Secretary of State Colin Powell's trip to the Middle East failed to impress the TV pundits, who blasted the Bush administration from all sides for the third week in a row.

Pundits on the right criticized Powell, obliquely going after Bush. On The News Hour, The Weekly Standard's David Brooks judged the still-developing trip harshly: "He's done a couple of things. He's hurt U.S. prestige, he shredded U.S. policy in the Middle East and most importantly, he's hurt our moral clarity."

On This Week, George Will of the Washington Post bemoaned the fact that "Arafat has been restored and reaffirmed," while Bill Kristol of The Weekly Standard offered this anti-Powell plan: "Let the Israelis rip up the terrorist network. Oslo, Mitchell and Tenet didn't work."

Pundits on the left continued to criticize Bush, avoiding criticism of Powell. "Whether you're coming from the right or coming from the left, whether you're supporting Israel, whether you're supporting the Palestinians, who knows what the Bush policy is?" said Al Hunt of the Wall Street Journal on Capital Gang.

Margaret Carlson of Time even tried to explain the Bush administration's "incoherent" policy. On Capital Gang, she said, "Bush has moral clarity, but moral clarity in this situation doesn't work. This is a political situation. That's why the policy isn't coherent."

Several pundits spoke approvingly of the comments Senator Joe Biden, D-Del., made about the Middle East on CNN and Fox News Sunday. The lack of a Democratic position or strong spokesperson on the Middle East specifically and foreign affairs generally has long vexed the pundits. Look for more Democrats to speak out with this talking head encouragement.

Al Gore, speaking out in Florida, did not receive rave reviews. Ceci Connally of the Washington Post, on Fox, observed, "If it were October of 2000, that would be a great speech. It just doesn't seem quite appropriate right now."

Brit Hume of Fox, after watching a video clip of Gore's speech, noted, "He takes off his coat and he's still sweating like crazy. It looks like he's sweating through his tie."

The Return of Wit

Witty sound bites have been in short supply since the Mideast crisis, but this weekend saw the first signs that pundits were willing to use humor to describe the situation:

Fidel Castro will go to work as an investment banker at Morgan Stanley before Yasser Arafat signs a peace treaty. –David Brooks

It's not like on one side we have got Albert Schweitzer and on the other side you've got Franco, for God's sake. –Mark Shields, The News Hour, speaking of Sharon and Arafat.

Audition #2

Sam Donaldson and Cokie Roberts took another day off from ABC's This Week, offering another chance to speculate on possible future changes at the show. The last time the pair was off, George Stephanopoulos and Claire Shipman co-hosted. This time, George hosted by himself and presided over two roundtables that changed half the cast midstream.

Name That Policy

Martin Indyk of the Brookings Institution, appearing on This Week, described Bush's Middle East policy as "ABC&I." Translated, that's "Anything but Clinton and Iraq."

The Reverend Snow

Tony Snow, host of Fox News Sunday, ended his show with this biblical interpretation: "The good book says blessed be the peacemakers, not the process makers."

Carlson on the Cardinal

On Capital Gang, Margaret Carlson put Cardinal Bernard Law of the Boston Diocese under fire for his role in the church's sexual abuse scandal:

Cardinal Law thinks he is above the law. And it is just astonishing to see him hang on like Nixon or like Enron, and the Pope behaving like Arthur Andersen, silent, complicit. He should (resign) — if he won't resign, he should be removed.

Pundit Tax Talk

Bob Novak of the Chicago Sun-Times, on Capital Gang, used his "Outrage of the Week" to blast the federal income tax, due today: "The federal tax forces people to make stupid decisions and waste their time and money. It is unfair, depresses economic growth and benefits only the accountants."

Margaret Carlson responded, "I pay my taxes proudly, Bob," while Al Hunt added, "I'm proud to pay my taxes, too. And I wish they'd be soaked a little more." "You can pay mine," retorted Novak

Middle East Mailbag

Steven Porter writes:

Can anyone in the administration explain the logic of a policy that is tough on our ally and democratic friend Israel but appeases the Arab dictatorships that support terrorists? It would be great if someone could set out an argument as to why it is okay for the U.S. to go into Afghanistan to weed out terrorists but Israel's efforts to do the same meets resistance by the U.S.

Pete Arnold of Ponce, Puerto Rico, writes:

Sharon has no regard for the interests of the United States and the killing won't stop until Powell looks Sharon in the eye.

Christopher Tat writes:

There will never be true peace in Israel until the true source of the conflict is dealt with. That source is Islamic militancy and radical Arab nationalism. The fighting will continue until either Israel is destroyed or we utterly crush the Islamic/Arab militants.

Alex Martinez writes:

Sharon would be committing political suicide if Israel withdraws before finishing the job.

J. Powell from Michigan writes:

I think the Israelis are using terrorism as a cover to gain more land and get rid of the Palestinians. I think you should poll the American people and ask them if they would be willing to send their sons and daughters to fight a war against the Arab world to protect Israel.

David Brinkley Mailbag

Giacomo Zardetto of Orcas Island, Wash., writes:

People like Sam Donaldson, George Stephanopolous and Juan Williams are highly paid individuals that make me change channels. What happened to reporters like David Brinkley?

Jeff Bale of Richmond, Texas, writes:

Oh, for the days of Walter Cronkite, Howard K. Smith, Harry Reasoner, Chet Huntley and David Brinkley, when reporters' political devotions were not so blatantly transparent and did not result in the arrogant press trying to tell the rest of us how we should view the world.

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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