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5 March 1999

Smile-a-while: Tony changes his tune

Synopsis: Tony Blankley changed his tune when he appeared for an evening of Hardball.

Commentary by Tony Blankley
Rivera Live, CNBC, 2/24/99

Commentary by Tony Blankley
Hardball, CNBC, 2/25/99

The Odyssey of Homer
Translated by Richmond Lattimore, Harper & Row, 1965

You’ll recall how we howled, just a few weeks ago, when Tony Blankley showed up to play Hardball, and joined his host in an insinuative session about those alleged White House goon squad techniques (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 2/19/99). Chris broke out his best Mafia metaphors, and the gang got dirty and down in the scrum, assuring viewers that White House “thugs” go out and intimidate witnesses. All this was done, needless to say, without actually citing specific cases. Did we mention that this exciting conversation took place on the inventive show Hardball?

Well, five days later, Juanita Broaddrick aired her charges on NBC’s Dateline. The same night, Blankley appeared on Rivera Live--and we praised him for his clear thinking. Many pundits were in full stampede mode, swearing they believed every word Broaddrick said. But Blankley voiced a word of caution, slowing the rush to judgement:

BLANKLEY: I’m not sure why all of us, Republicans and Democrats, liberals and conservatives, have to trot to our predictable positions on this issue. I watched her testimony, or her interview, just now. It was credible, but in my experience as a former prosecutor, I’ve seen people lie persuasively and I’ve seen people tell the truth unpersuasively. I don’t know what the public or even what I think ultimately is the truth to this. [Our emphasis]

The analysts cheered as Blankley held forth. To lynch mobs, accusers always seem truthful. Tony suggested we wait.

Well, the very next night, our new, improved pundit showed up once again to play Hardball. The expectant analysts assembled to watch him, right here at DAILY HOWLER World Headquarters. They just couldn’t wait to see Chris’ face when Blankley voiced his new, improved message. And they knew the rest of the pundits would be startled too, when he offered his winged words of warning. Indeed, when we imagined the effect Blankley’s statement would have, we thought of Athene, daughter of Zeus of the aegis, speaking out at end of the The Odyssey, in her prayer against factional mayhem. We think Professor Lattimore had it just about right in his 1965 translation:

And now they would have killed them all, and given none of them
homecoming, had not Athene, daughter of Zeus of the aegis,
cried out in a great voice and held back all the company:
“Hold back, men of Ithaka, from the weariness of fighting,
So that most soon, and without blood, you can settle everything.”

[Our emphasis]

Phew! Lusty cries rang through the hall as Hardball’s theme song, so familiar, filled the air.

And sure enough, right out of the gate, all the Hardball pundits were quickly saying how credible Mrs. Broaddrick had been. Howard Fineman said she was “pretty convincing,” and that “motive was not a question.” Kellyanne Fitzpatrick offered a confusing statement, but said Mrs. Broaddrick “gave voice to the unspeakable.” A fast-talking host then made it three, offering this declaration:

MATTHEWS: I agree. I can only imagine the horror of it. The fact that she would keep it to herself is not unimaginable to me in the least. What is hard for me to believe is that under any circumstance somebody would come forward and on national television give a blow-by-blow description of such an event in their life.

The pundits were in full stampede mode--they were pretty sure that Bill Had Done It--when Matthews turned to our main man TB, and asked him for his reaction.

MATTHEWS: Tony? Reaction.

All right! The analysts leaned forward in their chairs, eager for Blankley’s recital. We’d finally get to hear the part about credible folks sometimes fibbing! And, given the faith that the analysts place in the noble intentions of Washington pundits, you can probably imagine their total surprise when Blankley’s response went like this:

BLANKLEY: Yeah. Well I’m a little hesitant to give my own opinion. I don’t know that ours on TV are any more accurate than the average person watching the interview. I think the interesting question is what happens if the American public judges she was credible... [Our emphasis]

Say what? He was willing to state his view Wednesday night, with the FOBs on Rivera Live. But now, fallen in with the nattering mob, the nabob was opting for silence! Not a word would be said, on this night at least, about the way that credible witnesses do sometimes fib. And what about all that helpful experience, gained from his prior career in the law? On Wednesday night, it had set him apart from the view of the average person!

The lusty cheering left the room, and the analysts looked about in surprise. Dark muttering came from the scholars’ ranks as they stared in disgust at the Big Screen. A favorite pundit had changed his tune--had taken a pass on disputing the crowd. And again we’d witnessed a telling display of the way modern tribunes play Hardball.

Visit our incomparable archives: Last May, we chuckled when sagacious Walter Shapiro gave an answer that Chris didn’t like. See THE DAILY HOWLER, 5/19/98.

More fun: In June, the AP’s noble scribe Walter Mears didn’t know how modern Hardball is played. See THE DAILY HOWLER, 6/2/98.

Season’s greetings: We almost choked on our egg-nog when even Tom Brokaw served up a big groaner on Hardball. See THE DAILY HOWLER, 12/24/98.

For the record: On February 19, Matthews and Blankley had asserted as fact that White House “thugs” intimidate witnesses. Since then, Mrs. Broaddrick and her lawyer have made it clear: no such conduct occurred in her case. You may be surprised to learn that Chris has yet to discuss this part of Broaddrick’s statement. Amazing, isn’t it? How we can err in lodging one severe charge, then rush swiftly on to the next?