Watching the Sunday shows so you don't have to

The experts of Meet the Press, Face the Nation and This Week solve the Syria, Holder and IRS crises in mere minutes

Published June 2, 2013 5:28PM (EDT)

Welcome to this week's Funday Shows recap, a look at all the hot chatter on NBC's Meet the Press, CBS's Face the Nation, and ABC's This Week. The topics under discussion this week include: Is Eric Holder the worst human being in history? Has he killed off any remaining semblance of Freedom of the Press in this country? Why aren't we bombing Syria yet? Are IRS employees dancing too much, and are we not going out of our way to humiliate them enough?

"SUNDAY SHOWDOWN!" George Stephanopoulos greets us, to open This Week. It's a political consultant versus another political consultant! Whose talking points will win? "Let's get right to it" with David Plouffe versus Karl Rove, before you even have time to run to the bathroom. Arianna Huffington, Gwen Ifill and the WSJ editorial page's Paul Gigot watch from the other side of the table.

Stephanopoulos shows poll numbers that indicate the public doesn't especially care about any of The Scandals, today's hot lead. Forty-four percent find the IRS targeting scandal the most important, however. And Karl Rove says if you look "inside the numbers," the public is still very unhappy with the economy. And the IRS collects taxes from the economy, so there you go: biggest scandal ever, searingly pertinent to all.

Karl Rove notes that Crossroads GPS, his multihundred-million-dollar 501c4, operated under the assumption that it would face additional scrutiny from the IRS, the culture is just that rotten. (It seems to have survived anyway.) Rove notes that these groups had been around for a while on the left before the explosion of applications on the right in recent years, and they never faced special scrutiny. Plouffe notes that the IRS targeted the NAACP during the Bush years. So why is Rove trying to paint this as driven by this White House? "I didn't suggest it was driven by the White House," Rove responds.

"I think everybody is guilty of a little overreach in these arguments," Gwen Ifill chimes in from the other side of the panel, saying the only thing that needs to be said and rendering the rest of this program and all current political debates useless.

Now we move onto the leak investigation implicating Fox News reporter James Rosen. "The public doesn't seem to care about this," George Stephanopoulos says. Does Eric Holder have to go? Did he lie before Congress? What did he ignore while it was ongoing? A number of the assembled journalists believe DOJ didn't exercise as many options as it should have before seizing Rosen's records.

So… David Plouffe? "I think [Holder]'s trying to uphold the law." And we need to modernize the law, what with all the fancy new Internets and smartphones out there needing to be subpoenaed in this day and age. Arianna Huffington believes that Holder has to go but finds Karl Rove's politicization "ironic" because Republicans have also done terrible things to journalists in the past, yadda yadda yadda. Paul Gigot notes that the "thread" between the IRS and leak investigation scandals is "the coercive power of the government." It's true, the government is a mighty entity. Let's get rid of it.

Now let's check out the good ship David Gregory on NBC's Meet The Press, while This Week prattles on about retiring Rep. Michele Bachmann. (Meet The Press will cover Michele Bachmann during The Roundtable.)

Gregory notes that this week will be another bad one for the IRS - which apparently had quite a string of good weeks in the public's mind until recently(?) -given new revelations about luxurious spending around the country, involving terrible dancing. But that's for later! Let's talk about Eric Holder, first, and his targeting of good ol' hardworking journalist folk like us.

What do you say, Thomas Friedman, who is on television again? "Red lines were crossed" on both sides he says. "Not everything that's secret is news," so reporters should do a better job minding their manners. "Do you think Eric Holder should resign?" David Gregory asks without a wisp of self-awareness to a Republican member of Congress, Rep. Marsha Blackburn, who believes it will take "a generation" to restore trust in government after these latest scandals that most people across the country aren't that worked up about.

Tom Brokaw is beamed in and asked about one of the few sober takes on the Rosen case, this Walter Pincus piece in the Washington Post about how so many of the talking heads spouting off now don't "understand history" or the law in this case. ("FREEDOM OF THE PRESS?" is the chyron. Will it die?)

Tom Brokaw says he talked to a "very very senior official" in the government this week who said - get this - that every administration will use leaks when it's to their political advantage. So how can we change this? (What was that thing about how no one understands history?) Brokaw wants to get to the bottom of this. He gets a plug for his new show on THE MILITARY CHANNEL and disappears, perhaps for a nice brunch.

