King Gets Crowned

By Howard Kurtz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, January 7, 2009 4:50 PM

John King wouldn't tell Stephen Colbert, but we can reveal the answer now.

When the CNN anchor appeared on the Comedy Central show this week, he said the network hadn't yet decided on a name for the Sunday show he is taking over -- the one currently known as "Late Edition."

Colbert helpfully suggested "The Magic King-dom," or -- and I think this was more of a long shot -- "On the John."

But now the CNN brass, taking time out from pondering who might replace Sanjay Gupta, have come up with a name: "State of the Union with John King."

CNN seems to like Official Washington-type titles, such as "The Situation Room," with Wolf Blitzer, who is giving up his Sunday duties. This is not to be confused with the White House Situation Room, which deals with a different kind of incoming.

The King show debuts at 9 a.m. on Jan. 18 at the Newseum, where CNN will be basing its inaugural coverage as all the networks go into hoopla mode for the Obama swearing-in.

Note: My media show on CNN will remain in the middle of that four-hour block at 10 a.m., but we're sticking with the same old name. Unless I can get a better suggestion from Colbert.

TV Doctor Gets Paged

From 8:03 a.m.

For a few seconds, I was puzzled by the notion of Sanjay Gupta as surgeon general.

He's a real-live neurosurgeon, yes, but I primarily think of him as a television guy: a CNN host and contributor to the "CBS Evening News" and "60 Minutes."

But as I thought about it, the idea made sense. What does a surgeon general do? He's a television salesman for health policy. (Gupta once told me that doing TV isn't brain surgery--it's harder.) He would give the administration a smooth broadcast presence, the knowledge of medical professional, a top aide of Indian descent and the panache of one of People's "Sexiest Men Alive." (Don't laugh. Women, I am learning, just drool over this guy, with entire sites devoted to gushing over his hunkiness.)

I confirmed yesterday that Obama has offered the job and that Gupta had all but officially accepted. Got it up on the Web site at 2:36 p.m., mere moments after filing the story. Cyberspeed comes in handy sometimes. CNN, where I host a weekly program, didn't report it until 3:59, but the blogs went crazy--lead story on HuffPost, top of Drudge's page, then the NYT and others. Gupta wouldn't comment to me--while not denying the story--but confirmed on his Twitter feed that he "has been approached by the Obama administration about the U.S. surgeon general's post." Everyone's digital these days.

It's interesting that Obama was so intent on recruiting him that he met with the "House Call" host for 2 1/2 hours on Nov. 25. He seems to want an administration of stars in the Hillary mode. Gupta doesn't have a Panetta problem--he operates inside people's heads, after all--and has always been drawn to health policy, since a stint in the Clinton White House.

Is this another case of media people defecting to Obamaland, as with Time's Jay Carney and ABC's Linda Douglass? I don't think it's in the same category. Gupta is mainly being hired as a physician who happens to have phenomenal TV skills. Still, CNN put out a statement saying that he wasn't allowed to report on health policy, as opposed to subjects like fitness, once the brass became aware of the job talks.

Perhaps he can provide some personal advice to the workout-obsessed Obama. In October Gupta aired a special on presidential health called "Fit to Lead." Here's our story on Dr. Sanjay.

The NYT calls him a "leading contender"--he's a lot more than that--and says he heads a "small media empire":

"He is paid for speaking engagements, a controversial practice for a journalist. The All American Talent and Celebrity Network lists his speaking fees as $30,001 to $50,000."

The Chicago Tribune says Gupta "would bring to the post an unparalleled background as a communicator, having won widespread public recognition and a number of journalistic award in recent years. He has also been an outspoken advocate for public health."

Meanwhile, why wait for a little formality like an inauguration?

This is the week that Barack Obama seemed to become president. We've seen him meeting with congressional leaders at official-looking conference tables, answering questions from the press pool, spelling out his economic policy. George Bush, meanwhile, is having lunch with Bill Kristol and Fred Barnes.

I've never seen a president-elect take control like this before Jan. 20, but of course the financial crisis has deep-sixed the usual protocol. (Although Obama doesn't mind invoking the one-president-at-a-time mantra when he wants to duck, as on Gaza.) And the crisp way that Obama has convened these meetings, spoken to the cameras and made a point of including top Republicans is an unmistakable glimpse of his governing style once he gets to move across the park from the Hay-Adams.

Obama wants to do what GWB promised and admittedly failed to do, change the partisan tone in Washington. We'll see whether he can pull it off once he actually takes the reins.

