Sunday, November 24, 2002

In a Muddle, Saudis Rise to the Top

The weekend pundit shows were a muddle of issues, but breaking news about another potential financial connection between the Saudi Arabian government and terrorists was the most compelling story.

Smooth Saudi spinner and foreign policy advisor Adel Al-Jubeir was the star of this story, appearing on Face the Nation and This Week. Usually clad in a western style suit when appearing on US television, Jubeir instead wore the traditional thobe with ghutra and agal. He defended Princess Haifa al Faisal, wife of the Saudi Ambassador to the US, from charges that she knowingly sent money to individuals who provided support to two of the 9/11 hijackers.

“We don’t know if this was a con job,” he claimed. “People in Saudi Arabia are outraged.”

This Week host George Stephanopolous was a tougher interviewer of Al Jubeir than Face the Nation host Bob Schieffer. Stephanopolous’ effort to get around Al Jubeir’s spin exasperated the Saudi, who said at one point, “George, we seem to be going in circles here.”

New York Times columnist Tom Friedman defended Princess Haifa on Face the Nation, as did Senator John McCain, R-Az, on This Week. Friedman attributed the money trail to royal families being “shaken down” by religious extremists, a practice McCain denounced as a “Faustian bargain.”

Friedman went even further in assigning blame, saying Mid-East terrorism is “funded by your gas guzzler.” He has been an outspoken proponent of a national effort to achieve energy independence through technology.

Senator Joe Lieberman, D-Conn, demanded a “full accounting” from the administration, asking, in a familiar framing, “What did the Saudis know and when did they know it?”

In other noteworthy pronouncements, NBC’s Tom Brokaw, reporting from Iraq on Meet the Press, said the Iraqis were on a “charm offensive” and that he saw no evidence of a “nascent coup d’etat” against Saddam Hussein.

On the same program, Senator Bob Graham, D-FL, chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, claimed “Hezbollah is more of a threat to the US than Saddam Hussein.” Senator Richard Shelby, R-Ala, also on the Intelligence Committee, speaking of Osama Bin Laden’s threats, said, “It’s going to happen. I think it will be spectacular."

Al Gore: The Pundits Speak

Al Gore’s media tour was a hot topic. Some sound byte highlights:

Mark Shields: “I thought Al Gore did fine.”

David Brooks: “I actually think he is coming a little unhinged.”

Margaret Carlson: “His script that he's unscripted is disproved by the fact that he says the same thing, just about at every stop.”

Bob Novak: “He had this whole year or two years of sitting around, God knows what he was doing that period of time. And he didn't come up with anything. It's all cliches.”

George Will: “This vindicates Ralph Nader.”

Quip of the Week

“It is amazing that Putin and Chirac are now closer to Bush on Iraq than Al Gore is.” --Bill Kristol, Fox News Sunday

Passionate Pundits of the Week

On Capital Gang, Bob Novak and Al Hunt bitterly disagreed on provisions of the Homeland Security Bill, especially the one protecting drug companies from lawsuits:

HUNT: "Bob may think that autistic kids aren't part of the productive element of American society, and perhaps they're not, Bob. But this was Congress in a political payoff to drug companies. That's outrageous."

NOVAK: “I said that the outrage is these sleazy trial lawyers attacking pharmaceutical companies on the vaccines. They've been after the vaccines for years, and an attempt to try to protect the pharmaceutical manufacturers from the bar is an important thing.

I just can't understand, Al, I'm disappointed in you that you find yourself in bed with these people who are the cash cow for the Democratic Party.”

HUNT: “I'm disappointed that you consider autistic kids so irrelevant.”

That’s Why It Frustrates Pundits

Bob Woodward, appearing on Meet the Press to discuss his latest book, “Bush at War”: “This is neutral reporting.”

Pundit/Nielson Analyst

ABC’s Michele Martin, on This Week, explaining why “The Bachelor” beat “Victoria’s Secret Lingerie Show” in the ratings: “Marriage is seen as unattainable in a way that sex is not.”

