Sunday, June 30, 2002

Pundits Rip Arafat and Big Business, But Are We Stuck With Them?

Yasser Arafat’s cloudy future and the political impact of corporate scandals led the weekend talk shows.

Vouchers and the Pledge of Allegiance flap were distant also-rans.

Soccer and an infomercial pre-empted This Week in my area, so no report on Jacob Weisberg, editor of Slate, who was a guest on their rotating roundtable.

Pundits were universal in their condemnation of Arafat, but fixated on the question of what happens if Arafat is “elected.” Secretary of State Colin Powell, on Fox and Face the Nation, and Condoleezza Rice on Meet the Press essentially shrugged their shoulders.

Face the Nation’s Bob Schieffer picked up on a New York Times story that Vice-President Cheney had championed the Bush speech that wrote off Arafat, allowing the Middle East to be taken off the table for the upcoming Congressional election. Powell denied politics was ever mentioned, but guest Tom Friedman, the New York Times’ foreign affairs correspondent, noted that no one had to mention politics.

Friedman was the star of the Arafat discussion, appearing in a Meet the Press film clip shown to Rice as well as in person on his Face the Nation segment. Friedman largely agreed with the Bush speech, but noted that the Administration was “Good at giving speeches, not good at diplomacy. He argued that Bush did not require enough of Israel. He suggested significant pullbacks from settlements on the West Bank.

Schieffer, as he did last time Friedman appeared, fawned over his guest, this time trying to get an accurate count of how many Pulitizers the columnist had won.

“Would the business scandals hurt Bush?” seemed to be the major question for the pundits as they discussed WorldCom and other companies under siege for questionable and/or illegal actions. There was a definite liberal/conservative split.

Liberal Mark Shields, on The News Hour, said, almost hopefully, “I think it's the biggest issue; it's probably the greatest vulnerability that George Bush has.”

Conservative David Brooks countered, “It has not led to a decline in Bush's popularity ratings; it has not led to a decline in the Republican Party's popularity ratings. You have got a perfect storm of events, no storm.” Then he tweaked liberals: “If there were liberals still left in this country, they would be out with their pitchforks in front of the mansions on behalf of the little people, against the corporate interests.”

Liberal Margaret Carlson on Capital Gang compared WorldCom’s accounting to armed robbery: “They might as well put on ski masks and hold guns and go into a convenience store.” Fellow liberal Al Hunt, also on CG, was not optimistic that President Bush would do much about the problem:

I think that George Bush is about as committed to taking on corporate wrongdoing as Bill Clinton was to the government abstinence program.

There's nothing in his background or his record to indicate that he really believes it. For the last year and a half they have given corporate interests almost anything they wanted. They've tried to deregulate, they've put all kinds of their -- so many foxes in so many hen houses, starting with Harvey Pitt, you can't count them all.

Conservative Bob Novak was philosophical on CG. “When you have a vibrant economy, as we had in the last few years, you're going to have some excesses. You just -- you have to take that with the capitalist system.”

Fox added Neil Cavuto, Managing Editor for Business News, to its panel for the discussion of the business scandals. He predicted more revelations of corporate wrongdoing as a new accounting firm takes over Arthur Andersen accounts and publicizes the findings, “Just to cover its own legal butt.”

Mara Lisasson agreed with one Cavuto observation: “The biggest threat Wall Street sees is re-regulation.”

Easy Going Cheney Administration

Tim Russert: “During those ‘heady’ few hours when Vice-President Cheney was in charge, did he push you around?”

Condi Rice: “No, I was at the gym.”

Correcting the Senator

Asked to react to Senator John Kerry’s declaration last week on Meet the Press that the military action is Tora Bora was a “failed operaton,” Rice replied:

With all due respect to Senator Kerry, he’s wrong.

Where Are the Democrats?

Asked by Bob Schieffer about the opposition to Bush’s foreign policy, Tom Friedman laughed off the Democrats and identified those countering Bush’s strategy as “John McCain, Colin Powell, and Tony Blair.”

