Pundit Central

Beijing or Bust

Beijing or Bust

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The death of the tobacco bill and Clinton’s upcoming visit to China vie for the Issue 1 berth. Steve Brill is Issue 3. A raft of unfocused speculation about Monica Lewinsky’s next move is Issue 4.

All the pundits save John McLaughlin (The McLaughlin Group) agree Clinton should use his China tour to publicly spank the Chinese for human rights abuses. (McLaughlin thinks “Asiatic” leaders ought to be chided behind closed doors.) Eleanor Clift (The McLaughlin Group) believes Clinton needs to flatter his hosts as well as confront them–she terms it “a delicate dance.”

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Steve Roberts (CNN’s Late Edition) worries Clinton will “wimp out.” Clift points out that Clinton made critical comments during Jiang Zemin’s recent visit to the United States and predicts he will toe the same line in China. All the hot air expended on China disproves the idea that Americans don’t care about foreign policy, notes a grinning John Harris (PBS’s Washington Week in Review).

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The anti-tobacco bill is dead because Big Tobacco bought the Republican senators, charges Margaret Carlson (CNN’s Capital Gang). True enough, agrees Al Hunt, but let’s not forget that the trial lawyers bought the Democrats. Paul Gigot (PBS’s NewsHour With Jim Lehrer) disagrees, citing a WSJ/NBC poll taken before the industry’s ad campaign that indicates people viewed the bill primarily as a revenue-raising instrument. Big Tobacco didn’t kill the bill, argues Gigot, the bill killed itself.

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Gigot and Mark Shields (NewsHour) agree that the big loser in the tobacco bill’s death is Bill Clinton. It was his chance to put something in the history books, says Shields. It proves that he is feckless, says Gigot.

Will the vote affect midterm elections? It will hurt the Republicans, predict Shields and Mara Liasson (Washington Week in Review). It will be “a wash,” predicts Gigot, because anti-smoking voters will be balanced by anti-tax voters. Several pundits suggest the Republicans may backtrack by passing a slimmed-down bill to cover up their assassination of this one. (Jeffrey Birnbaum of Washington Week in Review terms this a “tobacco leaf” bill.)

In his second week as press scourge, Steve Brill remains a hot topic. (He appears on this week’s Meet the Press.) Conservatives describe his article as “not an honest piece of work” and “more than sloppiness” and Brill himself as a “slime artist,” who “on fire … will never be doused” (Brit Hume, Fox News Sunday; Tony Blankley, Late Edition; Robert Novak, Capital Gang; Tucker Carlson, The McLaughlin Group). The middle way is best expressed by Howard Kurtz (NBC’s Meet the Press)–he scolds Brill for undisclosed campaign contributions and for overstretching his legal case against Kenneth Starr but applauds him for casting light on the media. Lars-Erik Nelson (Meet the Press) pronounces Brill’s article “a great public service for the American people.”

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What on Earth Are These Two Talking About? John McLaughlin dedicates the final minutes of his show to the proposition that contemporary American culture sneers at fatherhood: Men are regarded as “inseminating instruments, superfluous after that.” McLaughlin’s take is accurate in “a general, nonspecific way,” says Tucker Carlson. Carlson presumably means that anti-father thinking is a widespread belief of which there are no instances.

Would You Say That if He Knocked on Your Door? Gigot’s advice to Starr: Whenever you have the impulse to give an on-the-record interview, you ought to “just sit down, take a Valium, and get over it.”

Well Said: Shields on the Brill flap: “It’s an interesting story, rather than an important story.”

A Message for Kids Who Want To Be Federal Judges Someday: The Seattle showing of Fox News Sunday had all the usual suspects as advertisers (grain brokers, telecommunications firms, luxury car companies) as well as one unexpected spot apparently meant to keep 4- to 6-year-olds off drugs. The ad features a purple cockroach being spread on toast, all the while singing, “I’d rather eat a big old bug, than ever take a stupid drug!”

Bruce Gottlieb

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