes a comparison on Capital Gang: Yasser Arafat's sitting in the crumbled ruins of his headquarters is a lot safer physically than the typical Israeli, who's trying to get a cup of coffee in a cafe or going to a supermarket.

Exchange of the Week Mark Shields, on the Capital Gang, started praising Bill Clinton, irritating O'Bierne and Bob Novak:

Shields: Bill Clinton was accused of being too much involved, too much into details. In fact ... they said he knew every single neighborhood in Jerusalem, its composition, its political dimension, its ethnic mix. And I had to say President Bush does not project that same level of confidence, mastery or knowledge. I think that was clear.

O’Bierne And where did Bill Clinton's knowledge of Jerusalem neighborhoods get us?

Novak: This isn't about Bill Clinton, Mark. It really isn't. Can't we leave that alone?

Word of the Week On Meet the Press, Father Donald Cozzens, author of The Changing Face of the Priesthood, clarified the categorization of priests accused of molesting young parishioners. Only one-third are pedophiles. The rest are paedophiles. Pedophiles are attracted to pre-adolescents; paedophiles are attracted to adolescents.

Who's Numbers? Father Cozzens estimated that 30-50% of US Catholic priests are gay. Father John McCloskey of the Catholic Information Center, also appearing on Meet the Press, disagreed. He put the number at 2-4%.

Married Priests? Father Thomas Doyle, former canon lawyer, on Meet the Press: "I think the future of celibacy is pretty shaky right now."

Mark Shields on Bush and CFR:

What President Bush did was essentially displease both sides. And his self-portrait as sort the conciliator and the man who brought civility and bipartisanship, I thought took a little bit of a hit by this stealth performance.

David Brooks on Bush and CFR:

My theory is that they put a clothespin on his nose while he was asleep; they put the pen in his hand, and they sort of moved the paper under it so he wouldn't be morally tainted by signing the thing. He came across looking unprincipled and cynical because if he was for it, he should have signed it in the proper manner. If he was against it, he should have vetoed it.

George Will on Bush and CFR:

Nothing, not even my animosity, lasts forever.

Sunday, March 24, 2002

TV Punditwatch: Cheney's Not-So Excellent Adventure

Will Vehrs
Vice-President Dick Cheney, just back from a whirlwind trip to the Mideast, appeared on three Sunday talk shows. His report could have been written before he left: there is a "sense of opportunity and danger" but the problems are "intractable."

On Meet the Press, NBC's Tim Russert spent an equal amount of time interviewing the Vice-President about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the possibility of military action against Iraq. On Face the Nation, host Bob Schieffer and sidekick Gloria Borger focused on Iraq. CNN's Late Edition saw Wolf Blitizer concentrating on the Israelis and Palestinians.

The Vice-President discounted the possibility that he would meet with Yasir Arafat any time soon, continuing the administration message that the Palestinian leader was "capable of doing more he has" to stem the violence. He called Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah's peace proposal a "courageous step." Cheney hinted that the public remarks of Arab leaders about Iraq were not necessarily what he heard in private. "I wouldn't believe everything I read in the newspapers," he told Russert. Arab leaders "share our concern" with Saddam Hussein, he told Schieffer, and "I couldn't find anybody who had anything good to say about him." Tom Friedman of the New York Times, appearing on Face the Nation, backed up the Vice-President, indicating that Arab leaders would go along with action against Iraq if three conditions were met:

1. Utililizing the UN
2. Neutralizing the Arab-Palestinian issue by getting a peace process in place
3. "Shooting to kill." If going after Saddam, being sure to take him out.

The pundits were not particularly impressed with Cheney's trip. "It doesn't look like Cheney made any progress. It was a failed trip," was the judgment of Paul Gigot on Fox News Sunday. Mara Liasson, also on FNS, argued "The Palestinians are the only ones with a clear strategy."

Domestically, the passage of Campaign Finance Reform and the President's plan to sign it was the major issue. "I think it is a time for celebration," Mark Shields told Jim Lehrer on The News Hour. Then, on Capital Gang, Shields said Bush signing CFR would innoculate him from poll numbers showing that 50% of Americans thought Republicans were more beholden to "special interests" than Democrats. "Bush surrendered, " said Kate O'Bierne on CG. "This is damaging to the political parties," according to Bob Novak, also on CG. "They're both on death's door already."

I'd Like To Thank The Academy ... If Campaign Finance Reform won an Oscar, Mark Shields would accept:

And I think Enron deserves credit along with McCain and Feingold and Marty Meehan and Chris Shays in the House. But also Bill Clinton's sleepovers at the White House deserve credit. The Buddhist Temple deserves credit. The Marc Rich pardon deserves credit.

Oscar Plans Bob Novak said the Oscars were a "girl's thing" and said he hadn't watched them in 40 years. Vice-President Cheney told Tim Russert, "No Oscars." Both Novak and Cheney said they planned to watch NCAA basketball, with Novak in Syracuse, NY, to watch Maryland-Connecticut live in the Carrier Dome. This Week's roundtable split on their choice for best movie: two for "Moulin Rouge" and two for "A Beautiful Mind."

If You Were Wondering Vice-President Cheney said his defibillator has not gone off since it was installed.

Gigot on Bush On domestic policy, "He's a lover, not a fighter. If you beat him, you don't pay a price."

The Limits of Fanaticism David Brooks went to great lengths on The News Hour to distance himself from the administration's decision not to have Homeland Security Director Tom Ridge testify before Congress:

I'm a fanatic on the subject of executive privilege. Nobody thinks executive privilege should be stronger than me except for Napoleon and Julius Caesar, but even I cannot defend what the president and the administration are doing here. Tom Ridge is in a public role just like a cabinet secretary. He should be forced to go up there and talk to Congress.

Claire's Tryout Cokie Roberts took the day off at This Week and Claire Shipman substituted. Shipman has appeared on the program before, but this was her first appearance since being named as a potential long-term replacement for Roberts. She introduced a piece on Tom Ridge, interviewed ex-Clintonite Congressional candidate Rahm Emanuel, and argued with George Will when he declared, "Bush's war on terror is lapsing into incoherence."

Slogan Coattails Shipman's softball interview with Emanuel allowed him to trot out his healthcare campaign slogan: "Leave no grandparent behind." Avoiding controversy, she failed to ask him why Emily's List favored his opponent in the primary.

A Rare Apology "Sorry, Governor, I don't mean to be rude." --Famously aggressive ABC reporter Sam Donaldson, interrupting Homeland Security Director Tom Ridge.

Afghan Policy Recipe Tom Friedman said the Bush Administration's policy for post-war Afghanistan is "Add money and stir. That's hard to do when you have no glass."

