Pundit Central

The Marathon’s Middle

The Marathon’s Middle

GET “PUNDIT CENTRAL” BY E-MAIL!

For Monday morning delivery of Pundit Central, plus “Today’s Papers” (daily) and “International Papers” (Tuesday and Friday), click here.

The China summit having wrapped up, the commentariat dedicates itself to a thorough post-mortem. The entire opinion mafia applauds Clinton for his human rights comments, but a number of pundits find fault with his other statements. Issue 2 is the continuing Kenneth Starr-Bill Clinton drama.

Question for readers: Have you ever watched an entire marathon–from start to finish–on television? Pundit Central hasn’t either. He suspects that, sometime during the middle of the race, network commentators simply unplug their mikes, relax with a mai tai, and plug back in at race’s end. This is what the Starr-Clinton opinion mafia is up to right now. Sunday’s scandal opining, even by the standards of the last two months, is noticeably meandering.

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement

On Issue 1, many commentators reprise last week’s main point–Clinton deserves praise for being tough on human rights. Tony Blankley (CNN’s Late Edition) claims credit for Clinton’s tough stance on behalf of the entire commentariat–“I don’t think Clinton would have [talked tough] without the prodding of commentators in our position.”

A few notes of discontent rise over the applause. Employees of the Weekly Standard (Fred Barnes, Fox News Sunday; Bill Kristol, ABC’s This Week) are horrified by Clinton’s stated belief that Jiang Zemin is the right leader for China. We can work with a dictator, believes Kristol, but we don’t have to pretend we approve of him. The second bone of contention is Taiwan. According to Mark Shields (PBS’s NewsHour With Jim Lehrer), Clinton’s statements effectively “deny self-determination” to 21 million people. Shields is joined by Pat Buchanan and Barnes, who think Clinton was a coward to give pro-mainland statements.

Advertisement

Paul Gigot (NewsHour) gives the standard human rights justification for expanding trade: Rising profits will lift human rights boats. Shields vividly criticizes this approach: He doesn’t believe that “the people in the slave labor camps are going to feel those lashes a lot less seriously because profits are rising.” Robert Novak (CNN’s Capital Gang) thinks that, whatever one thinks about China’s government, the United States cannot do much to change matters. David Gergen (The McLaughlin Group) believes the trip shows that China, not Japan, is the most powerful country in Asia right now.

Advertisement

Issue 2–Starr vs. Clinton–has two new developments: Linda Tripp testified, and a district judge threw out the case against Webster Hubbell. No one knows what Tripp said. Everyone thinks the district court’s opinion, which used harsh language about Starr’s tactics, further erodes Starr’s credibility. The opinion also strengthens Monica Lewinsky’s hand, notes George Stephanopoulos (This Week), because she can reasonably refuse to give a preview of her testimony, since the opinion holds that Starr misused Hubbell’s preview.

Advertisement

A few pundits wonder whether Clinton will take the Fifth if subpoenaed. Others guess when Starr will deliver a report to Congress. Wolf Blitzer (Late Edition) and Tim Russert (NBC’s Meet the Press) ask Starr’s spokesperson this very question about 10 different times, but he declines to respond in each instance. Most pundits agree that Congress doesn’t want the report until after the elections–Richard Ben-Veniste (Meet the Press) gets off the crack that Congress awaits a report as “Dracula awaits the sun.”

A number of shows also weigh in on CNN NewsStand’s retraction of a story alleging American soldiers nerve-gassed American defectors in Laos. A few conservatives argue that the story was not only untrue but also the work of anti-military left-wingers. Others argue that a competitive news environment is to blame.

Advertisement
Advertisement

This Is What I Think, Except When I Don’t: It is conventional wisdom this week that Starr is in the middle of a legal losing streak (he also lost a Supreme Court case recently), exposing him to charges of being a rogue prosecutor. Gigot believes this may make no difference, since “[I]t doesn’t matter how corrupt you think the messenger is, or how partisan, if the case [presented to Congress] is strong itself.” Is this the same Paul Gigot who argued the exact opposite one month ago? Yes it is! At that Flytrap moment, Ken Starr had won 11 legal victories and lost none. Gigot argued that Starr’s victories had “a political echo or consequence” in Congress, namely they make impeachment proceedings more likely. Well, which is it: Do swings in Starr’s reputation affect Clinton or not? Gigot would have us believe the following: If Starr rises, Clinton falls; but if Starr falls, Clinton doesn’t rise.

Double Dribble Is Back: Mark Shields repeats the same Mary McGrory quotation on both Capital Gang and NewsHour, even mentioning McGrory’s Pulitzer both times. The bizarre bit is that this particular quotation–Clinton “rises to the occasion” during important presidential moments–seems noticeably ordinary.

Bruce Gottlieb

Advertisement