TV SoundOff: Sunday Talking Heads

09/30/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Good morning and welcome once again to your Sunday morning liveblog of the weekend political talkshow roundtables and conventional wisdom sweat-huts. My name is Jason. Today, I believe, we have Ted Kennedy's passing and torture memos! Really light stuff! But the Summer Of Death ((C) Alex Balk) seems to be drawing to a close. The meteorological Summer of Death, anyway. I suppose that the calendar version of the Summer of Death will go on until everyone's done reading Infinite Jest. I'm still caught up with that, by the way, but I have to read twenty pages this afternoon. Anyway, it's been a summer of constant reminders of both mortality and the extent to which the modern media has improved their ability to follow funeral processions, from helicopters.

Anyway, now is the time where you are encouraged to send emails and leave comments and follow me on the Twits. We begin, as we always do, ruefully, as we always are, with Fox News Sunday, which comes on first here, nothing I can do about it.

REMINDER! Let's remember that you cannot read anything I've written for this liveblog until such time that it is written. Away!


Ahh but first, today, we must attend the tale of teeny Dick and the torture documents, which he's victory lapping on despite the fact that they fail to demonstrate whether torture was particularly effective. Many media organs fell for the semantic trap that Cheney attempted to set. Here we have Chris Wallace, who may be volunteering to get rolled. Anyway, Cheney today, "as you've never seen him before!" Hopefully that means, "in a truss!"

Anyway, it's nice to get the "endurance" part of this chatathalon over.

Welcome to Jackson Hole! And speaking of holes! Here's Dick Cheney! He thinks that the terror investigation is a "terrible decision!" It's almost as if an investigation will prove some great moral wrong occurred! And it's totally political! Holder "supposedly" hasn't got the "permission" of the President. Actually, that's sort of the way being Attorney General works -- he's not actually supposed to be at the beck and call of the White House. Sorry, Cardinal Richelieu!

Cheney could spend "all day" talking about the deleterious effects of investigating wrongdoing and punishing crimes. It would be devastating!

Classic Wallace: "Eh uh ih?"

Cheney seems to have a massive phlegmball lodged in his throat. JUST COUGH UP THE LAST SLIVER OF YOUR CONSCIENCE ALREADY, DICK! Let it go free! Let it wander the plains. Let it take us residence with the mighty buffalo, or the heroic eagle! Don't just keep choking it back, back, back down into the fetid pissoir you call your body cavity!

I love how Cheney says things like "the CIA personnel of the prior administration." Uhm, YOUR ADMINISTRATION? The one you were in? He really is a master of passive construction.

Will this become an investigation into Yoo, Addington, and Bybee? Cheney says he doesn't know but that he doesn't like the idea and that it would be outrageous and intensely partisan to have them disbarred. We remind you that Bill Clinton was disbarred for getting a hummer, from a lady who wanted to do so.

"We have a track record of eight years of defending America from mass casualty attacks from al Qaeda." Here we go. In the first place, it's NOT eight years. In the second place, that ONE mass casualty attack was pretty bad, and puts you toward the historical bottom of administrations who defended against mass casualty attacks (not to worry, there's some good company!) But once again, we get back to one of my favorite things about Cheneyism -- he wants to take all the credit while simultaneously assuming none of the responsibility. I would at least respect a guy who stood up and said, "Yes. We tortured some people. It was my call. I gave the order. Here's why I did this. I'm responsible. Put the blame, right here."

But with Cheney, its like there was a torture policy that happened to run simultaneously alongside his Vice-Presidency and lawyers said it was super okay and that they could make it superer-okayer, and there's nothing anyone could have done, it was just some stuff that was ongoing, and hey, we were only brutally attacked that one time, so maybe it was the reason we weren't brutally attacked a million more times. Who knows?

