As has been noted here before, the surest way for a Republican to get himself invited onto a broadcast network news show and accorded respectful treatment is to be prepared to take shots at the Bush administration.
The time-tested technique was on display on this morning's Today, as Newt Gingrich got the kind of kid-glove treatment he could have only dreamed of back in his Speaker days when the MSM was vilifying him as 'the Gingrich Who Stole Christmas'.
At the top of the show, Matt Lauer teased Newt's appearance in these terms:
"A prominent politican is saying US policy in Iraq since toppling Saddam Hussein has been an enormous mistake. This isn't a Democrat. It's a Republican - former House Speaker Newt Gingrich."
On a light news day, why not run a generic piece on President Bush's low poll numbers and his assertedly bleak prospects for reviving them? That was apparently the thinking at the Today show this morning.
Today themed the segment "Can Bush Save Presidency?", and NBC White House reporter Kelly O'Donnell seemed to answer the question in the negative, kicking things off with this gloomy assessment:
"For President Bush, low poll numbers have not just been a dip or temporary rough patch but appear now to be a sustained pattern that is different than his predecessors of both parties who went through their own tough times." She continued: "His . . presidency appears to have a chronic case of the below-40 percent blues."
After David Gergen was shown suggesting that "presidents have sometimes broken out of slumps when they've had big, bold initiatives and unexpected victories - that often shake things up" O'Donnell reappeared to dump cold water on the notion that W could have any such luck:
"Looking back, some second-term presidents have been able to rebound. President Reagan's approval fell to 34 percent with the arms-for-hostages scandal. Pres. Clinton hit 41 percent around impeachment. But both bounced back up to the 60s as they left office. Analysts say the prospects for Mr. Bush are not as good because of the weight of ongoing events: Iraq, gas prices, the CIA leak case and hurricane response."
Gergen popped back up to pessimistically proclaim: "After a while those negative feelings really do congeal, they crystallize, they become firm and then it's very hard to break out."
O'Donnell: "political observers claim big speeches and staff changes won't turn things around and suggest the president may have to wait to seize on any good news."
Commentator Stu Rothenberg then observed: "If there is something he can brag about he needs to quickly then be able to go to the American public and make his case and drive home the point. But for now he simply doesn't have much ammunition at his disposal."
Count on Today and its MSM cohorts to do their best to keep things that way.
Imagine you're a news show host, and a former presidential adviser just claimed that the United States military is near to "a state of rebellion" against civilian authorities. Do you think you might have asked a follow-up question or two?
Apparently not, at least if you're Matt Lauer interviewing James Carville, who made just such an inflammatory allegation on this morning's Today show. The topic was the source of the leak of the alleged plans for an attack on Iran to destroy its nuclear capabilities, such plans said to extend to the possible use of tactical nuclear weapons to destroy hardened, underground facilities.
Carville was adamant that the military were behind the leak. His theory was that the military "thought by leaking this, it would lessen the chances that they would do something foolish in Iran which is always a possibility with this administration."
Reminds me of the old joke: "The food at that restaurant is absolutely terrible."
"Yeah - and the portions are so small!"
This morning's 'Today' simultaneously offered criticism of a potential attack on Iran while complaining we don't have the means to carry out such a strike.
UK Foreign Secretary Jack Straw was shown stating that the idea of a [tactical] nuclear strike on Iran "is completely nuts." NBC correspondent Andrea Mitchell reported the skepticism of military experts who say "air strikes could slow Iran's nuclear research but not end it. And Iran could retaliate militarily against Israel and launch terrorists against the US."
In a column appearing in the Sunday edition of the Washington Post, Peter Perl, the paper's director of professional development, heaps scorn on Tom DeLay and in particular on his strong religious beliefs. The column approaches parody, so much does it seethe with secular, elitist condescension.
The headline sets the tone: "DeLay's Next Mission From God".
"DeLay may be leaving Congress, but he will be back with a vengeance [note choice of phrase], in a new and potentially more powerful role, because he is a ferociously determined man who believes he is on a politico-religious mission from God."
"DeLay's crusade [again note choice of term] will not be sidetracked by the acts of mortals such as states' attorneys, crooked lobbyists and disgraced former staffers who are poised to testify against him. In DeLay's world he answers only to a higher power, and his personal Armageddon has only just begun."
