Pundit Central

Tripp to China

Tripp to China

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Issue 1 is the Chinese telecast of President Clinton’s sharp comments to Jiang Zemin. Sometimes gleefully, sometimes grudgingly, the commentariat pronounces Saturday’s telecast an important victory for the United States and Clinton. This week’s obligatory opining on Issue 2–l’affaire Lewinsky–centers on the upcoming grand jury testimony of Linda Tripp.

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Just in time for the Sunday shows, Clinton criticized the crackdown in Tiananmen and China’s general approach to human rights. The televised criticism will have a long-lasting effect, believes Sam Donaldson (ABC’s This Week): “You let a little freedom get started, you can’t stop it.” “Great stuff,” agrees Brit Hume (Fox News Sunday). Robert Novak (CNN’s Capital Gang) is “very proud of the president,” though he believes China’s evolution into a free state will not be sped by lectures.

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Many pundits note that at the outset the trip smelled like a public relations disaster (China refused visas to Radio Free Asia correspondents and arrested several Chinese dissidents). Steve Roberts (CNN’s Late Edition) called it “sticking a finger in the president’s eye.” Nevertheless, the televised debate “redeemed” Clinton in the eyes of Mara Liasson (Fox News Sunday). But a few critical voices point out that the decision to broadcast the debate was Jiang’s, not Clinton’s–further evidence that Clinton is Jiang’s stooge (Cokie Roberts and George Stephanopoulus, This Week; Hume; Steve Roberts).

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The Republican-Democrat role reversal on China policy amazes Steve Roberts–the GOP talks about human rights while Dems defend business interests. “It’s actually enough to make your head spin,” agrees Tucker Carlson (Late Edition). Margaret Carlson (Capital Gang) charges that conservatives profess support for human rights over commerce just to court votes. Conservatives know that they won’t alienate their true constituency–big business–because conservatives don’t control the White House and therefore have no foreign policy teeth. “The farther you are away from power, the more likely you are to bash China,” says Carlson.

The commentariat doesn’t have much that is new to say about Issue 2–l’affaire Lewinsky. Everyone thinks that Monica Lewinsky’s long awaited testimony is just around the corner. Everyone seems tired of waiting. John McLaughlin (The McLaughlin Group) complains that Clinton gets to take a vacation in August while the opinion mafia must hang around swampy Washington just because a new wrinkle might break.

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The only new development is the revelation that Tripp will testify next week. Eleanor Clift (The McLaughlin Group) thinks the timing is suspect–it may be an attempt to steal Clinton’s China thunder. Let’s not forget that Clinton rescheduled the China trip to coincide with the expected Paula Jones trial date, points out Hume. Tripp’s testimony will be a “bombshell,” says Stephanopoulus. Tripp’s testimony is proof that Starr’s inquiry is coming to a close, say others. (Caveat emptor: the same voices that have been predicting a close for months.)

Al Hunt (Capital Gang) alleges that Starr is an out of control prosecutor. Novak attacks the president for his tactics of delay. This is an argument that Novak and Hunt have been having since Day 1 of the scandal.

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Won’t This Hurt Tony Blair’s Feelings? Most of the Sunday shows begin with a brief news report on the China trip delivered by a foreign correspondent. Generally, correspondents strike an air of stern impartiality, just as on the evening news. But not Fox News Sunday’s Jim Angle, who reports, “Jiang went toe-to-toe with Bill Clinton, the smoothest talker in the Western world.”

Pundits Get It Right: Pundit Central, responding to reader mail, has decided to keep stats on the opinion mafia. Last week, Eleanor Clift predicted that China would detarget its missiles, and Michael Barone predicted the outcome of Colombia’s election. Last month, Paul Gigot guessed that Clinton’s scandal would not be resolved during June. All three are correct and earn a point each, though Gigot loses half a point for scoring on a bunt.

Bruce Gottlieb

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