THIS IS WHAT I'M TALKING ABOUT: Cheney thinks that what the Obama administration "should be doing" is "to come to the people who were involved in that policy and say 'How did you do it?'" THE PEOPLE WHO WERE INVOLVED IN THAT POLICY WERE THE BUSH AND CHENEY ADMINISTRATION! You see, it's like there were MAGICAL TORTURE ELVES BAKING TORTURE IN A KEEBLER TREE, acting INDEPENDENTLY of the Bush/Cheney White House. They are there, at all times, for America, and now Obama wants to prosecute the poor elves and it's sad.

Cheney has been proud and forthright, so much so that he's hiding behind redactions to this day.

Cheney says he knew about the waterboarding, and that it's a policy that the White House approved. So, the White House approved a torture. Torture that was illegal when China did it. Cheney is totally cool with it, proud of it, not responsible for it, still adding up EIGHT YEARS wrong. He thinks it's the reason we were provided intelligence and kept safe. He and his mouthpiece Steve Hayes are a lonely island in that regard. Alone and with their own unique interpretation of the world.

Cheney also reiterates that it's weird that Obama is treating the Justice Department as an independent entity, as opposed to a office full of White House water carriers.

Cheney is also perfectly content with the cases where interrogators WENT BEYOND THE LEGAL PARAMETERS FOR TORTURE THAT WERE SET UP. So, not only is torture legal, because of magical memos, but overstepping the boundaries set by those magical memos is fine, as well.

As far as Cheney and his merry band of INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS, whose great works Leon Panetta drydocked, he's sorry, but he's got a case of Alberto Gonzales memory.

Cheney insists that the two declassified torture documents demonstrate that waterboarding was what "really persuaded" KSM. This is, in a word, incorrect:

The first document, issued by the CIA in July 2004 is about the interrogation of 9/11 architect Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, who was waterboarded 183 times in March 2003 and whom, the newly released CIA Inspector General report on torture details, had his children's lives threatened by an interrogator. None of that abuse is referred to in the publicly released version of the July 2004 document. Instead, we learn from the July 2004 document that not only did the man known as "KSM" largely provide intelligence about "historical plots" pulled off from al-Qaeda, a fair amount of the knowledge he imparted to his interrogators came from his "rolodex" -- that is, what intelligence experts call "pocket litter," or the telling documentation found on someone's person when captured. As well, traditional intelligence work appears to have done wonders -- including a fair amount of blundering on Khalid Sheikh Mohammed's part:

In response to questions about [al-Qaeda's] efforts to acquire [weapons of mass destruction], [Khalid Sheikh Mohammed] revealed that he had met three individuals involved in [al-Qaeda's] program to produce anthrax. He appears to have calculated, incorrectly, that we had this information already, given that one of the three -- Yazid Sufaat -- had been in foreign custody for several months.

This is a far cry from torturing Khalid Sheikh Mohammed into revealing such information. It would be tendentious to believe that the torture didn't have any impact on Khalid Sheikh Mohammed -- he himself said that he lied to interrogators in order to get the torture to stop -- but the document itself doesn't attempt to present a case that the "enhanced interrogation" program was a factor, let alone the determinant factor, in the intelligence bounty the document says he provided.

Interestingly, after a week of people like Greg Sargent battering away at the semantic trap, he's no longer trying to set it. Now he's just suggesting that the documents contain information that they don't inform.

Dick Cheney is "not a fan" of Barack Obama, and has "serious doubts" about his willingness to torture the crap out of people. EVEN THOUGH OBAMA IS STILL USING RENDITIONS AND PREDATOR DRONES! And, hey, maybe people are still getting waterboarded at Bagram.

Cheney says that the CIA should be monitoring the recently released A.Q. Khan, but now the agents will have to hire lawyers to defend themselves against torture charges. This makes it pretty clear that Dick Cheney does not really understand how the CIA works.

Cheney says that he wasn't "disappointed" with Bush, and wouldn't say that he "went soft," but wait for his book!

Why didn't the administration take out the nuclear program? It wasn't Cheney's decision, but that he wanted to bomb bomb bomb them worse than anyone else. He's also sad that Euna Lee and Laura Ling couldn't have just sucked it up and been political prisoners, forever, for the sake of our strategic relationship with North Korea.