"He will artfully squeeze a load of money from the Christian Right as he makes his thunderous argument from multiple pulpits in the weeks and months ahead."
"The new Tom DeLay will combine aspects of the Revs. Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell, and Lee Atwater, the late right-wing political consultant with the legendary killer instinct."
"Looking back, I see DeLay as a somewhat pathetic figure."
"What struck me as truly pathetic, though, was his shambles of a family life."
"We will see DeLay constantly smiling as he delivers his message because in his heart he knows that we hopeless sinners will always hate the messenger."
In keeping with the religion-themed nature of Perl's column, let's undertake a little exegesis of his parting shot at DeLay - that he will be "constantly smiling because . . . he knows that we hopeless sinners will always hate the messenger." If DeLay is a devout Christian - as is the gist of Perl's column - why would he believe that sinners are "hopeless"?
When things got a bit contentious this morning between conservative Jim Pinkerton and liberal Ellen Ratner on Fox & Friends Weekend's 'Long & the Short of It' segment, Pinkerton proposed a peace plan that other warring parties might well wish to adopt: "let NewsBusters.org sort this out."
The bone of contention was just what what it was that President Bush declassified - some would say leaked - and that Scooter Libby is in turn alleged to have provided to the press - presumably in the person of Judy Miller of the NY Times.
Ratner: "This was a Nixon bad-list kind of trick [presumably a reference to Nixon's 'enemies' list] to get . . . "
Host Kiran Chetry [back from maternity leave - and beautiful as ever, I might add]: "Why?"
That didn't take long! Back in the MSM's Watergate heyday, it took a while for a steady drumbeat of revelations, stories and allegations to gather sufficient momentum. The pace has apparently quickened in the modern liberal-media world. On this morning's Today show, speaking of the allegation that President Bush authorized the disclosure of information by Scooter Libby, Matt Lauer asked Chris Matthews: "scale of 1 to 10, [where] 10 is a deal-ender, where does this fall?"
Matthews didn't hesitate: "heading to 10."
Even Lauer seemed taken aback: "Really, that big?"
For good measure, Matthews later analogized VP Cheney to Henry II having put out a hit leading to the murder of a dissenter in his administration.
The graphic claims 'Kerry Plays Hardball', but it was all slow-pitch softball this evening for the junior senator from Massachusetts. After feeding Kerry a number of leading questions letting him tee off on the way Pres. Bush allegedly misled the country into war, talk turned to exit strategies.
Matthews: "Senator, you have a plan, pretty hard, about how we can deal with getting out of Iraq."
Kerry: "Well, it's time to get tough, Chris."
Now there's a courageous politician for you - one willing to admit he's tough.
Kerry repeated a stock formulation he's been using this week: "The policy is broken. When you go down to the Vietnam War Memorial, you take a look at it, you see that almost half the names that are on that wall were added after our leaders knew that the policy wasn't working. That's immoral, and I believe it's immoral today for us to pursue a policy where our kids are dying, losing their limbs, going to Walter Reed . . . because Iraqi politicians won't compromise."
The quintessential item of conventional wisdom on immigration is the impracticality of deporting the estimated 11-12 million illegal aliens already in our country. Yet there are dissenters. Conservative columnist and former Reagan aide Jim Pinkerton has said "I think actually you could if you wanted to."
I've suggested that deporting illegals seems at least as practicable as administering the amnesty program. In the same piece in which Pinkerton's quote appears, I put it this way:
"[D]eporting illegal immigrants is much more feasible than the elaborate process the amnesty crowd proposes. Under the amnesty plan, the same 11-12 million illegals would have to be identified and located. They would have to be tested to determine if they had attained English proficiency, monitored for over a decade to see that they sought and maintained jobs, paid their fines, etc. If we can do all that, why couldn't we put the same people on buses to the border or planes to overseas locations?"
Is there something in the water at NBC/MSNBC? Laughing gas in the ventilation system, perhaps? Earlier today, I posted the photo below, showing Matt Lauer dissolving in laughter on this morning's Today show. It happened when Katie made her momentous announcement that she was leaving for CBS. Matt pretended to take it totally in stride, making to move right on, intoning "also coming up in this half-hour" in his best canned host-voice before bursting out.
