In a telethon that would have been the envy of Jerry Lewis, the Today show's first half-hour painted a portrait of wall-to-wall gloom for America and for the political fortunes of George Bush.
This was done against a backdrop of Jimmy Carter's pet charity Habitat for Humanity quite literally pounding home the message - as it builds homes for the displaced in Rockefeller Center - of the difference a Democrat president can make.
In the news recap, a quartet of woe for Republicans:
- Hapless former FEMA Director Michael Brown getting grilled by Congress.
- Bill Frist denies wrongdoing in the sale of hospital stocks.
- Sen. Pat Leahy importuning the president, when it comes to the nomination to replace Sandra Day O'Connor, to "be a uniter, don't be a divider." Yes, there's nothing like a towering giant of the bench like David Souter to bring a troubled nation together.
- Abu Ghraib even puts in an appearance, with news of Lynndie England's conviction.
David Gregory, antagonist extraordinaire of GOP White House press secretaries, then did a segment on the issue of whether "taxpayers are getting ripped off" by the hurricane relief effort. Calling it "the splurge after the storm," Today aired a clip of liberal Dem stalwart Henry Waxman wringing his hands over possibly excessive profits being rung up by the contractors.
Of course we all remember Waxman's concerns over bloated federal spending when it came to Hillary's plan for the feds to take over 1/7th of the national economy via "free health care." Or maybe we don't.
Today then paraded the dreaded word "Halliburton" across the screen as Gregory fretted over no-bid contracts. While also expressing concerns about favoritism at the state level, the only governor of which Gregory made mention was Republican Haley Barbour of Mississippi. Louisiana's history of pristine state government apparently leaves it above suspicion.
Next it was on to a Matt Lauer interview of NBC reporter [and rumored Katie replacement] Alexis Glick, recycling the story that energy prices are high.
Katie wrapped up the gloom-a-thon with an interview of Tim Russert. Katie first suggested that W was under political pressure as a result of rising energy prices, Russert concurring that the pressure was "enormous."
When Russert indicated that the real problem is the lack of refinery capacity, Katie asked what the president could do.
You might have thought Russert's reply would have been to the effect that this would be the time to loosen the regulatory stranglehold that has prevented a single new refinery from being built in the US in years. But no, Russert's only suggestion was that W "jawbone" the oil companies over possibly excessive profits. How that would add one drop of additional supply he did not explain.
When Katie acknowledged that W, making his seventh trip to the gulf coast since Katrina hit, has become a 'ubiquitous' presence there, Russert gloomily suggested that this wasn't good enough and that the political damage to the president may be "permanent."
That's odd. How many times have we heard Russert and other talking heads solemnly proclaim that in politics, "a week is a lifetime"? But somehow, with more than 3/4 of his second term to run, there's no way for W to recoup his political losses. And under the "no good deed goes unpunished" rubric, Russert claimed that the effective federal response to Rita, rather than scoring any points for W, only further proved that the handling of Katrina "just wasn't right."
Russert then asserted that federal spending on hurricane reconstruction was "out of control." Could be. But just imagine if the spending had been more measured, and all the normal regulations on letting contracts had been observed. Would not Katie and Tim have been condemning W the miser and his inability to cut through the red tape?
Another classic damned-if-you-do-damned-if-you-don't moment, courtesy the MSM.
Finally, with footage of the weekend's anti-war demonstrations in DC playing in the background, Katie suggested that, with its emphasis on hurricane relief, the Bush administration has "lost focus" on Iraq.
In response, how's this for a no-win scenario painted by Russert? Speaking of the upcoming Iraqi vote on the proposed constitution, Russert suggested that if it is voted down, it will set back the process for a year. But if it's adopted, well, that's no good either, since it will make the Sunnis - who largely opposed the constitution - feel disenfranchised, moving the country toward civil war.
Russert tried to sum things up with this inelegant analogy: "people are beginning to make comparisons between Iraq and hurricanes." He glumly concluded that among the American people, "there are a lot of misgivings."
Through a glass darkly, indeed.
Finkelstein has degrees from Cornell University and Harvard Law
School.He lives in Ithaca, NY where he hosts "Right Angle," a local
political talk show. Finkelstein specializes in exposing liberal bias
at NBC's Today Show.