Gumbel's Anti-Ashcroft Harangue; Gibson Demanded Ashcroft's Wife Prove He's Not an "Extremist"; Ashcroft's Religion a Disqualifier
1) The networks relayed anti-school choice Senator Ted Kennedy's attack on Ashcroft for ignoring "the rights of...those black students who were trying to get a decent education." Dan Rather stressed the characterization of Ashcroft as "too far outside the mainstream," but ABC's Peter Jennings actually noted how Ashcroft got to answer "the left wing of the Democratic Party."
2) ABC's Peggy Wehmeyer looked at Ashcroft's Penecostalism and found that "although they may hold conservative moral beliefs," they are, she assured viewers, "far less strident than many fundamentalists. They place a heavy emphasis on forgiveness and racial reconciliation."
3) Bryant Gumbel to a pro-Ashcroft guest: "Can you deny that he distorted Mr. White's record and basically engaged in what some would kindly call character assassination?" To an Ashcroft basher: "What troubles you the most about the nomination of John Ashcroft?" And: "What's his nomination say about George W. Bush and his claims of compassionate conservatism?"
4) CNN's Wolf Blitzer challenged both pro and anti-Ashcroft guests with the other side's best points. He reminded Jesse Jackson of how Republicans "voted unanimously for Janet Reno" and that "Reno personally opposed the death penalty but implemented it."
5) ABC's Charles Gibson demanded John Ashcroft's wife prove he's not an "extremist" as he asserted: "Jesse Jackson has raised questions about whether he fully supports full access by African-Americans to polling places."
6) "It seems almost like a personal spite thing," Geraldo Rivera scolded Bush over picking Ashcroft, adding: "If I were African-American, seeing what happened in Florida and elsewhere during this election, that this might seem to be salt on the wound."
7) "Can a deeply religious person be Attorney General?" So read the headline over a USA Today op-ed by reporter Tony Mauro who argued that if Ashcroft believes "that only Christians have the right answers to the nation's problems, then indeed his vision is too narrow to take the job of Attorney General."
Though during the hearing Ashcroft vehemently denied Kennedy's characterization that the desegregation plan was "voluntary," ABC's Linda Douglass relayed Kennedy's spin in setting up his soundbite: "As Missouri Attorney General Ashcroft blocked a voluntary school desegregation plan."
Only CBS's Bob Schieffer ran a clip of Republican Senator Bob Smith arguing, "If I can vote for Janet Reno, you can vote for John Ashcroft."
Otherwise, the greatest difference amongst the networks came in the tone of the newscast openings announced by the anchors, ranging from ABC's Peter Jennings, who actually employed the term "left wing" as he stressed how Ashcroft "finally got to speak for himself today after days of listening to his critics and the left wing of the Democratic Party," to CBS's Dan Rather who naturally saw Ashcroft through a liberal prism as he emphasized how Ashcroft "tried to deflect talk that his view on civil rights and abortion rights law, among others, put him too far outside the mainstream."
Here, in full, is how the broadcast network anchors opened their January 16 shows:
-- ABC's World News Tonight. Peter Jennings: "Good evening. In the countdown to Inauguration Day John Ashcroft finally got to speak for himself today after days of listening to his critics and the left wing of the Democratic Party. George Bush's nominee for Attorney General told his Senate confirmation hearing where he stood on a variety of sensitive issues and why. These are serious matters involving ideology and partisan politics."
-- CBS Evening News. Dan Rather: "Good evening. This was opening day of the first major political battle of the incoming Bush administration. At his Senate confirmation hearing Attorney General designate, John Ashcroft of Missouri, tried to deflect talk that his view on civil rights and abortion rights law, among others, put him too far outside the mainstream for Americans to have full confidence he would enforce all the laws. The larger context includes President-elect Bush's pledge to be a uniter not a divider, and a test for Bush's future judicial appointments, including those to the Supreme Court."
-- NBC Nightly News. Tom Brokaw: "Good evening from the nation's capital. And the spotlight today intensified for George W. Bush's choice for Attorney General, John Ashcroft." (Brokaw moved on to the Clinton lesion.)
