Last week's Sunday shows featured anti-war Hollywood activists and a marginal presidential candidate. The reviews were decidedly mixed, so this week’s anti-war guests were a more serious group.
Gone were actress Susan Sarandon, comedienne Janeane Garofalo and presidential candidate Rep. Dennis Kucinich. In their place were Win Without War Director Tom Andrews, presidential candidate and former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean, and French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin. Actor Mike Farrell made the cut, returning for a second week.
Meet the Press host Tim Russert demonstrated impressive balance as he first moderated a debate between Sen. Lindsay Graham, R-S.C., and Andrews, followed by a debate between Farrell and pro-war actor turned senator turned actor again Fred Thompson. Graham was the most entertaining guest, calling the French and Germans "appeasers" and accusing those serving as "human shields" in Iraq of committing an "act of treason."
Farrell and Andrews stood their ground on continued U.N. inspections as the best policy. "Hans Blix tells us we are making progress. We are destroying missiles as we speak. No one has to die," said Andrews. Thompson was much less effective as a guest than in his televised ad supporting the president.
George Stephanopolous conducted a fair but aggressive interview with de Villepin on This Week, drawing an admiring comment from Sen. John Warner, R-Va.: "You pressed him hard and he stonewalled you." The position of de Villepin was almost indistinguishable from that of U.S. anti-war leaders. "There is an alternative to war -- inspectors. How many American boys are going to die in Iraq? Is it worth it?"
The French foreign minister refused to say if France would use its veto on another resolution at the U.N. Stephanopolous asked what he would say if U.S. troops invaded Iraq and discovered a huge cache of chemical or biological weapons. "We should have given more time to inspectors," replied de Villepin.
Dean, feeling "the big ‘mo’" as his anti-war message continues to be well-received, appeared on Face the Nation and sounded extremely bellicose on everything but Iraq. He favored more funding for the CIA, agreed with assassinations as long as they were not of heads of state, criticized FBI Director Robert Mueller, and seemed to support unilateral action against North Korea and Iran.
How Big Was It?
Most shows began with a recap of the Khalid Shaikh Mohammed capture, and guests were asked for their reaction:
Howard Dean, on Face the Nation: "A real coup."
Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., on Fox: "He’s the big fish, the king fish, he’s the operations manager."
Sen. Joe Biden, D-Del., on Fox: "This is a phenomenal development. A significant breakthrough."
Winner of the hyperbole award, however, is Rep. Porter Goss, R-Fla., on This Week: "This is a very huge event, the equivalent of the liberation of Paris in the Second World War."
Walking and Chewing Gum
Many pundits used news of the capture to discredit one anti-war argument — that focusing on Iraq limits the War on Terror. Kate O’Beirne of the National Review, on Capital Gang, was the strongest:
"It seems to me the administration's case about whether to remove Saddam Hussein got stronger today. The arrest of Khalid Shaikh Mohammed was a huge arrest that the CIA, FBI and Pakistani intelligence cooperated in. Those who've been wondering, ‘Can the United States lead a war to get rid of Saddam Hussein while fighting an effective war against Al Qaeda?’ It seems to me his arrest is an emphatic yes to that question."
Surprisingly, only Fox host Tony Snow pressed a guest on this topic, getting Sen. Biden to suggest he would have supported 200,000 troops on the Afghanistan-Pakistan border.
Biden Bashes, Warner Rethinks
On Fox, Sen. Biden also accused the French of "grandstanding" and said dismissively, "The French care so much about the Palestinians, but they don’t give a damn about the Iraqis." Sen. Warner, on This Week, said he considered taking down the Croix de Guerre in his office that his father earned in WWI, but decided against it.
Surreal News Hour
Paul Gigot, editorial page editor of the Wall Street Journal, returned to The News Hour to sub for David Brooks. He claimed "I'm really actually pleased that there is an awful lot of debate and discussion about this," referring to anti-war demonstrations, while syndicated columnist Mark Shields approvingly quoted Roy Cohn, former chief counsel to Sen. Joseph McCarthy.
Gigot also appeared on the Fox panel and claimed the recent Orange terror alert was related to intelligence that later led to the capture of Mohammed.
Quips of the Week
Brit Hume, on Fox: "If I die, I’d like to come back as Hans Blix’s son. You’d never be in any trouble. Any effort would be good enough. Grades would never be bad enough to get you in any trouble. It would be great."
Margaret Carlson, Time, on Capital Gang, speaking of just-declared presidential candidate Sen. Bob Graham, D-Fla.: "The Democrats, instead of having a smoke- filled room, are having their candidates come by way of an ICU. If he puts his heart into it, he'll be a serious candidate."
Readers weighed in on last week’s Hollywood invasion of the Sunday shows. The most vehement anti-war writer would have been excerpted here, minus the expletives, if not for the failure to leave his/her name.
A prophetic Jeff Hauser wrote:
"One might ask why any show, let alone two, used actors and actresses to provide the anti-war perspective. What about any number of impressive academics? What about Howard Dean?
I think that the conservative media does a good job of mocking the left by mocking celebrity lefties, and the left would do a good thing if it got its celebrities to learn their place."
Aja Pickett wrote:
"To the contrary, anti-war activists DO make a very good case for not going to war with Iraq. As a matter of fact, anti-war arguments helped me to take a position in the whole matter.
When this conflict began, it was roughly the U.S. vs. Iraq. But now our over-inflated leaders and spokespeople have stepped on some high-ranking toes in the UN and around the world with their arrogance and impatience. Garofalo was right, Fox News is a tool for the White House."
Gordon Paravano of Sedona, Arizona wrote:
"I watch Fox News every day and was disappointed to see you feature comedienne Janeane Garofalo on Fox News Sunday. These entertainers spend years perfecting their talents, but it never occurs to them that those high in government have to do the same."
Joyce I. Quellette wrote:
"Can't these 'peaceniks' understand that the best way to insure that we will go to war is to hold these peace demonstrations? Saddam must be ROFL as he watches from the safety of his bunker. Why can't these people understand that the only way to defeat Sadam [sic] without bloodshed is to present a worldwide united front and let him know that his actions will not be tolerated?"
Teresa Elks Downing wrote:
"I am getting fed up with American entertainers using their media venues to promote their own political agenda. I believe a general boycott of productions that these performers are involved in, by American military personnel, their families, and everyone else who supports our president, would be just and fair."
Will Vehrs is an economic developer in Richmond, Va., who turned his lifelong obsession with pundit shows into this web log. His "Punditwatch" column appears on Tony Adragna's Quasipundit; he recently began writing "Virginia Pundit Watch" for Bacon's Rebellion.