Seven Nasty Words

There are seven words you will not hear this year, "Now is the time to privatize Social Security." --Mark Shields, on the impact of corporate scandals.

Judicial Physics

Every stupid decision creates a counter reaction of equal stupidity. –David Brooks, on the Ninth District’s Pledge ruling and the ensuing furor.

Avoid These Schools

American voters just don't want to have their tax dollars go for schools that are run by Louis Farrakhan or some disciple of Bob Jones. –Al Hunt, on the Supreme Court’s voucher case.

Candid Comment of the Week

I feel ambivalent about vouchers. I know that's a mortal sin on television. –Margaret Carlson

Hypocrisy Watch

Liberal hypocrisy has never been more apparent. They are perfectly willing to trap low-income kids in miserable schools they'd never send their own kids to. --Kate O'Bierne on CG.

Fake of the Week

Not to be too cruel, it is a good fake effort on the part of the House Republicans. They had to pass some sort of a fig leaf. It wasn't a serious effort. It wasn't a real effort. It was transparently so. They didn't allow a vote on the Democrats on their plan. –Mark Shields, on the GOP prescription drug plan.

Thursday, June 13, 2002

Punditwatch Is On Vacation

He'll return, tanned, ready and rested, on June 30th.

Sunday, June 09, 2002

Bush Plan Is Pundit Payday

Will Vehrs
President Bush’s call for a cabinet-level Department of Homeland Security was a weekend pundit bonanza. Add juicy quotes in an Esquire interview from plan architect and defender Andrew Card, White House Chief of Staff, and the pundits were flush with the tools of their trade: angles, plots, and sub-texts.

Was Bush’s announcement merely an effort to divert attention from Congressional hearings into the FBI, highlighted by whistle-blower Coleen Rowley? “It [the Rowley appearance] was a love-fest. The Bush Administration might have been worried about this and trying to upstate it with the announcement of the new office of the new Department of Homeland Security. They didn’t have anything to worry about,” opined Brit Hume on Fox. “The President did get the bang out of this he hoped for.”

Was “secrecy” an advantage or disadvantage to the plan? The way the Administration made the decision allowed the pundits to pursue a popular theme. “Secrecy is the way this President likes to operate,” said Mara Liasson on Fox. David Brooks, on The News Hour, saw a “cabal” in the White House masterminding the plan. “The way they did it undermined Cabinet government.” Bob Novak, on Capital Gang, addressed secrecy: “I think that the secrecy that they did, as they like to do, in putting it out, it leaves a lot of unanswered questions.” But Brit Hume saw it differently: “In this town, if don’t want the plan carved up in advance, you have to present it this way. “

Wasn’t the plan a reversal of long-held administration positions? As Andy Card and Tom Ridge made the rounds of Sunday talk shows, pundits relentlessly pointed to past words of disdain for a cabinet-level position for homeland security. Ridge and Card clung to their talking points, denying that this was a change of course.

Was this plan essentially a bureaucratic shuffle? “You have to be skeptical,” said Paul Gigot on Fox. “You don’t change the bureaucracy by changing the furniture.” Bob Novak raised another issue: “It seems to me it's an awful big government department, which I'm not exactly enamored of. But the question I really wonder about is the problem place is the FBI and what, how much it's really going to affect the FBI.” Several other pundits noted the absence of focus on the FBI in the President’s plan.

Won’t this “big government” plan cost more money than current operations? Tim Russert had OMB Director Mitch Daniels and Senator Kent Conrad (D, SD) debate the issue on Meet the Press. “I think Arthur Andersen is going to have to do the accounting if this isn't going to cost any more money or take any more people, this moving, “ cracked Margaret Carlson on Capital Gang.

“Who's going to head this? What type of people will run it?” asked Al Hunt, and pundits speculated on Tom Ridge’s future, as well as the tantalizing possibility of Rudolph Guliani.

