This is a rush transcript from "The Journal Editorial Report," February 16, 2008.
STUART VARNEY, GUEST HOST: Coming up next on the "Journal Editorial Report," he is riding high after back-to-back primary wins. Is Barack Obama unstoppable or is the wave about to crest?
Terror on trial. The U.S. gets set to give a 9/11 mastermind his day this court but should the world be able to watch it on TV?
Baseball steroid scandal comes to Capitol Hill. Were this week's hearings all for show or does Congress have a role in policing professional sports?
Our panel weighs in after these headlines.
VARNEY: Welcome to the "Journal Editorial Report." I'm Stuart Varney, in this week for Paul Gigot.
He swept the Potomac primaries in Maryland, Virginia and D.C. He is favored to win Tuesday's races in Wisconsin and Hawaii. The emerging story line this week, the Democratic presidential hopeful Barack Obama is unstoppable. But is he?
Joining the panel this week, "Wall Street Journal" columnist and deputy editor Dan Henninger, deputy taste paste editor Naomi Schaefer Riley, opinionjournal.com columnist John Fund and, in Washington, editorial board member Steve Moore.
Dan, he has the momentum, the primary victory, the delegate count. He's on a role. He has money. Has he peaked?
DAN HENNINGER, COLUMNIST & DEPUTY EDITOR: Every political prediction these days is worth its weight in word. I don't think he has peeked but I think he is finally cresting.
He has dazzled people with his rhetoric and presentation. But after the victory this week at the Potomac primaries he gave a 25 minute speech at the University of Wisconsin in Madison, and if you look past the rhetoric and presentation and focus on the words, what you see is a candidate running on a vision of America that is grim. It is a downer. He says you know parents are competing with their teenager children for jobs at Wal-mart. He describes teachers who have to take second jobs at Dunkin' Donuts. And he is attacking the basic structure of American society. In his world, people are getting shafted at every turn.
VARNEY: Very well received in Wisconsin though.
HENNINGER: Yes, but this presidential election will be decided by Independents in the middle, about 35 percent of voters, who have to at some point listen to this and they will hear it over and over again and decide if this comports with the reality of their own lives. I think at the margin, Barack Obama's sheen is going to wear thin.
VARNEY: Steve, he revealed more of his economic thinking. He certainly felted left this time around. Do you think that will lose him any support Monday Democrats?
STEVE MOORE, EDITORIAL BOARD MEMBER: I don't know about Democrats but certainly the Independents.
Dan, when you talked about his message being a downer, take a look at his tax-and-spending plans. I mean this is the nanny state you know times three. It is huge new spending increases in infrastructure and education and health care and job training and then massive increases in tax rates to pay for all of this. So tax rates would be as high as they were in the 1970s.
I don't think that's a message the American people want to hear. The way to get out of economically troubled times is by raising taxes through the roof.
VARNEY: John, two delegate count issues, Michigan, Florida and John Edward, whom we have fought heard much from lately, but he has delegates.
JOHN FUND, OPINIONJOURNAL.COM COLUMNIST: Michigan and Florida had primaries but their delegates were disenfranchised by the Democratic National Committee because they broke the rules. Hillary Clinton wants their votes to count. She collected most of the delegates.
This week the NAACP called for the delegates to be seated. That could be a big credential slide if the delegate count between Obama and Clinton remains close.
On John Edwards there is a chance he endorses Obama but he may endorse Hillary Clinton. Those 40 delegates that he had before he dropped out, if they went to the Clinton column, they would tighten the race dramatically.
VARNEY: Naomi, has Obama peaked or crested, call it what you will?
NAOMI SCHAEFER RILEY, TASTE PAGE EDITOR: No, the Democrats want to win. Hillary's message is increasingly becoming this is what you owe me. This is what you owe me as a woman, as a feminist, as a Clinton, and it is a depressing message to hear.
Even John Lewis, the civil rights leader who originally supported Obama -- originally supported Hillary came out and said he felt the movement was going toward Obama. I think that's a sign that it will keep going.
FUND: Stuart, negative ads are coming. Barack Obama went this far because he is the great black hope. He has not had a single negative ad against him, a single series of negative stories. They are coming. It won't dent his popularity dramatically but he will come under scrutiny.
STEVE MOORE, EDITORIAL BOARD MEMBER: John, the interesting thing about that is I do think Barack Obama has a message that, to the Independents and certainly to conservatives, they will be very hostile to that.
