You almost expected The Edwin Hawkins Singers to turn up on set. For, short of Hillary raising her right hand on the steps of the Capitol some time in January of 2009, it just doesn't get much happier for Today than this morning. In one fell news cycle, George Bush and Enron evil-doers laid low.
It couldn't have come quick enough for Katie Couric. Interviewing Tim Russert on the president's mea culpa performance of yesterday, in which he and Tony Blair admitted to mistakes in his handling of Iraq, she asked:
"Do you think both men should have tried this approach sooner?"
Lest anyone think that the president's remorse will appease the MSM, it was obvious that, now with a taste of blood, the liberal media pack will only call for more. Couric wasted no time in going after Donald Rumsfeld:
Advice to any Republican loyalists planning to watch a replay of this evening's Hardball: hide the sharp objects, put the firearms under lock and key, flush any potentially poisonous potions. With lovely-but-lethal Norah O'Donnell sitting in for Chris Matthews, this might have been the most unrelenting gloom-a-thon since Watergate. Riffing off the latest polls showing W at 33%, it was one guest after another - from Bob Shrum to Kate O'Beirne to a panel of "hotshots" - painting a decidedly unrosy scenario. And just when things couldn't get any more dread, a former Clinton administration official popped in to predict millions might die from bird flu thanks to government inattention "in recent years."
Citing reports that the White House might select Tony Snow to replace Scott McClellan as Press Secretary, MSNBC's Keith Olbermann on Wednesday night ridiculed the journalistic integrity of Snow and FNC -- even claiming, contrary to what ratings show, that the number of people who “believe” FNC is becoming “increasingly smaller.” Near the top of his Countdown show, Olbermann noted Snow's Fox News affiliation before he snidely added: “As critics would suggest, as such he's already an unofficial White House spokesman.” To guest Richard Wolffe of Newsweek, Olbermann proposed: “If you go with Tony Snow of Fox News, are you not saying we're only talking to that increasingly smaller group of people who believe Fox News is the sole source of truth in the world?" In another segment, with the Washington Post's Dana Milbank, Olbermann, the host of a very slanted cable news show, presumed FNC is the only network anyone sees as biased: “Would the entire Fox News bias issue suddenly become connected at the hip with how the administration handles truth versus propaganda?" Milbank quipped: "I'm not sure it would necessarily be bad for the White House, but it does raise some questions. We first have to ask if Tony's going to get back pay?”
Of the three broadcast network evening newscasts, the NBC Nightly News delivered the most negative assessment of the situation facing a White House which made some personnel changes, with reporter David Gregory using the moves as a chance to resurrect the Plame case and to maintain, in an amazing coincidence of his personal agenda matching that of “Republicans I've been talking to,” that “the President needs a Press Secretary who will be more open with the media." CBS's Jim Axelrod also got in a snarky shot that certainly put imagery over substance: "The metaphor of the day came from the President's chopper. Technical problems kept it from getting off the ground, just like grounded poll numbers and a stalled agenda are making it harder to fill top jobs.”
NBC anchor Brian Williams led his newscast: “These are tough times these days at the Bush White House. The President's approval rating has hit its lowest point yet. Complaints have been coming in from fellow Republicans. And there is concern the coming midterm elections this year could spell colossal defeat for his own party.” Gregory proceeded to bring up how the portfolio change for Karl Rove “comes at a time when Rove remains under investigation in the CIA leak case.” Moving on to McClellan, Gregory again raised the Plame matter: "But his critics, including Republicans close to the White House, felt McClellan wasn't effective, didn't click with the press corps and lost credibility during the leak investigation when he vouched -- incorrectly it turned out -- for two key figures in the case, Scooter Libby and Rove." (Transcript follows.)
The CBS Early Show this morning continued its tradition of "fair and balanced" reporting, as they addressed the interminable firestorm that has surrounded Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, seemingly since he was first appointed 5 1/2 years ago. They addressed the Rumsfeld issue twice in the first hour, and both times the focus was on the critics and criticism. There were no defenders of Rumsfeld in evidence, save for short clips from the President and the SecDef himself, and their comments were immediately followed by critics explaining how they're lying.
The first segment was the "straight news" report from CBS White House correspondent Bill Plante. This segment did include short clips from Bush and Rumsfeld, but immediately followed by "balancing" their comments with those of critics.
Scott McClellan, the embattled White House press secretary, resigned his position earlier today.
Karl Rove, Bush's closest adviser, will also be giving up his policy positions, the AP reports.
Fox News host and Bush 41 speechwriter Tony Snow is said to be a possible candidate for the press secretary spot. The Hotline blog throws out some more names including Dan Senor, Dan Bartlett, Victoria Clark, and Ron Bonjean.