This evening, it was Chris Matthews' turn to double over in laughter. Now granted, Matthews had a better excuse - his guest was the daffy Howard Dean. Matthews managed to keep a straight face when Dean first claimed that the Democrats "want to bring this country back together again so everybody is respected," and then proceeded to lash out at every Republican within arm's reach.
Could NewsBusters be Matt Lauer's guilty pleasure?
Have a look at the two screen captures. The first depicts Pat Buchanan's Today show appearance of March 24th. You'll note that NBC sought to pass Buchanan off as a "Republican strategist." That bit of false packaging elicited this NewsBusters entry, taking NBC to task for its attempt to lull viewers into believing the show was presenting a balanced panel [Buchanan was paired for the day with former Clinton spokeswoman Dee Dee Myers].
Now look at the second screen shot, from Pat's Today show appearance of this morning, his first since March 24th. Today ditched the "Republican" tag, neutrally and accurately labeling Buchanan an 'MSNBC political analyst'.
Playing the straight man to perfection, Matt Lauer kicked off the second half-hour of this morning's Today show by asking Katie Couric: "Anything new?"
In responding, Couric made official what she acknowledged was "the worst kept secret in America": that after 15 years she was leaving Today to go to the CBS Evening News and 60 Minutes. Here, for posterity, was the opening line of Couric's announcement:
"I wanted to tell all of you out there who have watched the show for the past 15 years that after listening to my heart and my gut, two things that have served me pretty well in the past, I've decided I'll be leaving Today at the end of May."
Be the death literal or figurative, in recent days Democrats and their MSM claque have demonstrated a ghoulish penchant for dancing on the graves of their political opponents. As documented here, on the very day of his death last week, MSNBC's Alison Stewart, subbing for Keith Olbermann on Countdown, took nasty parting shots at Caspar Weinberger. Stewart disparaged as both a budget "slasher" and a big spender the man who, as Ronald Reagan's Defense Secretary, contributed mightily to winning the Cold War.
Today, it was Tom DeLay's retirement announcement that brought out the worst in the left. Bob Shrum was Chris Matthews' guest on Hardball, and so avidly did Shrum exult in DeLay's predicament that former GOP Rep. Susan Molinari was plainly repulsed. But far from taking Shrum to task for his unseemly asperity, Matthews commended him.
You could see this one coming a mile away. As soon as Matt Lauer announced that Today was inaugurating a series called 'One Nation Under God' on the role religion plays in our country, and that the first episode would focus on President Bush, you knew we were in for a bumpy ride.
The series plays off a new book, 'American Gospel', by Newsweek Managing Editor Jon Meacham. In his set-up [and I do mean set-up] piece, David Gregory claimed that "the Bush era has created not just a political but a religious divide."
Continued Gregory: "Critics have accused the president of using religion to close himself off from opposing points of view." Oh, I don't know, David. He seems to hear you pretty loud and clear.
NBC and MSNBC have a penchant for gulling viewers into believing they are presenting balanced panels by pairing a partisan Democrat with Pat Buchanan. The sleight-of-hand recently reached an apex when the Today show mislabeled Buchanan a "Republican strategist." Buchanan - the fellow who quit the GOP in 1999 to run for president against W as the candidate of the Reform Party. See report with revealing screen shot here.
Any pretense that Buchanan is anything but a Bush administration critic often more in synch with the Democrats than the GOP was stripped away on this evening's Hardball, when a partisan Democrat let the cat out of the bag.
Perhaps I was reading into things in light of the rampant speculation about Katie Couric's possibly imminent departure for the CBS Evening News anchor spot. But this veteran Today watcher sensed a distinct mood of nostalgia on the set this morning.
Katie Couric was back after a couple weeks vacation, and all the crew members went out of their way to remark on the reunion of the regular cast. Beyond that, there was something in the air as somber as Katie's black outfit, as if the cast sensed this might well be the last week they were together as a unit.
Lauer: "Haven't seen you for a couple of weeks. Good to have you back." The pair jokingly shook hands as if they were meeting for the first time.
In a week in which immigration has unquestionably been the big story, how did Newsweek choose to frame the issue? The national security implications of a porous border, perhaps? The impact on our economy of millions of illegals, some of whom work, some of whom are a drain on social services? Come on. We're talking the magazine whose most visible reporter is Eleanor Clift. Newsweek chose to focus on . . . the plight of illegal immigrants, with its cover blaring "Illegals Under Fire".
