The weekend pundit shows surprised viewers by not exploiting the upcoming  Sept. 11 anniversary with sentimentality or national navel gazing.

Instead, the pundits respectfully remembered the horrific terror attack of almost one year ago while continuing to look ahead at the issue that has consumed them for over a month: a potential pre-emptive action against Iraq.

The administration’s big guns fanned out over the airways; if this was a cabinet in "disarray," as charged last week, it was not apparent. All seemed to be reading from the same sheet of music, hinting that the time for pitching options was over and a presidential decision was imminent.

"Listen to the president’s speech on Thursday," advised Vice President Dick Cheney, appearing on Meet the Press for the entire hour.

Cheney, not known for gimmicks, pulled a 1998 President Clinton quote from his jacket pocket and read it after host Tim Russert showed him a clip of Clinton saying Usama bin Laden should be captured before action is taken against Saddam Hussein. In 1998, Clinton called for action against Saddam.

To his credit, Russert was not cowed by the solemnity of foreign policy issues, finding time at the end of the interview to ask the vice president about Halliburton and his future as Bush’s running mate in 2004. Check Halliburton’s web site for answers on the former and with his wife and doctor on the latter.

No one from the administration broke any new ground. Secretary of State Colin Powell, on Fox News Sunday, appeared to reconcile the previously opposing views of Bush advisors by saying, "Regime change is the surest way to insure [Iraq is] disarmed."

Face the Nation was the most focused on Sept. 11. Before an interview with Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, host Bob Schieffer was shown in a hard hat touring the Pentagon reconstruction. The second half of the show was broadcast from New York and ground zero.

This Week went "heavy" with Joint Chiefs Chairman Richard Myers talking military options with Sam Donaldson and "light" with First Lady Laura Bush reminiscing about Sept. 11 with Cokie Roberts.

Double Sentimentality

Sunday was the last broadcast of This Week as hosted by Sam Donaldson and Cokie Roberts. George Will, in his commentary, paid tribute to them by placing them in the same class as show founder David Brinkley. He called Donaldson "the human cactus from Texas," but insisted the prickly newsman was "nice as a puppy." He praised Cokie Roberts as a pioneer for women in television news.

Both Sam and Cokie appeared genuinely moved by Will’s words. They ended the show praising each other. Donaldson called Roberts "the best friend anyone could have" and Roberts, with her hand on Donaldson arm, told him, "I will miss being with you on Sunday mornings."

The George Stephanopolous era begins next week.

The Op-Ed That Wasn’t

Much was made of an op-ed Donald Rumsfeld submitted to the Washington Post, then withdrew before publication. Asked by Schieffer if he’d been "muzzled," the defense secretary declared, "I’m not muzzleable." He claimed that the op-ed would probably appear later.

Powell to Scott Ritter

Shown remarks former arms inspector Scott Ritter made to the Iraqi Congress, Secretary Powell asked, "We have facts, not speculation. If Scott is right, why are they saying ‘no’ to inspectors?"

Advice from Jim Lehrer

The News Hour host was asked on Capital Gang about the debate over Iraq:

"Well, I think everybody should always remember that wars are fought by real people, eyeball to eyeball, and that they bleed and they scream and they die, and as long as everybody who's making the decisions remembers that, then we're going to be always okay."

The Carving Clintons

Commenting on Andrew Cuomo’s withdrawal from the New York gubernatorial primary, Margaret Carlson, on Capital Gang, said,

"The Cuomo race teaches me two things. One is, you know, Cuomo is a smart guy, and he can give a good speech. But likable trumps smart lots of times in these big races, and, you know he just wasn't likable. And the other thing is, is that the Clintons will stab you in the back." Quip of the Week

George Will, on This Week: "Sunday morning interview programs are, like anchovies, an acquired taste."

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.

Respond to the Writer