TV SoundOff: Sunday Talking Heads

02/06/2011 10:11 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Good morning to one and all and welcome to your Sunday morning liveblog of the fast-typing and the political chit chat. My name is Jason, and today is Super Bowl Sunday. We are about to enter that period of time when Sunday afternoons have neither the NFL nor decent new movies. It's a trying period, but I bought a bunch of books and have a few closets to reorganize, so I think I'm going to be fine. Hope you are the same.

We get to skip Fox News Sunday today. Not that we don't reserve the right to occasionally take a pass on any of these shows, but today, FNS has given itself over completely to NFL synergy, which we decline to watch. We don't watch Fox News Sunday for its coverage of football. We watch Fox News Sunday to see Juan Williams get constantly belittled by people he thinks are his friends, as a reminder of the human cost to being a complete sellout. And also we steal the soup recipes, where we can.

Naturally, by passing on their fluffer act this morning, it means that our meal will be relatively heavy on the serious side of the news -- most notably Egypt. That's a lot of things: dramatic, worrisome, inspiring, provoking...but it's not "fun." So, if you're here strictly for the laffs, this might be a good day to sleep in? I don't know! Let's just get it started. (SEE HOW THE CREEPING BLACK EYED PEAS REFERENCES ARE BEGINNING THIS DAY? Ugh, that halftime show is going to be a retina destroyer, I can feel it.) As always, send emails and leave comments. There's also Twitter, if you're into that sort of thing.


ABC News begin with a list of their awesome deeds, many of which but them comfortably atop the media brag-book (non al Jazeera division), including meeting with Hosni Mubarak and getting themselves all jacked up in the streets by whoever's running around jacking people up. So today is going to be all about Egypt, and, I guess, ABC News' awesomeness.

"It's been an epic week!" says Amanpour, the way we used to describe our spring breaks before the recession. "The truth is, nothing will ever be the same in the Arab world," she says.

Basically, ABC showed up and the protesters were in pretty good spirits, singing and cheering and welcoming the foreign eyes. But soon enough, the pro-Mubarak people showed up and the mood started to change. Still no violence, mostly jubilation, and demands for Mubarak's departure. Amanpour interviewed one demonstrator whose take on the matter was pretty sanguine, saying that Mubarak had done a lot of good for the country, that he was a "tragic figure" whose time had come to cede power.

After a day where the demonstrators demands that Mubarak leave gained traction, both on the streets and as a possibility for the rest of the world to start getting their heads around, there was a backlash, as pro-Mubarak demonstrators dug in. Things got hectic and violent. Genuine Mubarak supporters blended with bonafide thugs. Some of those thugs jacked up Amanpour's crew. Where the previous nights featured happy demonstrators, camping out as if they were in the midst of some weekend long Phish concert, the next sunset fell on the exhausted and the wounded.

Amanpour managed to get into see Mubarak, who described himself as a public servant who wanted to "retire" and wanted to die on Egypt's soil. This gave Amanpour some currency on the street, as the demonstrators wanted to hear from her as to what Mubarak said. Some demonstrators wanted to push the momentum toward a new Constitution, others wanted to take the concessions and get on with their lives.

Amanpour sat down to interview the new Egyptian Vice President and walking concession, Omar Suleiman.

Suleiman has started a "dialogue" with the opposition groups -- including the Muslim Brotherhood and the youth movements, but not with Mohammad ElBaradei. Suleiman says that the government needs "quiet time" to institute the various reforms, and a scenario that began with Mubarak stepping down, Suleiman says, would lead to "chaos" and "instability."

Suleiman says that he doesn't belong to any party or group and thus, under the current constitution, is not allowed to run for president. He says that he does not want to be president, and only agreed to be vice president so that he could "help during this critical time."

Suleiman doesn't believe that the movement on the streets has anything much to do with a younger generation pushing for more freedom and a more global identity, saying that they have been pushed into their disruptions by "other groups." He says that he believes in democracy. His "message to the youngs" is that "everybody has to go home" and "go back to work" and "save the economy of the country."

Speaking of the youngs and their Twitter? Would you like to see Maria Bustillos rub Malcolm Gladwell's face in his own leavings? Here you go!

Amanpour now has Egypt's Ambassador to the United States, Sameh Shoukry on the teevee. Shoukry says that the "roadmap" is an "orderly and meaningful transition to democratic reforms" including the next presidential election. That seems to be what he wants everyone to accept: an orderly and meaningful transition. Also, he cites "new directions," which I assume is not a plug for "Glee."