Sunday, March 17, 2002

TV Punditwatch: Pickering Prompts Pundit Passion

Will Vehrs
The most pressing world issue--peace in the Middle East--got short shrift from the pundits this weekend. Without any apparent change in the situation and the potential of a breakthough murky at best, the pundits went through the motions of discussing the situation, concentrating on its relationship to possible action against Iraq. Only Capital Gang and Fox News Sunday led with foreign policy; This Week had segments on pedophilia in the Catholic Church and the indictment against Arthur Andersen before turning to the Middle East. Meet the Press had the best segment as Tim Russert moderated a thoughtful discussion between Tom Friedman of the New York Times and William Kristol of The Weekly Standard.

The Senate Judiciary vote against Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals nominee Charles Pickering and possible partisan fallout was the issue arousing the most pundit passion. "I'd call it payback time," said Mark Shields on The News Hour. Most pundits agreed, but David Brooks, also on the News Hour, took criticism of the Judiciary Committe and the confirmation process to a new level:

The Judiciary Committee, which is, you know, a place, as Mark indicated, filled with ancient hatreds and bitter rivalries. It's like Gaza Strip without the charm. I agree with Mark that it is utterly business as usual. And it is payback and maybe that's legitimate. The only new wrinkle in this was that members on both sides of the aisle said this is terrible; this process is disgusting. Let's do it one more time. Three minutes of condemnation and four minutes of doing what they just deplored. I don't think there is any member-- any Judge, nominated judge, who has been as disgraceful as the process is whether it was Ronnie White or Charles Pickering.

Pundits were able to add the refusal of Homeland Security Director Tom Ridge to testify before Congress to build on a juicy theme for the future--open warfare between Democrats and Republicans on the Hill and between the Administration and Hill Democrats. Margaret Carlson thinks he should testify and she's not a big fan of Ridge's new security warning system:

Tom Ridge is not staff. He's really -- operates much more like a Cabinet officer, and then on top of it, he monkeyed with our color system. And you know, we -- high alert was confusing enough to be on that all the time, now we are all currently in code yellow. So yellow is no longer mellow. It's now significant risk and no one is ever going to understand this. Color us all confused, he's going to be called to account.

Important, If True Tim Russert interviewed Sergei Ivanov, Russian Defense Minister. Ivanov demonstrated an excellent command of the English language and Russert asked him about rumors that nuclear material had been compromised. Of weapons grade material, Ivanov said, there is "not a single case any has been stolen or sold." Some "fools" may have obtained "isotopes, I think you call them," but weapons system plutonium is "safe and secure."

Self-Indulgent Pundit of the Week Tim Russert, not content with his tiresome habit of yucking it up on sports with his domestic guests, presented Ivanov with a Michael Jordan jersey and seemed impressed that the Russian knew Jordan was "His Airness." In a bizarre self-indulgence, Russert asked, a la Joe McCarthy, "Are you now, or have you ever been a member of the Communist Party?" Ivanov, almost shrugging his shoulders, said "Yes." "I always wanted to ask that," Russert explained.

Ivanov on Bush "He's a visionary man."

Shameless Plug of the Week Bob Schieffer, host of CBS's Face the Nation, ended the show with a lament about negative campaigning reaching the Oscars. He was referring to the whispering campaign against "A Beautiful Mind" and managed to mention that John Nash, the subject of the movie, would be appearing on "60 Minutes," another CBS program, to answer charges made against the movie.

Troops in the Middle East Bill Kristol, speaking of Middle East peace initiatives, told Tim Russert on MTP that "I would not be surprised to see US troops there soon" Tom Friedman said the US "cannot do Iraq while this conflict is going on."

Al Gore Falls Flat Tim Russert read Kristol and Friedman an excerpt from a recent Al Gore speech where he characterized the Bush approach as "speak loudly and carry a small stick." Kristol's response was to quote a senior Democrat as saying he wished Gore would "go away." Friedman said it wasn't wise to attack Bush from the right. If anything, Bush should be criticized for his unidimensional policy.

Tipper Gore Rises Pundit reaction was mixed on Tipper Gore running for the Senate from Tennessee:

I think she'd be a great candidate ... she is very comfortable with who she is. -Cokie Roberts

Oh, man, I would be just stunned if she ran. --Mara Liasson

It doesn't indicate the vigor of the Tennessee Democratic Party. --George Will

Juan Williams was gushing enthusiasm for the musically inclined Ms. Gore:

I would be delighted [if she ran]. I was once on Oprah with her discussing rap music. She was a strong, sensible voice of moderation.

Question of the Week After Senator John Breaux (D, LA) enthused over what a great candidate Tipper Gore would be, Brit Hume asked, "Is she as well qualified as Lamar Alexander?" Breaux repeated that she would be a great candidate.

Two Views on the INS

We know they're going to win the bureaucratic bungle of the year award unless Ken Lay gets the congressional Medal of Honor by accident. --David Brooks

The INS has no idea who's here and who's getting in this very moment. More heads must roll. --Margaret Carlson

Bob Novak, the Education Pundit After basketball writer John Feinstein suggested on Capital Gang that players be paid as an incentive to graduate, Bob Novak retorted:

You know I wish that John and other people would get off this graduation business. In this last 30 years, I've known a lot of college basketball players, many of them didn't graduate, but they almost all of them, 98 percent of them have very good jobs. They are good citizens, and I don't think they would have been in this place in society if it hadn't been for the fact they were playing college basketball.

Pundit Picks In the NCAA tournament, Mark Shields picks Kansas, Novak goes with Maryland, Margaret Carlson's choice is Illinois, and Al Hunt takes Duke. Feinstein's choice is also Kansas.

Monday, March 11, 2002

Scroll Down for Sunday's TV Punditwatch

Print Punditwatch Monday: Defending Ari, Going Nuclear

Will Vehrs
Two conservative columnists have tough pieces this morning. William Safire defends Ari Fleischer's retracted comments about the cause of the Middle East violence:

The unspeakable is still printable here, however. Then-Prime Minister Ehud Barak, desperate for a deal that would get him re-elected, made egregious concessions of land that would have endangered Israel. Bill Clinton, eager to wash away memory of his transgressions, pressed Barak for even more concessions to appease Yasir Arafat. That Saudi-sponsored Palestinian, seeing Israel's panicked leader on the run, was thus emboldened to make greater demands. Envisioning total victory, he launched the terror war on civilians.

That's what happened. No soft, nonpartisan politesse can erase that well-recorded, hard history. Though Clinton's motive was Nobel, his incessant intercession was a gamble that failed spectacularly — paving the path to Arafat's war.

That history, frantically being buried by diplomatists, is exhumed to draw its lessons: One is that unilateral compromise is appeasement, which only whets the appetite of Arab extremists. Another is that the prospect of intervention — by the U.S., U.N. or Europeans — gives Palestinian terrorists an incentive to prolong the bloodshed in hopes a horrified world will coerce Israel into submission.

