In a Muddle, Saudis Rise to the Top

The weekend pundit shows were a muddle of issues, from what vehicle Jesus would drive (This Week) to the latest book by the Crown Prince of Iran (Fox News Sunday).

When all was said and done, however, breaking news about a potential financial connection between the Saudi Arabian government and terrorists was the most compelling story.

Smooth Saudi spinner and foreign policy advisor Adel Al-Jubeir was the star of this story, appearing on Face the Nation and This Week. Usually clad in a western style suit when appearing on U.S. television, Jubeir instead wore the traditional thobe with ghutra and agal. He defended Princess Haifa al Faisal, wife of the Saudi ambassador to the U.S., against charges that she knowingly sent money to individuals who provided support to two of the Sept. 11 hijackers.

"We don’t know if this was a con job," he claimed. "People in Saudi Arabia are outraged."

This Week host George Stephanopolous was a tougher interviewer of Al Jubeir than Face the Nation host Bob Schieffer. Stephanopolous’ effort to get around Al Jubeir’s spin exasperated the Saudi, who said at one point, "George, we seem to be going in circles here."

New York Times columnist Tom Friedman, reminding us that he had met her, defended Princess Haifa on Face the Nation, as did Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., on This Week. Friedman attributed the money trail to royal families being "shaken down" by religious extremists, a practice McCain denounced as a "Faustian bargain."

Friedman went even further in assigning blame, saying Middle East terrorism is "funded by your gas guzzler." He has been an outspoken proponent of a national effort to achieve energy independence through technology.

Sen. Joseph Lieberman, D-Conn., demanded a "full accounting" from the administration, asking, in a familiar framing, "What did the Saudis know and when did they know it?"

In other noteworthy pronouncements, NBC’s Tom Brokaw, reporting from Iraq on Meet the Press, said the Iraqis were on a "charm offensive" and that he saw no evidence of a "nascent coup d’etat" against Saddam Hussein.

On the same program, Sen. Bob Graham, D-Fla., chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, claimed, "Hezbollah is more of a threat to the U.S. than Saddam Hussein." Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala., also on the Intelligence Committee, speaking of Usama Bin Laden’s threats, said: "It’s going to happen. I think it will be spectacular."

Al Gore: The Pundits Speak

Al Gore’s media tour was a hot topic. Some sound bite highlights:

Syndicated columnist Mark Shields, The News Hour: "I thought Al Gore did fine."

David Brooks of The Weekly Standard, The News Hour: "I actually think he is coming a little unhinged."

Margaret Carlson, Time, on Capital Gang: "His script that he's unscripted is disproved by the fact that he says the same thing, just about at every stop."

Bob Novak, Chicago Sun-Times, on Capital Gang: "He had this whole year or two years of sitting around, God knows what he was doing that period of time. And he didn't come up with anything. It's all cliches."

George Will, Washington Post, on This Week: "This vindicates Ralph Nader."

Quip of the Week

Bill Kristol, The Weekly Standard, on Fox: "It is amazing that Putin and Chirac are now closer to Bush on Iraq than Al Gore is."

Passionate Pundits of the Week

On Capital Gang, Bob Novak and Al Hunt of the Wall Street Journal bitterly disagreed on the Homeland Security Bill, especially the provision protecting drug companies from lawsuits:

HUNT: Bob may think that autistic kids aren't part of the productive element of American society, and perhaps they're not, Bob. But this was Congress in a political payoff to drug companies. That's outrageous."

NOVAK: "I said that the outrage is these sleazy trial lawyers attacking pharmaceutical companies on the vaccines. They've been after the vaccines for years, and an attempt to try to protect the pharmaceutical manufacturers from the bar is an important thing.

I just can't understand, Al, I'm disappointed in you that you find yourself in bed with these people who are the cash cow for the Democratic Party."

HUNT: "I'm disappointed that you consider autistic kids so irrelevant."

Pundit/Nielson Analyst

ABC’s Michele Martin, on This Week, explaining why "The Bachelor" beat "The Victoria’s Secret Lingerie Show" in the ratings: "Marriage is seen as unattainable in a way that sex is not."

Shameless Plug Rescue Mission

Fox News Sunday tackled the dust-up between Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D., and radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh by inviting Sean Hannity, conservative co-host of a Fox program. In an effort to balance this transparent plug, NPR’s liberal- leaning Juan Williams did the interview. A pugnacious Hannity turned every Williams question into an attack on Democrats. Finally, Fox host Brit Hume tried to rescue the interview by commenting, "Sean, I love you, buddy, but you still haven’t given Juan an answer to his questions."

Is Nighttime the Right Time?

On Capital Gang, Bob Novak and Margaret Carlson debated when to best craft legislation:

NOVAK: "I've been covering legislating since 1954, and things get done better at night in the dark when you don't have a lot of lobbyists around."

CARLSON: "No, it's at dark, in the night, when you do have the lobbyists around pushing their special provisions."


Janis Gore of Vidalia, La,, writes:

Sen. Mary Landrieu is a tough girl and lifelong politician. When the ballots hit the box she will win. Her agents will mobilize the black vote (one-third of Louisiana's total) in large enough numbers to put her over the top.

Sandra Stanberry in Tennessee writes:

Nancy Pelosi is shrewd, but there isn’t enough political makeup to hide her ultra left wing blemishes. All Harold Ford, Jr. has to do is let Pelosi lead, sit back, and wait for a further Democratic demise. Your Punditwatch synopsis was far more enlightening than any of the guests or pundits.

Thanks, Sandra. Punditwatch welcomes reader mail.

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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