The problem for Hillary Clinton is the things to attack Barack Obama on, his liberalism, is something she doesn't want to expose because she is liberal herself.
HENNINGER: What I think she just may do to him in Ohio what he did to her in the Potomac primary. She is ahead in Ohio. Look, it hasn't been widely noticed, she did very well in the Potomac primaries among Catholic voters. There are a lot of Catholics in Ohio both in southern Ohio. And in northern Ohio, they are blue collar Catholics. She does well among blue collar voters. She could have a good day in Ohio.
VARNEY: Naomi, don't you think it is possible Democrats would take at that deep breath be pull in a little before they go wholeheartedly to support a newcomer with no experience whatsoever as their man in the presidential race?
SCHAEFER RILEY: I don't think so. I think they want to win and this is really -- what it is is a triumph of cool for liberalism. They want somebody cool. Hillary does not look cool these days. This is an entire generation, both bombers and young people, who have just embraced Barack Obama the rock star.
FUND: ... politics.
VARNEY: That's the word.
Still ahead, terror on trial? They are accused of plotting the 9/11 attacks. Now the Pentagon says it will seek the death penalty against six men held at Gitmo. Should the world get to see the trial on TV? That debate is straight ahead.
VARNEY: The Pentagon announced this week it will seek the death penalty against alleged 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed and five other men currently held at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba. All face charges of conspiracy as well as separate counts of attacking civilians, murder, war crimes, hijacking and terrorism. Though it may be months before the case against the six is ready to go to trial, should it be televised before it does?
We are back with Dan Henninger and Naomi Schaefer Riley. Also joining the panel is columnist Bret Stephens and editorial board member Brian Carney.
Bret, lights, camera, cue the lawyers, why not?
BRET STEPHENS, COLUMNIST: Two word, O.J. Simpson. The history of televising trials is not a happy one. It rarely enhanced our understanding of what the crimes are. But what it has often served to do is enhance a kind of sympathy or at least a sense of understanding with the person who stands behind the dock, with the accused. And it happened with O.J. It could happen with Khalid Shaikh Mohammed.
Remember, this going back even to the trial of Eichmann where suddenly, instead of having a mastermind of evil, you had the banality of evil and I am afraid if we televise KSM's trial, we will have a replay of that where we lose sight of the enormity of what he is responsible for.
BRIAN CARNEY, EDITORIAL BOARD MEMBER: I couldn't disagree more strongly. I think we have already lost sight of the reason this guy has been at Guantanamo. Right now he is remembered as the guy who George W. Bush tortured, who was kidnapped and kept in prison without charges being brought for years. All anybody knows about him is the sad picture of him looking confused and with his shirt collar torn open and so on.
What the world could use is a recounting of the crimes that he and his associates have committed, to remember he is the mastermind of 9/11. And to hear the case made against him. And to remember that he is the man behind Danny Pearl's murder and to hear those charges laid out. The world could use a reminder of who it guy is.
If tried this secret and sentenced to death he will be remembered as the guy who kidnapped, water boarded sent into a hole, never to be heard from again.
STEPHENS: Stuart, you know as well as anyone television isn't simply sunshine. Television is a prism. And you are going to view it through the particular prismatic window that television offers, which is all of the experts who are going to come on TV to tell you the technical mistakes the judges, are making. KSM will have a soap box from which to talk about his water boarding.
Let's not forget too, the audience is not simply an American audience. There will be a huge Arab audience, and if you look at the trial of Saddam Hussein, Saddam Hussein's stock rose in the Arab world.
CARNEY: You will get the spin anyway.
VARNEY: Naomi, what do you think?
SCHAEFER RILEY: I think that Bret is largely right here in the sense that the American people are used to a certain kind of understanding of a trial. They are used to law and order. What you will have here is a trial that drags on for months and months and months. And let's just start to think about some of the absurd things that will be wrought up here. There is -- everyone remembers the Atlanta courtroom shooting from a few years ago. Dozens of eyewitnesses. That man is still on trial. Jurors are sitting around listening to a psychological work-up of this man, every slight he suffered since the age of three. Do I want the American people, or do I want to listen to that for KSM?
VARNEY: You are comparing it to the O.J. Simpson trial, which was on minute to minute, day after day. A KSM trial doesn't have to be on all the time. You can dip into it.
HENNINGER: It is a serious undertaking for sure. Naomi is right that even law and order is a simple version of the American justice system. To Brian's point, he is saying trust the common sense of the American people to see through all of this spin that Bret is talking about and come to the right conclusion.