ABC tasked its religion reporter, Peggy Wehmeyer, to check out Ashcroft's Pentecostalism. She stressed that "although they may hold conservative moral beliefs," Pentecostals "are far less strident than many fundamentalists. They place a heavy emphasis on forgiveness and racial reconciliation."
Introducing her Tuesday World News Tonight piece, the religion earned some backward admiration from anchor Peter Jennings who emphasized how their views are "less rigid than fundamentalism."
Wehmeyer explained the basic beliefs of Pentecostals
and how their "emotional worship" is what "scares"
some people as others worry about the ability of believers like Ashcroft
to separate church and state. After allowing an Ashcroft friend to dispel
any such concern, Wehmeyer assured viewers:
"What troubles you the most about the nomination of John Ashcroft?" Bryant Gumbel asked a liberal, anti-Ashcroft guest Tuesday morning. He followed up by asking the liberal what Ashcroft's pick says "about George W. Bush and his claims of compassionate conservatism?" But Gumbel harangued a pro-Ashcroft guest with a series of challenging questions from the left, such as: "Can you deny that he distorted Mr. White's record and basically engaged in what some would kindly call character assassination?"
The pro-Ashcroft guest, Ashcroft adviser Charles Polk, led CBS's January 16 The Early Show and MRC analyst Brian Boyd took down the heated exchange in full. After asking how he thought Ashcroft would do in the upcoming hearing, Gumbel inquired: "How do you view the uproar over his nomination?"
Polk replied: "You know I'm distressed, and I
tell you I'm distressed because you got a lot of folks in other places
than Missouri, and they don't really know him, stating a lot of things
that are just misstatements, untruths. Again when you look on, you talked
about it just a little while ago, about the issue about race, if you look
at that especially in the judicial nominee process we ask ourselves what
has the man done. Is he a racist? Let's look at his pattern. The pattern
that we have and what we've seen in the Senate, when he was a Senator
there from Missouri, he voted for 26 of 27 judicial nominees that happened
to be black or minorities. Twenty six of 27, there is a pattern there, but
the pattern is one of diversity, inclusion. Something that makes I think
all of us proud to be Americans."
Polk: "You know I can't say that, again Bryant.
Now you're going to pick out one out of 27 nominees, he voted for 26. 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."
Polk answered that he's done it for 25 years.
Up next, Wade Henderson of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights. He got fewer questions since he gave longer answers which Gumbel did not interrupt. Gumbel's first question: "What troubles you the most about the nomination of John Ashcroft?"
Henderson labeled Ashcroft as "too extreme," leading Gumbel to offer up his only 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?"
Henderson rattled off a long list of offenses, from how Ashcroft was "hostile" to a "voluntary desegregation" plan to some lawsuit against NOW over the ERA to a lawsuit against nurses involved in family planning.
Instead of challenging Henderson as he did with
Polk, Gumbel pushed him to denounce Bush's promise: "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 I were Jesse Helms I'd be insulted by that placement.
Henderson managed to get through a number of items, including Ashcroft's involvement with a "neo-Confederate magazine," before Gumbel cut him off to end the interview as time ran out.
On the bright side, CNN's Wolf Blitzer managed to do on Monday night what Bryant Gumbel did not even attempt: Pose the arguments of the other side to back-to-back pro and anti-Ashcroft guests. MRC analyst Brad Wilmouth noticed this balanced presentation from Blitzer on the January 15 edition his 8pm ET CNN show, Wolf Blitzer Reports.
Blitzer to Ohio's Republican Secretary of State,
-- "Mr. Secretary, after the commotion that followed the visit by George W. Bush to Bob Jones University in South Carolina, he eventually sent a letter in effect apologizing to the Roman Catholic Cardinal in New York, the late Cardinal O'Connor. But we haven't heard a similar apology from John Ashcroft for speaking at Bob Jones University and accepting an honorary degree there. Do you expect some sort of statement like that to come forward during the course of these hearings?"
-- "Mr. Secretary, today on this Martin Luther King Jr. Holiday, President-elect Bush spoke at an elementary school in Houston, Texas, the Kelso Elementary School, in that precinct in Houston where he spoke and delivered very glowing words about the Reverend Martin Luther King. In that precinct, there were 1,080 votes cast in the presidential race; 1,057 went for Al Gore; only 19 went for George W. Bush. Why does he have such a problem, apparently, getting votes in the African-American community, even in Texas?"