How bad does Shoukry feel about all the mean things that have been done to reporters? He feels bad, says it's deplorable, but it's a "difficult security environment," and he hope it won't continue.

Also he feels bad about all the violence that happened to the protesters, but he says the military is not out in greater numbers and are helping to change the atmosphere on the streets.

Meanwhile, back at the White House, the Obama administration is struggling to keep a distance from Mubarak while keeping a hand in as a stabilizing force. Jake Tapper points out that events in Egypt have put the White House in a tizzy, changing their tune on what's going on seemingly "every twelve hours." First Joe Biden is touting Mubarak as an ally, not a dictator. Then we learned that Obama had been up in Mubarak's grill, supposedly, about human rights violations. Then came the attempt at a transition, with Mubarak bunkering down. That wasn't good enough for the White House, who started to push Mubarak out of the Presidency. Mubarak offered to go, eventually. The White House suggested that "now" was preferable to later.

A head-snapping change in tone and dimension in just a few days time. All achieved by people halfway around the world.

Now, the White House is asking the Egyptian government for a "clear timeline" for what's to come next. Mubarak's son won't be in the mix of future presidents, but that White House needs more than that. That's how it goes with news that Mubarak and company are meeting with opposition groups: "Great, we need more." Specifically, the U.S. is seeking a greater variety of voices, on the opposition side, to be elevated, so that this doesn't become a "Mubarak vs. the Muslim Brotherhood" showdown, exclusively.

Amanpour says there is some breaking news: the government has proposed greater internet freedom, a release to political prisoners, a promise to cease the harassment of protesters, and the formation of constitutional committees.

Oh, hell yeah. Jake's already got that section packaged up and tweeted out to the world:

Panel time: Cairo edition. And we have Anthony Shadid, which is baller. Also joining the roundtable are Nadia abou el-Magd from The National, David Muir of ABC News, Egyptian journo Lamia Radi, and the BBC's John Simpson.

Simpson doesn't see Mubarak moving on. "He's got the pride and the stubbornness of an old man." He thinks that getting him to not stand for re-election is a "fantastic achievement." Shadid agrees, but says the need is now for the opposition to "translate the demands on the street into real political capital."

Muir says that "you can read victory on the faces" of the demonstrators, but the economy has ground to a halt and officials are appealing to them to save Egypt by getting back to work.

Simpson sees an end to the system of passing on dictatorships from father to son. abou el-Magd says that nobody expected this to happen, and that the demonstrators have surprised themselves. Radi agrees: she calls the demonstrations the establishment of the "Republic of Tahrir."

Simpson says it's a mistake to call this the "people versus the government." This surprises Amanpour. He notes that pro-Mubarak people exist. And while the demonstrators were brave, the majority of people want a return to peace and quiet. Radi disagrees, mildly. Shadid says, no, this was a remarkable popular uprising and a "fundamental transformation of politics." Mubarak, says Shadid, insisted that the country would fall into chaos without him, but the current "revolutionary aesthetic" is proving that wrong.

Amanpour points out that the "punditocracy" is worried that the result will be an extremist government. Muir says the "huge asterisk" here is if the Muslim Brotherhood "fills the void." abou el-Magd says, "I don't understand why we support democracy, and then try to control the outcome." Simpson says that if you want democracy, you have to accept that the people are going to make their own choices. Shadid says, "If you want to have a real democratic experiment, everyone has to come to the table." Simpson basically says that he understands that, but you have to accept the results "with open eyes."

The women take issue with the notion that there's a binary choice between Mubarak-style dictatorship and Muslim Brotherhood style extremism. Radi points out that the Brotherhood are not a product of democracy, they exist as a counterweight to dictatorship. abou el-Magd just doesn't understand why it's "a crime" for the Muslim Brotherhood to have a seat at the table. Amanpour points out that they are cast as the "bogeyman" in this scenario.

Shadid says that the unrecognized voice in the mix is the young demonstrators, which brings Amanpour to her next question: can the undifferentiated mass form a substantive voice? Simpson says that the "guts" they've shown indicates that it's possible.

What about the peace treaty with Israel and the alliance with America? Shadid says that a transition government run by Suleiman will prove to be satisfying to both counts, but this arrangement (Suleiman in power) is a "far cry" from what the protesters want.

What about America? Why does Egypt feel let down by America? Simpson points out that Egyptians are perfectly aware that America prefers stability to freedom. Shadid says that there's more fear of what's to come among U.S. officials than there is a joy in what's transpiring.

