HH: It’s been a week of extraordinary news, and I can think of no two people I’d rather conclude with some analysis with than the Fox News Channel’s Beltway Boys. Morton Kondracke, the executive editor of Roll Call, Fred Barnes, the executive editor of the Weekly Standard, together, you can watch them tomorrow night at 6PM on the Fox News Channel, 3:00 in the West, it repeats later. Gentlemen, I want to start off, I’ve talked to Howard Kurtz, Tim Rutten, Mark Steyn, Lileks, John Podhoretz, Mickey Kaus, and now Michael Welner, the psychiatrist many Americans are getting to know. All of them condemn unequivocally, and in harsh terms, the decision of NBC to broadcast the tapes of the killer. Morton Kondracke, what did you think of NBC’s decision?
MK: You know, I actually disagree with all of you. I think that his ranting and so on deserve coverage. I think the incessant replaying of it over and over and over again was excessive, but I though the coverage of it was in general excessive. I mean, it was a big news story, there’s no question about that. But the fact that we had wall to wall Virginia Tech, all week long, with nothing else, nothing about Iraq, nothing about, practically, about Alberto Gonzales, I just thought was overkill. But I think that the NBC part of it, I think they should have played some of that, and then reported the fact that they had it, and then been done with it.
HH: Fred Barnes?
FB: Well, you know, I thought what Mort did, and I realized of course the ethic of journalism today is anything goes, we’ll do whatever we want, whatever we think might be good to put on television, we will. And then in truth, and I don’t say this to puff you up, Hugh, I read your piece, and then I also read Michael Welner’s comments on ABC, and it changed my mind totally, because it’s clear now that that was not the real assassin there, as Welner said, and I know you’ve talked to him as well, that that was somebody else. In fact, Cho Seung Hui was actually meek and lonely and withdrawn, and so on, and not some macho guy acting like a suicide bomber, that that’s not really who he was. So this was not a great insight into this person, which of course the head of NBC News claimed it was.
HH: Let me play for you the second cut I have of Welner ready, in which I asked him for advice to the media.
MW: I would liken what NBC did to the release of a toxic cloud. And once you release it, if you continue to release it, it compounds the problem. If you allow it to spread and to be accessible, it compounds the problem and access to it. And so what you have to do once the mistake has been made is to simply shut it off, in order to contain fallout. And so the answer to a news organization receiving a package is, I would say well, what would you do if somebody mailed you anthrax? Would you open it because of the media’s right to know?
HH: Morton, he also had very moving comments about the devastating effect of his tape and photos on the survivors of the victims. But going forward, I think his analysis of the triggers this provides to marginally stable people is compelling.
MK: Well, look, there…I can’t remember what happened after Columbine, whether there were videos or what there were, but it’s clear that there’s enough violent, provocative material all over the place, including the Matrix movies and all of that, that you know, you don’t have to look at Cho to get inspired if you want to be a killer. It’s just all around in our society, and I don’t think that the NBC tape, I think the excessive playing of the NBC tape undoubtedly inflicted damage in Virginia, at Virginia Tech, but I don’t think that the initial playing of it had that much effect. I think the hyper-abundant coverage of the whole thing is as likely to inspire a copycat as the NBC tape.
HH: And Fred Barnes, I posed that defense to Welner specifically, and he rejects it, and he also goes on to say media executives have got to understand what they don’t know, and they do not know psychosis, and they’re feeding it with these tapes. It’s a devastating indictment of our business.
FB: It was a devastating indictment, particularly coming from someone who’s a forensic psychiatrist, and you know, I think, I think, however, in NBC’s defense, I would say one thing. If the had had Michael Welner sitting in the room when they made this decision, I think they would have made the opposite decision, because the case he makes against using it, this toxic cloud, is just absolutely compelling. And also, there’s this one other aspect to it as well. It is a reward for what was done by the assassin. That’s why we put it on. It’s a reward. It allows him, he knew that…that’s why he mailed it to NBC. He knew it would get on the air, because he was going to kill all these other people, too, and that he would die, probably. And so, his wishes were granted. His great wish to be on television saying this stuff was granted.
HH: I was on a panel with Capus on Monday, I know he’s a decent guy, but I think you’re right. But they did not get outside of the cloister.
