Sunday, August 25, 2002

Sharpton Enters the Russert Primary

The Rev. Al Sharpton finally got his Meet the Press interview Sunday, a part of the “Tim Russert Primary” phenomena.

Russert had, in previous weeks, interviewed a host of potential contenders for the Democratic presidential nomination, introducing them to viewers and gently probing their strengths and weaknesses.

In a burst of honesty, Russert introduced his Sharpton interview with the admission that the flamboyant New Yorker was outpolling many prominent Democrat officeholders who have preceded him on the show.

And, at the end of an interview that was almost exclusively a look at the Reverend’s controversial past, Sharpton expressed the hope that he would get a chance to appear on the show again, to discuss “Healthcare, voting, the issues.”

“We did both, issues and character,” snapped Russert.

In between, Sharpton declared, “Where I am, many Americans are, and most Democrats are.” That area apparently includes support for Louis Farrakan’s comment that Saddam Hussein is no more terrible than President Bush.

Sharpton did separate himself from Farrakan’s call for a “Nuremberg Trial” of American presidents. “We don’t have to go to Nuremberg, we have to go to Florida.”

In a comforting declaration, Sharpton assured Russert, “I am not an anti-semite.”

Elsewhere on the weekend shows, pundits cast about for controversies. Last week’s furor over Brent Scowcroft’s op-ed arguing against invading Iraq was replaced by controversy over former Secretary of State James Baker’s New York Times op-ed arguing, with caveats, for an invasion. George Will, on This Week, believes Baker’s piece complicates Bush’s plans for “preventative war” because of his calls for a UN resolution.

Fox News Sunday gave prominent play to the hawkish side of the Iraq debate by interviewing Republican Whip Tom DeLay of Texas. DeLay had given a forceful speech supporting the President if he decides to invade Iraq. DeLay said the White House did not write his speech and that they were only shown it “hours” before he delivered it.

Elsewhere, the pundits cast about for controversies to fit in short segments. MTP interviewed the UN weapons inspector, Fox did a piece on the Wall Street Journal’s criticism of the New York Times, and This Week gave Bill Gertz’s new book on intelligence failures, “Breakdown,” a plug. This Week’s roundtable also discussed another sign of the apocolypse: the arrest of a mother at the Jefferson County, Ohio Fair because her children were sunburned.

Bill Gertz Blockbuster Revelation

In my book, I found a huge bureaucratic resistance to reform.

And You Think Our Bureaucrats Are Bad

I think you're going to see an older pope next time out. Many figures in the curia are very upset with the length of this pontificate. You know, this man's been dragging them all over the world for 23 years. And he's internationalized the pontificate and taken it outside of Rome, and therefore out of the control of the bureaucrats there at the Vatican. -- Raymond Arroyo, news director and lead anchor for the EWTN, the international Catholic network, on Capital Gang

New Faces

Syndicated conservative columnist Michelle Malkin replaced David Brooks on The News Hour. Paired with Mark Shields veteran replacement Tom Oliphant of the Boston Globe, she was unimpressive. Evelyn Hernandez of El Diario La Prensa, with all the passion of a telephone operator, appeared on This Week’s roundtable.

A Ringing Defense

Seymour Topping, former Managing Editor of the NYT, answered charges that the paper of record misrepresented Henry Kissinger’s position:

Not a deliberate effort to take a biased position. It might be sloppy journalism.

A Bill Clinton Talk Show?

From the Fox panel:

I don’t see that he has the inclination or discipline to be there every day. –Juan Williams

He won’t do it because he wants Mrs. Clinton to be president. –Bill Kristol

He’s a man who sees the presidency as a steppingstone to be the next Rosie. –Charles Krauthammer

The Wit and Wisdom of George Will

On the Iraq debate: We have to listen with a third ear and hear what we don’t hear.

On the Ohio sunburn case: This is a society that considers sin a superstition and virtue a matter of opinion.

Capital Gang Imitates the The Refuge

This exchange mirrored earlier discussions in the QP readers’ forum about non-veterans advocating war:

Mark Shields: And he's chosen as his surrogates -- if in fact he chose Tom DeLay -- the most inappropriate of all advocates. I mean, there are -- you pointed out, Chuck Hagel was mentioned, John McCain is a strong supporter of this war. To this day the administration, to the best of my knowledge, has not talked to him about speaking on behalf of it, so they're left to have as their spokesmen people who, quite frankly, evaded military service themselves and have no standing...

