Just days after substitute Today co-host Campbell Brown applied a little bit of weekday Tim Russert elbow grease to Howard Dean, asking about the Democratic split on Iraq, Brown's interview with James Carville this morning didn't even contain questions, just set-up statements.
First, MRC's Scott Whitlock reported, Brown asked a soft question on the segment's premise on whether Bush is on the mend: "So let me ask you both this question. And Michael you start. Are we going to look back at this week and say this is the week that President Bush got his mojo back?" Smerconish said yes, Bush was now the "comeback kid."
Then came Brown's completely supine non-question: "All right, James. You're laughing. Go ahead."
"You're laughing, go ahead?" Shouldn't she be in the rest room handing out towels and mints if that's all she can do? Is that the best NBC can manage? This is the kind of "question" in which Brown might as well say: "joining us today is Tim Russert's frequent sporting-event buddy, who does an XM Radio sports show with Russert's son, who will be treated like the golden boy of NBC News."
Next, after Carville mocked the idea that Bush rose one puny point in the NBC poll, Brown didn't ask a question, just put forth a clarification: "All right, James. Let me clarify something. Let me just clarify something because the poll was taken after Zarqawi was killed, but before the announcement was made that Rove wasn't going to be prosecuted and before Bush went to Iraq." Then she granted the soundness of his point: "But, in fairness, you make an okay point and Michael, um, getting Zarqawi was a big deal and the President did only move up one point in our Wall Street Journal poll. What do you attribute that to?" Smerconish said the news hasn't settled in yet.
Carville was just left to his usual taunting, nattering-nabob-of-negativism routine: "I find it almost amusing that we are, that, that the press corps and the administration is making so much about a one percent rise in the president's approval rating. I remember when President Clinton was there, we'd, we would get concerned when it got below 57 percent."
Brown then turned to the congressional debate on Iraq: "Let me ask both of you to comment on this debate that's taking place right now in Congress over the situation in Iraq. It is highly charged. It is highly political on both sides. And Democrats may not beunited in their position on Iraq, Michael, but Republicans are trying topaint it, the Democrats position as cut and run. And that's not entirely fair either, is it?" Smerconish mildly suggested that the vote was of limited value, but the Democrats are surely divided.
This prompted Brown into yet another to Carville another completely unchallenging set-up statement: "And James, we're almost out of time, but do address the issue of Democrats not having a united position on this." Yes, James, do address it, dear.
Carville admittted the Democrats have many different positions, but hey, they're for "change," even if they can't agree on what on Earth that change might be: "There is a vigorous debate. There should be a vigorous ebate about this war, about how best to pursue it. There are any number of positions within the Democratic Party. The entire momentum for change lies with the Democrats. The entire momentum for the status quo lies with the Republican Party. And I think that will be an interesting dichotomy come November."
Questions Carville could have been asked:
1. James, this week Hillary Clinton was booed at a liberal conference when she tried to find a middle ground, protesting Bush's management of the war and yet opposing any set date for withdrawal. Will that hurt her chances for the presidential nomination with the liberal base of the party?
2. Or does she sound a lot like John Kerry in 2004, clumsily trying to take both sides an issue, that the war is a hopeless mess and we shouldn't withdraw from the mess any time soon?
3. James, is there a natural point where Democrats can actually show to the rest of the country that they're actually rooting for America to win this war? When you dismiss the killing of Zarqawi as a victory for the country, don't the Democrats run the risk of looking like they're rooting for defeat?
4. James, several leading Democrats attended a liberal-blogger conference in Las Vegas organized by a man, Markos Moulitsas, whose response to four American contractors slaughtered in Iraq was "screw them." Could this reflect badly on the Democrats?
And so on, and so on. Anyone can do better than "you're laughing, go ahead."
One last nitpick: notice how Brown introduced the bald-yet-bespectacled twins: "James Carville is a Democratic strategist and the author of 'Take it Back.' And Michael Smerconish is a conservative radio talk show host and the author of 'Muzzled.'" They had the same thing on screen, Carville was "Democratic" and Smerconish "conservative." Do you think it would ruin someone's breakfast at NBC to call Carville a liberal for once?