Dick Cheney worries that Obama's decision to pull troops from Iraq might prevent "victory," and he hopes it isn't a "rush for the exits." Again, troops are being withdrawn according to a Status Of Forces Agreement that the BUSH/CHENEY ADMINISTRATION AGREED TO. Again, I am given the strong impression that Dick Cheney does not have a working understanding of the way basic foreign and military policy works.

Cheney took his family on an Alaskan cruise. Could you imagine being out to sea with Dick Cheney, on a boat, wondering whether the next moment will be the one where God finally wreaks his vengeance? I mean, you hope the Good Lord can wait, with the infinite patience He is known for, and not turn a cruise ship into collateral damage. But you know what they say...a dish best served cold, and what not, and here you are, FLOATING AROUND ALASKA. If it were me, I'd head for shore and take my chances with Sarah Palin.


Now Wallace wants to get back into the whole "Death Book" issue. Nothing's changes, the Death Book is complete crap. There's almost nothing here that's new to relitigate, everything Wallace brings up this week was debunked last week. Moving on.

Panel Time! Bill Sammon, Mara Liasson, Bill Kristol and Juan Williams.

Bill Kristol says Eric Holder is a weak man and the Justice Department is full of "left wing ideologues" who want to prosecute crimes in accordance with their crazy radical ideology, instead of just letting people off the hook.

Juan Williams attempts to mount a case that America is a nation of laws, nice try! And he points out that KSM did a LOT OF LYING, to get the torture to stop. Bill Sammon says that waterboarding is the common sense key to winning the war on terror, and that if you don't waterboard, you aren't on a war footing. It's hilarious, because a couple of years ago, waterboarding was just a leisurely dunk in some water! Which didn't sound like it could break anyone! BUT IT SOUNDED LIKE IT WASN'T SO BAD. Now the idea is that waterboarding is JUST AS HORRIBLE AS YOU IMAGINE, but SO EFFECTIVE!

Anyway, the message here is that waterboarding is the key weapon in the arsenal against terror. Despite what you've heard from actual interrogators, soldiers, generals, experts, and the CIA Inspector General tells you, a bunch of soft-palmed politicians and rich pundits think otherwise.

Juan Williams attempts to bravely make the case that torture is illegal and morally wrong and hasn't made us safer, and in what constitutes the most direct diss of Juan Williams that I've ever seen on this show (and this show is ALWAYS attempting to diminish him), Chris Wallace throws to commercial by archly snarking, "I just want to point out to the audience that it is purely coincidental that this country has not been attacked again since 9/11." Damn, Juan, you gonna just let yourself get emasculated like that.

Gotta move on to another show on that note.


Well, after Cheney's brimstone, it makes sense to experience some Chris Matthewsian treacle. Joining him are Michelle Norris, Bill Plante, Howard Fineman and Andrea Mitchell.

First up! TELEVISION? Have you heard about this stuff? It's AMAZING, and it is changing politics. This show is setting up the August 2021 show that will explore the POWER OF THE INTERNETS!

Anyway, in June of 1954, the McCarthy hearings were on, and Joseph Nye Welch said, "Have you know sense of decency, sir?" And it went TOTALLY VIRAL AND STUFF, like a YOUTUBE. If it weren't for teevee, no one would have heard about the Chicago riots of 1968! They'd have had to read about it, in print media. Bill Plante says that it changed everything for the Daley machine. "They were not used to the sunlight!" And so, there was never ever a Mayor Daley again. GO TEEVEE.

Bill Plante says that if it weren't for teevee, we wouldn't know about Watergate tape recordings. This refers back to the April 1989 Chris Matthews Show, titled, "Tape Recordings: Are They Changing Politics, With The Way They Remember Words And Stuff?"

Michelle Norris says that teevee, on 9/11, helped to enforce a climate of fear and patriotism. And also the government did that, with terrible policies and constant fearmongering!