Richard Perle or Ken Adelman, the people who are speaking for the harshest and most hawkish policies are not, are men and women in uniform, or those who've worn the uniform, who know the tragedy of battle

Kate O’Beirne: I would be the first to support the proposition, if it would make Mark happy, to have only active duty military members and veterans vote on whether or not we go to war. He might not be that happy with the results, nor would Bob Novak be. The system happens to be the executive branch, the president's plenary powers, and Congress, whose represent -- whose constituents give them a responsibility, whether or not they've served themselves, Mark.

The Cokie Roberts Post-Mortem

Cynthia McKinney is a firebrand. It’s good to have some firebrands in Congress, but she was alienating her own constituency.

The Cure for Overheated Reporting

Asked if the investigation of Senate leaks would have a “chilling” effect on the press, Charles Krauthammer replied, “I think a well-chilled press is a good idea.” He opposes the investigation on separation of power grounds.

Quip of the Week

Asked about presidential “working vacations,” Tom Oliphant noted, “Some people would say 'working journalists' is a contradiction too.”

Sunday, August 18, 2002

Bush v. Bush

“Family Feud” came back to television on the weekend pundit shows.

The battle for President George W. Bush’s soul on foreign policy became personal as his father’s closest advisors—and perhaps President Bush the Elder himself—debated the wisdom of invading Iraq.

Brent Scowcroft, former National Security Advisor in the first Bush Administration, started the debate with an appearance on Face the Nation last week, an appearance whose impact was not fully recognized by Punditwatch (or anyone else for that matter). When he followed up with a Wall Street Journalop-ed, everybody noticed and pundits had a great new angle for the increasingly stale debate over invading Iraq.

David Brooks started the story Friday night on The News Hour when shared some juicy speculation about the Scowcroft piece: “The wild card in this is George Bush Sr., who Scowcroft is very close to and what is senior saying to junior? That is sort of the gossip in Washington these days.”

Meet the Press and Fox News Sunday advanced the story. Brian Williams, substituting for Tim Russert on MTP, belied his lightweight image with a solid performance navigating a four-way interview with Henry Kissinger, Norman Schwarzkopf, and Senators Richard Lugar (R, IN) and Jim Inhofe (R, OK). Kissinger moved away from Scowcroft, saying President Bush has “made the intellectual case,” but just “has not created the political framework.” Schwarzkopf seemed to throw his lot with Scowcroft, emphasizing that a battle with Iraq would not be a “cakewalk.” Lugar leaned toward Scowcroft, calling for “robust diplomacy” while Inhofe rattled sabers, comparing inaction against Saddam with inaction against Bin Laden.

On Fox, former Secretary of State Lawrence Eagleburger gave no doubt that he stood with Scowcroft and he openly made the dispute personal, criticizing Administration hawks Paul Wolfowitz and Richard Perle. He was contemptuous of their predictions that action against Iraq would be a cakewalk, saying “I’m scared to death that they’ll convince the President we can do it on the cheap.” He accused them of being “devious” and scoffed at the Iraqi opposition: “I think there are six of them.”

The hawkish view was supported by The Weekly Standard’s Bill Kristol, on Fox. “The people who are against this war are not against it because the president hasn’t made the case. They don’t like the case.” He added, “The State Department needs to stop fighting President Bush’s policy and start selling it.”

Juan Williams of NPR represented the less bellicose side on Fox. “If we go in and even if we win, what does it mean in terms of how many lives are sacrificed? How long and how many citizens are going to have to stay there?”

The other top topics for the weekend pundits were baseball and the anniversary of Elvis Presley's death. Tony Snow of Fox and Bob Schieffer of FTN each tried to combine the two in their closing commentaries. Seldom seen Kentucky Senator and Hall of Fame pitcher Jim Bunning appeared on Fox and supported what appears to be conventional pundit wisdom: the owners are more right than the players this time, but a plague on both their houses.

Interview of the Week

Brit Hume, teamed with Tony Snow, aggressively challenged every position on Iraq of former Secretary of State Lawrence Eagleburger, finally getting him to concede, “Where I am is a little bit confusing.” Hume wonders why the US should wait until Saddam is stronger and suspects that most opposition to the invasion is based on the fear of failure.

Whose Line Is It, Anyway?

On The News Hour, syndicated columnist Mark Shields noted the location of the Bush Economic Forum: Baylor University, where it is, is known as the Baylor Bears. I don't think, given this market, you don't want to be associated with bears in any way.