In short, the pundits were in heaven this weekend and this multi-faceted story should have “legs” for much more pontificating.

Week of the Week

I thought Bob Mueller probably had as good a week as anybody. I thought this is an FBI head who stood up, as close as anybody in this whole administration, took responsibility -- said, you know, missed signals and all the rest of it.
He commended a whistle blower. I don't know the last time that's happened in Washington where a department head who is being embarrassed by testimony of one of his agents stands up and salutes
. –Mark Shields, The News Hour

Three Views

Let’s make Coleen Rowley FBI Director. –Paul Gigot

Let's make her Mueller's deputy. --Margaret Carlson

Her career is going to go into atrophy right now, because whistle-blowers don't do well. –Bob Novak

Literary Allusion of the Week

He is like a character in a Saul Bellow novel. He has got this neurotic interior monologue going on in his life, and to me they make him a lot more interesting. –David Brooks, speaking of Andy Card’s Esquire comments

New Faces

This Week invited Patricia Williams of The Nation and Michael Dyson of the Chicago Sun-Times to join George Will and Cokie Roberts in their roundtable. Dyson railed against the “Ashcroft agenda” and Williams criticized the US Patriot Act. George Will responded: “The problem of late has not been too much snooping in computers, but not enough snooping on one computer.”

Who Needs Jesus Around the Beltway?

Bureaucracy's the closest thing to eternal life that you get in Washington, D.C. --Gary Bauer, on Capital Gang

Sunday, June 02, 2002

Mueller Takes the Stand, Ashcroft is Character Witness

Will Vehrs
FBI Director Robert Mueller, battered all week by embarassing revelations and calls for his resignation, took the stand for the first time on Sunday talk shows to defend himself.

Mueller appeared on Meet the Press and Face the Nation. Attorney General John Ashcroft appeared on Fox News Sunday and This Week to vouch for Mueller, not to mention defend himself again against charges that he was “trampling on the constitution” to prosecute the War on Terror.

Tim Russert conducted the Mueller interview as if he were Coleen Rowley’s attorney. Rowley, the Minneapolis agent whose memo blasted the agency for its failures before September 11th, was quoted extensively. Mueller was extremely cautious in his responses, maintaining that he has “changed the way we do business” but reminding everyone that “I started September 4th.” He deflected many criticisms to on-going investigations by the FBI’s Inspector General.

Although Mueller was not an impressive guest, most pundits appeared to give him the benefit of the doubt and none went so far as to second the Wall Street Journal editorial page’s call for his resignation. Syndicated columnist Mark Shields, on The News Hour, actually saw the focus on Mueller as strengthening the director's hand:

He's the first administration figure to break ranks, to say that perhaps September 11 could have been avoided. And by so doing, in a way, he has made his own job more secure because he shifted focus and attention from the White House and the president and criticism thereof to himself. Even his harshest critic cannot hold him accountable for what happened four days after he took over.

The Washington Post’s Ceci Connally seconded Shields’ view of Mueller. Appearing on Fox, she said, “Indications are that he still has great support in the White House. “I hope it’s true that Mueller is in a reform mode,” said Juan Williams, also on Fox. Bob Novak wasn’t convinced: “I think reform is required, and I still am very skeptical that they're serious about reform. My information is, they're still not sharing information with police chiefs, they're still cracking down on new whistle-blowers that come out.”

Questions about whistle-blower protection led to the “Spat of the Week.” This Week’s Sam Donaldson pressed Attorney General Ashcroft for answers on whether Rowley would face retribution. “She won’t lose her job,” he finally conceded. That wasn’t good enough for Senator Charles Grassley (R, IA), appearing after Ashcroft. He said he was disappointed with the AG’s answer and wanted to be sure that she would suffer no economic hardship.

Bill Kristol of The Weekly Standard, appearing on Fox, was satisfied with the FBI’s response, but saw trouble elsewhere: “The CIA is a question. The fact that the Transportation Department is not at all serious about this War on Terror is going to be a problem for this administration.”

