Pundit Central

Sid Vicious and the Sex Pistol

Sid Vicious and the Sex Pistol

Pundit-turned-presidential-spinner Sidney Blumenthal, who testified before Kenneth Starr’s grand jury, is Issue 1. Calling the Blumenthal subpoena prosecutorial overkill, the commentariat diagnoses Starr as having a chronic case of political “tin ear,” and gives the week to President Clinton.

Paul Gigot (PBS’s NewsHour With Jim Lehrer) says that the Blumenthal subpoena achieved the near impossible by making “Sid Vicious” a sympathetic character, adding, “you can’t investigate the press” and hope to come out on top. “Absolutely stupid,” agrees Robert Novak (CNN’s Capital Gang). Starr “played right into the White House strategy” by calling Blumenthal, says Michael Duffy (PBS’s Washington Week in Review), making the independent counsel the issue instead of the Sex Pistol in Chief.

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On Fox News Sunday, Juan Williams and Fred Barnes accuse Clinton of subverting the Starr investigation, but their pro-prosecutor flyer plummets when fellow guest Rush Limbaugh agrees with them. (Pundit Central to Limbaugh: Read your McLuhan. TV is cooler than radio. Tone it down a tad, or at least bring a froth cup when you appear before cameras.) Former Attorney General Dick Thornburgh (CNN’s Late Edition) defends Starr’s tin ear for politics as precisely what you want in a prosecutor. Yet even Thornburgh acknowledges that Starr is “overmatched” in his duel. He doesn’t understand the game, and the law prohibits him from fighting back in public.

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Pat Buchanan (The McLaughlin Group) takes the long view of the investigation. Starr has placed the president in “a very serious box,” Buchanan says, where he is vulnerable to charges of perjury, suborning of perjury, and obstruction of justice. Meanwhile, the pundits scoff at the trial balloon reported on the CBS Evening News Friday night and semisourced to the White House: Clinton and Lewinsky only played kissy face.

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Michael Gordon (Washington Week in Review) calls Kofi Annan’s deal with Saddam Hussein–Issue 2–more a “truce than a final settlement.” Most of the pundits (notably Susan Page of Late Edition and George Stephanopoulos of ABC’s This Week) fall in line behind Gordon, expressing relief that there is no war and applauding the agreement in principle, but predicting that the whole conflict will be revisited in a couple of months. The conservatives strafe the deal, because the U.N. secretary-general did the legwork. “This is what happens when you subcontract American foreign policy,” says Kate O’Beirne (Capital Gang). The United States is now “hostage to the secretary-general,” says George Will (This Week). Fringe artist John McLaughlin complains on his show that the United States is still “frozen into a military response” to the crisis, when the proper response should be more diplomacy.

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Issue 3, Rep. Bill Paxon’s announcement that he’s leaving politics when his term ends, so shocks the pundits that some of them (O’Beirne, Al Hunt on Capital Gang) accept his advertised reason–the standard Washington lie that he wants to spend more time with his family. O’Beirne and Hunt should be disbarred for their simple-mindedness.

Washington-Go-Round: Michael Duffy on Washington Week in Review: “Ken Starr was investigating the White House for investigating Ken Starr for investigating the White House.”

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Ad Hominem of the Week: Mark Shields on Capital Gang: “Bob and Geraldine Novak have two lovely children who are adults and are so because, in large part, Bob didn’t spend time on them when they were babies.”

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How to Watch Washington Week in Review: Back to front. The show vainly leads each week with a high-minded story designed to appeal to good-government liberals. This week’s top item (yawn): the scuttling of McCain-Feingold. As usual, Washington Week doesn’t get around to the week’s real thing (Flytrap) until the closer. Even though Washington Week’s treatment of Flytrap is inordinately polite, it is worth watching–but only if you don’t watch the rest of the show first.

This Week With ADM? Less than a month ago, ABC abandoned the serviceable name of This Week for the overfamiliar This WeekWith Sam & Cokie. This week the show switched to This Week With Sam Donaldson & Cokie Roberts. Fending off its diligent and talented copy editors, Pundit Central rejects the new name as too long and too inelegant for even a first mention. Henceforth, this column will refer to the show as This Week until either Donaldson or Roberts wins top billing.

Jack Shafer

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