Pundit Central

The Devil and Mrs. Jones

The Devil and Mrs. Jones

Questions about the president’s sex life won Issue 1 nods on all the shows. If not for the return of Iraq to the news, the spacefaring John Glenn and newsmaking Fidel Castro would have given the weekend the feel of a Kennedy administration retrospective.

Paula Jones’ lawyers swarmed the networks, struggling in vain to make their case despite a judicial gag order. Their plaintiff is “upbeat” (ABC’s This Week With Sam and Cokie) and “the rule of law is alive and well” (CBS’s Face the Nation). With the president’s men falling silent (a deliberate strategy, said George Stephanopoulos on This Week), the liberal pundits made the case against Jones: She has become a “pitiful pawn” (Al Hunt, CNN’s Capital Gang) of the wacko right, who are “making hay” (Steve Roberts, CNN’s Late Edition) and “diminishing the presidency” (Mark Shields, NewsHour With Jim Lehrer) by dredging up Clinton’s dirty laundry.

The conservatives predicted that this episode, too, would roll off Clinton’s back (Robert Novak, Capital Gang), as the president is now “beyond humiliation” (Charles Krauthammer, Inside Washington). The smart money insisted that the case would end with a trial and not in a settlement. When Bill Kristol (This Week) referred to Matt Drudge’s unsubstantiated weekend report that Newsweek spiked a story about Clinton having an affair with a White House intern, co-host Sam Donaldson barked at him. Maybe Newsweek killed the story because they didn’t have the goods, Donaldson bellowed.

The commentariat returned once more to Issue 2, the Iraq crisis, with Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz. (Face the Nation), comparing the situation to “the movie Groundhog Day: We wake up every morning and Saddam is sticking his thumb in our eye.” After weeks of playing devil’s advocate for Hussein, John McLaughlin (The McLaughlin Group) finally threw in completely with the dictator, endorsing Iraq’s claim that Scott Ritter, the chief U.N. inspector, is a U.S. “spy” whose placement in Iraq was a “calculated and deliberate provocation.” Secretary of State Madeleine Albright (NBC’s Meet the Press) and U.N. Ambassador Bill Richardson (Fox News Sunday and This Week) promised to answer Hussein’s intransigence with more international peacemaking attempts, a policy condemned by Krauthammer as “the wages of appeasement.” Also working the Neville Chamberlain angle was Hunt, who said Hussein had “the scruples of Hitler.”

Issue 3 was a tie: the soon-to-orbit John Glenn or the papal visit to Cuba. The pundits were generally enthusiastic about Glenn’s rocket ride–McLaughlin gushed that it would “change the outlook on who is old”–although the cynics deemed the trip an “interplanetary perk for a favored politician” (Kate O’Beirne, Capital Gang). Juan Williams (Fox News Sunday) worked the issue for the gag: Send Strom Thurmond instead, to determine “the effect of weightlessness on orange hair.” (On This Week Glenn uncorked an old joke of his own: “How would you feel if you were sitting on top of 2 million parts built by the lowest bidder on a government contract?”) The commentariat was divided as to whether the pope’s visit presaged the end of Fidel Castro or of the United States’ “inane embargo” (Eleanor Clift, The McLaughlin Group). Most agreed that Gore’s courting of the Florida vote would prohibit any change in our current policy.

Lost in the Shuffle: Thanks to the week’s busy news cycle, the pundits gave the new developments in the Asian financial crises a wide berth–not much of a loss, seeing as most of them are completely at sea about it anyway.

Punditus Interruptus, Week 5: Has Robert Novak lost his nerve? He didn’t even bluff interruption in all his bantering with Al Hunt on the week’s edition of Capital Gang. (Maybe he was calmed by the absence of Margaret Carlson.) After repeated viewings of the tape, “Pundit Central” referees charged Hunt with one verbal offside, bringing the running interruption total to Hunt 5, Novak 2.

Goodnight, David: After only two weeks, David Brinkley’s controversial Archer Daniels Midland ads have been pulled from the broadcast networks (CNN will continue to show them). An outraged Brinkley told The McLaughlin Group that everyone’s acting “like I robbed a bank or something.” A relieved Sam and Cokie made no mention of his disappearance.

How About Condoms as Pledge-Week Premiums? Treading delicately around the Paula Jones case, the commentariat giggled like schoolchildren over a recent poll proclaiming that public television watchers have more sex than most. Charles Krauthammer blamed it on “all those nature shows.”

Kevin C. Murphy