The high level of tension between India and Pakistan was a distant “Issue Two” for the pundits. Al Hunt of the Wall Street Journal, appearing on Capital Gang, was the most alarmed: “I think this is the most perilous situation since the Cuban missile crisis of 40 years ago.” Juan Williams distilled the problem well: “I think the State Department is absolutely stumped by this, by the fact that General Musarraf feels so emotional and angry toward India and that the Indians are locked into their anger at the Pakistanis.”

Expletive of the Week

God dang it.”

--President Bush, upon learning that his call to the Race for the Cure in Washington, DC had been disconnected, as reported by Brit Hume on Fox.

Dueling Metaphors

The CIA and the FBI are like two kids in the back of the car after a five-hour car trip. They're at each other. –David Brooks on The News Hour

Relations between the FBI and CIA are like India and Pakistan. –Bill Kristol on Fox

Suck-Up of the Week

The worst news in journalism this week was Tom Brokaw's retirement announcement … in a business where standards seem to erode every year, we can ill afford to lose someone who cares about real journalism. –Al Hunt on Capital Gang

Two Views on Indian Democracy

We have to come down on the side of India. India is a democracy. –Fred Barnes on Fox

People in Kashmir don't want to live under Indian rule. Everybody tells you what a great democracy India is, but they don't want to have a vote for these people, because they'd say, ‘Get the hell out of here.’ --Bob Novak on Capital Gang

Exchange of the Week

Syndicated columnist Deborah Mathis and the Washington Post’s George Will had differing views on President Bush’s speech at West Point that seemed to point at action against Iraq.

Mathis: This has never been an aggressor nation and I don’t want to see it become one.

Will: We are not an aggressor nation, but neither are we stupid or suicidal.

Elizabeth Dole Sights Elvis

Asked to comment on Elizabeth Dole’s NC Senate campaign, Raleigh News and Observer columnist Rob Christensen had this to say:

Well, no one is ever going to confuse her as a good old boy. But she has, in fact, been making the barbecue circuit. She's visited all 100 counties. And she's doing a reasonably good job. She's trying to show that she's not just Watergate Elizabeth, that in fact she has some North Carolina roots, even though she hadn't lived in the state since Elvis was king. So no one's going to confuse her as a good old boy, but she's doing reasonably well mixing it up.

Aiming for the Harry Potter Vote

Christensen had these observations about Mrs. Dole’s likely Democratic opponent:

He has -- there's a bit of a transformation on the campaign trail. He's now -- peels off his jackets and begins pounding the table now that he talks, which is not the Erskine Bowles you probably saw in Washington. But there's certain things he hasn't changed. He still has what he calls his Harry Potter glasses, and -- which all the consultants told him that he needed to ditch.

Brooks Dissects the Journal

Asked about the Wall Street Journal’s call for Mueller’s resignation, David Brooks made this comment on The News Hour:

I think the problem with the Journal editorial, as usual with Wall Street Journal editorials, it is a little too moderate. The real question is not should Mueller resign - the question is: what should the FBI look like? Should there be an FBI? Why should an agency that goes after heroin dealers go after al-Qaida?

Al Hunt’s Bush Bashing Binge

Can you imagine Eisenhower or FDR pleading jet lag? I mean, it's just kind of hard to imagine. The Normandy speech was perfectly fine, but it wasn't nearly as good as Reagan's or even Clinton's, for that matter.

And he's just -- he's not very comfortable on that kind of world stage. I don't think it made a whole lot of difference on this trip. I think this trip was more about symbolism.

And one of the reasons we saw all that side of him is because he is a -- almost a hermetically sealed president. They don't let him out very much. And occasionally when he gets out, he has a tendency to embarrass himself.

The Wisdom of George Will

We live our life on a slippery slope. You trust judgements. Sooner or later you have to.

Probable cause before September 11th and after September 11th has changed.