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THE CASE OF THE VACUOUS PRESS CORPS! Wasting time with worthless “experts,” Meet the Press showed us what the corps lacks:


HARDY BOYS BOOKS WERE SMARTER THAN THIS: The following conversation is numbingly worthless. Unfortunately, it opened yesterday’s Meet the Press segment about the sniper killings:

TIM RUSSERT: And we are back. Welcome all. John Walsh, what kind of person or persons would kill innocent men, women and children?

WALSH: Well, this is my opinion, that it’s a homegrown American psycho, someone that is relishing in their 15 minutes of fame, which has now been extended past the 15 minutes of fame; somebody that’s relatively smart and very, very lucky. They figured out, you know, how to kill people, how to terrorize an area, how to cross jurisdictions and how to get away fast—get on a beltway, get on a street—they know the area very well, but, you know, all these theories that it may be terrorist related I think is bunk. If it’s terrorist related, you know what? The terrorists would be doing it in Los Angeles right now. They’d be doing it in New York. They’d be paralyzing those cities.

JAMES FOX: Let us know who they are.

WALSH: Yeah.

FOX: They would not want us to think that it’s some psycho from the D.C. area.

WALSH: Yeah. Yeah.

FOX: They would want to take credit for it.

WALSH: Absolutely.

FOX: They also wouldn’t be shooting just ordinary people.

WALSH: Right.

FOX: They would be going after prime targets. And certainly they wouldn't be using language like, “I am God.” So I would agree with you, it’s not terrorism.

WALSH: …When this guy is caught—and he will be caught; believe me, he will make a mistake and the American public will be the one that breaks this case—it probably will not be law enforcement, we’ll see that it’s just another homegrown American psychopath who wants to play God and loves his 15 minutes of fame.

Let’s say it: Walsh and Fox have no way of knowing who is behind these killings. In particular, they simply don’t know if the killer is al Qaeda-related. But clearly, these “experts” don’t know that they don’t know—and their type now dominates “news channel” chatter. Yesterday, we were reduced to having their blather kill time on Meet the Press.

Read through the transcript of this worthless session. Russert’s questions ranged from the fatuous to the incomprehensible, and the “experts” are anything but. In the past few weeks, for example, Candice DeLong has been unavoidable on our air. But how hapless is this ballyhooed “expert?” Stunningly hapless. Read this:

RUSSERT: Candice Delong, before we go, what should a prospective witness, how should one prepare to be a witness?

DeLONG: Well, if I was in the vicinity of hearing a shot—


DeLONG: —after I took cover, I would immediately start looking around. Look for a vehicle that’s leaving the area quickly. Look for someone getting in a vehicle. And don’t rule out the possibility that the shooter may change vehicles. I can’t imagine—I’m wondering why he hasn’t changed vehicles yet.

RUSSERT: Don’t have tunnel vision simply looking for a white van.

DeLONG: Correct, correct. And—

RUSSERT: And jot numbers down.

DeLONG: Jot numbers down.

How far has America’s discourse devolved? We’re reduced to learning on Meet the Press that we ought to look for a getaway car, and that we ought to jot license plates down! But in the midst of all the low-IQ chatter came a puzzling claim from DeLong—the claim that the sniper “hasn’t changed vehicles yet.” On what basis can the brilliant gumshoe say this? On Saturday night, the sheriff in Hanover County explicitly said he had “no credible description of a suspect vehicle.” Any schlemiel watching TV knew this; unsurprisingly, our high-octane “expert” did not. Finally, Walsh noted that the sniper may well have changed cars. But what does it mean that the brilliant DeLong can make such stunningly uninformed comments? Average viewers know more facts than the “experts” peddled on Meet the Press. Russert, by the way, didn’t challenge DeLong’s peculiar misstatement.

What does it mean? What does it mean that this addled discussion was offered on what was once our leading mainstream news show? It shows many things about our current press culture—its lack of seriousness; its lack of judgment; its love of repetition and thirst for familiar characters. But mainly it showed a troubling trait—it showed our press corps’ lack of intelligence. In the long run, democracy can’t work where the fatuous rule. Do the fatuous now rule your “press corps?” More tomorrow on the choice of topics on this Sunday’s talk shows.