Jonathan Alter, also plugging a new book, notes there is a difference between investigating leaks and prosecuting journalists, the latter of which is new. But is it new? Because journalists aren't being prosecuted, David Axelrod says; but they are suffering from intimidation in the form of poor word choice. Which is not nothing! Everyone agrees that using the term "co-conspirator" against Rosen in the affidavit was a bit much. But Rosen, so far, is not in Guantanamo Bay.

Now we have New York Sen. Chuck Schumer, who's always up to talk to anyone who'll listen. He, too, wants to get to the bottom of this, get the facts, to see what must be done to Freedom of the Press in order to protect National Security.

What about the IRS and its "lavish spending," Chuck Schumer? Why is it spending all of this money on line-dancing while the rest of the country dies? Looks at these shitsacks, line-dancing like fools in a secret IRS video - scum of the earth. David Gregory of the media says this is the last thing the IRS needs, because the media will be all over it. What can we do to prevent these IRS employees from having even a modicum of fun in their daily lives? Schumer believes that money should not be wasted, in these tough times.

Now over to Face the Nation, where Sunday star John McCain is talking about his new friends in Syria, the terrorist-rebels, who must be given an insane amount of weaponry immediately. He notes that Assad now has "the upper hand" in its civil war and "we can't" say today that "it's inevitable that Bashar Assad will fall." In other words, the Syrian civil war is playing out. How can we get in there and mess around with it? A lil' no-fly zone, for starters. (A brief reminder that a "no fly zone" means bombing the hell out of a country to establish air supremacy.) Israel bombed Syria, so it can't be that hard. Then, we just do whatever to help the rebe-- the vetted rebels overthrow Assad, and it's like we were never there. What's the problem?

Now Schieffer is talking about storm damage across the country - something that's important and much of the country cares about, meaning it's not worth covering for more than about 90 seconds. Commercial! Time for the hot panel: Jill Abramson, Dan Klaidman, John Dickerson, Bobby Woodward, and David Ignatius. The hot topic: look at this video of these stupid IRS employees dancing awkwardly! Let's humiliate them them on national television for no reason for a minute before turning, with a straight face, to a discussion about the importance of the press.

Bob Woodward believes this is just like the '70s, when he covered something called "Watergate" scandal for the Washington Post.

Klaidman dares say that the DOJ's leak investigations are "complicated." He believes there's a "larger cultural issue" at play - that prosecutors will cast as wide a net as possible to gather all the evidence they can. Holder is a prosecutor by nature, but didn't pay attention to his duties in the public spotlight here, "and that's where he fell down." Here's a clip of him saying he never "heard of" any prosecutions of the press, of which there haven't been any, but still, maybe he perjured. Klaidman doesn't believe this is a "sustainable" perjury charge. Abramson notes that the issue is about DOJ's relationship with the press, which is clearly a bit authoritarian, and not about how Holder is an evil perjurer.

Bob Woodward, journalist, says the real legal problem is that there's a "feeling" something ain't right.

So, Jill Abramson, what is the main takeaway today? "This is not a group of journalists complaining about attacks on the press per se," she says, in the perfunctory attempt to inoculate herself against charges navel-gazing. Judges have called aspects of the investigations bad too! John Dickerson? Look at those IRS monsters dancing - we must know more. David Ignatius? Syria is awful and all of our options are terrible; so far, all the White House is doing is training rebels and offering advice, and perhaps that's all we should do. Bob Schieffer makes the good point that no one has outlined a clear objective with regards to American policy in Syria. What is it? Obama "doesn't like war! He just doesn't like war," Bob Woodward says, with a bit of a sneer, noting how Obama wants to pull out of ground wars and avoid new ones.

Back to Meet the Press, where the panel topic is Obama's second term agenda, and David Axelrod is throwing around such buzzterms "in the age of globalization," "age of technology," "infrastructure," "investment," "education," like a pro. David Gregory has to cut him off. He wants to discuss the serious society-destroying problem of more women being breadwinners in the family, after the break.

We've seen enough obnoxiousness this morning to dare watch that closing segment, we think. Goodbye!

By Jim Newell

Jim Newell covers politics and media for Salon.

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