The ongoing news coverage of the pope's death pleased a lot of Americans - especially the stirring live coverage of the papal funeral on April 5, when the TV networks did a nice job of mixing silence and expert commentary. The cable networks even respectfully replayed the ceremony in prime time. But in the midst of it all, there were those journalists who had to, just had to, find a way to criticize President Bush.
On April 3, NBC's "Today" show bizarrely found the makings of civil war after perusing the list of presidents attending the papal funeral. President Jimmy Carter was missing from the list! A snub! Pass it on! Katie Couric began the show by fussing: "the question some people are asking is 'Where's President Carter in all this?' Are the Bushes and the Carters the modern day version of the Hatfields and the McCoys?"
"Some people," my eye. Remember this family-feud line the next time you hear someone say talk radio wildly overstates things, while the news media are much more restrained in tone. Does Katie mean to suggest that next, the Bushes and the Carters will start tying each other to fence posts and unloading their rifles?
Diplomatic correspondent Andrea Mitchell was trotted in to fret about the poor, deprived Nobel-winning statesman: "You have to wonder why the White House couldn't have asked the Vatican to permit one more person in the Basilica, particularly a Nobel laureate who actually worked on Third World issues with John Paul II. And it seems as though this snub may have had something to do with Carter's strong criticism of the President at last summer's Democratic convention." (That would be the gut-punching speech in which Carter suggested Bush was an extremist and a liar.) Matt Lauer insisted that someone needed to make room for Jimmy: "Why doesn't Secretary of State Rice step aside and say, 'You take my spot...former President Carter?'"
Why does NBC love Jimmy Carter so? Neither ABC nor CBS led their show with this non-story. They didn't even do a story. As National Review's Kate O'Beirne pointed out, President Carter could have attended either one of the two papal funerals in 1978, but sent other family members in his place. You would think NBC could mention that fact to balance out their story. They didn't.
And for all of Andrea Mitchell's claims about all the joint Third World projects Carter and the Pope jointly worked on, try and find NBC News reporting on them. There isn't any. A quick glance at the search engine of the former president's Carter Center website offers only two mentions of Pope John Paul: when both men were honored by the Rotarians in 1994, and Carter's press statement on the Pope's death. Not even Carter finds whatever he did with the pontiff to be noteworthy.
The NBC outrage is also weird considering that at least publicly, the Carter Center stated there was no problem. Spokesman Jon Moore said Carter expressed a desire to attend, but when told the delegation would only be five people, Carter was "quite willing" to withdraw and was "very pleased" with the delegation. Carter later released his own statement as well: "There has been no dissension between me and the White House concerning the Pope's funeral."
NBC ignored these statements and continued to obsess over the alleged snub. On Wednesday's "NBC Nightly News," anchor (and former Carter intern) Brian Williams insisted from Rome that "the arrival here tonight of three U.S. Presidents has some asking why Jimmy Carter isn't a part of the official American delegation." Why not just replace the word "some" with the words "a few of us Carter fans at NBC" and get to the point? On MSNBC's "Countdown," fill-in host Alison Stewart asked, profoundly, "Is this a big presidential diss?" and expressed surprise to Andrea Mitchell that "the Air Force One presidential club took off without the Nobel Peace Prize winner."
On the April 4 Today, Matt Lauer raised the subject with Tim Russert, who made it sound like The Snub would go down in history, like the fall of the Berlin Wall. "I'm not sure we'll ever know the true facts until the biographies come out," he predicted. Two hours later, Katie Couric pressed an Archbishop: "Were you surprised...that President Carter was not a part of the delegation given the fact that the Pope visited President Carter at the White House?"
NBC wasn't covering news. NBC was trying to create news that would embarrass George W. Bush, while showering, yet again, their affection on Jimmy Carter and underline that he is a Nobel prize winner, the global peacemaker. Somehow it doesn't matter that he was the worst president of the 20th century, and no one cared whether he traveled to Rome or not.