The next night, on Capital Gang, Wall Street Journal columnist Al Hunt intoned, It should not go without notice that the nickname of Baylor University, where this conference was held, is The Bears. And I think that's... I think that shows you -- that says everything you need to need to know about that.

Pundit Survey

Shields and Hunt weren’t the only pundits unimpressed with the Waco proceedings:

David Brooks: One of the nice things about this administration is that they're really terrible at cynical empty gestures, and this was an effort at that … It was almost designed to make the president appear like Maureen Dowd's stereotype of him as someone who is not intellectually curious. I mean, I don't know who had the idea, George Bush colloquium, symposium, put it altogether, and it'll work; it just didn't work.

Bob Novak: It was -- you know, it was a gimmick. And this is just -- this was just PR. I don't think it did any harm.

Promising Audition

Critics of Administration voices on economic policy got a brief glimpse of the latest contender to replace Paul O’Neill and Larry Lindsey. Glenn Hubbard, Chairman of the Council of Economic Advisors, appeared briefly on Face the Nation. Physically resembling George Will, Hubbard sounded confident and authoritative, strongly defending tax cuts.

The Limits of Diversity

Al Hunt, referring to Congress after a discussion of upcoming Georgia congressional primaries:

I think there's a tremendous value in diversity in the people's body, in different characters. But I think that [Bob] Barr and Cynthia McKinney, to my way of thinking, at least, are bookend kooks.

Not That There’s Anything Wrong With That

The “King of the Blues,” B. B. King, reminisced on his reaction to “The King,” Elvis Presley, when he first heard “That’s All Right, Momma”:

Hey, the guy sounds black. That’s unusual. A white person. A nice, handsome, good-looking guy. Course, he wasn’t really good-looking to me.

Revolt at the Fed?

Bob Novak appeared to suggest on Capital Gang that Alan Greenspan does not exercise the total control of the Federal Reserve that he once did. Referring to the Fed's refusal to lower rates this week, he said:

Now, the interesting part of it is that the word on the Street was that Chairman Greenspan was going to cut interest rates, the deal was set. They were going to cut it 25 basis points. And then there was difficulty, some kind of a problem in there. They got a lot of new Fed members, maybe Greenspan doesn't have control. And that's the serious part of the whole story.

Statistic of the Week

Fox reported that 112 major league baseball players earn more money than Tiger Woods won in golf tournaments last year. That prompted Ceci Connally of the Washington Post to confess, “When I hear these salaries, I think the only thing more appalling would be Jack Grubman’s $32 millon severence package.”

Question of the Week

Kate O’Beirne of National Review got the "Newsmaker of the Week" interview again on Capital Gang. She talked with UVA professor, climatologist and Cato Institute scholar Patrick Michaels :

O’Beirne: Professor, global warming is being blamed for causing droughts out West and floods in Europe. That confuses me. Which is it, droughts or floods?

Michaels: Confuses me too. Our greener friends blame every weather event that they can find on global warming. But when you look at the actual numbers, their claims don't hold up.

Sunday, August 11, 2002

War, Economic Upheaval, and Pestilence

Weekend pundits tackled the usual apocalyptic topics: potential war with Iraq and the lingering economic upheaval caused by corporate scandals.

Face the Nation added pestilence to the mix, doing a segment on the West Nile virus outbreak.

Politics reared its ugly head, too, as pundits feasted on Democratic Party Chairman Terry McAuliffe’s fiery speech criticizing President Bush.

On Iraq, the recurring theme is that President Bush needs to make a compelling case for an invasion. Is war inevitable? It’s “not inevitable, but probable,” according to Senator Richard Lugar (R, IN) on FTN. Senator Carl Levin (D, MI), appearing on Meet the Press with substitute host Andrea Mitchell, said President Bush’s “rhetoric over-commits us to that war.” Levin contended that “containment of Saddam so far is working.” Senator Fred Thompson, on Fox News Sunday, confessed “One of my worst nightmares is that he [Saddam Hussein] lets inspectors back in.”

Much was made of House Majority Leader Dick Armey’s apparent opposition to an invasion, with “hawks” downplaying it as “gamesmanship” (Richard Lowry, National Review) and “doves” like Levin saying it shows “significant lack of support” for the president."

America’s relationship with Saudi Arabia went under the microscope in light of a Rand briefing questioning the Saudis as allies and news that Iran had turned over 16 al Qaeda members. Levin charged that the Saudis “are too inconsistent in their support.” Saudi advisor Adel Al-Jebeir appeared on MTP and Saudi Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal was interviewed on This Week, attempting to quell the uproar.