Quick prediction on the next few days? Shadid says that there's a tug of war between the revolt and reaction, and the race is on to see what side "consolidates its position" the fastest. Radi asks Amanpour about Mubarak's state of mind, and she says that he is "resigned" but not looking to run, rather, he's "looking for a dignified way out."


Today's panel is Bob Woodward and Katty Kay and Ann Kornblut and Joe Klein. They will be talking about Egypt and Donald Rumsfeld. The "Denial isn't just another river in Egypt" pun has now been made twice today.

IS EGYPT GOING TO BE THE NEXT IRAN? By which we mean, "Iran in 1979," and not "Iran in 2011," which is, in a lot of ways, like Egypt. The people want democracy but they're insufficiently unwilling to worship the Sky-Gods we prefer them to, so everyone's all super a'scurred!

Bob Woodward is not sure what anyone knows about Egypt, but since everyone was so busy trying to help us with terrorism, no one noticed that the Egyptian people were so upset. Kay says that Washington was "blinded by the fear of Islamic extremists," and had for a long time accepted the rule of Mubarak as preferable. That said, Kay is a bit stunned, saying that the U.S. had to have known this was possible, as Mubarak was very old, and the prices for commodities on the streets had been going up.

But let's interrupt Kay to read Joe Klein's column out loud to Joe Klein. Klein talks about some gossipy nonsense. I literally cannot make heads or tails of what he's saying -- it's like a rush of words designed to simultaneously position Klein as a current insider, a historic insider, and the crafter of jokes about current events.

Kornblut saves the conversation and says that the White House had a working group that was dedicated to studying Egypt, and knew that instability was in the offing. What's unclear is what anyone was prepared to do about it. Woodward suggests that it may be a false premise to presume that anyone actuall could have done something about it.

Matthews asks who we're rooting for? Kay says that rooting for someone is the "surest way to get tarred with the 'Made in America' brush." Klein says that we should back institutions, not people (like the Egyptian military, who buy things from us).

Does the Muslim Brotherhood have the clout to take over? Kay says they don't have the numbers to "take over wholesale," and that a democratic election would make them an important minority player. Kay mounts an extended argument, wondering why the Muslim Brotherhood cannot be engaged with -- Matthews says that we're afraid of Ayatollah version 2.0. Klein says that we're worried about the seeds of this revolution taking root elsewhere. (That wouldn't be a good thing?)

Kay says that THERE ARE DIFFERENCES BETWEEN IRAN AND EGYPT. Example: the clerical structure that exists in Iran does not exist in Egypt. It's a good point! The start of what I hoped were many more -- something that might help to point out that there is a difference between what's going on in Egypt today and what happened at another time in another place to a totally different group of people in terms of nationality and ethnicity. Naturally, Matthews interrupts her to make some barely related point designed to set up a Daily Show clip from many, many years ago.


Now we will talk about Rumsfeld, and his memoir, which talked about how he was awesome and that every dumb thing that happened during the Bush years was someone else's fault, so stop yelling at him. Woodward basically spends five minutes saying that people who write memoirs tend to want to tell the story that makes them look the awesomest. Kay says that we still deserve answers on Iraq. Kornblut, perplexingly, suggests that Dick Cheney's memoir is going to put this to bed. "The history's been written," Kay says, "But I still don't know why we went to war we Iraq." Klein joins in with outrage. Woodward jumps in with the memory of a conversation.

Maybe everyone should stop reading memoirs and do some actual reporting?

Some things that Chris Matthews does not know include the following: Woodward says they are searching for a new Secretary of Defense -- someone Gates-like -- and Leon Panetta is the top candidate (also Hillary and Hagel). Kay says that the financial crash and the attendant corruption in Egypt compounded into a problem that helped fuel the revolt. Kornblut says that the White House is really happy with Bill Daley. He's just awesome and dreamy! Klein says that the White House believes that China has hacked into Wikileaks' "stash" and are going to start putting people in jail for talking to the United States.

Will Obama win the industrial states in 2012? Woodward says it's too far away to tell. Kay says it WILL DEPEND ON THE UNEMPLOYMENT RATE. Kornblut says that both things are true. Klein says that it will be harder for Obama to win.


Meet the Press is going to be broadcasting from the weird hangar at the Ronald Reagan library, where they had that GOP debate in 2008 where everyone took turns telling Mitt Romney what an idiot he was.

