Last week’s big pundit issue—the first signs of Democratic criticism for the President’s War on Terror—has disappeared faster than cocktail shrimp at a political reception.

None of the weekend shows found any interest or material to keep that once promising story line alive. Operation Anaconda in Afghanistan, the Middle East muddle, the six-month anniversary of 9/11 and the President’s decision on steel tariffs were the top issues.

Administration officials fanned out over the airwaves to reassure viewers without making any news. Condoleezza Rice on Meet the Press, Tom Ridge on Fox News Sunday, Colin Powell on Face the Nation, and General Tommy Franks on This Week all defended well-known policies and answered the same question they have been asked over and over again: No, we don’t know the whereabouts of Usama Bin Laden or Mullah Omar.

Pundits can look forward in the coming week to General Anthony Zinni’s mission to the Middle East and Vice President Cheney’s foreign tour for issues next weekend.

A Little Help From Our Friends

ABC's Sam Donaldson slipped with this Freudian gem introducing an interview with General Tommy Franks on This Week:

"Well, you've heard our news reports, now what are the facts concerning Anaconda? Is it winding down?"

Insensitive Clod of the Week Award

At the end of his interview with General Franks, Donaldson compared the average pay-out WTC victims can expect from the federal fund set up to compensate them — $1.85 million—with the average benefit for a soldier killed in the War on Terror: a $7,700.00 death and funeral benefit plus $833 per month for a surviving spouse and $211.00 per month for each surviving child under 18. Donaldson asked Franks if he thought that disparity was fair. Obviously shocked by the question but trying to maintain his composure, the general answered that America had always taken care of its fighting men and women. No doubt he wanted to take care of Donaldson right then and there.

The Cable Guy Analyzes Operation Anaconda

National Public Radio’s Juan Williams, appearing on Fox, recounted a first person story on the Battle of Gardez that he had read in the morning paper:

"This satellite TV repairman says the bombing is not having the effect, he’s only seen two dead bodies. I don’t know what to believe at this point."

An amused Brit Hume commented,

"I think I’d place the credibility a little higher on U.S. intelligence than the cable guy."

Almost Unanimous

Only the News Hour and Capital Gang’s Mark Shields defended President Bush’s steel tariff decision. A sample of the overwhelming reaction:

Al Hunt: This was a dreadful decision.

David Brooks: The most intellectual indefensible thing he's done as president.

Bob Novak: This is unquestionably the worst trade decision in many, many years by an American president.

Suck-Up of the Week

Walter Cronkite, 85 years old, appeared hale and hearty during a Capital Gang interview. Margaret Carlson gushed:

"Seeing the avuncular Walter Cronkite there makes me think if he were still in place … there would not be somebody in Michael Eisner's shop calling NIGHTLINE irrelevant, that in Walter Cronkite's day, news was king."

The Cosmic Meaning of Tonya Harding v. Paula Jones

Time’s Jack White, appearing on This Week, says he believes America is back to a "funky normalcy" after 9/11 because of the upcoming Harding-Jones "celebrity" boxing match.

The George and Cokie Strategy

Referring to embattled Court of Appeals nominee Charles Pickering, George Will of This Week advised President Bush, "He’s 64 years old. If he’s defeated, send up a 44 year old."

"One with no paper trail," a helpful Cokie Roberts added.

Summing Up the California Gubernatorial Primary

David Brooks of the Weekly Standard, appearing on The News Hour, offered this analysis:

"The conventional view about this whole race is the right wing Republicans, those whackos out in California, you know, with arms growing out of their foreheads picked this guy Simon who has no shot of winning.

"But you have to remember that this is a state where the Republican Party just picked Matt Fong and Tom Campbell, two very moderate Republicans and they got shellacked. So I think they were not too stupid to pick somebody who actually knows why he's running and has ideas about why he's running. "

Mark Shields, also on The News Hour, previewed the Gray Davis-Bill Simon match-up:

"Is it going to be about Bill Simon? If that's the case the Republicans will lose. If it's about Gray Davis, then it's the one hope that Bill Simon has of making it a race."

A New York Kind of Guy

In an otherwise forgettable Capital Gang segment discussing the Andrew Cuomo-Carl McCall race for the New York Democratic Gubernatorial nomination, Bob Novak of the Chicago Sun-Times asked Joel Siegel of the New York Daily News:

"Andrew Cuomo, when he was in Washington in the Clinton cabinet, was maybe the most disliked person in town. Nobody could stand him. Is this the best the Democratic Party can do against Governor Pataki? Is that pushing personality, a little bit obnoxious, is that … something New Yorkers like?"


Will Vehrs is an economic developer in Richmond, Va.  Unable to obsess on golf, fishing, or a weed-free lawn, he chose to stalk the weekend talk show pundits and their syndicated print brethren.   His "Punditwatch" column appears in Tony Adragna's Quasipundit.

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