'Today': Matt Chides Dems, Mike Nips John, Meredith Lets Loose

Matt Lauer had a chuckle at the expense of his guests - then took Dems to task.  Michael Smerconish scolded a Republican. And Meredith Vieira gave further evidence of a style looser than that of her perky predecessor.

That's the nutshell wrap on the first half-hour of this morning's Today.

Politics first.  Lauer opened his interview with the chrome-domed duo of James Carville and Philly radio host Michael Smerconish by rubbing his own less-than-hirsute pate and observing with a laugh in the shot captured here: "First time in a long time I feel like I have a luxuriant head of hair."

But things quickly turned serious.  Echoing a sentiment expressed by his rookie sidekick yesterday, Lauer left little doubt he feels the Democrats are squandering an electoral opening by failing to propose sufficient specifics on national security.  Lauer to Carville: "if you [Dems] ever had an opportunity to take advantage of it, it's now, and the Democrats can't get their act together."

Hey, at least Matt didn't say "if we Dems."

Carville offered a defensive response: "I think they will.  As [the campaign] unfolds you're going to see more specificity."

Lauer was left unsatisfied: "On this particular issue, can we make you safer, can we win the war on terror, why haven't the Democrats come up with a better answer than 'that's not a fair comment?'"

Carville responded by listing a number of Dem security proposals: implementing recommendations of the 9/11 Commission, improving port security, energy independence and cooperation and reaching out to other nations.

Speaking of port security, I'd say the Dems best talking point is our failure to inspect more than about 5% of shipping containers entering US ports.  I've never heard an administration official give an answer as to why we don't do more.  Why not?

Talk then turned to the recent comment by Republican House Majority Leader John Boehner that "Democrats are more interested in the rights of terrorists than in protecting the American people."  That was a bridge too far for Smerconish to defend: "He crossed the line.  I'm not here as a Kool-Aid drinker," referring to Boehner's line as a "cheap shot."

You knew it was a relatively light news day when by the end of the segment Matt was inviting his guests to opine on the break-up between Whitney Houston and Bobby Brown.

Vieira Watch: When Lauer opened the show by joshing to Meredith that "you get to know us a little yesterday and you still came back,"  Vieira, in a leap of less-than-Cartesian logic, replied: "until the check clears, honey, I'm here."  You might think it would work the other way around.

When it came time for Vieira to throw things to Al the weatherman, she put an odd, elongated stress on the first syllable of his last name: "Let's get a first check on the morning weather with Mr. RO-ker." 

Al: "I like the way you say that.  Not quite sure why you said it that way."

Meredith: "I just felt like it."

At the end of the half-hour, Vieira narrated a segment on the continuing drop in gasoline prices. Apparently the news was just a bit too good for Meredith to bear, as she concluded by observing that even at current levels, gasoline remains at "a ridiculous price" and that "you can be sure if it goes down, it's going to go back up." Funny - when prices were "soaring" I don't remember MSMers assuring us that what goes up must come down.

Mark Finkelstein lives in the liberal haven of Ithaca, NY. View webcasts of Mark's award-winning TV show 'Right Angle' here. Contact Mark at mark@gunhill.net

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