Consider that editors scrutinize every word on the cover of a national newsweekly for its implications and impact. They didn't choose "Under Fire" randomly. With its allusions to lethal force, and printed in red, Newsweek was sending a not-so-subliminal message.
Do you support rigorous measures to strengthen border security and tighten immigration controls? If so, you're probably a 'nativist' - read racist - or a rube, or very possibly both.
Don't believe me? Just ask Neal Gabler. Here's what he had to say on this evening's Fox News Watch:
"The conservative nativists, and maybe that's a redundancy, thought they had a winner here. What a great issue they have," he said sarcastically. "You can beat up on aliens and get all of those white folks for the 2006 election."
Conservative columnist Jim Pinkerton weighed in with two points of note:
"Bloggers like Mickey Kaus and Michelle Malkin have made the point that the MSM, especially the LA Times, hid the most inflammatory element of those pictures from their readers and viewers by not showing the profusion of Mexican flags and highlighting the relatively few American flags."
Regular readers of this column know the delight that has been taken in skewering Ellen Ratner for her loopy liberalism, as here, here and here.
You can thus imagine my surprise when, on this morning's 'Long & the Short of It' segment on Fox & Friends Weekend, Ratner offered up some tough talk on immigration. Ratner's remarks were simpatico with the take of Jim Pinkerton, the Newsday and Tech Central columnist who represents the conservative side of the equation.
An aside: Pinkerton is one of the rare conservative commentators willing to roll up his sleeves on government reform. Have a look at his recent TCS column regarding a radical cabinet re-organization proposal by former GOP congressman Bob Walker that would shrink the number of cabinet departments from fifteen down to five.
Some might say it wasn't necessarily my finest moment at NewsBusters when, back in December, I speculated that, reporting from a chilly Rockefeller Plaza, Today's Matt Lauer might have been wearing a Palestinian 'solidarity scarf.' See Keffiyeh-Gate?
At the time, I noted that:
So-called "Palestinian support scarves" have become items of radical fashion chic. Check out this web-site, which advertises "Palestinian support scarves," explaining:
"The traditional Palestinian headdress has become a symbol of support for the Palestinian people against the Israeli occupation. From political rallies to talk shows, supporters of the Palestinian cause have begun donning this traditional scarf as a show of solidarity." [emphasis added]
A quick take on a morning when I'm headed to Washington, DC.
Sometimes, you just can't win with the MSM. For weeks, the MSM has been calling for a White House shake-up. So when it came in spades yesterday with the resignation of chief of staff Andy . . . Card [spades, Card. Come on, tough room here!], naturally the media applauded the bold move.
Or not. Veteran NewsBusters readers know better. There is no appeasing the liberal media. They recalibrate their line of attack and move on. But who could have predicted the tack Matt Lauer would have taken in interviewing good-soldier Mary Matalin on this morning's Today show? Lauer suggested, of all things, that Card left . . . too soon!
Keith Olbermann might be on vacation, but that doesn't mean MSNBC's mean-spiritedness took a day off. If guest host Alison Stewart was auditioning for the Olbermann seat, she might well have ingratiated herself with her MSNBC bosses with the disdain she dispensed on the day of Caspar Weinberger's death.
Weinberger passed away today at age 88. He had served as President Reagan's Secretary of Defense. As Bloomberg News put it:
"Weinberger . . . oversaw the U.S. military buildup under President Ronald Reagan that helped hasten the Soviet Union's collapse."
In all its cacophony and moments of absurdity, this morning's Today show segment on immigration was a supremely edifying example of the confusion, high emotion and complexity of the immigration debate. Matters reached their Alice-in-Wonderland apotheosis when Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California was shown arguing that illegal immigrants are good . . . 'citizens.' Said Feinstein:
"They pay taxes, their children are Americans, they go to schools, they're good citizens and they're needed."
This was in line with the fait accompli argument advanced by La Raza representative Janet Murguia. She referred to what she estimated as the 11-12 million illegal aliens in the country as "people are working in backbreaking work that nobody else wants to do in this country. We need to . . . understand that they are already part of this country."
Wouldn't you think that someone who fashions his show "Hardball" would have the intestinal fortitude to invite on at least one guest who disagrees with his world view? At least tonight, Chris Matthews apparently thought that unnecessary.