And the "Checkers Speech" led to, uhm, some stuff! Probably a lot of spayings! Bill Plante says that it helped Nixon look human, instead of the corrupt anti-semitic demon from District 9 that he really was. And television, if you remember, made Obama a star, because cameras were pointed at him.

Now Chris Matthews is talking about mounting a horse as it gallops by. DO NOT TRY THIS AT HOME. Go to a stable, carefully saddle up your steed, lead the horse outside, mount him carefully, and then tack around the bodies of all the people who thought they could just jump on speeding horses, like idiots.

TEEVEE, it brought down Michael Dukakis, through images! Also through dumbass lies, that were never countered by the media, who I guess hadn't learned to use teevee yet? AND PRESIDENTS NEVER DRESSED UP IN MILITARY CLOTHES AGAIN. Until MISSION ACCOMPLISHED, which was a media jizz fest, sock stuffed in crotch and all. Also, SWIFT BOAT VETS! Sure, those guys deserve to have dog crap shoved in their mouths, every day, by America, but they were TEEVEE GENIUSES, WERE THEY NOT? Why haven't the Swift Boat Vets won as many Emmys as 30 ROCK?

Also, teevee ruined Sarah Palin! Or did it? Because she's also vastly popular? And Sarah Palin can, with a single Facebook message, lift the fortunes of other teevee celebrities, like Glenn Beck? I AM NOT SURE THESE TIDY CHRIS MATTHEWS TEEVEE POINTS OF ANALYSIS REALLY HANG TOGETHER.

Ten more minutes of this nonsense! TELEVISION: It proved that Nixon had sweat glands, and was unattractive! This could have never been discerned on the old-timey radio! And teevee caught the "MISSION ACCOMPLISHED" banner. "We were all captivated by that image," Howard Fineman says, demonstrating that most members of the media can be lulled into a stupor of drooliing fascination if you shake shiny enough keys into a television camera.

Chris Matthews has some memories of Ted Kennedy, which he shares. BUT ONLY MAGICAL TELEVISION CAN DO IT JUSTICE.

That truly was, a weird edition of this show.


So, okay, it looks like today is going to be an hour on Ted Kennedy, which may not yield much interesting content, liveblog wise. Maybe y'all should watch it, instead.

Anyway, Maria Shriver says she was very moved by the outpouring of condolences from people who waited on the side of the road to watch the funeral procession wend its way through Massachusetts. "Teddy's heart was extraordinary...he himself was wounded, he knew pain...struggle, abandonment...Regular people understood that about him."

David Gregory seems uncomfortably close to Shriver in their over-the-head shot, but that might just be me, and my presumed discomfort with being near David Gregory, and his bangs. Lean back, David, it's not like she's a plate of food that someone's going to snatch from the table!

On Ted and her mother, "What's extraordinary about Mummy and Teddy is the duration of their fight. I think we live in a society today that's all about instant success, instant gratification, you fight for something you expect to get it in a week...they fought their entire lives."

On the year since the convention: "For me, watching this final year was beautiful...for someone to have that kind of love come at you is a very powerful thing."

Shriver talks about the support that Kennedy always gave her mother and the rest of the family, whenever any of them were in distress, and how two weeks ago she thanked him for being an "extraordinary brother and uncle."

SHRIVER: "He worked very hard to make his parents proud of him. He worked very hard to make his sisters proud of him."

John Kerry is here. "That was a great, great interview," he says. David Gregory agrees.

Kerry says that Kennedy was an "astute legislator" with an "uncanny instinct" on the "ebb and flow of the Senate." He also had the "ability to attract a superb staff," which seems like a pretty protean thing to say about someone who just died: GENIUS AT HUMAN RESOURCES.

What did Kennedy teach Kerry? "All politics is personal, and you ought to have fun doing it."

Kerry: "There was a long period of time where he feared for his life, a lot of people don't realize that...he thought he was next...It all fell on him."

