'Today' Rains on Bush-Blair Parade, Katie and McCain Spar

With the Yankees fresh from taking two-out-of-three from the Red Sox, why not a Today show double-header this morning?

In the opener, with British Prime Minister Tony Blair in Washington for talks with President Bush, Today did its best to rain out any good news emerging from Iraq.

NBC White House reporter David Gregory observed that "two leaders who have paid a heavy political price for launching the war in Iraq will stand together tonight before the country to argue there is new reason for hope."

A hope that Gregory was quick to seek dash. Whereas new Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki has said he expects Iraqi forces to be able to assume major responsibility for securing the country within 18 months, Gregory described it as a "tall order given Iraqi forces have been infiltrated by gangs fueling sectarian violence in the country."

Added Gregory: "Some analysts think the goal is unrealistic, suggesting the Iraqi prime minister may only be telling the U.S. what it wants to hear."

We were then treated to a clip of Michael O'Hanlon of the Brookings Institution asserting "we've never had enough troops in Iraq, and the Iraqis are only now beginning now to have enough, where the sum total of everybody in uniform begins to approach the minimal level."

Gregory saved his nastiest shot for last, observing "a dynamic duo after the 9-11 attacks, the Bush-Blair alliance has been reduced to the 'Axis of Feeble' according to a magazine," as Today obligingly displayed The Economist cover pictured here.

In the 'night-cap,' John McCain went to bat against lefty Katie Couric. What are normally the 'friendly confines' of the Today show for the senator turned decidedly chilly when talk turned to McCain's recent commencement speeches.

When McCain spoke at the far-left New School in NYC, many in the audience booed and turned their backs. If the tables had been turned, with a liberal Democrat, say, receiving the same treatment [as unprecedented as that would be] on a conservative campus, one can imagine Today decrying the lack of civility and perhaps devoting a segment to respect for freedom of speech. Here, Katie only quickly asked whether McCain was surprised, and in the same breath took this shot: "How much do you think Iraq is going to haunt the Republicans during the mid-term elections?" You might say Katie was expressing her solidarity with the back-turners.

The chill turned positively arctic when the topic turned to McCain's commencement address at Jerry Falwell's Liberty University. Couric buzzed McCain with this high, hard one:

"Some wonder whether what you gained in appealing to religious conservatives will hurt you with more moderate members of your party if you do run for president. In retrospect, are you glad you made this appearance?"

As McCain began to respond, Couric cut him off.

"But you called [Falwell] an agent of intolerance!" she interjected.

McCain: "Can I finish my answer? Can I finish my answer, please?"

A begrudging Couric: "Yeah, sure."

Finkelstein lives in the liberal haven of Ithaca, NY, where he hosts the award-winning public-access TV show 'Right Angle'. As a child he lived in the Bronx, close enough to Yankee Stadium to hear the cheering. Contact him at mark@gunhill.net

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