Sunday, April 28, 2002

TV Punditwatch: Cardinals Clobbered

Will Vehrs
For the first time in over a month, the Middle East was not the absolute top issue for the weekend pundits. Criticizing the US Cardinals after their meeting in Rome topped the pundit agenda, while viewpoints and approaches varied on the latest Middle East developments. Pundits paid homage to the departing Karen Hughes.

The closest a pundit came to a positive comment on the Vatican trip was Bob Novak's suggestion that the Cardinals could still correct their mistakes at the June Bishops' Conference in Dallas. "I was incredibly disppointed," said David Brooks, referring to the statement from the Vatican meeting. "There was no imaginative empathy for what the kids, what the victims went through." Mark Shields, "a Catholic for a long, long time, like my entire life," agreed with Brooks. "What was missing was any sense of accountability for the hierarchy that moved these predators around to prey upon children. And I think that was not confronted in Rome. "

Margaret Carlson and Bob Schieffer were succinct. "Those Catholics loking for a miracle did not get one, " noted Carlson. "Why are they making this scandal so complicated?" asked Schieffer. "It must be stopped. A few sentences will suffice."

Schieffer also asked a blunt question on Face the Nation: "Don't heads have to roll to restore credibility?" Unfortunately, he didn't ask that question of his guest, Cardinal Francis George of Chicago. George had a rough interview with Tim Russert on Meet the Press but did better with the more genial Schieffer. It was obvious that Cardinal George did not have much experience with tough questioning and had not been schooled in the power of "talking points." He should study the "run out the clock" techniques of Father Richard McBrien and Father Richard Neuhaus, the guests who followed him on Meet the Press.

On the Middle East, pundits on the early shows--The News Hour and Capital Gang--repeated tired refrains. On Sunday, however, the Fox Panel and This Week's roundtable saw some daylight for a breakthrough as news from the Israeli Knesset and other developments with the Saudis were reported. "There is a possible peace plan," concluded Juan Williams on Fox.

This Week continued to showcase George Stephanopolous by leading with his interview of Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud Al Faisal. The interview did not live up to the hype. Faisal thinks Sharon's response to President Bush's requests to withdraw is "strange."

Karen Hughes was hailed by the pundits.

Most powerful woman not married to a President in the history of the American White House. Happened not under enlightened liberal Democrat. Happened under a conservative traditional values Republican. --Mark Shields

Most influential White House aide since Michael Deaver. --Michael Duffy, Time, on Washington Week in Review

Karen Hughes not only was the most influential woman who ever served as a White House Aide to the President but she was that rare commodity, someone who's only agenda was the President's. --Al Hunt

The thing about Karen is that she was not a Republican activist, she is not an ideologue. She is just a Bush person, she is irreplaceable, and she won't be replaced. --Bob Novak

Most pundits do not think much of Hughes' chances to be influential after she leaves Washington. "It's hard to have the same influence without the proximity, " according to Cokie Roberts. Al Hunt agreed, calling proximity the "sine qua non of power and influence in Washington." Sam Donaldson boldly predicted that Hughes would be back as soon as President Bush ran into trouble.

Location, Location, Location

David Brooks didn't join in lionizing Karen Hughes. Instead, he explained where she went wrong:

You see this again and again in Republican administrations. They're afraid of Washington. They don't like Washington, so instead of moving to Annandale, Virginia, which is a normal American community, they go to northwest Washington D.C. where everybody is a lawyer, they send their kids to St. Albans, where you have got James Carville running class president campaigns, and then they find there is culture shock. Move to Annandale, Virginia next time.

Republicans and Democrats: The Difference

Republicans like women individually. Democrats only like them as a group. --Margaret Carlson

The J. Edgar Hoover-Karen Hughes Connection

After a catty Margaret Carlson mentioned Karen Hughes' shoe size, Mark Shields quipped,

They said after J. Edgar Hoover left a big pair of pumps to fill at the FBI, but I do want to say about that Karen Hughes, it is a testimony to George W. Bush that he not only had a strong woman and she was a strong woman in that job, but she was taller than he was and very few politicians like to have aides who are taller, let alone, taller women.

