The battle over the confirmation hearings of Attorney General designate John Ashcroft is just the latest opportunity for CBS star Bryant Gumbel to attack conservative guests and lay the red carpet out for liberals.
On Tuesday morning, Gumbel interviewed two black men on opposite sides of the Ashcroft fight: Charles Polk, a supporter of Ashcroft's, and Wade Henderson, an opponent from the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights. He began simply with Polk: "How do you view the uproar over his nomination?"
Polk stressed that charges of Ashcroft's mistreatment of black judicial nominees seemed odd since he voted for 26 of 27 black nominees in the Clinton era.
Gumbel countered: "The 27th, of course, was Ronnie White, who was denied a federal judgeship by John Ashcroft. Can you deny that he distorted Mr. White's record and basically engaged in what some would kindly call character assassination?"
Polk protested: "He didn't vote for one and all of a sudden we want to hang the man over that. That, to me, I don't think is fair to him."
Gumbel launched into a series of antagonistic assertions: "Let me ask you this, if his views on race are so color blind, how do you account for all the opposition that has been mounted against him?" Polk insisted: "I don't think you see all this furor except from just maybe a few people." Gumbel snapped back: "Well, it's more than a few people. You keep talking about the elections he won. What about the one he lost to a man who had been dead for three weeks, primarily because blacks came out in force against him?"
Polk said one election doesn't mean that much and that Ashcroft "will have a chance today to state the facts in this record." Gumbel jumped in: "Facts are, he opposes abortion, he opposes affirmative action..." Polk countered: "Fifty percent of the American public does."
Gumbel kept talking over Polk as he raised his hand to signal him to wait: "He opposes gay rights, he opposes gun control. Is it realistic to think he can ignore his own moral code?" Polk answered that he's done it for 25 years.
But Henderson heard softer and fewer questions, since he gave longer, unchallenged answers. Gumbel began: "What troubles you the most about the nomination of John Ashcroft?" Henderson found him "too extreme," leading Gumbel to offer a single semi-challenging question: "He has said he'll respect the laws of the land despite his personal convictions. What's the problem? You just not believe that?"
Gumbel asked Henderson: "If he's so much of an extremist liability as you claim, what's his nomination say about George W. Bush and his claims of compassionate conservatism?" If he cared about balance, Gumbel could have observed Wolf Blitzer's interviews on Monday night (see box). He doesn't. - Rich Noyes