Safire lists steps the Israelis and the US should take, taking into account Israeli domestic political considerations.

Bob Novak almost challenges Senate Republicans to "go nuclear," i.e., shut down the Senate, in response to the Democrats' stance on judicial nominations:

Nobody who knows the Senate doubts that Democrats there are tougher than Republicans. Nevertheless, Democratic imposition of an ideological test on appellate judges is without historical precedent. Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle and Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy have laid down an implacable line: No overt foes of abortion will be granted seats on federal appellate courts--especially the Supreme Court.

Novak dredges up two quotes from Democrats leading the charge against Bush nominees:

During the Clinton administration in 1997, however, Biden contended every judicial nominee ''is entitled to ... have a vote on the floor.''

Also in 1997, Leahy said, ''It is the responsibility of the U.S. Senate to at least bring them to a vote.'' Biden and Leahy now have abandoned those strictures.

Sebastian Mallaby criticizes President Bush today on a wide front: Afghanistan, steel tariffs, farm policy, and energy. Mallaby sees Bush as politically becoming his father. William Raspberry compares investing with playing the numbers:

Who is going to pay the Louis Rukeysers of this world big bucks to tell us what any clerk with a computer terminal could tell us? But if they can convince us they know why things happened, then we're willing to believe they know what will happen next, and that's where the money is.

Bob Herbert specializes in finding the miscarriage of justice story.

I think of the criminal justice system as a dreary casino where the quest for justice is a roll of the dice that comes up craps as often as not.

Today he looks at the case of Lamont Branch, who has already served 13 years for a murder likely committed by his brother, Lorenzo. Strangely, Herbert is unable to summon much outrage over Lorenzo's long silence and there is no insight into Lamont's attitude. It's all the fault of the criminal justice system, of course, not a failure of personal responsibility.

Best Bets: Safire, Novak, Mallaby.

Sunday, March 10, 2002

TV Punditwatch: What War Criticism?

Will Vehrs
Last week’s big issue—the tentative first signs of Democratic criticism of the President’s War on Terror—disappeared faster than the cocktail shrimp at a political reception. Except for a Mark Shields’ Capital Gang “Outrage of the Week” directed at Representative Tom Davis (R, VA) and a Senator Trent Lott (R, MS) appearance on Fox, there was virtually no mention this week of the topic that dominated the airwaves last week.

What replaced it? The pundits grasped for a unifying theme, but were unable to find it. There was an effort to tie everything into the upcoming six-month anniversary of 9/11 (Capital Gang and Meet the Press), with CG failing even though they appeared in New York City with NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg. MTP was slightly more successful with National Security Advisor Condi Rice, former Mayor Rudy Guliani, and Special Master for the 9/11 Victims Compensation Fund, Kenneth Feinberg. Fox News Sunday surprised with an interview of Security Czar Tom Ridge and tough questions on judicial nominations for Senator John Edwards (D, NC). Face the Nation interviewed Secretary of State Colin Powell. This Week countered with General Tommy Franks.

Ridge, Rice, Franks and Powell made little news, fanning out over the airwaves to demonstrate balanced American policy in the War on Terror, in stark contrast to last week’s dearth of Administration officials asked to respond to Democratic criticism. Bob Schieffer’s questioning of Powell best highlighted the difficulties in the Middle East. Admiral Zinni is being sent to get the Tenet Plan in motion to get to the Mitchell Plan implemented to get to negotiations. Tim Russert delivered an uneven performance on MTP. He seemed to go through the motions with Rice, was jocular with Guliani, and was almost cold with Feinberg, pursuing exact dollar figures for every class of 9/11 victim.

If Russert Was Cold, Then Donaldson Was Ice At the end of his interview with General Franks, This Week’s Sam Donaldson compared the average benefit for a WTC victim--$1.85 million—with the average benefit for a GI killed in the War on Terror: $7700.00 plus $833 per month for a spouse, $211.00 per month per child under 18. Donaldson actually asked Franks if he thought this was fair.

Exchange of the Week: Who You Gonna Trust, Your Lying Intelligence Services Or The Cable Guy? On Fox, discussing conflicting accounts of Operation Anaconda’s success in Afghanistan, Juan Williams noted

This satellite TV repairman says the bombing is not having the effect, he’s only seen two dead bodies. I don’t know what to believe at this point.

Brit Hume replied:

I think I’d place the credibility a little higher on US intelligence than the cable guy.

Runner-Up, Exchange of the Week: I See Your Republican and Raise You a Democrat Discussing passage of the stimulus bill increasing jobless benefits, the News Hour’s David Brooks suggested

Extending unemployment benefits, which is the key part of this, could actually prolong unemployment because people have less incentive to look for jobs if they know they're going to get an extra 13 weeks of benefits.

His partner, Mark Shields, retorted:

I haven't heard that kind of compelling logic since Ed Meese, who was Attorney General, and suggested homeless people enjoyed it.

People want to work, and these are people who have worked, have been working and their lost their jobs and I think David will think better about this over the weekend.

Brooks refused to yield:

There are numerous studies to the effect, one of them was the Clinton Secretary of Labor who found out in the last weeks of benefits, people are three times more likely to get jobs than they were earlier in the benefits.

Now, I think unemployment does respond to incentives. Now if there are no jobs, then it's perfectly legitimate to extend the benefits. If unemployment is coming down, as it is now, then you do want to give people an incentive to get off the roll.

A Voice in the Wilderness Along among the pundits, Mark Shields defended President Bush’s decision on steel tariffs. His colleagues were harsh:

Al Hunt: This was a dreadful decision. He did it … for 46 reasons. It's the electoral votes in West Virginia, Pennsylvania, and Ohio in the 2004 election. And boy, thank goodness we got rid of that President Bill Clinton, who always put politics ahead of principle.

George Will: President's worse day of his presidency by far.

Margaret Carlson: It's not economic -- it's electoral relief that he was going for with his plan.

David Brooks: That's the most intellectual indefensible thing he's done as president.

Bob Novak: This is unquestionably the worst trade decision in many, many years by an American president. I think it's the worst decision by President Bush.

Most Important Political News of the Week: According to Brit Hume, it was Alan Greenspan’s testimony, notably the change from his testimony of only a week because “the good news had arrived in such volume and so swiftly.”

A Judicial Strategy George Will notes that embattled Appeals Court nominee Charles Pickering is 64 years old. "If he's defeated, send up a 44 year old." Cokie Roberts chimes in, "One without a paper trail."

Suck-Up of the Week Walter Cronkite, 85 years old, appeared hale and hearty during a Capital Gang interview. Margaret Carlson gushed:

Seeing the avuncular Walter Cronkite there makes me think if he were still in place … there would not be somebody in Michael Eisner's shop calling "NIGHTLINE" irrelevant, that in Walter Cronkite's day, news was king.