Shameless Plug Rescue Mission

Fox News Sunday tackled the dust-up between Senate Majority Leeader Tom Daschle, D-SD and radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh by inviting Sean Hannity, conservative co-host of his own Fox program. In an effort to balance this shameless plug, NPR’s liberal leaning Juan Williams did the interview. The pugnacious Hannity turned every Williams question into an attack on Democrats. Finally, Fox host Brit Hume tried to rescue the interview by commenting, “Sean, I love you, buddy, but you still haven’t given Juan an answer to his questions.”

Is Night Time the Right Time?

On Capital Gang, Bob Novak and Margaret Carlson debated when to best craft legislation:

NOVAK: “I've been covering legislating since 1954, and things get done better at night in the dark when you don't have a lot of lobbyists around.”

CARLSON: “No, it's at dark, in the night, when you do have the lobbyists around pushing their special provisions.”

Sunday, November 17, 2002

Ladies Lead Pundit Highlights

An “All Ladies” Meet the Press was the highlight of the pundit weekend. Competition was weak: Homeland Security Director Tom Ridge appeared on both Fox News Sunday and This Week to calm fears about conflicting terror warnings and worries that an intrusive domestic spy operation is being contemplated. Three Senators appeared on Face the Nation to meander around various national security issues; New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer appeared on This Week to discuss the latest corporate scandal, “stock tips for nursery school admission.”

MTP host Tim Russert moderated a lively debate between Louisiana Senate candidates Suzanne Terrell, a Republican, and Senator Mary Landrieu, the Democratic incumbent. Russert repeatedly put both on the defensive, causing Landrieu to move closer to President Bush on Iraq and national security while making Terrell separate herself from Bush on steel tariffs and potential Mexican sugar imports. Terrell insisted she represented “Louisiana values” while Landrieu boasted of her place on the Senate Appropriations Committee.

The two candidates cautiously decried a possible deal between Louisiana Governor Mike Foster and President Bush that would grant a waiver from Federal education standards if Foster would endorse Terrell. On This Week, George Stephanopolous reported that Presidential advisor Karl Rove and Foster engaged in a shouting match over this gambit.

After relying on negative charges against each candidate to frame his questions, Russert had the nerve to ask the two for a pledge that they would not run negative ads. Landrieu seemed to embrace the request, but Terrell essentially denied running negative ads.

Who won? Terrell started shakily, but seemed to find her voice as the debate wore on. Landrieu seemed on the defensive more often, yet never lost her cool. A slight edge goes to Landrieu on command of the issues. Terrell, less experienced with national issues, was not blown out, however, so she probably did not hurt herself with her performance. Both were equally strong at complaining that the other was interrupting.

Russert also had an “exclusive” interview with new Democratic Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi. Most of his questions related to Iraq and national security issues and there was little evidence of a “San Francisco liberal” in Pelosi’s answers. “I don’t trust Saddam Hussein for one second,” she asserted. Pelosi mentioned being a woman once, but noted her Italian-American heritage twice.

On Fox News Sunday, Mara Liasson said, “It remains to be seen if Nancy Pelosi becomes the face of the Democrats.” Based on the positions she took on MTP, that might not be the bonanza Republicans hope.

Senator Christopher Dodd, D-Conn, on Face the Nation, had the best follow-up to criticism against the war on terror that Tom Daschle began late last week. Dodd was slightly less strident than the Wall Street Journal’s Al Hunt on Capital Gang:

Well, I think on Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda that the administration really has a very bad record, and for some inexplicable reason, they seem to get away with it. They said, we're going to get him dead or alive. Fourteen months later, they haven't.

They then claim, Well, al Qaeda is impotent now because we have him on the run. Well, Bali proved that that's not the case. I can imagine what would be the reaction of some if there were a Clinton or Gore presidency and they had that kind of a record

Disappointed Debaters

Pity poor Mary Landrieu and Suzanne Terrell. They came to MTP expecting the inevitable Tim Russert Buffalo Bills ploy and they were ready. Russert, however, cut off the debate and went to commercial just as Terrell appeared to be pulling out a New Orleans Saints jersey for presentation. When Russert came back, he had the jersey and an LSU Tigers cap, presumably from Landrieu, but neither candidate was on camera to make the case for their team.

