There was something of a world-turned-upside down feel to this morning's Today show.
There was Katie, putting WH spokesman Dan Bartlett on the hot seat. Nothing unusual about that. But rather than using allegations or statements coming from the left, Couric threw in Bartlett's face statements made by Rush and Bill Kristol.
Katie ran a clip of Rush's oft-quoted remark that the Miers pick was made "in weakness,' and Kristol's admission of being "disappointed, depressed and demoralized."
Bartlett responded with a litany of defenses. Most were along the line that Miers does indeed share W's judicial philosophy. One defense strained credulity: "during the selection process, many people recommended we look for someone from outside the judiciary." Isn't that convenient?
Even as the news was breaking during the first minutes of the show, Katie Couric wasted absolutely no time in launching the first of what are sure to be many hits on Harriet Miers, who appears to be President Bush's pick to replace Sandra Day O'Connor to the Supreme Court.
Katie took her shot under the guise of a question to Tim Russert: "You know, Tim, the Bush administration has been hit recently with allegations of cronyism. Do you think this is going to feed into that?"
And of just what have those recent allegations of cronyism consisted? The widely reported "fact" that former FEMA Director Mike Brown was the "college roommate" of Joseph Allbaugh, the previous head of FEMA.
For five years I've hosted a local, community-access political TV talk show, 'Right Angle.' We've had hundreds of guests, many of them college students, with a good smattering of high school students and even a handful of middle-schoolers.
But for sheer embarrassing, puerile, vapidity, none of them has been the equal of the utterly unwatchable Ellen Ratner, the short, and liberal, half of "The Long & the Short of It" feature on Fox & Friends Weekend.
Try this on, for utterly vacuous 'political commentary,' from this morning's just-completed episode. Responding to conservative counterpart Jim Pinkerton's prediction that Roberts would acquit himself well as Chief Justice, Ratner had this to say:
"Oh, Jim, you just wait. [Roberts] will be so right-wing that you won't even know he has a left-wing."
With a tone and a look on his face suggesting "what have I just done?", Tim Russert let the cat out of the bag this morning about the Dems' political motivations in the prosecution of Tom DeLay.
The context was an otherwise-predictable interview with Katie Couric of the Today show. But toward the end, Russert had this to say: "DeLay is a fierce partisan infighter" then added "and the Democrats realize that and are trying to respond in kind."
Whoops! That kind of candor isn't supposed to slip through the MSM filter, particularly coming from one its leading 'wise men.' Thanks, Tim!
In a telethon that would have been the envy of Jerry Lewis, the Today show's first half-hour painted a portrait of wall-to-wall gloom for America and for the political fortunes of George Bush.
This was done against a backdrop of Jimmy Carter's pet charity Habitat for Humanity quite literally pounding home the message - as it builds homes for the displaced in Rockefeller Center - of the difference a Democrat president can make.
In the news recap, a quartet of woe for Republicans:
Hapless former FEMA Director Michael Brown getting grilled by Congress.
Bill Frist denies wrongdoing in the sale of hospital stocks.
Sen. Pat Leahy importuning the president, when it comes to the nomination to replace Sandra Day O'Connor, to "be a uniter, don't be a divider." Yes, there's nothing like a towering giant of the bench like David Souter to bring a troubled nation together.
Abu Ghraib even puts in an appearance, with news of Lynndie England's conviction.
David Gregory, antagonist extraordinaire of GOP White House press secretaries, then did a segment on the issue of whether "taxpayers are getting ripped off" by the hurricane relief effort. Calling it "the splurge after the storm," Today aired a clip of liberal Dem stalwart Henry Waxman wringing his hands over possibly excessive profits being rung up by the contractors.
For conservatives seeking refuge from the hurricane of liberalism that is the MSM, sports coverage is normally a safe redoubt. And if any sport would normally be considered a haven safe from liberalism, it is golf.