Darn it, when the MSM have a Republican in their sights, shouldn't he have the good grace to sit there and take it until he's hounded from office? That would appear to be NBC's operative principle, judging by Today's coverage of the Rumsfeld flap. Much of the emphasis this morning was not so much on the substance of the controversy but on the fact that the Pentagon is fighting back against the calls for Rumsfeld's ouster.
Topping it all was the very first question that Matt Lauer posed to his guest, retired Marine Lt. General Mike DeLong, a Rumsfeld defender:
"Have you been asked by Secretary Rumsfeld to be here on his behalf?"
Different day, different Today show anchor, different attitude. As we documented yesterday, Couric's Complaint: Why Won't Rumsfeld Critic Bash Bush Too?, when Katie Couric hosted a segment on the matter of the retired generals calling for Donald Rumsfeld's ouster, she chose as her guest one of the generals calling for Rumsfeld's head. Her most notable contributions to the discussion were to invite her guest to take a shot at Pres. Bush as long as he was at it, and to ask why he didn't come out sooner with his criticism so he could have 'shaped public opinion far earlier.'
This morning it was Lester Holt's turn in the Today show host seat. Now, it might just be in the normal course of the news cycle that his guest was a former general who is opposed to Rumsfeld's departure. But there was no mistaking Holt's even-handed treatment of the issues, in stark contrast with Couric's cheerleading for the Rumsfeld-must-go crowd.
Who says NBC won't highlight the accomplishments of the US military? Why just this morning the Today show had on as its very first guest a recently retired general, John Batiste.
Oh, wait. The purpose of inviting him was to provide a platform for his call for the ouster of Defense Secretary Rumsfeld. Again we see the pattern illustrated yesterday with Newt Gingrich's appearance. See Iraq Knock Nets Newt Net Nod. Republicans, military folks, etc. are welcome on Today - so long as they're prepared to take shots at the Bush administration and its policies.
There is no reason to doubt Batiste's sincerity. He said that his motivation is the servicemen and women and their families. He stated that he had come forward to demand "accountability for a war plan was built to invade Iraq but failed to build the peace. Accountability for what happenened at Abu Ghraib. Accountability for a leadership style that which is intimidating, abusive. It was not a two-way street of respect."
CBS's The Early Show dealt with the resignation of White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card this morning, and, in the process, demonstrated again their lack of interest in presenting anything that might be beneficial to the President in a positive, or even a neutral, fashion. This attitude showed itself more, however, in the way that things were said, rather than in what exactly was said. There were the typical offhand accusations of insincerity, but most of the reporting was fairly straightforward. And the questions that Harry Smith asked of Mary Matalin were, for the most part, appropriate. But the tone and attitude that Smith displayed were not. (Windows Media video available here.)
The first piece was the news report on the resignation, from CBS' White House Correspondent Bill Plante. Of course Plante's report started, as most CBS reports on the President do, with emphasis on negatives.
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!
It's not exactly news to the GOP base that John McCain is not one of them. But it was perhaps noteworthy to hear Chris Matthews, ostensibly a McCain man [at least when it comes to his preference among Republican presidential hopefuls], acknowledge that fact on this evening's Hardball. He might also have raised eyebrows on the other side of the aisle by ripping Democrats for their weakness on illegal immigration.
Speaking of the issues that were stressed at this past weekend's Republican coffee klatsch in Memphis, Matthews stated "all I heard was . . . no gay marriage, immigration - lock it up, stop illegals - keep cutting taxes and keep appointing conservative justices."
Tasteless personal attacks are nothing new on Air America Radio, but some deserve special mentioning. Coming out of a taped skit at the beginning of the second hour of her afternoon show on Friday (January 13, 2005), here's the incomparable Randi Rhodes (emphasis mine / audiotape on file):
Sam Alito fans must feel confident when the Washington Post Style section is mocking the Democrats for their "tender roast" of Alito. Marcia Davis writes lightly about how the Democrats promised a feisty brawl, but didn't deliver. When Sen. Cornyn suggested Alito was a lock, Davis wrote:
That's hard to take when Americans have been promised a smackdown. This is a reality TV nation, a WWF kinda country, where we like to see a fight even when we know it isn't real, even when we know the stakes might just be a bag of Cheetos.
So when it's the Supreme Court, well, that's when the sparks are supposed to fly. That's what Democrats had promised in the Alito hearings. The New Jersey judge with humble roots would replace the all-important swing seat of Sandra Day O'Connor, they said. Abortion rights are at stake. The issue of executive power is on the table like never before in light of the president's recent wiretapping episodes. Alito is a guy who may be an extremist posing as a moderate.
Conservatives rightly complain that MSM shows such as Today have a paucity of guests from the right, and that those who do appear are treated with skepticism if not outright disdain.