Former Ambassador Dennis Ross, appearing on FNS, summarized the Saudi-US relationship issue best: “We have shared interests, not shared values.”

Sam Donaldson interviewed Terry McAuliffe on TWand the Democratic leader stood behind his criticism of Bush and defended his investment in Global Crossing. Rather than really press him, Donaldson laughed at his commitment to his talking points. On Fox, The Weekly Standard’s Bill Kristol confided, “Every Republican I talk to hopes Terry McAuliffe is the face of the Democratic Party.” He also speculated that McAuliffe was taking his orders from Bill Clinton.

Andrea Winces

Andrea Mitchell could not have been pleased when the AFL-CIO’s John Sweeney answered one of her MTP questions about corporate malfeasance by saying, “Your husband said it best when he called it ‘infectious greed.’” Mitchell, of course, is marred to Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan.

Gratuitous Slam of the Week

I think [Senator Chuck Hagel (R, NE)] just realized he could make a nice TV career by constantly going on any foreign policy question saying this is very, very complicated, which sort of passes for sophistication but it is a sound bite, not a policy. –Richard Lowry, on The News Hour

The Iraqi War Channels

Last week FTN host Bob Schieffer announced that he would keep asking questions about a possible war with Iraq, so as to avoid the Viet Nam experience. Today, he introduced his interview with Senator Lugar as part of his “series.”

Fox military analyst Lt. Gen. Thomas McInierney (ret) gave a military briefing on invasion routes and weaponry.

Quip of the Week

Remember term limits? John Dingell has been in Congress longer than most of the term limit advocates have been alive. –Rep. Barney Frank (D, MA), on Capital Gang

Finally, Tony Gets Bold

Fox’s Tony Snow, who failed to ask Government Senate Operations Committee Chairman Joe Lieberman (D, CT) if former Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin should testify on Enron, asked Senator Fred Thompson (R, TN) if he should. “Yes,” was Thompson’s reply.

Pundit Honesty: Exchange of the Week

Capital Gang’s “Newsmaker of the Week” interview is notorious as an adoring puff piece. The National Review’s Kate O’Bierne, who interviewed Colorado Governor Bill Owens, joked about it with host Mark Shields:

O'BEIRNE: How did you like my tough interview, Mark?

SHIELDS: I was going to say, boy, oh, boy, that poor guy, he must have been squirming.

O'BEIRNE: I confess that I'm smitten, but so are a whole lot of other people. The governor's conservative agenda has been extremely successful in Colorado. In the latest polls, he's up, public polls, he's up by 30 points in his reelection bid.

Views on the Rand Briefing

Crude and unhelpful … a whiff of racism. --ABC’s Michel Martin, on This Week

The Saudi-American friendship is a fairy tale, complete with a kingdom and princes. This briefing at the Pentagon happens to be true. –Kate O’Bierne, on Capital Gang

You Go, Al

Gore’s grass roots support is impressive. His populist track is not a foolish Democratic primary view. –Bill Kristol, on Fox

Quip of the Week, Runner-Up

The guy picked himself the first time. It's good to see he's picking himself the second time. –Margaret Carlson, Time, on Capital Gang, speaking of Vice President Cheney’s desire to be on the 2004 ticket.

Sunday, August 04, 2002

Democrats Appear as Statesmen, Minus The Torch

It was a Democratic Senators weekend on the Sunday talk shows.

Senator Joseph Biden (D, DE), was lead guest on Meet the Press; Joe Lieberman (D, CT) led Fox News Sunday; Carl Levin appeared with Chuck Hagel (R, NE) on Face the Nation; and Tom Daschle (D, SD) appeared before Trent Lott (R, MI) on This Week. Most of the conversations were about foreign policy.

Biden struck statesman-like notes on Iraq and refused to join Al Gore’s criticism of the Bush Administration’s foreign policy. Lieberman commented extensively on the most recent suicide bombing in Israel and appeared to renew his vow not to run for President if Al Gore does. Neither wanted to discuss Senator Robert Torricelli’s (D, NJ) “admonishment” by Senate Ethics Committee.

“I believe there probably will be a war with Iraq,” was Biden’s bottom-line view.

All the Democrats were muted in their criticism of the Bush Administration and left themselves plenty of wiggle room to support an pre-emptive strike on Iraq or to back off.