Debate of the Week Saeb Erekat, Chief Palestinian Negotiator, and Dore God, Senior Advisor to Prime Minister Sharon, on This Week. Both men displayed the raw emotions of the Middle East in attacking the other’s positions.

Are We Back to Normal? According to Jack White of Time, appearing on This Week, we're back to a "funky normalcy" in view of the upcoming fight between Paula Jones and Tonya Harding.

Why Pick Simon? David Brooks explains Bill Simon, winner of the California Republican Gubernatorial Primary:

The conventional view about this whole race is the right wing Republicans, those whackos out in California, you know, with arms growing out of their foreheads picked this guy Simon who has no shot of winning.

But you have to remember that this is a state where the Republican Party just picked Matt Fong and Tom Campbell, two very moderate Republicans and they got shellacked. So I think they were not too stupid to pick somebody who actually knows why he's running and has ideas about why he's running.

So, Who Wins? Mark Shields evaluates the coming Davis-Simon match-up:

Is it going to be about Bill Simon? If that's the case the Republicans will lose. If it's about Gray Davis, then it's the one hope that Bill Simon has of making it a race.

New York Kind of Guy?An appearance on CG by the New York Daily News’ Joel Siegel, discussing the Andrew Cuomo-Carl McCall race for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination in NewYork, was disappointing. The racial angle is what gives this race energy, but it was barely discussed. Bob Novak was able to make his impressions of Cuomo clear, however:

Andrew Cuomo, when he was in Washington in the Clinton cabinet, was maybe the most disliked person in town. Nobody could stand him. Is this the best the Democratic party can do against Governor Pataki? Is that pushing personality a little bit obnoxious, is that just -- is that something New Yorkers like?

Print Punditwatch Sunday: Politics As Usual

Will Vehrs
Columns on politics are the Sunday special for the pundits. Bob Novak does one of his juicy tidbits columns, covering Rudy for VP, Rich Lazio's possible comeback, a Hastert shouting match, and a redeemed political consultant. David Broder, continuing his harsh judgment on Bush Administration policies, compares the steel tariff decision to the nuclear waste for Nevada decision. Surprise! He sees electoral politics at work:

The nicest touch in the Bush policy is its timing. Tariffs on most steel imports will begin at 30 percent, then decline to 24 percent and 18 percent in the second and third years. They phase out entirely three years from now.

Let's see. Three years from now will be 2005, the year after the next election. If Bush wins, no one should be surprised if the steel industry finds itself jilted by the White House at that point. Just ask Nevada.

Robert Kagan takes an important look at the divisions in the Democratic Party over foreign policy:

So who really speaks for the Democratic Party? It's too soon to tell. But at least in the wake of Sept. 11 we can say hello again to that hitherto endangered species of Democrat, the liberal internationalist hawk. Lieberman is the model: idealistic but not naive, ready and willing to use force and committed to a strong military, but also committed to using American power to spread democracy and do some good in the world.

Mailing It In George Will and Mary McGrory recycle familiar themes today. Will attacks campaign finance reform for the umpteenth time by claiming big media companies could be seen as "corrupt," just as groups like the Club for Growth are. McGrory laments Bill Clinton and others being used as scapegoats by Republicans. Speaking of Tom Daschle's "blow-up" with a reporter pursuing the "obstructionist" theme, she writes:

He [Daschle] obviously doesn't understand the Republicans' continuing need for villains. It's their substitute for policy.

No comment from McGrory on the Democrats' search for another Newt Gingrich.

Yada Yada Yada Maureen Dowd compares the Clinton accolytes running for office with the cast of "Seinfeld." Janet Reno as Kramer is dead-on, but Punditwatch also liked this one:

Given Bill Clinton's antagonism to him, Al Gore must play the pudgy tattletale civil servant Newman.

Pundit favorite Rahm Emanuel avoids being savaged by being compared to fabulously successful "Seinfeld" producer Larry David.

Foreign Affairs Jim Hoagland is concerned about human rights and one of the new hot spots for the War on Terror:

Uzbekistan and Central Asia will help establish -- for better or worse -- a new balance between U.S. support for human rights abroad and the price local regimes demand for help in prosecuting the war on terrorism.

The escalating violence in the Middle East is even more ominous after this Tom Friedman column:

The notion is taking hold — it started with Osama bin Laden, was refined by Palestinian suicide bombers and is cheered on by Hezbollah, Iran and other radicals — that with a combination of demographics (a baby boom) and terrorism, the Arabs can actually destroy Israel. Some radicals even fantasize that they can undermine America.

A visiting Egyptian official told me that he was recently speaking to Arab students about Middle East peace and one of them interrupted to say that with just "eight small, suitcase-size nuclear bombs," the whole problem of Israel could be eliminated.

Best Bets: Kagan, Novak, Dowd, Friedman.

Saturday, March 09, 2002

Print Punditwatch Saturday: No Dispassionate Analysis Here

Will Vehrs
Saturday is the black hole of syndicated columnists, so Punditwatch will take a few liberties.

Colbert King looks at the return of Marion Barry to Washington, DC politics through the eyes of his opponent, DC Councilman Phil Mendelson. One might think that any breathing decent citizen would swamp Barry, but they would be wrong:

...the ex-mayor is much like a punch-drunk, over-the-hill fighter who, at the sound of a bell, comes out swinging even if it's just a call for dinner. Life for Barry has been, is now and forever more shall be a perpetual campaign.

Bill Keller harshly criticizes the Catholic Church over the pedophilia scandal:

Whether or not Cardinal Law keeps his job, though, is the wrong question. Surely if he had a shred of respect for his anguished clergy and parishioners he would have stepped down by now. The more interesting question is why he and the bishops who knowingly shuffled sexual predators from parish to parish should not face criminal indictment for abetting the grotesque offenses against the children of their parishes. It will take something like that to break the Catholic Church's long, sad cycle of sexual abuse, public scandal, promised reform, resurgent complacency, followed, always, by another horrific disclosure.

Keller asks a good question: will Congress look into this? He calls Massachusetts' Catholic Democratic Senators Kennedy and Kerry, but they don't call back. Keller also likes a recent Slate headline: "Does abstinence make the church grow fondlers?"

Nat Hentoff examines the concept of a fair trial in the Abner Louima case reversal. The now-deceased judge in the original case deserved to be overturned.

For those who don't like their pundits to be dispassionate, Punditwatch presents Anthony Lewis and Molly Ivins. The retired Lewis, probably observing that no pundits are taking up his perennial cry that the constitution is in peril, sees the open-ended War on Terror as a huge threat:

War without end is likely to have — indeed is already having — profound consequences for the American constitutional system. It tends to produce the very thing that the framers of the Constitution most feared: concentrated, unaccountable political power.

