Jewish World Review Dec. 16, 2002 / 11 Teves, 5763


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Lott jury and flogging post | A Bob Schieffer question on Face the Nation said everything anyone needed to know about the weekend talk shows.

Senator Joe Biden, D-Del, just back from a tour of the explosive Gulf States region, was greeted this way by host Schieffer: "Obviously, the first thing we have to ask about is Trent Lott."

The shows were almost wall-to-wall jury verdicts on Senator Trent Lott, R-Miss, (guilty!) or opportunities for bipartisan flogging of his comments, his apologies, and his capacity to lead. Republicans and conservative pundits offered the harshest criticism, while most Democrats, possibly enjoying the meltdown, insisted that Lott's fate was an internal Republican matter.

David Brooks of the Weekly Standard, on The News Hour, is the presumptive "Pundit of the Week. Brooks has the advantage of going first, on Friday night, but his analysis played out as the Sunday shows unfolded. Speaking of Senate Republicans, Brooks observed:

"They're not waiting for the body to be cold, because there's a lot of maneuvering going on. And one of the things all the candidates are aware of is that the person who sticks the knife in is not the person who naturally [gets] the job. There is no interest [or] anybody's interest in being the first one to say, I'm against Trent Lott, because there are a lot of people who remain supportive of Trent Lott and you want to win the voters of those people if you are going to run for the Majority Leader. So you have got to seem somewhat supportive of Lott and then slip it."

Host George Stephanopolous offered "the person who sticks the knife" on This Week. In a ballyhooed exclusive that was picked up on other shows while in progress, Stephanopolous reported that Senator Don Nickles, R-Ok, had become the first Republican to express reservations about Lott's capacity to lead. Stephanopolous called it a "cluster bomb," while the Washington Post's George Will said it was "a pebble, but it could start an avalanche."

Meanwhile, Senator Mitch McConnell, R-Ky, a potential successor, appeared on Fox News Sunday and This Week to support Lott, while Senator Rick Santorum, R-Penn, another ambitious potential successor, did the same on Meet the Press. Both took great pains to stress that President Bush was the image of the Republican Party, not Trent Lott.

McConnell issued a "threat" to those who might want the Senate to censure Lott. A resolution of censure is "amendable," McConnell observed, and amendments adding others, such as Senator Robert Byrd, D-WVa, could be introduced. Byrd used the "n" word on Fox News Sunday many months ago.

Somewhat surprisingly, Kweisi Mfume, leader of the NAACP, did not object to adding others to a resolution of censure during his appearance on This Week. He charged that there was "no diversity in the Senate."

Senator Carl Levin, D-Mich, on Meet the Press, said he would only support a censure resolution that was "bipartisan."

There were short segments on other topics, but the President's new economic team, the resignations of George Mitchell and Henry Kissinger from the 9/11 Commission, North Korean nukes, and the UN weapons inspectors in Iraq got short shrift amidst the Trent Lott vortex.


Syndicated columnist Mark Shields, basking in the Republican crisis on The News Hour, still couldn't help but speculate on what might have been if only Strom Thurmond's had been born a few months earlier. The Trent Lott tribute would have impacted the November elections and avoided Democratic losses.


Congressman John Lewis, D-Ga, a veteran of the Civil Rights Movement, suggested on Meet the Press that the Mississippi Senator accompany him on a spring trip to visit historic sites in Montgomery, Selma, and Birmingham, Alabama.

Retiring Congressman J. C. Watts, R-Ok, under far more difficult questioning by host Tim Russert than Lewis received, suggested Lott meet with TV personality/journalist Travis Smiley and the NAACP's Kweisi Mfume.

Brit Hume of Fox, noting that Lott will continue his "apology tour" on Monday with an appearance on Black Entertainment Television, suggested additional events: "On Tuesday, crawl on broken glass; on Wednesday, lie on a bed of hot coals; on Thursday, submit to a public flogging."

J. C. Watts said Lott could crawl across Mississippi on hands and knees and critics still wouldn't think it was enough.


Mark Shields on The News Hour and the Wall Street Journal's Al Hunt on Capital Gang sung the praises of Mississippi's junior Senator, Thad Cochran, R-Miss, for succeeding in Lott's state without "playing the race card." It was the first time Punditwatch recalls Cochran being praised by the pair, except when he signed on to Senator John McCain, R-Ariz, crusade.


Kate O'Beirne, National Review, on Capital Gang: "Thoughtless and careless."

Rich Lowry, National Review, on Face the Nation: "Ineffective and clumsy."

George Will on This Week: "Inadequate mediocrity."


Tom Friedman of the New York Times, appearing on Meet the Press, was the only pundit not asked for his take on Trent Lott.


I don't think he can, I don't think he will, and I don't think he should. -William Bennett, on Face the Nation

He should not, cannot, and will not. -Fareed Zakaria, Newsweek, on This Week

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PunditWatch is written by JWR contributor Will Vehrs. Comment by clicking here.

12/09/02: Issues overwhelm pundits
12/02/02: Real news and pundit news
11/25/02: In a muddle, Saudis rise to the top


© 2002, Will Vehrs