All in all, it was a rather quiet pundit weekend. Only Shields and Brooks bothered to comment on last week’s guest in the hot seat, Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neill:

I think if there is somebody in this town who has got a bad knock, an unfair knock, it's Paul O'Neill. –Mark Shields

There is nothing a Treasury Secretary can do, and all this carping that he doesn't say the right things, that he is off traveling with the surviving members of Sha Na Na or some other rock group, when he should be sort of ministering to the markets, it's all phony. –David Brooks

Eyes-Bulging, Veins-Popping Commentary Award

A tie. Fox’s Bill O’Reilly, appearing on the FNS panel, and Democratic consultant Bob Schrum, appearing on MTP. Fox host Tony Snow let O’Reilly take over the discussion with his bombast, but MTP’s Tim Russet deflated Schrum on his defense of Bill Clinton’s claim that Republicans stopped corporate reform in the mid 90's. Russert pointed out the number of Democrats who voted to override Clinton’s veto.

Imus Asks, Snow Demurs

On Friday, radio host Don Imus repeatedly asked Senator Joe Lieberman (D, CT) if he would call former Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin to testify on his Enron connections before Lieberman’s Governmental Affairs Committee. Fox’s Tony Snow did not even touch the subject. For the record, Lieberman gave Imus a “maybe.”

“The Torch,” A New Jersey Kind of Guy

Some pundits think Robert Torricelli is in danger of losing in November. Bob Novak defended the "The Torch" and two pundits found Torricelli ethics to be in tune with voters:

There's a certain what-the-traffic-will-bear quality in New Jersey, and they might not mind reelecting this guy despite his checkered past. –Kate O’Bierne

He was not elected because he was Mr. Integrity. He is a smart guy. He is a sleazy guy. They voted for him knowing what kind of character he had, so I don't think they will be automatically dismissive of him now. –David Brooks

Only He’s In Good Health

Senator Lugar is like the pope of the Senate. –Margaret Carlson

Gibberish Award

And I am not so sure that we're so blatant and it was so gerrymandered and so jerry-rigged, I should say, and engineered for failure that I think yo don't really have to be sophisticated to know that it was the -- it was just a set as -- it was a setup. –Bob Novak, ostensibly discussing Tom Daschle’s strategy on prescription drug coverage.

Q & A With Robert Bork

Al Hunt: But after a year and half, I was wondering how Professor Bork would grade George W. Bush.

Robert Bork: You, you, you insist upon that, eh? Well, C, C-plus.

Al Hunt: One final question, if Chief Justice Rehnquist were to step down, who would be the ideal successor?

Robert Bork: From my point of view?

Al Hunt: Yes, sir.

Robert Bork: Clarence Thomas.

Interview of the Week

Cokie Roberts, a lame-duck on This Week with nothing to lose, asked Tom Daschle tough questions and brushed aside his talking point speeches. By contrast, George Stephanopolous was remarkably cordial with Trent Lott.

Best Newcomer

Peter Beinert, editor of The New Republic, appeared on This Week’s roundtable. Looking like a college freshman, he presented balanced commentary and George Will steered clear of disagreeing with him.

Recycled Award With Oak Leaf Cluster

George Will recycled his print column on the Harley-Davidson Company on his “The George Will Commentary” segment of This Week.

Surprise Predictions

Bob Schrum predicts Democrats will win both the House and the Senate when the mid-term election are held (93 days from now, a helpful Tim Russert mentioned). Republican consultant Ed Gillespie predicts the GOP will take both houses.

Michigan Predictions

Bill Ballenger, editor and publisher of "Inside Michigan Politics," appeared on Capital Gang to report on the closely watched Michigan primary next week:

I think if you're looking for percentages, let's say 54-46. (John Dingell over Lynn Rivers)

I think Jennifer Granholm does have not only an insurmountable lead over the almost certain Republican nominee, Dick Posthumous (ph), who is the lieutenant governor in the general election. But she has a widening lead over Bonior and Blanchard in the primary now, and I think she'll win pretty easily on Tuesday

Innuendo Award

Check out Al Hunt’s “Outrage of the Week” and tell me where’s the smoking gun:

Here's what we know. Charles Polk, a St. Louis attorney, has been a big supporter and close friend of Attorney General John Ashcroft. Polk has tried to sign up families of Oklahoma City bombing victims to get benefits comparable to the victims of 9/11.

He claimed he had influential friends in Washington who would help.

Ashcroft claims he did not know his good friend was shaking down these people. And this is supposed to be a Justice Department, in contrast to Clinton's, that restored ethics and propriety