Here was Matthews guest line-up this evening:
Philippe Sands: left-wing Brit, author of a new book, Lawless World, accusing Pres. Bush of having decided very early on in the game to go to war against Iraq.
Susan Page: reporter for the Dem-friendly USA Today. Let's call the affable Page a voice of the more reasonable realms of the center-left media.
Craig Crawford: the snarky MSNBC/CBS political analyst who enjoys taking snide shots at the Bush administration.
Charlie Cook: political pollster, he of the Cook Political Report. Call Cook reasonably down-the-middle, but consider that the bouquets he placed in his own bio come from the NY Times, Bob Schieffer Al Hunt and David Broder. No one has ever accused Cook of being a Republican.
Sure, Matthews has had his share of Republican guests. But couldn't he have found at least one to round out tonight's left-leaning/Bush antagonist line-up?
Sean Hannity has made border security and illegal immigration a major cause, spending time at and broadcasting shows from our border with Mexico. Give GMA credit for having Sean on this morning's show to discuss the issue. That said, Charlie Gibson put on a display of bleeding-heart liberalism at its most predictable, confusing compassion with tolerance of criminality.
Gibson wasted no time: "Let's start with the House bill. It would build a wall along our southern border, turn 12 million people into felons and make it criminal to give an illegal immigrant help. Is that what this country is about?"
Countered Hannity: "I think this country is about laws and the rule of lawand I think you've got to come into this country and do it the way my grandparents did it, which is legal."
A 'tension convention' - that's how Don Imus would have described the ill-concealed ill will on this morning's Fox & Friends Weekend between Juliet Huddy and Julian Phillips.
Huddy, a former host of the show making a guest-hosting appearance, wasted no time in setting the confrontational tone. In her opening comments, Juliet congratulated host Gretchen Carlson on "doing a fantastic job" then pointed to Phillips saying "and Julian, you're doing a . . . " as her voice trailed off in a sarcastic riff.
"I decided to come back to harrass you," Huddy continued, as Phillips replied "I'm looking forward to getting into a fight." Carlson, evidently aware of the prevailing state of hostilities observed "I'm sure we're going to get into something between the two of you."
Is Neal Gabler jealous of Helen Thomas' status as a leading Bush media antagonist? You might think so, judging by the barbs Gabler aimed Thomas' way on this evening's Fox News Watch.
In discussing Thomas' pointed exchange with President Bush during this past week's press conference, Gabler, whose sole regular media job would seem to be his weekly appearance on Fox News Watch, did claim that Thomas' question as to the president's motivation in invading Iraq was a good one. But Gabler prefaced that comment by gratuitously observing: "Helen has asked dumb questions in her time."
Gabler later referred to Thomas as "a dotty old woman."
Where is the liberal moral outrage? Oh, to be sure, the left is making its political points in the wake of the case in which a man is facing the death penalty in Aghanistan for having converted from Islam to Christianity. Story here. Administration critics have been quick to question the value of Pres. Bush's efforts in bringing democracy to the Muslim world if situations such as this one are the outcome.
But in reporting the matter on this morning's Today, NBC's Andrea Mitchell cast domestic protest of the matter strictly in terms of moral outrage on the part of the "Christian right".
Seemingly on every evening's Hardball, Chris Matthews enjoys chanting a mantra of allegedly failed Bush administration promises on Iraq. Chief among them is his taunt that the White House claimed that our troops would be greeted as liberators.
Just as it might be soothing to see someone silence an ostentatious Berkeley hippie endlessly iterating 'ummm', it was most satisfying to witness Christopher Hitchens on this evening's Hardball comprehensively refute Matthews on his claim.
Once again, Matthews launched into his leitmotif: Pres. Bush: "strikes out . . . on the fact that we were going to be treated as liberators."
Have a look at the legend that 'Today' ran beneath the image of Pat Buchanan this morning. 'Republican' strategist? Really? Buchanan quit the Republican party in 1999 to run for president against George W. Bush as the candidate of the Reform Party. Go to Buchanan's official web site, The American Cause. The creed advanced there is Pat's particular brew of protectionism, isolationism and conservatism, with nary a reference to the Republican party.
So why, might you ask, would NBC engage in such false packaging? The answer is obvious: to gull viewers into thinking that it is presenting a fair balance of opinions.