Punditwatch: Pundits Making News

Some shows see the news as it is and ask, "Why?"

Other shows see the news they want and ask, "Why not?"

Fox News Sunday and This Week covered the big news of the week — inspections in Iraq, new terror attacks and the naming of former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger as chairman and former Sen. George Mitchell as vice chairman of the Sept. 11 commission.

Meet the Press eschewed direct coverage of that news, devoting its entire show to host Tim Russert's interview with Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass. Kerry announced the totally expected formation of an official exploratory committee as a prelude to a future totally expected official declaration that he is running for president.

Face the Nation, in a "step back from the headlines," took its annual Thanksgiving weekend look at the presidency. The discussion started as a "report card" on President Bush until author David Halberstam demurred on the timing.

Almost immediately, author Garry Wills, journalist Bob Woodward and historian Michael Beschloss clamored to agree that it was too early to put out a report card on Bush. They spent the rest of the segment speculating on potential disasters that might appear on future report cards.

The Kerry interview showed the weakness of Russert's tendency to stick to his pre-scripted questions. Kerry offered a sweeping overall critique of the Bush administration, saying there were "better choices" on almost every issue facing the nation. Russert failed to pursue, in a systematic way, just what these "better choices" were. When he did, the results were mixed.

Kerry charged that the administration was not tough enough on Saudi Arabia. Asked what he would do differently, Kerry said the U.S. had to "press" the Saudis. His criticism lost some of its sting when he acknowledged that "some things are best not done in public" and called for more "back door diplomacy." The possibility that the administration was already taking this route was not discussed.

When Kerry mentioned that he favored "major tax reform," Russert did not ask what this might entail beyond the two items Kerry mentioned: "no new Bush tax cuts" and a "payroll tax refundable credit." When Kerry tried to raise the environment as an issue by charging that 44 percent of U.S. waters are "unfishable and unswimmable," Russert did not pursue how Kerry would solve this problem.

The interview had to be a positive for Sen. Kerry, although tougher questioning by Russert might have made him look even stronger-or put him on the defensive.

Breaking News from Meet the Press

On Fox News Sunday, host Tony Snow was in the middle of an interview with Henry Kissinger and George Mitchell when he announced that Sen. Kerry, on "another program," had called for Kissinger to "sever" ties with his clients while working on the Sept. 11 commission. Snow asked Kissinger, then Mitchell, if they would comply. Both denied that their unnamed clients would present any conflicts, but agreed to sever ties with any clients who might conflict with the commission's work.

Kissinger and Mitchell promised an aggressive inquiry, with Mitchell promising "we will do whatever is necessary" to get at the truth.


Tim Russert showed John Kerry a quote decrying high tax rates and advocating tax cuts. When Kerry disagreed with the quote, Russert revealed that the author was President John F. Kennedy. It appeared that Kerry did not know in advance that this quote was coming. He scrambled to attribute the substance of the quote to "a different time."

When Al Qaeda Takes Up the Palestinian Cause

Fareed Zakaria of Newsweek responded on This Week to suggestions that recent terrorist attacks against Israel showed a possible Al Qaeda-Palestine linkage: "The big loser will be the Palestinians. There will be no Palestinian state. This is the kiss of death."

Al Gore Criticizes Conservative Media Conspiracy

"I'm a psychiatrist. I don't usually practice on camera, but this is the edge of looniness. He could use some help." — Charles Krauthammer, Washington Post, on Fox News Sunday

No Quip of the Week

No "Quip of the Week" is being awarded this week. Syndicated columnist Mark Shields angled for the award on Capital Gang:

"People magazine this week named Ben Affleck, the Hollywood star, the sexiest man alive. A recount that showed Richard Simmons, the diet guru, being the sexiest man alive would not have surprised me more than the appointment of Henry Kissinger to uncover government lapses and level with the public."

Confession of the Week

During an argument with the Wall Street Journal's Al Hunt on Capital Gang, Bob Novak of the Chicago Sun-Times was unable to recall the name of a historian who thought President Roosevelt knew about Pearl Harbor in advance. Later, Novak remembered a name, confessing:

"I had a senior moment. If I were a little younger, I would have remembered him."

There's No Hope

"Some systems are too complicated to be reformed and our tax system is one of them." — George Will, Washington Post, on This Week

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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