But first, after Gregory pauses for thirty seconds, staring into the camera, clearly hoping an escape from this world, we go to Cairo. Richard Engel says that major breakthroughs have come through negotiations: much of which we've already covered. More presidential candidates, greater press freedom, an end to martial law on the street, the release of political prisoners...a lot of the things that the demonstrators demanded have been granted or appear to be in the works. Engel says that these are "major concessions." He also says that the concessions divide the demonstrators between those who want to take the concessions and get back to their lives and those who want to push Mubarak out.

And now, here's Mohammed ElBaradei, an opponent of Mubarak and former UN nuclear inspector. He has, himself, not been a part of the ongoing negotiations. There's a lack of confidence, he says, among the demonstrators, that the government will retrench if given the chance, and that the negotiations process is too opaque to be sure of. He suggests that a transition period should be entered into immediately, and that a "change of regime" is in order.

Does Mubarak have to leave Egypt? ElBaradei says that's not necessary. But the regime has lost legitimacy and it's his responsibility to get the nation moving on to the next thing. People need to be allowed the time and space to form political parties and engage with the people. In the meantime, he suggests a "presidential council" be formed as a stopgap, to fill the space between Mubarak and the next elected leader.

He says that when the White House suggested that Mubarak "must stay in power," that "came down here like a piece of lead."

Should the "west fear democracy in the Middle East?" ElBaradei says that the "gateway to stability, peace, and social justice, starts and ends when a democratic system is in power." He says that "the idea that we are not ready here is an insult," and says that India, with all of its same economic problems, is a model nation nonetheless because of its democratic bent. He says that he would be "absolutely happy" to simply play a part in making Egypt happy and prosperous and free. He says that the peace between Egypt and Israel should be maintained, but that Israel has a part to play in maintaining it, themselves.

Now, here's Sameh Shoukry, again. Is this a "revolution?" Shoukry says it's an important moment of change and he hopes that it works out for the best. Gregory isn't satisfied with that answer, so he asks again, and gets an extension of the same answer.

Mubarak, it appears, will not be immediately stepping down, but will be leaving when his term ends. But the White House wants him to go now, right? Shoukry says that the issue will be resolved by the Egyptian people, and that the transition is technically underway "NOW" because a vice president has been named, they have announced a set of reforms, and Mubarak will step down in September. It's to be a slow moving version of "now."

Shoukry says that the government denies setting loose the pro-Mubarak thugs and that the violence that transpired over the past week will be investigated.

Gregory asks if we can really believe a promise of transparency, Shoukry reiterates his promise to investigate, while insisting that critics haven't presented sufficient evidence of the government's involvement.

What about the potential for wider chaos, during a transition? Shoukry expresses a confidence in Egypt's ability to maintain a stability in terms of how it manages its internal affairs, as well as furthering their international obligations.

And now, we're going to talk to John Kerry. Kerry says that this morning's developments have all been "encouraging" and "quite extraordinary." The removal of the "emergency law" is a major concession, Kerry says. The road ahead requires that the processes for free elections be put in place, and that Mubarak must play a role in that, by establishing a timetable for those reforms to speed along.

Frank Wisner, the special envoy to the mess in Egypt, thinks that Mubarak needs to stay in power, and his stance caused confusion given the fact that the White House had eventually worked it's way around to saying "NOW" instead of "LATER" or "SOON" or "WHY CAN'T WE TALK ABOUT WINNING THE FUTURE?" Kerry says that everyone's position is "crystal clear" -- O, REALLY? -- and that Wisner was "speaking for himself and in a very special context."

And then he says that Wisner was not speaking on behalf of the White House? Huh?

Kerry says that Mubarak must "step aside gracefully and begin the transition to a caretaker type of government" and that is what is happening now, but what's needed now, from the Egyptians, is clarity as to what part of the process they are working on and how long it will take to move to the next step. To that end, Mubarak can "enhance" the situation by being clear about how and when their demands will be met. Just having an election, Kerry says, isn't sufficient to ensure stability.

Meanwhile, Mike Mullen went on the Daily Show and said that events in Egypt took everyone by surprise. How is that possible? Kerry says that no one was surprised by the "pent up demand" and the "need for reform" in the region. Kerry says that he and Hillary Clinton have been making "strong statements" in speeches for quite some time. So, no one was surprised about that. Everyone was just surprised by the "moment and manner" that it exploded, and that, in his estimation, it wasn't cleat that even the Egyptian people knew what it would happen (though people should probably take note of when the people of a troubled regime have scheduled a "Day Of Rage" on their calendar, okay?).