But danger lurks everywhere. And it took no more than the flimsy excuse of an important golf event being played in the Washington, DC suburbs for the MSM to air a love letter to Democratic icon JFK.
The piece was aired this morning at the beginning of the USA Network's coverage of the Presidents Cup, an event in which a US team goes up against a team of players from countries around the world outside Europe.
Rich Lerner, who normally works for the Golf Channel, narrated the segment. In fairness, Lerner is undoubtedly the Golf Channel's most talented essayist, and often brings perceptive and moving dimension to his reporting. But here, he was palpably incapable of preventing his true liberal colors from showing.
In its Katrina coverage, the MSM made hay at President Bush's expense in suggesting that the government's sluggish response was the result of racism.
Given the early and energetic preparations of government at all levels for Rita, you might think that it would impossible for the MSM to recycle the racism canard. But that didn't stop the Today show from giving it the old college try this morning.
Lester Holt normally strikes me as a solid professional. In footage from yesterday aired on this morning's show, Holt reported from Galveston, covering the last of the evacuees, largely poor people it seemed, being put on school buses "who had no other way to leave."
Holt asked what appeared to be a poor black man sitting on a school bus about to be evacuated: "were you afraid that you could be left behind here?"
It was just a comment made in passing, but it was very revealing in its own way.
On this morning's Today show, in discussing incipient Hurricane Rita, Katie Couric observed "if Rita turns into a hurricane, it will be the seventh." She then added pointedly added "there have been a lot this year!"
We can all read Katie's 'subliminable' message:
"Gotta be the global warming/Bush's failure to sign the Kyoto Treaty/hole in the ozone layer/Halliburton/VRWC/Republican SUVs and who knows, probably the lack of 'free' national health care."
There's only one small problem with Katie the Climatologist's theory. Far from being "a lot," seven hurricanes in a year is very typical, and far from the recent high of 12, which occurred 36 years ago.
It's got to be hard for Today and its MSM cohorts. In the wake of President Bush's inspired speech, with its ambitious agenda for rebuilding the gulf coast, attention is turning toward the future and away from the 'good old days.' You know: that period right after Katrina hit when the liberal media were in their glory, reveling in the halting governmental response, focusing almost entirely on the shortcomings of the Bush administration.
Gripped by nostalgia for that glorious recent past, and being the good recyclers that liberals are, the Today show took a walk down memory lane this morning, re-running some of the most inflammatory footage from the hurricane's immediate aftermath.
NBC reporter Mark Mullen, live in New Orleans, introduced file footage of a black woman at the notorious Convention Center, holding a baby as she screamed at the camera "get us out of here, we want to get out of here."
The Today show brought Bill Clinton in this morning to provide color commentary on President Bush's speech of last night. Bill wouldn't bite on the worst of Matt Lauer's attempts to have the ex-President condemn his successor.Right out of the box, Lauer tried to lure Clinton into criticizing the nation's lack of preparedness.
Lauer: "Were you surprised . . . that four years after 9/11 with so much time, energy and money spent on preparedness in this country that we seemed so ill-prepared to handle a catastrophe in a major American city?"
Clinton didn't swing at the softball, observing that "handling the aftermath of a natural disaster is different from preventing a terrorist attack." He observed that the federal government has been "quite good at [preventing terrorist attacks]" then curiously added "in spite of the breakdowns that led up to 9/11."
Is the Today show stuck in a time warp? Could Today be trying to stem its dipping ratings by doing a reality-show version of 'Groundhog Day,' the hit movie in which every day was the same for Bill Murray?
Well, we didn't hear Cher singing "I Got You Babe" in the background, as she did when the alarm would go off for Murray, but other than that, there was an eery resemblance.
Readers might want to check my blog. They'll find that the very last entry was entitled "Today Show Revels in Prez' Polls."
Well guess what? Different day, same . . . stuff.
There was Katie Couric at her post, once again interviewing Tim Russert.
