THE BLOG
01/01/2006 06:24 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Russert Watch: The Out-to-Lunch Bunch

I realize that a New Year's day "Year in Review" roundtable on Meet the Press is probably devoted to bloviating by design rather than happenstance, but it would've been nice if someone had managed to pick up a newspaper before the cameras started rolling.

In between Jon Meacham's comical assumption of gravitas that seemed more appropriate to a 60's Brylcreem commercial and Doris Kearns Goodwins' jokes about Harry Truman generally incomprehensible to anyone under the age of 75, William Safire's lapse into relevance felt quite unintentional.

Regarding his Nixon years (video via Crooks & Liars):

I was writing a speech on welfare reform, and the president looks at it and says, "OK, I'll go with it, but this is not going to get covered. Leak it as far an wide as you can beforehand. Maybe we'll get something in the paper." And so I go back to my office and I get a call from a reporter, and he wants to know about foreign affairs or something, and I said, "Hey, you want a leak? I'll tell you what the president will say tomorrow about welfare reform." And he took it down and wrote a little story about it. But the FBI was illegally tapping his phone at the time, and so they hear a White House speechwriter say, "Hey, you want a leak?" And so they tapped my phone, and for six months, every home phone call I got was tapped. I didn't like that. And when it finally broke--it did me a lot of good at the time, frankly, because then I was on the right side--but it told me how easy it was to just take somebody who is not really suspected of anything for any good reason and listen to every conversation in his home--you know, my wife talking to her doctor, my--everything.

George W. Bush says he is only illegally wiretapping terrorists. William Safire isn't buying it.

It would have been nice at that point if someone on the panel had picked up the thread and talked about the New York Times article from last night which noted that when John Ashcroft was in the hospital recovering from gall bladder surgery in March 2004, his acting deputy -- James Comey -- refused to sign off on the program. That Alberto Gonzales and Andy Card were forced to go to Ashcroft's hospital room and ask him to override his deputy.

That would have been the perfect excuse for Newsweek editor Meacham to stop with the tired homilies about the American religious impulse and pipe up about the story in his own magazine today which broke the news that Ashcroft would not, in fact, override Comey. That Comey had displeased the Administration before when he went to John Ashcroft in December of 2003 and told him he had to recuse himself from the CIA leak case, and then appointed Patrick Fitzgerald to head up the investigation.

At which point Doris Kearns Goodwin, instead of telling yet another knee-slapper about LBJ, could have mentioned that much like Fitzgerald, Comey has a peerless bona fides with regard to prosecuting terrorism cases that calls into serious question the Administration's insistence that such measures were essential in the war on terror.

And Eugene Robinson could have brought up the fact that in his own paper today, Walter Pincus just broke a story about how the NSA shared its illegally obtained information with other departments including the Pentagon, which is known to have been tracking anti-war protestors.

But that probably would've sent poor Bill Safire round the twist so maybe it was all for the best.

Instead, Russert hauled out a quote from delusional Papal knucklesucka Peggy Noonan and everyone lapsed into some weird kabuki about Catholicism in which Jon Meacham's jaw threatened to come unhinged and take pensive flight and the conversation very nearly concluded before it befell Eugene Robinson to mention the elephant in the middle of the room -- recent funereal carnivals notwithstanding, the Catholic church in North America has taken a drubbing due to charges of child abuse that no pontiff is willing to address.

With the occasional exception of Robinson (and of course Safire's momentary dalliance) it was absolutely remarkable how detached from real world concerns these people are. Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath were reduced to an entertaining piece of political theater and neither the CIA leak case nor the Abramoff scandal were anywhere on their event horizon for 2006.

Perhaps there is an unquenchable public appetite out there for wisdom gleaned from 1950s cocktail napkins that I just wasn't aware of. If so today it was not disappointed.

Jane Hamsher can be found blogging regularly at firedoglake.blogspot.com