Passionate Pundits

Juan Williams of NPR and Paul Gigot of the Wall Street Journal exchanged heated words. Williams charged that defeated Senator Max Cleland, D-Ga, and other Democrats were bitter at attacks on the Senator’s patriotism during the campaign. Gigot called those charges an “urban legend.”

The Book On Blix

The head of the UN Weapons Inspectors, Hans Blix, got mixed reviews:

He’s a combination of Mr. Magoo and Inspector Clouseau and that won’t do. –George Will, This Week

Prepare to be surprised by Blix. –Fahreed Zakaria, This Week

Lott’s Luck

The winner and loser in the election is Trent Lott, because Trent Lott thought he was going to be running things, and clearly he found out this week, he's got a little earpiece and President Bush is shouting orders into it. –Margaret Carlson on Capital Gang

The Next Strom Thurmond

Can Senator-elect Lindsay Graham, R-SC, fill Strom Thurmond’s shoes?

Well, it'll be tough. Here's what awaits me. My successor will be born next year, my wife will be born in two years, in 23 years I'd have my first child. I doubt if I can follow that formula. –Graham, on Capital Gang

A Little Innuendo on The News Hour

When Mark Shields suggested that because of the fall election results the President was having the “honeymoon” he missed in 2001, David Brooks cracked,

The interesting thing is like a lot of men on their honeymoons, Bush is kind of in a hurry.

Quip of the Week

As soon as my QP sidekick Tony Adragna heard this, he emailed me to insist that this David Brooks comment was the winner:

Nancy Pelosi is the best fund-raiser in the house. She raised more money than anybody, any other Democrat in the House. I sometimes think she has squatter rights in Barbra Streisand's wallet she spends so much time there.

Punditwatch couldn't agree more.

Sunday, November 10, 2002

Iraq Is Back, Introspection Isn’t

The return of Iraq as an issue for the weekend talk shows limited the time available for discussion of Tuesday’s voting. With few exceptions, pundits didn’t waste any of that limited time reviewing their failure to accurately predict the Republican tide.

Secretary of State Colin Powell, National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice, and White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card made appearances to present the President’s position on Iraq. While all acknowledged doubt that Saddam Hussein would avoid “material breach” of the UN resolution, they carefully supported the timetable of the resolution. Card, appearing on Meet the Press, stuck most closely to administration talking points, unable to finesse nuance like Powell and Rice.

The election results were largely viewed through the prism of a variety of Democratic guests. Senator Evan Bayh (D, IN), on Fox News Sunday, and Senator-elect Mark Pryor (D, AK), on Face the Nation, appeared the most centrist, with Pryor pledging support to the President if military action against Iraq is required. Senator Tom Daschle, on Meet the Press, was somewhat to the left of the President, but Senator John Kerry, on This Week, was in full-throttle campaign mode, although insisting he had not yet decided to run. Prodded by host George Stephanopolous, Kerry painted a bleak picture of the United States on the brink of collapse, nationally and internationally. He repeatedly mentioned defeated Senator and fellow veteran Max Cleland (D, GA) and dared Republicans to campaign against him on patriotism, as he charged they did in Georgia. Kerry seemed to mention his status as a veteran with almost every breath and one has to wonder if voters might tire of that if he continues.

Stephanopolous did not have the temerity to ask Kerry about criticism that he was AWOL during the last three weeks of the campaign, or why Republican Mitt Romney was now Governor-elect of Massachusetts.

Although the battle for House Minority Leader appears over, with Nancy Pelosi (D, CA—most conservative pundits would say, D, SAN FRANCISCO) the assumed winner, challenger Harold Ford (D, TN) appeared on This Week and was endorsed in the roundtable by Peter Beinart of The New Republic. Other pundits were dubious that Pelosi was what Democrats needed to reverse their declining fortunes.