Blitzer to Jesse Jackson:
-- "Well, what would Dr. King have said had he been alive today, celebrating his 72nd birthday and seeing that Colin Powell, a black man, is going to be Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice, a black woman is going to be the National Security Adviser, Rod Paige is going to be the Secretary of Education; what would he have said, had he been alive today, seeing this inclusive Cabinet that George W. Bush is putting together?"
-- "You heard what Ken Blackwell said, that the reason nine out of ten African-Americans voted in favor of Al Gore and not for George W. Bush was because of the campaign that was mounted, especially by the NAACP, and that they really don't know what is in George W. Bush's heart. You spoke with him after he won. What do you believe is in his heart?"
-- "What's wrong with President Bush selecting John Ashcroft for Attorney General, when he agrees with President-elect Bush on affirmative action, when they agree on a lot of other issues that any attorney general will have to deal with, when they both, in fact, spoke at Bob Jones University? Why can't a President have the prerogative of picking people he wants for those kinds of positions?"
-- "But Republicans make the point, Reverend Jackson, that they voted unanimously for Janet Reno to become the Attorney General eight years ago, for Donna Shalala to become Secretary of Health and Human Services, even though they disagree with their positions on abortions or other sensitive issues. But they felt that Bill Clinton had the right to pick people he wanted?"
-- "But on that specific point, excuse me for interrupting, the fact is, though, that Janet Reno personally opposed the death penalty but implemented it as part of her responsibility as Bill Clinton's attorney general. Don't you believe that John Ashcroft would implement the policies, the laws of the land if he became the Attorney General?"
Several good points from Blitzer that Gumbel could have raised if he cared about balance.
ABC's Charles Gibson on Tuesday morning demanded John Ashcroft's wife prove he's not an "extremist" as he asserted: "Jesse Jackson has raised questions about whether he fully supports full access by African-Americans to polling places."
Gibson also argued: "He has said he opposes abortion even in cases of rape and incest. So can you understand that people who are strongly pro-choice would be frightened that perhaps he won't as vigorously enforce or he won't go the extra step to make sure that the law is enforced?" That question led Janet Ashcroft into tears as she recalled how a man once tried to rape her.
MRC analyst Jessica Anderson took down Gibson's question on the January 16 Good Morning America:
-- "Your husband's nomination, no secret to you, has touched off something of a firestorm of criticism, intense scrutiny of his life -- everything that he has done for so many years. Has he or you ever had second thoughts about getting into this since it began?"
-- "Is he at all extremist in his views?"
-- "Let me play a clip from This Week this past
Sunday. Barbara Boxer, the Senator from California, was asked about
whether he is extremist in his views, and I want to get your impression of
what you think when you hear things like what she had to say."
-- "Mrs. Ashcroft, let me ask you, though, those who support your husband, and Republicans have been very strong in rallying around him, have said, 'Look, this is a man of integrity who will enforce laws even if he doesn't agree with them.' But can you understand the concerns of people? For instance, he has said he opposes abortion even in cases of rape and incest. So can you understand that people who are strongly pro-choice would be frightened that perhaps he won't as vigorously enforce or he won't go the extra step to make sure that the law is enforced?"
-- "There's going to be a lot of scrutiny about his opposition to the nomination of a federal judge, a black man who was appointed, a nomination that was eventually defeated. Jesse Jackson has raised questions about whether he fully supports full access by African-Americans to polling places."
-- "What will he say today that will reassure critics and opponents?"
Rivera endorsed the racial antagonisms over Ashcroft pushed by Jesse
Jackson and other left wing black leaders. On CNBC's Rivera Live on
Monday night, MRC analyst Geoffrey Dickens noticed, Rivera scolded Bush:
"Can a Jew Be Attorney General?" That headline is made up by me and it's one it's hard to imagine USA Today editors would ever allow, but Tuesday's USA Today did feature an op-ed piece by Tony Mauro, its former Supreme Court reporter, headlined: "Can a deeply religious person be Attorney General?"
Mauro was not concerned by just any religion, only the specifics of Ashcroft's beliefs: "He is a member of the Assemblies of God, whose Pentecostal beliefs call on all members to minister to non-believers. Taken literally, his formulation before an audience at Bob Jones University that 'We have no king but Jesus' counts out millions of Americans of other faiths or no faith."