I think one of the biggest problems here is that, first of all, it is a military commission trial. And it will have much simpler rules than the normal justice system. But they haven't figured out how to do it yet. I believe what the American people would see is what a procedural morass our system has become as the commentator sat there discussing how endless numbers of ways in which KSM was not being accord the right of a normal defendant. It would simply bog down.
CARNEY: That might bring moral clarity to the American people. I think when they are reminding of who this guy is and they see the lengths to which his defense may go to defend him or turn it around on the Bush administration, I think people might look back and say hay wait a minute. This guy masterminded 9/11. Why are we going through this? I think that could be healthy.
SCHAEFER RILEY: To your question about dipping in and out of the trial, then you sort of fall into the trap that all of the commentators want you to, you didn't see the last hour but I bet what happened was -- and then you have this whole -- then the trial is being censored for the American people. You can't win in this.
STEPHENS: Sure, there will be points where there is secret evidence and people will say I want to know what the secret evidence is. If you can't see the secret evidence he is not getting a fair trail. This is victor's justice and KSM becomes the victim being railroaded by the American Military Commission. That would be the outcome. It would be a disaster.
CARNEY: So it is better for it all to be secret?
STEPHENS: No, we have a long tradition of having reporters sitting in courtrooms taking notes, offering a view of what is happening but television is a very difficult relate prism from newspapers and, as I said, our record with it for the last ten years is not happy.
HENNINGER: Let's look at the in fundamental point here. He admits he did it. We pretty much know he is guilty. We are going to find out how almost impossible it is, under our system, to prove his guilt.
VARNEY: 3-1 against Brian.
Still ahead, Congress's dog and pony show. What we learned from the steroid hearings on Capitol Hill. That is when we come back.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BRIAN MCNAMEE, FORMER ROGER CLEMENS TRAINER: When I told Senator Mitchell I injected Roger Clemens with performance enhancing drugs, I told the truth.
ROGER CLEMENS, BASEBALL PLAYER: I am saying Brian McNamee's statements about me are wrong. Let me be clear. I have never taken steroids or HGH.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
VARNEY: Clearly, it was he-said-he-said Wednesday on Capitol Hill as all star pitcher Roger Clemens and his former trainer, Brian McNamee, testified for almost five hours before the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. At issue, whether McNamee injected Clemens with performance enhancing drugs ten years ago.
Steve Moore, to you first, if I may. I know you think this was basically Congress grandstanding on the issue of steroid but I have a question for you: would you rather have Congress sticking its political fingers into the economy or into baseball?
MOORE: Well, that is that's at that tough question, Stuart, but I will say this, here is an institution with an 18 percent approval rating and put on this circus show trial most of the American public, though they were riveted by it, they were annoyed that Congress -- here we have a $400 billion budget deficit, struggling economy, war in Iraq and Congress is wasting their time investigates whether baseball players are shooting steroids.
A lot of Americans, I think, are like me. I am a Libertarian. I don't think this is something Congress should get involved in, in the first place.
And the real stain of this scandal is Major League Baseball. They knew steroids were going on and they turned a blind eye on this for ten years.
HENNINGER: Well, I think that in some ways the indeterminateness of this congressional hearing reflects mesh society generally in their attitude toward what is going on. These people are super stars, Roger Clemens and Barry Bonds and so forth, and most fans largely don't care what they do. They just simply want a good show. So we can't quite make up our mind whether these players ought to have access to this legally or whether they ought not to. Did he really break rules? Did does it make a difference? I think that's the problem the Congress waded into there. They don't know what exactly to think. We are awe again cheating. But should this be cheating?
SCHAEFER RILEY: The logic behind this show trial was ostensibly that we have these heroes out there, these great American baseball heroes, what will the children think when they find out what's really behind the home runs?
I have to say this discussion has just descended into a level of detail I think it horrendous. There are entire articles about the infections in Roger Clemens rear end as a result of these injections. When we get to that point, I would rather lie to the children about the whole thing.
STEPHENS: I would say this. I think there was an opportunity here. It may have been missed, but there was an opportunity to raise some significant -- actually moral questions.
And the real issue you brought up, Dan, is when we watch baseball, are we watch a sport? Or are we watch entertainment? And what is the difference between the two?
Do we want to see human beings performing at the outer limit of what a human be can do? Or do we want to watch freaks and humanoids and androids who have been pumped up with various drugs do things you ordinarily would see in video games?