HH: And that’s the problem. Well, I’ve got to get to the other news, gentlemen, because there’s so much happening. I want to get to a sort of lower story, but one that I just think people need to know about. Paul Wolfowitz is being smeared. The smear continues, Fred Barnes.
FB: It does.
HH: Can they force him out?
FB: Well, it hasn’t yet, and he’s much like Alberto Gonzales. He’s got support from the one person that matters, and that’s President Bush. And I think Bush will continue to support him. The problem has been really the press, because they have told a false story, they’ve responded to leaks, and rather than of course, the truth is, rather than Wolfowitz intervening to out of the blue, create a lucrative pay raise for his lover, or his girlfriend, the fact is he tried to separate himself from an entirely, the Ethics Committee at the World Bank said no, no, you have to handle it, and we’re going to have to give her more money, because she’s going to have to move as a result of you’re becoming a World Bank president. So he offers up a proposal, and now, he’s pilloried for intervening and being unprofessional, and showing favoritism and all this stuff. It’s a completely phony indictment.
HH: Now I want to move to Alberto Gonzales. If Wolfowitz survives, is he going to be seeing a new Attorney General or the existing Attorney General around town, Morton?
MK: I think ultimately, Gonzales is going to have to go, that he’ll resign. He has no credibility whatever on Capitol Hill, and that’s at least a major part of his job as the Attorney General, is to be able to get stuff done, represent the administration, and I just think he’s such a weak administrator, and such a weak witness, that nobody’s going to take him seriously.
HH: Fred Barnes, you agree?
FB: Well, I agree that he’s a weak witness and a weak Attorney General, and he may be over his head there. On the other hand, I don’t think you fire someone for clumsiness, and you don’t fire them particularly when they’re victims of a completely bogus investigation by Senate Democrats. So I think Bush has to keep him. That is the only honorable thing to do under the circumstances.
HH: Morton Kondracke, in a statement with no parallel in American history, the majority leader of the United States Senate declared a war lost, when in fact it isn’t, and when in fact combat’s underway. Does he pay, Harry Reid pay a political price for this…it’s not even defeatism. I don’t know what you call this.
MK: Well, it’s surrender, and you know, people say that our troops are dying in vain, and then they pull that back. This is in effect what Harry Reid said, that every person who’s dying there is dying in vain, and he realized that he’d made a boo-boo, so he immediately said oh, no, no, no, if we persist in President Bush’s policy, then we will fail. But you know, and he said more outrageously, he said that we Democrats, above all, want America to succeed in the Middle East. Now that is a flat lie. The Democrats are, I’m sorry to say this, are totally invested in American failure in Iraq, because they were against the war in the main, or at least they came around to being against the war. And if we were to win, they would be discredited.
HH: Fred Barnes, does he pay a price on a further down the road basis when we get back to the polls in ’08?
FB: Gee, you know, I wish I could say for sure he will, but I really don’t think so. You know, Democrats get a break from the press, you know? The press will say oh, well, that’s Harry Reid saying something, and they don’t get upset about it. If a Republican in similar circumstances said that, of course, it would be Krakatoa. They’d go crazy, the press would. But if indeed the surge and the new counterinsurgency strategy succeed, and I think they have a pretty good chance of doing that, then maybe at some later date, people like Harry Reid will be held accountable. But you know, Republicans will, but whether the media will go along, I tend to doubt.
HH: You know, Morton, and we’ve got about a minute, he’s defining success in Iraq as the absence of bombings. And while that is clearly one of the goals, it isn’t the success in Iraq, because there’s violence still in Morocco, Tunisia, Algeria. It’s a level of violence that has to be maintained at a low level that would define success.
MK: Well, look, he thinks that Iraq is in the midst of a civil war, and that we can’t stop it, and that the only thing we ought to do is to pull out of Baghdad, and have a reserve there to fight al Qaeda. And I keep asking, well, suppose al Qaeda goes into Baghdad, which it will, in Sunni areas. How are we going to fight them? I just…this whole…it makes so sense what the Democrats are up to.
HH: Fred, last 20 seconds? Does that…
FB: Well, it does make sense in terms of politics. Harry Reid said the other day, you’ll recall, that Democrats were going to win Senate seats because of this war. I’ve seen the numbers that Chuck Schumer has brought me. They are compelling and astounding.
HH: Wow. Okay, I didn’t know that. I missed that story. We’ll watch tomorrow night for more on the Beltway Boys at 6 in the East, 3 in the West.
End of interview.