Tom Oliphant of the Boston Globe, commenting on the Minority Leader race for The News Hour, observed, “I must tell you, in the last few days, I haven't met a single person in the United States who cares at all about who wins this fight.”

The Old Switcheroo?

On Meet the Press, Tim Russert asked Senate Majority Leader to be Trent Lott (R, MS) if any Democratic Senators might switch to the GOP. “Well, you never know,” answered Lott, mysteriously sounding like he might know something.

Russert asked Tom Daschle if he was worried any Democrats might defect. “No, I’m not,” Daschle replied. Might a Republican jump to the Democrats? “It happened once before,” Dashle answered, mysteriously sounding like he might know something.

Stephanopolous Declares Independence

At the close of his interview, Harold Ford urged George Stephanopolous to ask Democratic guests to vote Ford for Minority Leader. “That’s not my job,” sniffed the former Democratic operative.

Passionate Pundit Award

Michel Martin of ABC News, on This Week, making the case for not subjecting teen killer John Malvo to the death penalty.

Sisterhood Pundit

Time’s Margaret Carlson made two pointed comments in support of women on Capital Gang:

We heard John Sununu on "EVANS AND NOVAK," or "HUNT AND SHIELDS," or whatever the gang without the girls is called, a show I'm going to miss.

Nice that Harold Ford called Nancy Pelosi "endearing." How belittling of her. His attempt will go nowhere

Grouping Against Al

Shown Al Gore’s comment that Democrats need a “major regrouping” after Tuesday’s election, both Tom Daschle and John Kerry politely disagreed.

Pitt’s Productivity

On Meet the Press, asked about the resignation of SEC Chairman Harvey Pitt, Andrew Card said, “Those who were looking to make him unproductive were making him counterproductive.”

Not the Stupid Party

When you talk to Republicans, as they watch what is happening in the Democratic Party, there's sort of glee.

There is some feeling that the Democratic Party is about to go so far left they'll become a minority party. But then when you talk to sophisticated Democrats, they're not that stupid. They may oppose the Bush tax cut but they're going to trade it for another tax cut. They're not going to wage some sort of left-right fight at this point
. –David Brooks, The News Hour

55 Years of Polygraphing

Meet the Press has now been going for 55 years. To celebrate, host Tim Russert pulled out a 1962 MTP clip of Democratic Party Chairman James A. Farley, praising television for being able to determine who was telling the truth. Russert then claimed that Meet the Press was a “truth detector for viewers.”

Novak Apologizes

Bob Novak, who actually was one of the more accurate pundits in predicting election results, used his “Outrage of the Week” on Capital Gang to point to one of his mistakes:

I'm one of those responsible for this outrage. Politicians and journalists, especially conservatives, who insisted Elizabeth Dole was a poor candidate who might end up losing Jesse Helms' Republican Senate seat in North Carolina. We were wrong. She turned out to be a very good candidate, looking nothing like the flawed presidential hopeful of 2000.

She campaigned hard, adhered to conservative positions, and won comfortably over the well-respected Democrat Erskine Bowles.

So apologies and congratulations, Senator-elect Dole

They Can Stay Home

“I don’t want ignoramuses to vote.” --Tony Snow, Fox News Sunday

Sunday, November 03, 2002

Pundits Pick, Punt

The weekend talk shows were exclusively about Tuesday’s elections. Neither snipers, weapons of mass destruction (unless we’re talking negative ads), nor Israeli politics impinged on wall to wall discussion and prognostication.

Capital Gang had the most disciplined approach, requiring each gang member to make predictions on every tight race. Other shows allowed pundits to “punt,” accepting claims that races were “too close to call.” The News Hour and This Week didn’t seek picks at all from its regulars.

If there was consensus, it was that Democrats would pick up governorships and Republicans would maintain control of the House of Representatives. The Senate was where the pundits diverged, although optimism for the GOP averaged a gain of one seat, while optimism for the Democrats went as high as a three-seat gain.