MOORE: Bret, my point is, you may be exactly right about that, that this is perverting the game of baseball. But isn't that for the Major League Baseball owners and Major League Association to deal with? Not Congress?
We have these major problems in the country and we are focusing on this. It is amazing that the day after the Roger Clemens' testimony. We had Ben Bernanke the Federal Reserve chairman, there was less media there for that, the state of the economy, than the Roger Clemens hearing.
VARNEY: What is wrong with accomplishing a public forum, like congressional hearings, in a non-legalistic framework, non-courtroom framework, to discuss the major issues on the day that effect America? What's wrong with that?
SCHAEFER RILEY: It is not a non-legalistic framework. These people can go to jail for lying. This is an abuse of congressional power. Not only are they wasting people's time and not only is it turning into a circus and not only should they be focusing on other things, but the idea that you're going to threaten people for jail for this, for lying about
steroid they did or did not have taken ten years ago? It strikes me as an abuse of congressional power.
VARNEY: So you don't think it should have been in Congress?
SCHAEFER RILEY: Absolutely not.
HENNINGER: I think they should open the issue. Competition is a fundamental value in our system. You either play by the rules or cheat. It is true this business, politics and it ought to be true in sports. If can you cheat in sports, why not cheat in business.
VARNEY: Steve, you don't think it should be before Congress?
MOORE: Dan, that's well and good, but the truth is Major League Baseball did nothing about this. And the reason people like Barry Bonds used steroid is they saw Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa were using steroids and nothing happened to them, and they were sitting 70 home runs. To be on par with them, it created a situation where more players had to take steroids just to stay up with the rest of the field.
STEPHENS: I hate to say this, Steve, but then it would be a classic example of market failure. A market that is failing to police itself own and police itself. The one argument about why congress should intervene.
I agree with Naomi. This shouldn't be legalistic, nobody should go to jail, but it is an opportunity to learn something.
VARNEY: Fair enough.
We have to take one more break. When we come back, our "Hits and Misses" of the week.
VARNEY: Winners and losers, picks and pans, "Hit and Misses," it's our way of calling attention to the best and the worse of the week.
Item one, a seven hour stroll through space -- Dan?
HENNINGER: Yes, the space shuttle. We kind of take it for granted now, but frankly I find the space shuttle is stunning. You are right. Two astronauts were out there for seven hours, 200 miles above the earth trying to attach a 550 pound nitrogen tank to the side of the space station. I still don't under how all of this works and I don't want to know. I simply want to sit back and be amazed by it.
Incidentally one of the astronauts was a German astronaut. He is 56 years old, Stuart, proving great adventure is still possible for the baby boomers.
VARNEY: Well said young man.
Bret, you have a big win in the War on Terror?
STEPHENS: Yes, Imad Mughniyah -- you'll be happy to know you won't have to pronounce his name again. Mughniyah was the mastermind of the bombings of the U.S. embassy and the Marine barracks in Beirut. He was the mastermind of the taking of a TWA flight where Navy diver was murdered. He was the mastermind of bombings of the Israeli embassy and Jewish Cultural Center in the 1990s. Really, until the Usama bin Laden, Mughniyah was the world's most dangerous terrorist.
Well, earlier this week, in circumstances that still are somewhat mysterious, he met a swift and fateful end. His car blew up while apparently allegedly coming from a meeting with Syrian intelligence officials. Tells you something about Syria. We don't know who actually killed him, but whatever it is, that person was an instrument of justice.
VARNEY: You are chalking it up as a big win?
BRET: It's a big win.
VARNEY: Got it, Bret.
Finally, a hit to the board at the College of William and Mary -- Naomi?
SCHAEFER RILEY: They decided not to renew the contract of President Jean R. Nickel earlier this week. He decided to resign in protest. I think this is a great development. Nicole, you may recall, was responsible for removing the historic cross from the chapel at William and Mary. And he has been responsible for bringing the Sex Workers Art Show to William and Mary.
You may know that William and Mary is a public university. And I think the people of Virginia had finally had enough. So good-bye, Gene Nichol, we will not miss you.
VARNEY: That's a hit to the College of William and Mary, and the people of the state?
SCHAEFER RILEY: Yes.
VARNEY: Naomi, well said.
Thanks to my panel and to all of you for watching.
I'm Stuart Varney. Paul will be back next week. We hope to see you then.
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