YOU WON’T HAVE TO WORRY YOUR PRETTY LITTLE HEADS: Before Meet the Press began its sniper coverage, Russert interviewed Colin Powell. Russert asked Powell about the charge that the Admin withheld news about North Korea:

RUSSERT: Many Democrats are now expressing grave concern they were not told about the situation with North Korea before they voted on a resolution for Iraq. Should the administration not have told Congress, members of both parties, so they had this information about North Korea and had a chance to weigh it, as they cast their vote on Iraq?

POWELL: It’s an absolutely false charge. We began briefing Congress on the existence of this program in early September. Once we had our facts straight, once we were sure of the information, beginning about the 10th of September, we began to brief different members of Congress. A number of them took the briefing; others were not available. We briefed their staffers, and there’s a whole series of briefings still waiting to go to members of Congress. After Assistant Secretary Kelly got back from North Korea with the news that the North Koreans had admitted this, we also then began briefing people around the 10th of October. So we have kept Congress briefed on this. Not all members of Congress. But it is not right to charge the administration with not having told Congress that we were concerned about what North Korea was doing and we had evidence that they were participating in activities to enrich uranium. Congress has known this. Members of Congress and both parties, both houses, have known this since beginning about the 10th of September.

RUSSERT: The Democratic leadership of Congress.

POWELL: I can get for anyone who wishes to see it the entire list of briefings. It goes to about two-and-a-half pages long.

Powell left a plain impression—the Congress, in fact, had been briefed. It was odd, then, to hear Trent Lott on yesterday’s Late Edition. Had the White House briefed Dems, as Powell claimed? According to Lott, he himself had not been briefed about the Korea matter. We’re relying on the CNN transcript; watching the show, Lott’s disavowal of knowledge was clear:
BLITZER: Senator Lott, there’s been reports that the White House did not, did not inform you about the latest North Korean admission about developing a nuclear bomb in advance of the vote on Iraq authorizing the president to use military force if necessary. Should they have at least informed you, the top Republican, the minority leader of the U.S. Senate, of that bombshell?

LOTT: Well, certainly it's very troublesome to hear that the North Koreans have been going forward with this secret system to develop nuclear weapons, even after they promised not to do it in multiple accords. And they’ve been getting economic aid because of it. As to when we were notified and how, I’m not sure that the mistake was made there. I did not know before the Iraq vote. We were getting briefings as we went along, but they were focused on Iraq and the terrorist threat. So I don’t know quite what the timing was.

Clearly, Lott seemed to contradict Powell. But if you read the Washington Post, you won’t have to worry your pretty little heads about the apparent contradiction. In this morning’s paper, Michael Fletcher couches Powell’s remarks in a much more general way, and he forgets to mention what Lott said. Fletcher’s reassuring lead? “Two of the Bush administration’s top foreign policy officials yesterday refuted charges that the administration withheld North Korea’s admission of a nuclear weapons program from key congressional Democrats.” By the way, note how Fletcher’s quotes from Condoleezza Rice do not address the charge in question. Maybe Fletcher don’t reed reel gud. But his performance is baldly incompetent.

Of course, this is nothing new for the Post. On two successive recent Sundays, ombudsman Michael Getler used his column to complain about the Post’s Iraq coverage—in particular, to complain about the paper’s failure to report anti-war statements by major public figures. And the press corps in general has been very lax in pursuing the Administration for puzzling misstatements. You know the values of that Washington “press corps!” They were very concerned by the thought that Al Gore was dissembling about those troubling earth tones. (They produced no evidence that he was, by the way.) But when Rice said that no one could have dreamed of planes flying into buildings; or when Bush said that an IAEA report has settled a matter; or when Powell says one thing, and Lott says another—the trembling, frightened boys and girls slink off and forget to discuss it. Dissembling about war? That’s A-OK. Dissembling about clothes? Deeply troubling. So deeply troubling that the boy and girls were prepared to pretend that it happened.

Does this issue actually matter? Apparently, America’s major talk hosts think it does; the question was raised on most Sunday shows, and Lott plainly seemed to contradict Powell. If the question was worth asking, the contradiction deserves resolution. As usual, though, the rapidly devolving Washington Post took a pass on the contradiction. Let’s see if anyone else tries to scan it. Or is it A-OK to say what’s untrue, so long as you don’t discuss clothing?