Ivins runs through two of her hardy perennials, the environment and energy, concluding:

I bring up the familiarity and the similarities of these issues not to point out that it's all the same-old, same-old but precisely to make the opposite point. How long will it take for people to get angry enough to take action? How many children must die?

As we all know, democracy has reached such a point of inanition in this country that hardly anyone thinks he can affect any of it. But in fact, you can. Hundreds and thousands of groups of activists all over this country are fighting and winning against polluters. If you don't have much spare time or energy, the oldest tool of citizenship - take pen in hand and write your member of Congress - still actually works.

Heck, why write? Just send a copy of Molly's column.

Best bet: Keller.

Friday, March 08, 2002

Print Punditwatch Friday: Dissing Ayn Rand and Chicks With Guns

Will Vehrs
Two sacred cows of the Blogosphere came under pundit attack today. Michael Kinsley, in a column about the philosophy of separate but unequal lines at airports, insulted a blog icon:

Except for nutty Ayn Randists with dollar-sign necklaces, we all have our limits.

Nicholas Kristof took on an even more explosive blogland topic--guns, but more particularly, guns in the hands of bellicose women at Mt. Holyoke College.

These days, some women here are shocking the campus by embracing something even more dangerous than men — guns.

One of the most far-reaching consequences of 9/11 is a surge in gun sales around the country.

So while we don't know whether more Americans will be killed by anthrax, we can be quite confident that plenty of us will be killed by these additional handguns.

Our desire to defend ourselves from terrorism by buying firearms will mean, almost certainly, that thousands more Americans will die in the years ahead from gunfire. It's not terrorism, but it should be terrifying.

Kristof will likely have more than a few responses flowing to his in-box.

Elsewhere, E. J. Dionne, Jr. and Daniel Henninger look at the Ted Koppel story from different angles. Dionne sees the first amendment being used as a refuge by broadcasters; Henninger links the decline in news to the decline in meaningful political speech by politicians. Paul Krugman criticizes Bush's decision on steel tariffs and thinks he should have addressed "legacy costs instead. David Ignatius provides useful information on the steel industry in his critique of Bush's decision:

Here are some figures that suggest how the industry got into its current mess: In 1950, steelworkers earned 15 percent more than the average manufacturing wage; by 1980, that cushion had widened to 84 percent. From 1967 to 1979, hourly employment costs in the steel industry rose at an annual rate of 12.1 percent -- while the industry's output grew just 2 percent a year.

Bob Novak provides another view of Richard Riordan's collapse in California, along with a blunt observation from Orange County Republican Chairman Tom Fuentes. What do you call businesses that give contributions to both Republicans and Democrats? ''In Orange County,'' Fuentes replied, ''we call those people whores.''

Poor Ted Koppel, Crushed by "The Man" E. J. Dionne observes:

Koppel is hardly the first employee to fall victim to the whims of a large conglomerate. His superiors at Disney pay him a lot better than most who get pushed around by their bosses.

Best Bets: Henninger, Ignatius.

Thursday, March 07, 2002

Print Punditwatch Thursday: It's All Good

Will Vehrs
This is the kind of day Punditwatch lives for. All the major syndicated columnists are opinionated but evenhanded. All tackle provocative subjects in a fresh way.

Pundits at Home: On the domestic front, Mary McGrory looks at the California Republican primary results as a repudiation of Bush advisor Karl Rove. Rove will have President Bush meddling in another primary soon--the Georgia race to take on Senator Max Cleland. McGrory's verdict on the defeated Rove candidate in California, Richard Riordan:

Instead of stroking the right wing ...Riordan was bellowing at conservatives that they had to change. Taking this prickly constituency for granted is like petting a porcupine, apt to result in scratches.

George Will harshly criticizes President Bush's steel tariff decision:

Bush has cooked up an unpalatable confection of tariffs and import quotas that mock his free-trade rhetoric.

Think of them as an $8 billion contribution coerced from manufacturers and consumers of steel products, for the benefit of about six Republican congressional candidates in steel-producing districts, and for Bush's reelection campaign.

William Safire attacks current anti-trust attitudes and sees conservatives as the only ones having the wherewithal to challenge big business:

It is for conservatives to ask ourselves: Since when is bigness goodness?

The Constitution's brilliant system of checks and balances restrains each government branch's power. We oppose the concentration of authority in the federal government, urging its devolution to states and localities. We seek to empower productive individuals by cutting taxes. Our mothers' milk is market competition.

Why, then, should we supinely go along with the seizure of economic power by today's triopolies and duopolies on their march to becoming tomorrow's monopolies?

Bob Herbert attempt to explain the drop New York City crime, particularly homocides:

The recipe for success in New York has been more cops, smarter policing, fewer guns, a drastic decline in the use of crack and better behavior by young people.

Herbert's top two are smarter policing (use of computers) and better behavior.

Pundits Abroad Richard Cohen is distressed at President Bush's attitude toward peace in the Middle East, asking, in an ironic twist on Tom Friedman's much-heraled column about Crown Prince Abdullah, "What plan, if any, is in George Bush's desk?" Cohen has tough words for the Palestinians, but is almost tougher on Israeli Prime Minister Sharon. Cohen's conclusion:

But anyone who can appreciate the anger and frustration of the Palestinians, who understands that compromises will have to be made, who can see the folly and madness in Sharon's intellectually bankrupt policies, has to demand that the United States get back into the Middle East and act, for crying out loud, like a superpower.

Jim Hoagland surveys America's dominance of world, militarily and economically. He has advice for US policymakers:

The task for the United States today is to use its strength not to dominate the world but to manage the world -- ideally with creativity and a sense of common purpose. The easier it is to dominate, the more necessary it is to act as if the thought never occurred to you.

Will You Miss Me When I'm Gone? Safire, like colleague Maureen Dowd yesterday, injects himself personally into the Ted Koppel story:

Now, if The Times were to replace this column with a comic strip, I like to think you would hear a geshrei from me and a keening wail from even critical readers that would rattle corporate rafters.

Best Bets: Like I said, they're all good.

Wednesday, March 06, 2002

Print Punditwatch Wednesday: Two Views on Foreign Policy

Will Vehrs
Today's pundits demonstrate the two strains of foreign policy punditry--Krauthammer and Kelly versus Tom Friedman. Charles Krauthammer, the "Vicar of Bellicosity," reprises his Meet the Press "smoke and mirrors" analysis of the Saudi Peace Plan:

Apart from the fact that the plan is an obvious Saudi ploy to blunt American anger at the shockingly deep Saudi role in Sept. 11 by posing as peacemakers, apart from the fact that it gives make-work to U.N., EU and other underemployed diplomats with not an idea in their heads how to stop the violence, the plan has a very specific objective: misdirection. The plan -- a repetition of maximal Arab demands from which they have not budged in two decades -- is a transparent attempt to take world attention away from the source of the violence.