Mauro, now Supreme Court correspondent for Legal Times and American Lawyer Media, argued: "If Ashcroft's view leads him to think that ours is a Christian nation, or that only Christians have the right answers to the nation's problems, then indeed his vision is too narrow to take the job of Attorney General."
An excerpt from his January 16 USA Today op-ed:
In John Ashcroft's America, he said in 1999, "We have no king but Jesus."
But President-elect George W. Bush has nominated Ashcroft to the position of Attorney General of the United States. In the venerable halls of the Justice Department, where he will work, it is the Constitution that is king.
At the Senate confirmation hearings, which began Tuesday, Ashcroft will need to assure the nation that he can enforce the Constitution and the laws of Congress when they run contrary to the laws of Jesus, as they surely will.
A larger question, spoken or unspoken, will be: Can a deeply religious person be Attorney General?
At one level, it is an easy question to answer. Article VI of the Constitution bars any religious test for federal officeholders. It would run contrary to most Americans' beliefs to suggest that religious conviction would make a nominee less, rather than more, qualified for any position of responsibility.
But in the case of former Senator Ashcroft, there is more to the question than that. It will be appropriate for Senators to probe whether his deep faith makes it impossible to see other points of view or to take official actions that violate his religious tenets. He is a member of the Assemblies of God, whose Pentecostal beliefs call on all members to minister to non-believers.
Taken literally, his formulation before an audience at Bob Jones University that "We have no king but Jesus" counts out millions of Americans of other faiths or no faith....
If Ashcroft's view leads him to think that ours is a Christian nation, or that only Christians have the right answers to the nation's problems, then indeed his vision is too narrow to take the job of Attorney General. If it was merely a profession of his own faith -- like Joe Lieberman's joyful invocation of the power of God on the campaign trail last year -- it is less troubling.
These are not merely abstract concerns. In recent days, constituencies as diverse as casino operators, family-planning counselors and gays and lesbians have voiced concerns about Ashcroft....
Similar concerns surround issues directly related to religion as well. As a Senator, Ashcroft was known as the father -- make that godfather -- of "charitable choice," a concept that encourages government funding for faith-based social services....
Critics say charitable choice amounts to government funding of religion, in violation of the First Amendment's establishment clause. If the courts agree, how quickly would Ashcroft move to dismantle these programs?
These matters of conscience have faced others in similar positions. On the Supreme Court, Justice Antonin Scalia, a Roman Catholic, once quoted the New Testament to describe himself as a "fool for Christ's sake." He votes consistently against abortion rights and the right to die, but finds it possible to vote in favor of the death penalty, which is condemned in almost all instances by the Catholic Church....
In another speech transcript released recently, Ashcroft is quoted as saying, "It is against my religion to impose my religion." And supporters point to his efficient establishment of a state lottery system as governor of Missouri, in spite of his religious opposition to gambling. These are good signs.
But the Senate needs to explore these questions fully, even if it necessitates an intrusion into the usually private domain of a person's religious beliefs. The New Testament that Ashcroft believes in calls on everyone to "render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar's, and unto God the things that are God's."
The nation needs to know what John Ashcroft will do when things are not that simple, when rendering to one will offend the other.
John J. Miller and Ramesh Ponnuru pointed out in National Review's Washington Bulletin on Tuesday: "Yesterday on NRO, Michael Novak noted the long conservative tradition of making a distinction between law and morality. He also pointed out that liberals 'demand a religious test for public office, and the test they propose is simple: No one in public office is allowed to take religion seriously, or to apply it to reality, or to allow it to shape their views. The upshot of this test is that all officers of the government of the United States ought to be effective or practical atheists.' (The entire commentary may be read at: http://www.nationalreview.com/comment/comment011501a.shtml .)"
Miller and Ponnuru suggested: "It is difficult to imagine Mauro asking his question if Ashcroft were Catholic or Jewish. Let's see how he might formulate it: 'Can a profoundly Catholic person be Attorney General?' Or: 'Can a committed Jewish person be Attorney General?' We wonder if the editors at USA Today would entertain these sorts of doubts."
I doubt it.
-- Brent Baker 
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