TV Punditwatch: A Somber Weekend
Will VehrsIt 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.