Michael Kelly looks at last week's Daschle criticism of the War on Terror:

Meanwhile, the administration proceeds -- in America, in Europe, in the Middle East, in the Philippines -- with its promises to strike at Islamic terror networks everywhere. So far, these efforts seem to be meeting with some success; certainly, there are no signs of disaster.

Of course, in the light of this reality, it is still perfectly fine -- and certainly not unpatriotic, as some Republicans suggested -- to fret and worry and carp on Sunday television. It is just not serious.

On the other side, the influential Tom Friedman continues to live off his recent trip to Saudi Arabia and his long held theories about the sources of terrorism, a strong view, but not as righteous as Krauthammer and Kelly. Friedman asks a good question--why does the Arab World go ballistic when a handful of Muslims are killed by Israelis, but nary a peep is heard when thousands of Muslims are killed by Hindus?

When Hindus kill Muslims it's not a story, because there are a billion Hindus and they aren't part of the Muslim narrative. When Saddam murders his own people it's not a story, because it's in the Arab-Muslim family. But when a small band of Israeli Jews kills Muslims it sparks rage — a rage that must come from Muslims having to confront the gap between their self-perception as Muslims and the reality of the Muslim world.

One comment by Friedman cried out for more explanation:

This is not to say that U.S. policy is blameless. We do bad things sometimes. But why is it that only Muslims react to our bad policies with suicidal terrorism, not Mexicans or Chinese?

What bad policies by the US are killing Mexicans and Chinese?

On the domestic front, David Broder is critical of the administration in the GAO suit:

Last week, I interviewed GAO head David Walker, its top lawyer and two senior officials on Cheney's staff. It is perfectly clear that this is a dispute that does not have to become a test of strength or a constitutional showdown between the branches.

In choosing confrontation over one of the available compromises, the administration is escalating a secrecy fight that only damages itself. It is time for talking, not stonewalling.

Maureen Dowd looks at the ramifications for the baby boomers of the Koppel-Letterman controversy. She also remembers her forgettable appearance on "Nightline" back in 1989:

When Mr. Koppel and Kyle Gibson did a book chronicling 16 years of "Nightline" a few years back, I was featured in a chapter called "Shows We Wish You Had Never Seen."

Best Bets: Krauthammer and Friedman.

Tuesday, March 05, 2002

Print Punditwatch Tuesday: Reading and Patriotism

Will Vehrs
Comparing the debate to the divisive politics of the Nixon years and noting a role for the tabloids, E. J. Dionne, Jr. looks behind last week's exchange between Daschle and Lott. "So after months in which the American flag was a unifying symbol again, patriotism was back in play as a political issue," he writes. Richard Cohen avoids the headline issues of the day to tackle the phenomena of city residents all reading one book. Cohen sees a different role for reading:

I, for one, loathe this idea. It's not that I do not concede that having all of one city reading all of one book does not promote some civic virtue that I cannot quite identify. It's rather that the idea runs counter to what reading is all about. Reading is a solitary pursuit, ruminative and, as civic boosters everywhere sense with alarm, downright subversive.

Anglola's Jonas Savimbi is an object lesson for the US in the war on terror, writes Nicholas Kristof:

We were oblivious to Mr. Savimbi's faults because we were locked in a cold-war rivalry in which ideology trumped all else. And in any case, the Angolan government was wretched and brutal as well as pink.

Kristof believes we should do more than back a leader in a far-flung country:

And in the new battlegrounds, like Afghanistan and perhaps Iraq, let's be doubly careful about picking our next Lincoln. And rather than just anointing a winner, let's promote institutional changes — like schools, liberties and free markets — that are the third world's real freedom fighters and "authentic heroes."

The improving economy was a big story last week, but debunking that good news will probably require some research, so Paul Krugman trots out an old favorite, blasting Bush's social security privitization plan:

...when touting its plan to privatize Social Security, the Bush administration conveniently fails to mention the system's existing obligations, the debt it owes to older Americans. As with so many other administration proposals, private accounts are being sold with deceptive advertising.

Look for "the economy is still in the dumper because of tax cuts" column later in the week.

Classic Krugman Not content to just dismiss social security privitization, Krugman also attributes nefarious motives to it:

War frenzy is subsiding, the Bush domestic agenda is stalled, and early indications for the November election aren't as good as Karl Rove expected. So it's fantasy time: tantalize the public with visions of sugarplums, then blame Democrats for snatching the goodies away. And it doesn't matter that the numbers don't add up, because the plan will never be tested by reality.

Funny how Republicans are urging Bush to drop social security privatization.

Longest Op-Ed Sentence Award Ted Koppel speaks out about the "Nightline" controversy in a NYT op-ed. His major beef is a Disney executive who called news programming like his irrelevant:

I would argue that in these times, when homeland security is an ongoing concern, when another terrorist attack may, at any time, shatter our sense of normalcy, when American troops are engaged in Afghanistan, the Philippines, Yemen and Georgia, when the likelihood of military action against Iraq is growing — when, in short, the regular and thoughtful analysis of national and foreign policy is more essential than ever — it is, at best, inappropriate and, at worst, malicious to describe what my colleagues and I are doing as lacking relevance.

Whew, glad I don't have to read that aloud.

Best bets: Dionne and Kristof.

Monday, March 04, 2002

Scroll Down for TV Punditwatch

Print Punditwatch Monday: Colombia, Iraq, New York

Will Vehrs
Two foreign policy columns lead today. Bob Novak looks at the situation in Colombia and finds it unchanged from the Clinton years:

As the most imperiled Western Hemisphere country, Colombia might seem a particularly appropriate battleground for President Bush's war against terrorism. It is not. Non-combative policies of the previous administration remain unaltered. In Latin America, the legacy of Bill Clinton still immobilizes George W. Bush.

William Safire describes Saddam Hussein's strategy

Even if forced to accept the experienced U.N. team, Saddam — needing a few more months to weaponize his germ arsenal — is sure to employ the same rope-a-dope with which he harassed previous U.N. inspectors.

and offers President Bush five suggestions to counter it. Safiire believes Saddam will try to drive a wedge between the US and Great Britain.

On the domestic front, William Raspberry announces that he is an agnostic on social security privitization who could become a believer.

...why not just leave things as they are, automatic and guaranteed against market fluctuations?

The simple answer: You can't. As Henry J. Aaron, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, explains it, the system is unsustainable for the long term. Either taxes will have to be increased or benefits cut.