And once again, the topic was the latest round of poll numbers. The screen legend read "The President's Plunging Poll Numbers."
Ten times? A dozen? Maybe more? Eventually I lost count of the number of times that this morning's Today show trumpeted President Bush's low poll ratings. This was liberal schadenfreude on steroids.
In the very first words out of her mouth opening the show, Katie Couric spoke of W's ratings being at an "all-time low," while archly noting that W's visit today was his first "ground tour" of New Orleans.
While the delight in W's political distress was unrelenting for the remainder of opening half-hour, the low point came from NBC White House reporter Kelly O'Donnell, who attributed the basest and most cynically political motives to W in his efforts to aid New Orleans.
As O'Donnell put it, "to repair perceived damage over the initial federal response, Washington is throwing billions at the problems."
Was FEMA head Mike Brown Assistant City Manager of Edmond, OK, or was he Assistant to the City Manager? And did he serve from 1975-78 or from 1977-80?
Small beer, you might think, but a heady enough brew for the Today show to lead with this morning.
Andrea Mitchell reported on a Time Magazine piece which she claimed raised "serious questions about the management training" Brown had received.
Mitchell, archly noting that Brown is "a political appointee," as if all previous FEMA directors weren't, introduced a clip from Time reporter Carolina Miranda, who stated that the "biggest discrepancy that we found . . . was the fact that the White House release listed him as an Assistant City Manager for the City of Edmond, Oklahoma from 1975-78, saying that during this time he had oversight of the emergency services division for that city and that it was vital experience to his charge as FEMA Director."
When Matt Lauer eventually leaves the Today show, he can look forward to a career in slow-pitch softball. His talents were on full display this morning in his interview of Hillary Clinton.
The conventions of good journalism dictate that when guests, particularly intrinisically political ones, are interviewed, they are challenged on their assumptions.
But when Today's Matt Lauer interviewed Hillary Clinton this morning, what seemed at first to be a lead-up to such a challenge turned out in fact to be just the opposite, as Lauer handed Hillary yet another club with which to bash the Bush administration.
Lauer began by reading from Hillary's letter criticizing the federal response in general and FEMA in particular.
You might have thought that Lauer would have raised the issue of incompetence at the state and local [read Democratic] levels. But no, Lauer entirely bought into Hillary's logic, lamely inquiring whether Her Hilllaryness felt "this was a problem with an entire [federal] system, or did some key individuals make poor decisions?"
Aaron Broussard, a Democrat who is the President of Jefferson Parish, Lousiana, was just interviewed on CNN.
The essence of his rant was that the federal government in general and FEMA in particular are "covering their butts" by concealing the number of dead.At one point Broussard said, verbatim, that FEMA was trying to hide the fact that they had "murdered" thousands of people through their bureaucratic incompetence.
The CNN interviewer did not call Broussard on his outrageous accusation that the Bush administration had "murdered" thousands of its citizens. Not one peep, not one reference to his slander. The interviewer simply bade Broussard a fond farewell, with thanks for his appearance.
It had to happen. When the chorus of MSM complaints of federal inaction was drowned in a sea of thousands of soldiers moving into New Orleans, the MSM nimbly adjusted. Now the problem is . . . too many soldiers.
NBC's Carl Quintanilla framed it this way on this morning's Today show, with the rubric "Chaos in New Orleans" displayed on screen:
"Now that the military is moving in huge convoys of soldiers, concerns that too strong a military presence in too small a space could cause accidents, crashes."
Today then aired footage of a rescue helicopter that had rolled over in the mud, as Quintanilla fretted "it's just what residents of New Orleans do not need as they decide whether to leave a ravaged city or tough it out."
When it comes to the MSM's treatment of the Bush administration's response to Katrina, it's damned if you do, damned if you don't.
Anyone seen Kathleen Blanco lately? Remember her, the Democratic Governor of Louisiana, the lady who put in a few shaky, overwhelmed performances at the beginning of the Katrina catastrophe? She seems to have disappeared off the MSM radar screen.
