Pundit Central

Leak Soup

Leak Soup

The Washington Post’s publication of President Clinton’s deposition in the Paula Jones case is Issue 1, as the commentariat all but ignore other news. Pundits “can only cover one story and chew gum at the same time,” chortles Jack Germond (Inside Washington).

Who leaked? the pundits ask. Washington wags are “heavy betting” that the president is the source, says Juan Williams (Fox News Sunday). Evan Thomas (Inside Washington) notes that pre-emptive leaking of damaging information is SOP for the Clinton White House. The widely cited rationale for a White House leak is to publicize a “road map” (Paul Gigot, Fox News Sunday) or “master script” (Charles Krauthammer, Inside Washington) for future witnesses not wishing to contradict the president’s sworn deposition. Subtle manipulation of the press is what “smart lawyers do,” says Thomas.

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But there are other, better ways of transmitting the official White House line, contend Ann McDaniel (CBS’s Face the Nation) and George Stephanopoulos (ABC’s This Week). Stephanopoulos argues that the White House would not needlessly admit the existence of presidential love gifts, thereby undermining the Story of the Seventh Commandment that it is peddling. Nina Totenberg (Inside Washington) is alone in her suspicion that the leak was loosed by lawyers representing Arkansas State Trooper Danny Ferguson. Given the vociferous denials from all camps, David Broder (PBS’s Washington Week in Review) concludes that the leak is an “act of God.”

Will Clinton survive? A few pundits readjust their odds upward. Mara Liasson (Washington Week in Review) thinks the president’s strategy of making a speech on a popular subject every day is working. Some suggest that Clinton may never come clean–and he may get away with it, despite his earlier promise to promptly explain his relationship with Monica. David Gergen (The McLaughlin Group) predicts that so long as the economy keeps chugging along, only being found in bed with “a dead girl or a live boy” can unseat Clinton.

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Not so fast, say the other pundits, charting the land mines in Clinton’s path. The president might be undone by the possible discrepancies between his testimony (helping Monica was Betty Currie’s idea) and Vernon Jordan’s (the “helping Monica” idea came via Currie, but it was originally Clinton’s) (Liasson, Fox News Sunday). Or by the deposition to be released by Jones’ lawyers (Bill Kristol, This Week). Or by Kathleen Willey’s testimony–that Clinton placed her hand on his erect, but clothed, penis (Fred Barnes, McLaughlin Group). Or by Starr’s star witness, former Arkansas Gov. Jim Tucker, a convicted felon (William Safire, NBC’s Meet the Press; Robert Novak, CNN’s Capital Gang).

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Issue 2 is those stupid Republicans. Newt Gingrich’s disastrous championship of a Puerto Rican statehood bill is ridiculed: Almost no Republican voted for it in the House and Trent Lott has banned the measure from the Senate. All agree that the Republican leadership was suckered into supporting it by high-pressure lobbying and poll results, mistakenly believing that this was the way to win Hispanic voters. George Will (This Week) demands to know why the GOP is so “full of fear and trembling.” Many opine that the Republicans have become impotent, but no one can explain why this is so. Also, decide the commentariat, the GOP doesn’t have a good presidential candidate for 2000.

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Billion Dollar Bill Gates’ appearance before Congress is Issue 3. Fred Barnes, Pat Buchanan (McLaughlin Group), and Krauthammer side with Gates–government regulation can only bring grief. Eleanor Clift (McLaughlin Group) applauds regulatory vigilance. Johnny Chung’s decision to turn state’s evidence is Issue 4. No one knows that he’ll say, but everyone agrees that his testimony could become a Very Big Deal.

Derivatives Trading: Gordon Peterson (Inside Washington) begins a discussion of the film version of Primary Colors by citing the conventional wisdom that it paints a glowing, shamelessly partisan portrait of Clinton. Panelist Evan Thomas hasn’t seen the film, but on the basis of conversations with his Newsweek friends, he maintains that the film is anti-Clinton. Peterson then chimes in with the observation that you come away from the film liking the Clinton character. Has Gordon Peterson seen the film? Well … no, but his friends have.

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Practice Makes Perfect: Both members of the NewsHour With Jim Lehrer team (Mark Shields and Paul Gigot) double dribble this weekend. During a NewsHour discussion of Vernon Jordan’s testimony, Shields comes out with the bizarrely malapropos comment that Vernon Jordan’s elocutionary style reminds him of nothing more than Barbara Jordan’s measured diction. On Capital Gang, the topic turns to Vernon Jordan, and sure enough–and just as inelegantly–Shields brings up Barbara Jordan again. On Friday’s NewsHour, Gigot asks, “Is this a Republican Congress? Sometimes I wonder!” Two days later, on Fox News Sunday, Gigot still has no answer, asking, “Is this a Republican or Democratic Congress?”

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Funny, Clinton Reportedly Said the Same Thing: William Safire (Meet the Press) wows his fellow panelists with the news that he had bumped into Monica Lewinsky at a bar–well, actually, the Cosmos Club–this week. Safire notes that Steve and Cokie Roberts were there too, facts confirmed by the husband-and-wife team on CNN’s Late Edition and This Week, respectively. The verdict? “Pretty … attractive, alert, upbeat,” says Safire; “Darling … young and cute … a nice, cute, flippy sort of kid,” gushes Cokie; “young,” says Steve. Pundit Central, for one, is worried that peppy, likable Monica might try to take its job.

Bruce Gottlieb

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