But I'd say there's an exception to the rule. It's my sense that conservatives want to see Ann Coulter appearing only rarely on MSM shows, and that when she does, that the occasion be treated as something of a Texas Steel Cage Match, or better yet, as the introduction of a Kong-like creature brought onto the set, to be released from her shackles for the briefest of moments as she confronts her antagonists while displaying her panoply of rhetorical weapons.
That rule was honored when, a couple years ago, Katie Couric interviewed Coulter. The appearance came not too long after Coulter had described Couric as the "affable Eva Braun" of morning television. There was electricity in the air, ill-disguised animosity, the sense that an actual cat-fight might break out at any moment.
Today’s New York Times featured a Carl Hulse article that depicted the future of the Republican Party as being almost as bright as Alaska for the next several weeks. In Hulse’s view, just about everything that has gone wrong in America in 2005 can be linked to Republicans, while, conversely, in a 27 paragraph piece, there was only one paragraph that suggested any problems for the party on the opposite side of the aisle. Frankly, this article read more like a press release from a political strategist than a column in a leading, national newspaper.
First, Hulse set the stage: “The ugly debate in the House on Friday over the Iraq war served as an emotional send-off for a holiday recess, capturing perfectly the political tensions coursing through the House and Senate in light of President Bush's slumping popularity, serious party policy fights, spreading ethics investigations and the approach of crucial midterm elections in less than a year.”
He then established the goal: “Capitol Hill was always certain to be swept up in brutal political gamesmanship as lawmakers headed into 2006 - the midpoint of this second presidential term and, perhaps, a chance for Democrats to cut into Republican majorities or even seize power in one chamber or the other.”
Then, Hulse enumerated all the Republican shortcomings:
There’s been a lot of suggestion by the media lately -- especially since the elections last Tuesday -- that the Republican Party is in dire trouble, and could lose control of the House and the Senate in 2006. For those interested in a side of this debate that the media are ignoring, you should watch today’s “Meet the Press,” in particular the second-half with DNC chairman Howard Dean.
Some of the pertinent exchanges of note:
DR. DEAN: I think Democrats always have to stand up and tell the truth and that's what we're doing. The truth is that the president misled America when he sent us to war. They did--he even didn't tell the truth in the speech he gave. First of all, think there were a lot of veterans were kind of upset that the president chose their day to make a partisan speech.
On NBC’s “Meet The Press” this morning, host Tim Russert stocked his panel with three left-of-center journalists – Nina Totenberg of NPR, Ron Brownstein of the Los Angeles Times, and David Gregory of NBC News – to discuss the events of the week. When they got to the nomination of Samuel Alito to replace retiring justice Sandra Day O’Connor, Russert mentioned that when Bill Clinton was president, both Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen Breyer, despite obvious Liberal leanings, were approved by a strong majority of both Democrats and Republicans. “And they say, ‘Why can't we have the same courtesy to conservative jurists under President Bush?’"
In response, Totenberg said: “If you look at the Ginsburg nomination, for example, she'd been a judge, I think, for 12 years. She'd been, actually, a pretty conservative liberal judge, if you can be such a thing.” This could be the first time that anyone has referred to the former general counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union as being “pretty conservative.”
As the discussion ensued, Totenberg expressed frustration with the president’s second choice to replace Sandra Day O’Connor:
In constructing a balanced panel to discuss a president's fortunes, one does not normally select one person who opposes him and. . . another person who opposes him and ran against him in a general election.
But that was the Today's show notion of 'fair & balanced' this morning. In to discuss W's drooping poll numbers were former Clinton spokesperson Dee Dee Myers and Patrick Buchanan. In introducing Buchanan, Couric highlighted his GOP credentials. But while stating Buchanan had been an aide in the Nixon, Ford and Reagan White Houses, Katie conveniently omitted mentioning that in 2000 he had, as the presidential nominee of the Reform Party, run a bitterly critical campaign against George W. Bush and has since been an incessant Bush critic, particularly on the centerpiece of Bush's foreign policy - the war in Iraq.
Within seconds of President Bush finishing his announcement of Samuel Alito as the nominee to replace Sandra Day O’Connor on the Supreme Court, the CNN “American Morning” team was ready to attack and criticize this decision (video links to follow). First, Candy Crowley said, “I think what you're going to see is some disappointment that this is obviously a white male replacing a female, leaving just one female on the Supreme Court.”
Next up was Ed Henry:
“Candy is absolutely right. She set the stage perfectly. The word I'm hearing over and over from Democrats is ‘provocative.’ They basically say the president, A, did not consult with Democrats as he did with Chief Justice John Roberts, as he did before Harriet Miers was nominated. Also that they feel that Judge Alito is more conservative than they expected. They were hoping more of a consensus choice. This is already opening the door for Democrats to try to make the case that there are extraordinary circumstances here, i.e. that they may filibuster the nominee. That's why you heard the president immediately say that Judge Alito deserves an up or down vote. That is code for don't filibuster this nominee.”