And now Chris Dodd is here! Why is it getting so hard to be bipartisan, like Kennedy wanted? Dodd says, that "bipartisanship" has peaks and valleys and that it's most about civility. Also, when Kennedy wanted to go to Hyannisport early, people didn't vote, out of respect, for sailing. Also, bipartisanship is undone by a lack of civility. Also, today, "bipiartisanship" is a process where bills are watered down and made ineffective, as opposed to a process where both sides offer their best, assist with assuaging concerns, and achieve compromise without making bills crappy.

What is the meaning of Kennedy, Dodd is asked. "The ability to overcome adversity is stunning...he used to say, 'Whatever you are worried about today, a year from now, I promise, you won't be worried about it.'"

Does Kerry think Kennedy would want another Kennedy in the Senate? "That's not what he was about."

In a strong pushback against claims made by former Vice President Dick Cheney, Sen. John McCain insisted on Sunday that the use of torture on terrorism suspects violated international law, didn't work, and actually helped al Qaeda recruit additional members.

"I think the interrogations were in violation of the Geneva Conventions and the convention against torture that we ratified under President Reagan," said the Arizona Republican. "I think these interrogations, once publicized, helped al Qaeda recruit. I got that from an al Qaeda operative in a prison camp in Iraq... I think that the ability of us to work with our allies was harmed. And I believe that information, according to the FBI and others, could have been gained through other members."

The senator, appearing on CBS' Face the Nation, offered his assessment just hours after Cheney defended the use of torture during an interview with Fox News Sunday. Host Bob Schieffer pushed McCain to explain how it was that an al Qaeda member had told him that the use of torture helped them recruit.

Relaying a conversation that he and Sen. Lindsey Graham, (R-S.C.) had with a jailed "high-ranking member of al Qaeda," McCain replied that pictures of detainee abuse at Abu Ghraib had allowed the terrorist organization "to recruit thousands of young men."

Now comes the moment where MEET THE PRESS sings a song of itself, and how important it's been. Credit MTP, though, for reporting his criticism of the Iraq War, which has been chronically under-remembered.

And now, SORT OF PANEL TIME, with Doris Kearns Goodwin, and Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, and Bob Shrum, why not?

Doris, use your awesome historian powers! "Not only is he the greatest legislator of all time, he's the greatest Senator of all time." OOOH, SUCK ON THAT, SHELDON WHITEHOUSE! YOU JUST GONNA TAKE THAT, JIM INHOFE?

Bob Shrum tells America that Ted Kennedy "didn't mind that Barack Obama became President." THIS JUST IN.

Also, Kennedy sent a letter to the Pope. Here's how the Vatican treated that:

"Here in Rome, Ted Kennedy is nobody. He's a legend with his own constituency," says the Vatican official. "If he had influence in the past, it was only with the Archdiocese of Boston, and that eventually disappeared too."

Stay classy, Vatican City.

[CORRECTION: I'm wrong about this, totally! Thanks to Mollie Wilson O'Reilly, who emails to inform me that the original story at TIME, which we picked up here, "was wrong about the Vatican's chilly response."

In fact, the pope responded to Kennedy's letter with a gracious letter of his own, assuring him of his prayers and imparting his blessing. Here's the AP report on the two letters.

Mollie says: "So, good news: the Vatican was classier than reported. I'm hoping you'll correct that on your blog." It's my pleasure, Mollie. Thank you, very much!]

Oh, this is a slow MEET THE PRESS, but at least it's not a bunch of people, yelling about health care.

I sort of grew up, of course, well past the penumbra of the darkness that followed in the assassinations of the Kennedys, so my perspective is vastly different from this moment in history that all of America jointly shared and which influenced the events of so many years after. My perspective won't be the same as the people who lived that era and who wept alongside each other over these losses and who've come to know the Kennedys as something like a royal family, but different: more than being anointed with power, they've been a sort of conduit for American grief and recovery, which was a pretty heavy burden for any one family to carry, and as we've all seen, they haven't always managed that load.

Ted Kennedy wasn't perfect, by any stretch of the imagination -- no one writing or reading these words are either. But he didn't gleefully stoke the flames of a national moral charnel house, like Mr. Cheney. Such contrast, this Sunday. Have a nice week.

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