How about the Mayor of New Orleans, another Democrat? How many Americans can even name him? Compare and contrast with the role Rudy Giuliani played in the wake of 9/11.
Instead, Today's focus this morning was almost entirely on the shortcomings of the federal [read Republican-led] government in its response to Katrina.
Katie Couric spoke of "the growing chorus of criticism over the government's response to this national crisis."
Chorus-leader Couric first grilled FEMA Director Michael Brown. Criticized about the lack of law and order, Brown said that by Sunday there would be 30,000 National Guard troops on the ground. That wasn't good enough for Katie, who after saying she didn't want to "belabor the point" went on to do just that, carping that "it seems like a pretty long lag time."
Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the MSM water, up pops Cindy Sheehan.
The Today show’s pretext for bringing back Cindy was her return to Crawford.
It seems that Sheehan’s media consultants have been hard at work, grooming a more media-savvy, less over-the-top image for Sheehan.She managed to avoid charging W, as she has in the past, with being the world’s biggest terrorist, or engaging in thinly-veiled anti-Semitism as when she previously spoke of neo-con Paul Wolfowitz making her “skin crawl.”
Yet one sensed that not far beneath the buttoned-down exterior, the demons lurked.
You know the MSM figure a story has legs when they create a logo for it, and sure enough Today opened its segment with a natty little logo of an American solider, an Iraqi flag, and the emblazoned question: "Iraq – the new Vietnam?”
In to answer the question was that paragon of objectivity Chris Matthews – former aide to Dem House Speaker Tip O’Neill.
There’s nothing Dems like better than a renegade Republican, and Chuck Hagel has been filling that role nicely. Lauer opened with this quote from Hagel: “The reason I don’t think more troops are the answer right now is that we’re past that stage right now. We’re locked into a bogged-down problem not dissimilar to Vietnam.”
At the end of "The Tall and Short of It" segment on Fox & Friends Weekend that just concluded, Jim Pinkerton and Ellen Ratner stood up to show just what a yawning height gap there is indeed between them. Pinkerton loomed what seemed to be at least a foot-and-a-half over the diminutive Ratner.
But beyond her small physical stature, it is Ratner's smallness of mind that renders her unbearable. Most of the talk centered on Cindy Sheehan, with Ratner predictably arguing that W should meet with her.
Again and again, Ratner returned to her theme du jour: that, contrary to his pledge, W is "a divider not a uniter."
Ratner wasn't content to let it go even after being given a comprehensive opportunity to make that point. While Pinkerton was trying to respond, Ratner screeched a cacaphonous burst of "he's a divider, he's a divider."
In the eyes of the MSM, Pope Benedict XVI has a problem. He's too darn . . . Catholic.
As the Pope begins World Youth Day in his native Germany, Today took the occasion to invite in Newsweek's Christopher Dickey for an oh-so-effete critique of Benedict XVI.
Interviewed by Katie Couric, Dickey first claimed that Europeans view Benedict "with some skepticism right now. People are looking at this Pope and saying what does he want to do by re-Christianizing Europe?"
Gee, and here I thought that was a Pope's job.
Dickey then added, with breathtaking condescension, "on the other hand he isn't creating the kinds of problems people thought he would. There was a lot of suspicion that he would be so emphasizing Christianity that it would alienate Muslims, that it would alienate Jews in Europe."
When the Today show sprung a surprise this morning -- an unannounced trip to Iraq by Matt Lauer -- one US soldier had a little surprise of his own for Today and the media at large.
Lauer interviewed a group of soldiers at Camp Liberty in Baghdad, and at one point asked about the state of morale. After getting two responses to the effect that morale was good, Lauer had this to say:
"Don't get me wrong, I think you're probably telling the truth, but there might be a lot of people at home wondering how that could be possible with the conditions you're facing and with the insurgent attacks you're facing. "
If Lauer was the advocate for the anti-war case, he then made the cardinal mistake that no advocate should make: asking a question to which you don't know the answer.