Worst segment of the weekend was easily the joint appearance by Terry McAuliffe and Marc Racicot on Meet the Press. McAuliffe seemed to puff himself up physically in an effort to overshadow the laconic Rocicot. In a monumental miscalculation, Russert started to go race by race to get the two party chiefs’ picks, until he suddenly realized that no party leader would concede any race.

McAuliffe surprised by blaming the Tuesday night Minnesota Wellstone tribute excesses on the Wellstone family.

Most provocative guest selection was on Fox News Sunday. Minnesota Republican Senate candidate Norm Coleman appeared, with host Brit Hume noting that Democrat Walter Mondale declined an invitation to appear. Coleman made his “looking forward” case while getting in a soft-edged Quip of the Week. Coleman, a former Democrat, was asked if he had ever voted for Walter Mondale: “I don’t remember if I voted for Mondale, it was so long ago."

Inside Info on Presidential Campaigning There was a lot of discussion about President Bush’s active campaigning, with most pundits agreeing it was at least marginally helpful. Mark Shields had an interesting take on it:

In the last two weeks of the campaign, a presidential visit - believe me -- is the most disruptive thing that can happen to a campaign because all the attention you get and all the-- what you are trying to do for Election Day is get people to the polls, make sure that everybody is covered, that they're home; instead, this disruption, the secret service, the national press corps and the president's own staff and it is really one major pain in the neck but it does get great coverage.

Small Consolation: David Brooks offers this sop to Republicans:

You see around several of the seats that Democrats will probably win, that the Democratic candidate is bragging that I support the Bush tax cut, I support the Bush military.

So while Democrats may keep control of the Senate and if I had to guess, I would think they would, there would be a lot of the big issues where Bush will have a majority on tax cuts, on defense spending, things like that

On the other hand, Brooks wonders about the implications of southern voting:

If he [Max Cleland in Georgia] wins and if Democrats like him win throughout the South, that means there are a lot of Democratic voters or a lot of voters who say I'm pro-life, anti-taxes, I'm pro-gun, but I'm not a Republican, I'm a Democrat, because maybe they're too corporate for me.

And if there are a lot of conservative Democrats out there, that's tremendously good news for the Democratic Party
. If that voter block really does exist, won't move over to the Republican Party even though they have all the conservative views, that means the Democrats really have a chance of becoming equal or taking over the South again and that really would be the one sort of transformative group that is emerging in this race

The Pitts George Stephanopolous made a strenuous effort on This Week to turn SEC Chairman Harvey Pitt into an election issue. Rudy Guliani made quick work of Stephanopolous’ question: “The weekend before the election is not the time to resolve this.”

Partisans, Unite All six members of CNBC’s Wall Street Journal Editorial Board predicted a Senate take-over by the Republicans. Of course, the Capital Gang, except for Bob Novak, picked the Democrats to gain seats in the Senate.

Carlson v. Novak Margaret Carlson called New Hampshire Democratic Senate Candidate Jeanne Shaheen a “Betty Crocker” candidate. Novak retorted that Shaheen was “Betty Crocker with a blackjack. She’s tough.”

Against the Grain Here are some underdog candidates and their champions:

Bill McBride, Florida: Mark Shields

Norm Coleman, Minnesota: Bob Novak, Bill Kristol

Saxby Chambliss, Georgia: Lisa Myers

Jean Carnahan, Missouri: Mark Shields

Erskine Bowles, North Carolina: Juan Williams

John Thune, South Dakota: Bob Novak, Ron Brownstein, Charlie Cook

Too Close to Call

David Broder: Maryland Governor

Ron Brownstein: Massachusetts Governor

Senate: Gloria Borger, Ceci Connally

South Dakota Senate: Michael Barone

New Hampshire Senate: Bill Kistol

Schieffer on a Limb: The host of Face the Nation predicts that Dick Gephardt will resign as Minority Leader to concentrate on running for President.

Another Hot Democratic Relic George Stephanopolous reports that former Senator Gary Hart is pondering a presidential run in 2004.