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
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
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."
broadcast networks all led Tuesday night with the Senate confirmation
hearing for John Ashcroft. All three ran soundbites of him assuring
Senators of how he would enforce laws he personally opposes and several
soundbites from liberal Senators critical of him, including Ted Kennedy,
who fights school vouchers, scolding him for opposing a court-ordered
school desegregation plan for St. Louis: "Where in your priority were
the rights of the interests of those black students who were trying to get
a decent education?" Of course, none pointed out Kennedy’s
opposition to any opportunity for parents to allow their kids to escape
bad public schools.
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
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.)
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
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
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:
people don’t know about Ashcroft and Pentecostalism is that although
they may hold conservative moral beliefs about abortion, homosexuality and
pornography, Pentecostals are far less strident than many fundamentalists.
They place a heavy emphasis on forgiveness and racial reconciliation.
Ashcroft’s supporters say liberals are attacking his faith only because
of his political beliefs. And today they accused his critics of religious
Woman at a rally:
"Where, my friends, is Joe Lieberman today?"
"But that’s unlikely to convince critics that the man who calls
Christ his king will be fair to those who don’t."
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
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."
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
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."
Gumbel launched into
a series of antagonistic assertions: "OK, 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?"
again I don't account for that. All I can say, again, is if you look
inside the state of Missouri where he's from, where he was elected
Governor twice, Senator once, Attorney General once, I don't think you see
all this furor except from just maybe a few people. But again-"
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?"
again, here you go again. Now once again the man won, how many elections
did he win, we're talking about one that he lost under some peculiar
circumstances. Again the issue that I think you're getting to and
everybody is getting to, is you know, is he something outside the curves.
No. Let's look at his record, let's look at the facts. When you look at
the facts, again, he obviously is not outside the curves and he obviously
is, I think, going to be a great Attorney General. And he will have a
chance today to state the facts in this record."
are he opposes abortion, he opposes affirmative action-"
percent of the American public does."
Gumbel kept talking
over Polk as he raised his hand to signal Polk 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.
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?"
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?"
"Well, you know we’re deeply troubled by it. After all, George Bush
indicated that he was a uniter not a divider and yet he chooses someone
who was perhaps the most divisive Senator in Congress..."
If I were Jesse Helms I’d be insulted by that
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
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,
complaint you hear is that Ashcroft had a zeal for defeating Ronnie White
and that raises the issue of race. Is that a fair complaint?"
-- "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
-- "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
-- "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
-- "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
Several good points from Blitzer that Gumbel could
have raised if he cared about balance.
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."
Boxer: "This is
a man of such extreme views, Sam, that his record, which I'm sure will
come out, and that's why you're hearing more and more people express
concern. He tried to criminalize abortion with a constitutional amendment.
He would make a woman a criminal even if she was raped or the victim of
feeling when you hear people say things like that."
-- "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
-- "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:
"For him to
pick John Ashcroft and John Ashcroft’s stand on affirmative action, his
stand on abortion although the black community obviously divided on the
abortion issue. But there are a lot of, you know, against busing, you know
there is, there’s enough in his background that it seems almost like a
personal spite thing, the nomination. I would, I would suggest 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."
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
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
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
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
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
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.