The Associated Press, in its continued obsession with the religious affiliations of Supreme Court justices and nominees--as long as they are Catholic--released its first story of the day concerning the rumored pick of Samuel Alito for the high court: Alito Would Be Fifth Catholic on Court.
The brief story notes, “If confirmed, Samuel Alito would be the fifth Roman Catholic on the current Supreme Court and the 11th Catholic to serve in the court's history.” It then goes on to list the names of those eleven.
When Bill Clinton nominated ACLU general counsel Ruth Bader Ginsburg to the Supreme Court, what are the odds that, in the very first sentence of its report, the Today show described Ginsburg as "liberal"? Roughly the same as the Saints winning this year's Super Bowl, perhaps?
Yet this is how Katie Couric opened Today this morning: "Breaking news: President Bush is nominating conservative judge Samuel Alito to the Supreme Court."
Matt Lauer got into the spirit, adding Alito "is so consistently conservative he has been called 'Scalito,'" i.e., in the mold of Justice Antonin Scalia.
Tim Russert then weighed in, expressing skepticism that Alito could get 60-65 Senate votes. Russert did acknowledge that Ted Kennedy praised Alito when he was nominated to the Appeals Court, but explained that that was 15 years ago and Kennedy will will make a distinction now that Alito is being nominated to the Supreme Court.
Are you a Republican or conservative? Want to get invited on a morning MSM show? No problem! Just be prepared to do one thing - criticize the Bush administration.
We've seen the pattern in recent weeks at the Today show. First there was Bill Kristol, fiercely attacking the Miers nomination. Yesterday, GOP congressman-turned-MSNBC-host Joe Scarborough upped the ante, accusing VP Cheney of a "lie."
And this morning brought an appearance by conservative uber-celebrity Ann Coulter.
The first hint that a warm reception was planned for Ann was the fact that Today chose Matt Lauer to interview her, rather than Katie Couric with whom Ann had famously clashed on air after having described Couric as an "affable Eva Braun."
What earned Ann her invite? Matt gave it away when he cited to Ann her recent comment "in which you compared the Bush White House with the Nixon White House."
Bingo! Any conservative willing to invoke the Nixon White House in discussing W is welcome on Today!
In introducing Joe Scarborough this morning, Katie Couric described him a "former Republican congressman." After witnessing his performance, one is prompted to ask: was "former" intended to modify "congressman," or "Republican"?
In any case, Scarborough was living proof of the adage that the kind of Republicans welcome on the Today show are those willing to take swipes at the Bush administration.
Scarborough did so in spades this morning. Speaking of the Plame investigation, Katie asked, in her best butter-wouldn't-melt-in-her-mouth ingenue tone:
If you invite the chubby kid from down the block to the birthday party, is it fair to criticize him for eating cake?
There was something of that lack of hospitality to the Today show's interview of President and Laura Bush this morning
For weeks now, Today has been reveling in its contribution to the Katrina relief effort, notably in its collaboration with Habitat for Humanity. Two weeks ago, Today transformed Rockefeller Plaza into "Humanity Plaza," erecting Habitat homes for transport to the stricken area.
This morning, the action moved to Covington, Louisiana, where a home was being erected on site. And who was there, hammer at the ready to lend a hand, but President Bush himself, accompanied by Laura.
Charles Krauthammer has called the Miers nomination a "joke."
George Will called her "the wrong pick."
Bill Kristol labelled the nomination a "mistake."
David Frum suggests she is "not good enough."
Senators Brownback, Thune and Lott have expressed reservations.
So what are these folks up to? Well, to listen to Ellen Ratner, of Fox & Friends Weekend "Long & Short of It" feature, they are consciously . . . lying.
Yes, in her appearance this morning, Ratner claimed that the Republicans are "protesting too much" about Miers' lack of conservative credentials in a "concerted effort" [read "conspiracy'] to dupe Democrats into accepting her.
Said Ratner: "I think she is a stealth, very conservative candidate. I think they are raising this as a way of causing a lot of storm so liberals can say 'well, maybe she is not that bad' and I think this is a concerted effort to get her through."
Can you recall the last time the Today show invited a major conservative commentator on to opine on the issues of the day? Neither can I.
But there was Weekly Standard editor Bill Kristol this morning, under Today's 'hopeful' graphic "Is Bush Losing His Base?", being treated deferentially by David Gregory.
Why? It's the old MSM maxim: conservatives are only welcome when they're willing to take shots at fellow conservatives/Republicans. We saw the same phenomenon in play earlier this week as Katie Couric gave respectful treatement to Rush Limbaugh, playing a clip in which he described the Miers appointment as having been made "in weakness."
Kristol began by observing that some recent White House political errors can be attributed to the fact that Karl Rove has been "distracted" in recent weeks by his multiple grand jury appearances.