Slate's John Dickerson has a smart piece on how Obama's inclusiveness is working against his desire for quick action on the stimulus package:

"Much of the time between now and when Obama signs the bill will be spent acting out the new era of politics he has promised. Much of Obama's popularity is based on his promises to build bridges with Republicans and change the way Washington works. Obama 'really does want this to be bipartisan,' said one veteran Democratic Senate aide when I asked why Senate Democrats couldn't just push through the Obama program quickly with their new massive majority . . .

"The process of winning over members in the minority party--or at least making it look like they were given a fair role in the process--will require patient negotiations and perhaps committee hearings during which Republicans are given sufficient time to ask questions and perhaps even call witnesses. If Obama wants to embrace their contributions to the bill--one of the biggest signs he's making good on his bridge-building promises--he'll then have to make sure he shows the same concern for the views of his fellow Democrats, like the deficit-conscious Blue Dog Democrats who want rules written into the bill that link future spending to corresponding budget cuts . . .

"The challenge for Obama is not whether his stimulus package will pass. He is the most popular incoming president since Eisenhower, and he has the talent to persuade, which means he can punish his enemies and reward his friends with the public. Furthermore, the idea of a bailout that helps regular people is inherently politically appealing, so he already has the public on his side.

"The legislation is going to pass. It's how it passes that will determine whether Obama increases or diminishes the political capital he needs for his next set of tasks, which include addressing the country's health-care problems and rewiring the nation's energy policy."

The libs are cutting Obama some slack, as we see in this Salon post by Joan Walsh:

"I'm going to give Barack Obama the benefit of the doubt on his decision to include long-promised middle-class tax cuts in the upcoming stimulus package. With Republicans and other observers attributing the decision to GOP kvetching about his ambitious planned stimulus package, Obama denied that politics motivated him to include the tax cuts, at a short press briefing Monday morning . .

"Clearly Obama's doing some of this for political reasons, and that's not all bad. I think it was great to open the year with today's bipartisan, bicameral meeting with congressional leaders. As Obama frequently says, he's going to be everybody's president, and he's got to at least start out by giving Republicans the benefit of the doubt that they want to help the economy."

And the GOP shouldn't automatically stonewall, says Jennifer Rubin in commentary:

"Republicans would be wise to keep two things in mind. First, they have won the rhetorical argument. The Obama team isn't talking about any tax increases and is conceding that massive public sector spending isn't going to solve our economic woes. That's something, and it's plenty to irritate the Left which is already aghast . . .

"This is what life in the minority is all about: getting what you can and declaring small and partial victories when you can find them. And if the final package is better, say with a consensus behind business and individual tax cuts, and a moratorium on future corporate bailouts, that would be good for the country and a signal to the voters that Republicans are a source of constructive ideas. What's wrong with that?"

The Burris circus hit the Capitol yesterday. It was surreal watching the chaotic mob scene on the cable nets, until the cameras pulled back and you realized that the putative senator was surrounded mainly by journalists.

"Democratic leaders seeking to bar Roland Burris from the Senate suffered a rift in their united front as they prepared to meet with him Wednesday to begin negotiations over whether he will be able to take the seat vacated by President-elect Barack Obama," the Chicago Tribune reports. "Hours after the Senate turned Burris away when he tried to claim the seat, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), the outgoing chairwoman of the committee that judges senators' credentials, urged that the Senate seat Burris, adding a new wrinkle to the struggle."

Says columnist Clarence Page: "Contrary to Rep. Bobby Rush's prediction, Roland Burris turned away at the door to the Senate did not look like a scene from the segregated 1960s in the south. It looked more like a disco in the 1970s where the bouncer ordered him to wait his turn behind the velvet rope.

"I used to say during his earlier attempt that Burris wanted to be a senator 'in the worst way.' Little did I know that years later he would find one of the worst ways to become a senator -- appointed by a governor who is an accused of trying to auction the seat to the highest bidder."

Obama is ushering in an important stylistic change, says Michelle Cottle in the New Republic, citing the example of homeland security czar-to-be Janet Napolitano:

"Napolitano is . . . single, childless, and famously committed to her career. Hearing of Napolitano's appointment, Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell declared his fellow chief executive perfect for the post because she has 'no family' and 'no life' and thus can 'devote literally nineteen, twenty hours a day' to the job. Rendell's remarks were derided in some quarters as sexist. But in his defense, we are talking about a woman who, when asked by Phoenix Woman how she unwinds after a long day, replied, 'When I come home at night, I read all the papers, memos, legislative bills, and letters that accumulated during that day . . . Then I read a good book. I always read two books at a time--one fiction and one nonfiction.' . . .

"Happily, Napolitano should also fit right in with White House chief of staff-in-waiting and renowned workaholic Rahm Emanuel, who, as a congressman, was known for calling up staffers and reporters alike at all hours. Loath to miss a minute of the action during this fall's negotiations over the $700 billion financial bailout, Emanuel sought a waiver from his rabbi to allow him to work through Rosh Hashanah . . .

