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Kerry lacks firepower in Sunday morning blitz

Howard Kurtz’s "Media Buzz" program will debut Sunday, Sept. 8 at 11 a.m. EST.

John Kerry is a far more effective salesman when his heart is in it.

When he did the “full Ginsburg” of Sunday show appearances to defend President Obama’s decision to delay action on Syria, Kerry seemed dutiful and workmanlike, repeating the same talking points without much enthusiasm and often averting his gaze from the camera.

People should be “celebrating” Obama’s decision to seek congressional approval, said Kerry, who hardly appeared in a celebratory mood.

What a contrast with his command performance less than 48 hours earlier, when the secretary of State urged action against Syria over chemical attacks that he said he shocked the conscience of the world.

In that speech, the 2004 presidential candidate was impassioned, filled with moral fervor about the need to punish the “thug” and “murderer” Bashar Assad for gassing his own people.

This matters, in public relations terms, because the White House has tapped Kerry as the man to make the case for military action, as Colin Powell did in 2002 and 2003. 

But when Obama abruptly decided to hold off after discussions with his White House aides, Kerry was informed afterwards with a phone call—and sent out to defend the move on "Meet the Press," "Face the Nation," "This Week," "Fox News Sunday" and "State of the Union."

While the Sunday shows draw a heavily insider audience, they fill a weekend news vacuum (which is why Kerry used them to announce new evidence that the Syrian regime used deadly sarin). They also lay down a marker, as Susan Rice found after being dispatched to the same five shows with Benghazi talking points that turned out to be false. Otherwise she’d probably be running Foggy Bottom now.

Kerry, not surprisingly, ran into a buzzsaw of skeptical questioning.

“Do you feel undermined? Do you feel the United States has undermined its leverage in the world?” David Gregory asked.

“This isn’t 'CSI.' This isn’t a civics lesson. People’s lives are at stake,” Chris Wallace said.

“They already declared victory in Syria this morning, the Assad regime,” said George Stephanopoulos, who also spoke of the chances of “getting sucked into a wider war.”

Kerry was in the awkward position of repeatedly insisting he didn’t have to address the possibility of a congressional rejection because that was not going to happen. But the truth is it remains an open question—and Obama has had little success in getting his way on most issues.

It’s no surprise the Sunday anchors were skeptical of a cabinet officer who by all appearances was having to squelch his disagreement with the commander-in-chief.

 

Howard Kurtz is a Fox News analyst and the host of "MediaBuzz" (Sundays 11 a.m. and 5 p.m. ET). He is the author of five books and is based in Washington. Follow him at @HowardKurtz. Click here for more information on Howard Kurtz.