Tough Cokie

Cokie Roberts interviewed Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle and was surprisingly tough, following up on questions about why he wouldn't work to repeal the tax cuts he opposes and why the farm bill is so laden with subsidies.

What Happened to the Energy Bill?

It shrunk. It started out like a Lincoln Navigator with all these extra features, and now it's a Honda Civic with an AM radio, mostly because it is easier to destroy than create because what you had was two lobbies on either side, right and left, who wanted to terminate the other side's pet projects. --David Brooks

Delayed At the Cash Register

Al Hunt was "appalled" by the closing press conference at the Vatican.

He [Cardinal Law] and Cardinal Egan didn't even show up at that press conference. They said they had another appointment -- last minute shopping at the Vatican gift shop? I mean it was really really outrageous.

But Could He Be Confirmed by the Senate?

I don't think some Republicans will be satisfied until George Will is Secretary of State. --Democratic strategist Bob Schrum, on This Week.

The Wit and Wisdom of George Will

The biggest French export is cultural snobbery.

[Saudi Arabia is] a freak of geology, a tribe with a flag.

No incumbent president has ever been defeated when his approval rating was above 47%.

Cheap Shot of the Week

Christopher Caldwell of The Weekly Standard appeared on Capital Gang to discuss French politics. Caldwell is CG panelist Bob Novak's son-in-law and predicted Jean-Marie Le Pen's rise in an article written before the election. Mark Shields called it "a terrific piece," but Margaret Carlson sniped:

I don't think this runs in the family, this really crack reporting.

Sunday, April 21, 2002

TV Punditwatch: Powell Makes the Rounds

Will Vehrs
Colin Powell made the rounds of all the Sunday talks shows, hoping to salvage something postive from his recent trip and reduce the pounding the administration has taken in recent weeks.

Interviewed from the State Department, Powell did not take extended questioning on any show. Russert, Hume, Scheiffer, and Cokie Roberts were all respectful, although Roberts gently probed sensitive spots more than the others. Perhaps with a longer session to work with, they might have asked the Secretary of State about the issues underlying tough comments made by pundits on Friday and Saturday night:

Nobody listened to Powell. People rebuffed him at every stop. --David Brooks

This administration that has been noted by friends and foes for its iron discipline of speaking with one voice, I mean, you're seeing the Administration speaking with several voices. --Mark Shields

It may be that Secretary Powell for all of his enormous popularity doesn't have the negotiating skills of a George Mitchell, of a Henry Kissinger, of a Dick Holbrooke, but they're also -- sources on Capitol Hill tell me that the Israelis had back channels to people in this administration that under cut the secretary, and I think the president's policy or lack of a policy, it changes daily. I think that makes it very difficult for any secretary of state. --Al Hunt

I think it is unfair to say that Colin Powell is not a good negotiator when he hasn't had 100 percent support from the White House, when he has had very little time and when ... he has no weapons to put a heavy arm on Sharon and say get out right now. So it's been a very difficult situation, and I think we look very bad in the world. --Bob Novak

So in fairness to [Powell], I don't think we can put him on the hook for this, and in fact, the right wing of the Republican Party is currently acting as secretary of state and influencing Bush. --Margaret Carlson

For all the continuing pundit criticism of the President's policies, Gloria Borger noted that Bush was in sync with the nation. "The President is where the American people are on the Middle East."

The pundits are now turning their sights on the visit planned to Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah to President Bush's ranch for clues as to the next phase of the Middle East "process." Expect that to be the hot topic next week.