Bob Herbert returns from vacation and comments on the impact of the appeals court decision in a case arising out of the Abner Louima incident:

New York is a much different place — a better place — than it was in the summer of 1997 when Mr. Louima, his pants down around his ankles, was hauled into a bathroom at the 70th Precinct station house in Brooklyn and hideously tortured.

Herbert doesn't like that the convictions of three policemen were set aside, but it was understandable. The new atmosphere in New York kept the decision from causing an uproar.

Best Bet: Safire.

Sunday, March 03, 2002



Will Vehrs
There's nothing better than a partisan debate in Washington, but it's even sweeter when there's a debate about whether there should even be a debate. The pundits, their opinions long circumscribed by unity on the war on terror, were unleashed this week when Senate Democrats began to criticize aspects of Bush Administration foreign policy. When Senate Minority Leader Trent Lott (R, MS) complained about the criticism, debate about the debate became issue one. Pundits found it easier to discuss the wisdom of the debate than the messy policy implications that follow from criticizing the conduct of the War on Terror.

PBS's News Hour was almost exclusively about the debate. Capital Gang on CNN lead with the debate. NBC's Meet the Press, Fox News Sunday, ABC's This Week and CBS's Face the Nation had the debate within a debate as a subtext of their interview segments. Other topics took a back street or fit neatly into the debate issue, such as the Saudi peace plan and the "shadow government" revelation. All in all, Lott (on Meet the Press) and Senator Tom Daschle (Fox and Meet the Press) sounded much less partisan on Sunday than they had during the week.

This was also the first pundit weekend after Paul Galaris' influential Washington Monthly article (highlighted/hyped by Howard Kurtz) that touched on the difference between "Democrat" and "conservative" pundits. Anyone looking for confirmation of Galaris' thesis this weekend probably found an equal number of examples supporting it and debunking it.

The Verdict on Lott Lott's criticism of Daschle was roundly panned:

"Over-reaction at best. It was silly" --Mara Liasson, Fox

"I think Trent Lott overreacted. What Tom Daschle said was pretty tepid stuff." --Kate O'Bierne, CG

"For Trent Lott to say that really is outrageous . . . that's situational patriotism." --Al Hunt, CG

The Verdict on Daschle That Daschle dared to question the administration was roundly praised:

"I just think it's long past the time we ought to have a debate in this country." --Mark Shields, NH

"This doesn't weaken the country; this strengthens the country. " --David Brooks, NH

"We're a democracy. We should have a spirited debate." --Juan Williams, Fox

"We had roaring arguments abot the Civil War." --George Will, TW

Some, however, saw politics at work in Daschle's comments:

"It places a marker for ... Democrats, that they have raised questions ... It is good politics if things go badly." --Brit Hume, Fox

"This is not good politics for the Democrats. This was a partisan attack." --Bob Novak, CG

"This is not loyal opposition. This is opportunistic opposition." Kate O'Bierne, CG

Summing Up With Irony Mark Shields, presiding over differences of opinion on the Lott-Daschle dust-up, offered this summary:

I want to get one point very clear here. Tom Daschle's a fierce partisan. Trent Lott is non-partisan bipartisan.

The Stars Come Out Top pundits Charles Krauthammer (Meet the Press), Tom Friedman (Face the Nation), and Bill O'Reilly (Fox) enlived this week's shows. O'Reilly tried to overwhelm the Fox panel and they largely let him, although Juan Williams challenged him on a Jesse Jackson comment: "If you see Jackson go away, you realize you're going to get Al Sharpton. That helps Bush."

Moderator of the Week Tim Russert was equally tough on Tom Daschle and Trent Lott, then moderated an excellent debate between Krauthammer and James Zogby, President of the Arab-American Institute. It was Russert at his even-handed best. Best dig at Daschle: When Daschle complained that no one in Congress knew about the "shadow government," he asked "Doesn't Congress authorize and appropriate money for that purpose? Daschle had to take another tack--"the breadth and depth of this effort" wasn't known. Best dig at Lott: Russert showed Lott a memo entitled "Red Alert: Daschle attacks Bush on War on Terrorism." "What's a 'Red Alert'?" Russert wanted to know. "I never saw that before, " said Lott.

Suck-up of the Week Bob Schieffer, host of Face the Nation, after concluding his interview with Tom Friedman: "When I become President, I want you as Secretary of State."

Poll of the Week Both Fox and Meet the Press mentioned a Fox poll indicating Americans preferred a fight between Lott and Daschle to one between Mike Tyson-Lennox Lewis. "I promise not to bite your ear, " Daschle quipped to Lott on MTP.

Poll of Week Runner-up The Gallup poll on Muslim attitudes toward the US was featured prominently on MTP, Fox, and TW. On MTP, Zogby blamed the US for letting itself get defined by "then enemy." Krauthammer said "the groundwork was laid by the governments themselves." The Fox discussion centered on the lack of credibility of polls in dictatorships. That Kuwait was the most anti-American of the countries polled was widely noted. "The results are devastating," said Sam Donaldson on TW. For the best coverage of Middle East issues, Punditwatch recommends Charles Johnson's excellent blog.

Good Advice "I wouldn't be buying a condo in Bhagdad." --Bill O'Reilly, Fox.

Big Ten David Brooks is never too exact with his numbers:

There are 25 new democracies in the last 20 years. I would say that's something that's something that's possible in Iraq. That's something that's happened 25 times in the last 30 years.

Poor Ted ABC's effort to drop Ted Koppel's "Nightline" for David Letterman were discussed on Fox and FTN, but not on ABC's This Week. Hmmmm. FNT's Bob Schieffer, describing himself as an "old coot," is surprised that the network wants a younger demographic. He protests that "Last time I looked, I made more money than the interns around here." Fox's Brit Hume sees the future, however: "Cable news is where news is going, where news is growing."

Scoop of the Week While debate rages over privatizing Social Security, Bob Novak tosses Senate Social Security Chairman John Breaux (D, LA) an option and surprisingly finds agreement:

NOVAK: What you have to do is eventually, you have to take this crummy system and put it on a means test, so that people like me and my wife, who now receive Social Security and don't need it, will not get the Social Security.

BREAUX: I support means testing,

Novak seems surprised that Breaux has agreed and gets confirmation:

NOVAK: But do you agree that you have to go means testing eventually?

BREAUX: Oh, I think so. Absolutely.

The Saudi Peace Plan Two views:

"It's smoke and mirors ... very little substance." --Charles Krauthammer

"The Saudis want to improve their brand." --Tom Friedman

An Informed Electorate Los Angeles Times political correspondent Mark Barabak, discussing the upcoming Gubernatorial Republican primary on Capital Gang:

You could walk down the streets of California today, handing out $10 bills to anybody who knows there's a primary on Tuesday. And you probably wouldn't empty your wallet.