Friend of the liveblog Chris Blakely recaps what we missed on FOX NEWS SUNDAY;

I did watch FOX News Sunday this morning. First, let me say, that I am sure glad that FOX is able to separate its NEWS operations from its opinion and entertainment functions. A lesser principled network would no doubt have used its NEWS operations to promote the network's broadcast of the Super Bowl. No doubt, it was just a coincidence that the FNS show was entirely devoted to football today and broadcast from the Super Bowl location.

The first topic for Chris Wallace was the labor dispute between the players and the owners. In the true spirit of "fair and balance," the only guest invited to discuss the labor dispute was NFL commissioner, Roger Goodell. Graciously, Mr. Goodell objectively explained the players' positions in such a way that I just have to wonder why these folks could possibly be having any dispute at all!!

Now, it's time for a panel discussion of Reagan Feelings, featuring James Baker and Peggy Noonan and Peggy Noonan's Collection Of Powerful Anti-Depressants and Willie Brown and Andrea Mitchell. Feel the nostalgia? It make you kind of wish Al Haig would come storming on to the stage to take over! David Gregory says that they are sitting at a special Reagan table, and that they put plastic on top of it so he could not "put his mess on it." I really didn't need to hear about the furnishings that David Gregory "puts his mess on."

"The table is very significant," ensures Gregory.

He's going to ask about Egypt! Baker says that things are "moving tentatively in the right direction" and agrees with Kerry that the need is to clearly define the next steps of the process, and rather than stepping down, Mubarak has to be clear about the role he is playing in the transition.

What's the Obama administration doing, in terms of influencing events? The White House says that it needed to begin now. How's that happening? Mitchell says that it's a tightrope that needs to be walked, because no one wants this to look like a "made in the USA" revolution.

Ha, yes: tightrope, okay.

She says that Wisner's suggestion that Mubarak needed to stay on was an embarrassing thing for the White House to contend with, as was the need to "slap him down."

Baker says that you can argue that the transition is beginning "now," so it counts to say "now." "Now" can mean "later" so long as the "later" is beginning "now." I mean what if the "now" goes "nowhere?" Then "now" has no meaning, except for the classic one, found in the dictionary.


Gregory reads Noonan's column to Noonan, which sounds even prettier to her now the way the mimosa and the diazepam are wrapping themselves around her neurons, like a delicately knitted web of soft noise and numbness.

Gregory asks Baker why isn't the United States doing more to "lay out the clarity" we seek. Uhm...has this question not been answered sufficiently? Like, it's a whole other country? And it's filled with "Egyptians?" Baker says that this is not the same thing as Reagan yelling about the Berlin Wall or asking Marcos to step down. His answer is very good! "The clarity has to come from the Egyptian people and the Egyptian government. It's not up to the United States to say, 'Here's how you form political parties.' We can lay out the principles, and I think we should and I think we have, that's some of the things I heard Senator Kerry say."

One thing that Reagan nostalgia is maybe helping with is that you get people like Baker in the public eye who have a different strain of politics but who aren't, what's the word I'm looking for...oh yes! DAFT AND CRAZY. (One of the reasons that the Obama is upping the ante himself on the Reagan fetish these days is because he can cut a contrast between the optimism of the Reagan Republicans and the kook-a-loo foamy-mouthed noise of the current crop of "WE ARE ON THE CUSP OF TYRANNY" chalkboard jockeys.

At the same time, it's a risky thing, because, as Gregory points out, there's also a "debate of the role of government" at the root of the dispute as well. (It's masked by lunacy!)

Anyway, everybody be tryin' to appropriate Reagan and his Reagany things! Like "authenticity." Yes: APPROPRIATE THAT AUTHENTICITY.

Noonan remembers Reagan as "a conservative." That's pretty useful. Baker says that Reagan was "bipartisan" and an "extremely fine negotiator" who would often say that he'd "rather get 80% of what he wants than go over the cliff with his flag flying."

Obama likes Reagan, and not just because Reagan also got shellacked two years into office. Brown says that he is a real and genuine admirer. Baker doesn't buy it, because, in his view, Obama "subcontracted out the legislative responsibilities to the most liberal members of Congress." In this, Baker is wrong, actually: the liberals in Congress have been entirely marginalized by the White House. If what Baker was saying were true, the financial regulatory reform bill would be toothsome, akin to what Maria Cantwell wanted, and the health care reform bill would have a public option. It's fairer to say that Obama gave a lot of ground in pursuit of "bipartisanship," but that the GOP's strategy at the time was to block everything.

I think that's all of what MTP has to offer in terms of substance or substance-like substance, so we'll leave it there. ENJOY YOUR SUPERB OWLS EVERYONE! And have a great week!