Asked Lauer: "What would you say to those people who are doubtful that morale could be that high?"
Captain Sherman Powell nailed Lauer, the MSM and the anti-war crowd with this beauty:
"Well sir, I'd tell you, if I got my news from the newspapers also I'd be pretty depressed as well!"
Powell went on to add that, while acknowledging the difficulties the media face in getting out into the field in Iraq,
"For those of us who have actually had a chance to get out and meet the Iraqi Army and Iraqi police and go on patrols with them, we are very satisfied with the way things are going here and we are confident that if we are allowed to finish the job we started we'll be very proud of it and our country will be proud of us for doing it!"
Finkelstein has degrees from Cornell University and Harvard Law School.He lives in Ithaca, NY where he hosts "Right Angle," a local political talk show. Finkelstein specializes in exposing liberal bias at NBC's Today Show.
The Today Show this morning employed a phalanx of Democrats to heap scorn on President Bush's foreign policy and its impact on domestic security, while just for good measure throwing in a segment letting Americans know that the impact of rising oil prices is . . . even worse than they thought.
First up was the lugubrious George Mitchell, former Dem Senate Majority Leader and foreign envoy under Clinton, to comment on developments in Israel and elsewhere. Mitchell-of-funeral-director-mien droned up predictably about the evacuation of Israeli settlers from Gaza.
But turning to Iraq, Mitchell first suggested that W's decision on troop levels in Iraq will be driven not by the national security interests of the United States but by pure politics, stating: "I don't think they [the Bush administration] can go into the next general election in the United States in November of 2006 with the status quo so I think you're going to see significant troop withdrawals."
Has something gotten into the water at The Today Show? Yesterday, as reported here, Katie Couric's thesis was that W's poll numbers on the economy were unfairly low. This morning, Matt Lauer gave surprisingly deferential treatment to Bernie Goldberg and his book, '100 People Who are Screwing Up America,' which focuses on liberals and the cultural elites as the root of our societal ills.
Lauer began by asking "who is this book for?"
Goldberg: "Anybody who cares about the culture they are living in. There is a tremendous disconnect between regular, ordinary Americans who live in the middle of the country and what Tom Wolfe calls the 'blue parentheses' on both coasts Culture has gotten too angry, mean and vulgar."
Matt observed: "Not a lot of conservatives on this list. Are more liberals than conservatives screwing up America?"
Hard to knock Today this morning for its take on the President's latest poll numbers. Today's theme? That while W's poll numbers on his handling of the economy are down, in fact the economy is up.
As Katie Couric put it: "The President's poll numbers on Iraq and economy are falling even though by all measures the economy is doing well."
Katie returned to the theme in her interview of Tim Russert: "The President's staff should be scratching their heads. In theory they have reason to crow" about the economy, yet the polls show that by a margin of 47%/41%, Americans disapprove W's handling of it.
Today went so far as to trot out a variety of statistics making the case that the economy is doing well, pointing to strong numbers on GDP growth, home ownership and home prices, and low unemployment.
On a slow news day when there's no solid gloom or doom to report on the national security or domestic economy fronts, why not run a couple segments on bad stuff that, well, might happen?
That was the Today Show's apparent strategy this morning. First up was a piece on possible terrorist attacks on US shopping malls. A bleary-eyed Steve Emerson, Today's terrorism expert, looking like he had better things to do in Aspen, CO, went along for the ride with Katie Couric.
Well into the segment, Today had to admit that there was no evidence that any attacks on shopping malls had been attempted or even planned. But that didn't stop the show from offering up a predictable array of security guards purposefully making their rounds, banks of closed-circuit security monitors, and two lame shopper-in-the-street interviews with a man and a woman who both confessed that they don't worry about security while shopping in malls.