Shields in a Nutshell Mark Shields finally has summarized his opinion of the Bush Administration in one sound byte, borrowing from JFK:

This administration's words to the well off and the wealthy, you will pay no price. You will bear no burden. And you will meet no hardship.

Worst Outrage of the Week, Possibly the Worst Ever Al Hunt obviously didn't think too long and hard about his entry on this increasingly irritating CG feature:

The woman who killed her five children, Andrea Yates and her husband, are Evangelical Christians. He insists the wife should submit to her husband. Conservatives would be outraged if this were used to smear all Evangelical Christians. Yet, in the case of Taliban fighter John Walker Lindh, they freely charge he's a product of the Marin County hot tub set.

Take your choice. Either these are individual acts of derangement or both perpetrators reflect their cultural environment.

In Case of Emergency, Shadow Pundits Will Take Over David Brooks reacts to the "shadow government" revelation and, tongue-in-cheek, discusses its effect:

I find it a little creepy. It is a hardship on Mark [Shields] and I because we have to go to West Virginia in case of nuclear war, the punditry flow will not be impeded.

Print Punditwatch Sunday: Exploring the Shadows

Will Vehrs
The "shadow government" becomes a metaphor for larger sins with two pundits this morning. Maureen Dowd and Mary McGrory appear to have either compared notes or decided to compete for the most damning spin. Here's Dowd on what the shadow government means:

Without Democrats or journalists, the underground executive branch can operate the way the real executive branch would like to, and frequently does — without a lot of second-guessing, Freedom of Information Act requests, complaints from civil libertarians and attention to the rights of Marin County hot-tubbers.

Here's McGrory:

The president's phenomenal popularity has tied the tongues of Democrats. They have been largely mum on the administration's assault on the environment, the justice system and the press. Since Attorney General John Ashcroft informed a Senate committee in December that people resisting the proposal for secret military tribunals for terrorists "give our enemies ammunition," the administration has been reinventing government in a style of obsessive secrecy worthy of the Soviets.

David Broder continues his tour of domestic issues, this time visiting a Second Harvest conference on hunger in America and reporting on the views of participants:

How is it, they asked, in this nation where obesity is a serious public health problem, that so many of our fellow citizens can be hurting for food? It is an unseen crisis.

Bob Novak, in one of his "short takes" columns, discusses a wide range of political topics, including unions, steel tariffs, Tom Daschle, and Congressman Charles Rangel (D, NY). He also tackles "fallout" from the decision to place nuclear waste in Nevada, a topic also covered by McGrory.

Tom Friedman continues to milk his recent trip to Saudi Arabia for material. Today he discusses the "iron wall" of ideas that separates the US and the Muslim world. Jim Hoagland looks at the options in Afghanistan:

Afghanistan is not either/or. A viable solution will be an evolving, messy combination of outside pressures and rewards and internal changes. Something new in statecraft may have to be invented if "it" is to succeed.

George Will takes a useful look at the oft-maligned Iraqi opposition in the person of Dr. Ahmed Chalabi, a member of the leadership council of the Iraqi National Congress, an umbrella organization of Saddam Hussein's opponents abroad. Chalabi has a strategy in place and calls Hussein's regime "brittle." Will concludes:

But mistaken assessments before the Gulf War suggest that we are at least as apt to overestimate as to underestimate Iraq's power. And what Chalabi and other brave people believe should not be dismissed as wrong just because they, as we, very much want it to be true.

Pundit Grandee Tom Friedman, after constructing his "Iron Wall of Ideas" metaphor, looks toward the coming meeting of President Bush and Egyptian President Mubarek and proclaims: "Hosni Mubarak, George Bush, tear down this wall."

Guns and Butter George Will observes Chalabi at breakfast eating oatmeal while others eat fried eggs, bacon and ham. He marvels at a man who has survived nine assasination attempts worrying about his cholesterol.

Best Bets: George Will for foreign affairs, Mary McGrory for domestic politics.

Saturday, March 02, 2002

Print Punditwatch Daily: Back to the Barbershop
Will Vehrs
Two weeks ago, Colbert King wrote a hilarious send-up of the Senator Byrd -Treasury Secretary O'Neill exchange about humble roots as seen through the eyes of the patrons at Darrell's Barbershop. Today, King goes back to the well once too often, this time laying out Senator Byrd's connection to the KKK:

"He was what?" asked Fishbone incredulously. "You mean that powerful ol' dude in the Senate was one of those Kluxers in sheets and pointed hoods who burned crosses and hated black folks?"

"If I'm lyin', I'm flyin'," said Bobby T.

King might want to stay away from the barbershop and go back to other themes where the well had more water: bashing Pat Robertson and bashing the Saudis. Ellen Goodman looks at a now familiar topic: "Andrea Yates, villain or victim? Why not both?"

Frank Rich has his usual Saturday screed. Today it's a tribute to Daniel Pearl wrapped around a blast at President Bush:

Not since the Nixon years has an administration done as much to stymie reporters who specialize in the genre of investigative inquiry Mr. Pearl was pursuing when he was ambushed.

Broadway probably doesn't miss Rich as the NYT drama critic one bit.

Best Bet: Skip the Saturday pundts.

Friday, March 01, 2002

Print Punditwatch Daily: Do the Math
Will Vehrs
Did you take the test to determine if you're obese that George Will suggested yesterday? If not, Michael Kinsley might suggest you share in "our national innumeracy -- ignorance about math." In the wake of those faulty teen alcohol statistics, he notes:

Americans are twice as likely to swallow a phony statistic about a social issue, and almost 2.7 times more likely to find it alarming, as citizens of either the European Union or the former Soviet bloc.

No wonder negative campaign ads work! Speaking of negative, how about "absurd, nefarious, deceptive, and propoganda." Yes, Paul Krugman is analyzing a Bush program again. This time it's the ANWR drilling proposal.

Daniel Henninger looks at the state of American humor in a tribute to Bugs Bunny and the genius of Chuck Jones. Nicholas Kristof looks at the case of Professor Al-Arian, a Palestinian on the University of South Florida faculty--for now. Al-Arian, who once said "Death to Israel," is a test case for America:

... a university, even a country, becomes sterile when people are too intimidated to say things out of the mainstream. Indeed, that is precisely why major Arab countries are in dreadful shape.

Charles Krauthammer defends the "Axis of Evil" contruction, surprising none of us by declaring, "I was a unilateralist before it became unfashionable." E.J. Dionne gives us a good analysis of the judicial confirmation battle lines, but offers a weak solution:

If the goal is to have good judges confirmed without ugly fights, the White House and Senate Democrats should sit down and agree on lists of nominees. The lists might include a balance of highly qualified liberals and conservatives. Or they might consist of well-respected moderates.

Sitting down always works.

Best bet: Kristof, Krugman if you hate Bush.