Best foreign policy segment of the week was the Brit Hume interview on Fox News Sunday with Dennis Ross, former Middle East peace negotiator for the Clinton Administration. Much ink was expended last week on revisionist looks at the Camp David peace talks among Clinton, Barak, and Arafat. Ross was very tough on Arafat, concluding, "I do not believe he can end the conflict. For him to end the conflict is to end himself." Jim Hoagland of the Washington Post, appearing on Face the Nation, echoed that sentiment, saying Arafat sees his legacy as "leading his nation through armed struggle and bloodshed."

The Catholic Church's abuse scandal and the upcoming trip of US Cardinals to Rome was a distant issue #2 for the pundit shows, although ABC's This Week led with it, ahead of their interview with Secretary Powell. That demonstrated either the continuing effort of This Week to differentiate itself from other shows or the lack of newsworthiness of Powell's remarks. Or both.

Pundit Investigation Clears Israel

Fred Barnes said there was "no evidence of a massacre by Israeli troops in Jenin. Mara Liasson said, "Based on the reports, we don't have any evidence of a massacre." According to Bill Kristol, buildings were "bulldozed because they had been booby trapped." Indeed, Kristol bitterly pointed to a "double standard" on UN investigations--civilian deaths from Israeli military action investigated, civilian deaths from other nations' military operations not examined.

No Poker Face

Juan Williams looked incredulously at Bill Kristol: "Ariel Sharon is a man of peace? Look at your face! I mean, come on!"

Set-Up of the Week

Mark Shields: Al Hunt, is President Bush right when he says that Prime Minister Ariel Sharon is truly a man of peace?

Al Hunt: That's about as incredible as saying Arafat is Gandhi.

Should Colin Powell be Replaced?

"Not yet." --George Will

If Only They Read The Weekly Standard

I've had American Jews telling me they're now watching Fox News they've become so conservative. --David Brooks

Still A Loyal Soldier

Senator Joe Lieberman (D, CT), asked if he would challenge Al Gore, told Fox News Sunday "I won't run if he does."

When Was the Last One?

"This was not a a great week for the President." --Gloria Borger

Macho Garden Clubs

Asked about the victory on ANWR drilling by Senate Democrats, Bob Novak replied,

The environmentalist lobby is really terrific. They intimidate these cheap and panty-waist Republicans with telegrams from the Garden Clubs and they scare the hell out of them, and they trump the labor movement. They beat the hell out of the labor movement in a environmentalist versus the labor union head on confrontation.

Al Hunt chuckled in response:

For months and years I've been hearing that the Democratic Party's under a thumb of big labor. The labor goons control them, and now we find out the Garden Club can trump the labor goons.

Taking Care of Business

The other thing that's so striking is this scandal is about sin, temptation, remedy. I mean, this should be the Catholic Church's core business. They should know how to handle this sort of thing. And they have looked adrift like an accounting firm, you know, suddenly accused of trashing documents. --David Brooks

In Memorium

This football hero, Rhodes Scholar and combat veteran served with distinction, intelligence and honor," Bill Clinton rightly said. The outrage? Justice [Byron] White dissented on Roe vs. Wade, so this distinguished, gifted lawyer nominated by President Kennedy, would never be confirmed by today's Senate Democrats. --Kate O'Bierne

Democratic Poster Boy

Margaret Carlson made a rare critique of the Democrats on Capital Gang:

Democrats are crossing the cultural fault line once again that makes voters so queasy. With child abuse dominating the news, they've nonetheless chosen to headline their concert this week with Michael Jackson. Michael Jackson, who paid $25 million to the parents of a young boy staying with him at Neverland. Is he insisting on special air conditioning equipment so his false eyelashes won't fall off? He's had so much surgery he could enter the witness protection program.

Oh, but sometimes the Democratic Party doesn't look like its original self either. Who's next on the Democratic's list, the man- boy love association's Chaplain Father Shanley?

Review of the Week

This Week inexplicably chose to devote a few minutes of their rountable to MTV's Ozzy Osbourne show.

It's kinda gripping. --George Stephanopoulos

It's unintelligible. --Cokie Roberts

This makes Ozzy and Harriet look like Masterpiece Theater. --George Will

Sunday, April 14, 2002

TV Punditwatch: Good Fences Make Good Neighbors

Will Vehrs
The beleagured Punditwatch is putting up a fence this weekend, so I won't be posting here today. Please check out Punditwatch tomorrow on . It should be up by noon in Views.

Speaking of fences, I thought David Brooks made maybe the best point on the Mideast. Appearing on The News Hour, he said:

But I would say there's one lesson that can be learned -- you know, that Israel has to go into Nablus, has to go in to Jenin, has to go in to Ramallah; they don't have to go into Gaza.

There have been no suicide bombers in the last cycle from Gaza.

Why is that? Because there's a fence there. And I think ultimately there that's what this lesson says. You have got to build a fence.

Sunday, April 07, 2002

TV Punditwatch: The Administration Fights Back

Will Vehrs
Last weekend, a passive Bush Administration was shelled by pundits for its Mideast policy. This weekend, the Administration fought back. Either Secretary of State Colin Powell or National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice appeared on every Sunday show to defend the President's Thursday policy speech and action plan.

Powell and Rice attempted to demonstrate command of the situation and hope for progress without raising expectations for Powell's trip. Powell said the goal was a ceasefire, but he set no specific timetable. On Meet the Press, he said he would "Try to help both sides out of this tragic situation they find themselves in."

The pundits were skeptical on multiple levels. Bob Novak wondered if the Administration was really serious about requiring an Israeli pullback. Tim Russert asked Powell if Sharon's failure to pull back after Bush's request was "insubordination." Sam Donaldson aggressively pressed Rice on the issue of Israel's failure to heed Bush, but failed to ruffle her.

Powell's trip was not cause for much optimism. Mara Liasson said of the Powell trip, "Clearly, they're going to be demanding a cease-fire, but what's not clear is what the consequences will be if they don't get it." Brit Hume noted of Powell, "He's going to the region with nothing in hand."

The most severe criticism of Bush came this week from the right. Bill Kristol said flatly, "The Bush Administration has retreated in the War on Terror." He went on to deliver two more body blows to Powell, first observing:

I was struck that the Secretary of State today said on the show that the way in which he expects Arafat to do that [discourage suicide bombings] is to say it's self defeating. God forbid he actually say it's wrong to kill women and children sitting down to a Seder.

Then he administered the right's coup de grace:

You heard the voice of Colin Powell today, but the words were the words of Warren Christopher and Madeline Albright.

Brit Hume reminded everyone, "What the Israelis are doing militarily so far is working." Juan Williams saw his bright spot in the Administration's new policy initiative: "The hardliners of the administration have failed."

The Most Pedestrian, The Most Insightful Cokie Roberts said of the Secretary of State, "Powell has a really tough nut. This is not going to be easy." Later, responding to the Brookings Institution's Shibley Telhami's labeling of an oil embargo being irrational, she said, "Rationality is not the key word in the region."

Reviewing the Speech Mark Shields on the President's Thursday speech:

I thought that he showed enormous balance. I thought he was quite direct with Israel.

David Brooks on the speech:

I thought it was a statesmanlike speech ... balanced, realistic, painted the situation as it really was, optimistic, a little too optimistic, maybe.

Leftover Digs Al Hunt had two leftover criticisms from last week. Of President Bush:

Now the word is on the Middle East he's resolute. Well, he's been about as resolute as silly putty on the Middle East.

Of the Cheney Mideast trip:

... a disastrous Dick Cheney trip. I think it was one of the worst foreign trips in recent years. You got to go back to Warren Christopher in '93 or Cyrus Vance going to Moscow in '77 to find a worse foreign trip.

Suck-Up of the Week Margaret Carlson, always a contender for this award, wins it again after her interview of Monsignor Thomas Hartman (co-host with Rabbi Marc Gelman of "God Squad"):

You know, you see a male-bound institution protecting males in power. And you need a reasonable guy like Monsignor Hartman, let's make him pope.