"The defining characteristic of the emerging Obama White House is its proud embrace of the work-all-hours, sleep-is-for-wimps, personal-lives-would-be-nice-if-only-there-were-time ethos. Ironically, Michelle Obama has talked about how she wants to help Americans improve their work-life balance during her tenure as First Lady. Before moving on to the general public, though, she might want to start with the people who work for her husband. Because, whatever other change Obama ultimately brings to Washington, he has already put the workaholics back in charge."

Hey, bringing the Change We Need isn't a 9-to-5 job.

The Panetta debate seems to be gathering force. To me, the most resonant question is not his meager knowledge of spying--is Hillary Clinton the most experienced diplomat around?--but the question of partisanship. Bush named a GOP congressman who, despite his expertise in intelligence issues, was such a flop he had to be eased out of there. The questions, as framed by Politico:

"Did the appointment of Panetta -- a 70-year-old veteran of the Democratic establishment with a blue-chip name but no record of fresh thinking about intelligence issues -- indicate a dearth of creativity and options within the Obama team as time runs out on the transition? Or was the selection of a prominent outsider intended as a deliberate shove against the intelligence insiders at Langley-a signal that the new president is ready to play rough to ensure that the vast and often unruly bureaucracy he will inherit on Jan. 20 is at his heel and not his throat? At first blush, Panetta does indeed look like any-port-in-a-storm selection."

At Hot Air, Ed Morrissey sees political hackery:

"Barack Obama sent a message with the selection of Rahm Emanuel as his chief of staff, but apparently didn't think enough people understood it. He sent a stronger message with his choice of Leon Panetta for Director of CIA, and this time, it's unmistakable. Political considerations will trump competence and experience, even in the most critical roles Obama has to fill

"The U.S. is currently fighting an asymmetrical war on two hot fronts, but more to the point, in every corner of the world. We need our best people at the helm at Defense and in the intelligence arenas, people with insight into the problems and challenges facing America at war. Barack Obama either doesn't understand that or cares less about security than he does about politics.

"Leon Panetta only has indirect experience with intelligence . . . There must be thousands of people more qualified to run the CIA from an experience and competence standpoint, including several members of Congress, notably Jane Harman, who should have chaired the House Intelligence Committee in the last session of Congress but ran afoul of Nancy Pelosi."

I don't know about thousands, but the Harman part is true.

But the Panetta nomination is also getting dissed on the left. The Nation's Robert Dreyfuss calls it "an odd and unsettling choice":

"First, it's a bad idea to pick a politician to lead the CIA, because it is supposed to be an agency that is not political. Don't laugh -- that's the way it's supposed to be. Think about George W. Bush's most overt effort to politicize the CIA, by picking the Republican ideologue and hatchet man, Representative Porter Goss, in 2006. Goss' tenure was a disaster, and he had the advantage of being a former CIA officer and chairman of the House intelligence committee. Panetta is a know-nothing when it comes to intelligence.

"Which brings up the second problem. The Obama transition team is telling reporters that Panetta had experience as a 'consumer' of intelligence when he was chief of staff at the Clinton White House. Well, I have experience as a purchaser of computer equipment, but you wouldn't want me fixing your laptop. Fixing the CIA -- and believe me, it needs fixing, along with serious downsizing -- requires someone who knows how the insides work, and Panetta has no clue."

He says Leon will barely last a year.

Looks like the senator from Hardball isn't happening, at least according to a decent source:

"Stop speculating: Chris Matthews isn't running for U.S. Senate. At least that's what his brother told PolitickerPA.

"Jim Matthews was left with that strong impression after speaking with the MSNBC host when he returned from a two-week vacation in Jamaica. 'There's no hint of him running for office,' Jim Matthews told in an interview Monday. 'That's 1,000 percent true.'

"Jim Matthews, a Republican commissioner in Montgomery County, emphasized that it's his opinion -- he didn't hear it directly out of his brother's mouth. But he said his brother was very upbeat about returning to 'Hardball' and already had a new contract offer in hand from the cable news network."

I spoke with a CNN correspondent on my show about how Israel is barring journalists from Gaza, despite an order from its supreme court, but it hasn't been much of a press issue, until now. Here's an amazing quote from Daniel Seaman, director of Israel's Government Press Office: "Any journalist who enters Gaza becomes a fig leaf and front for the Hamas terror organization, and I see no reason why we should help that."

The guy who hacked Twitter accounts for CNN, Fox, Obama and others is an 18-year-old student.

Few others may care, but I find it jarring that the NYT is selling front-page ads (for a reported $75K to $100K a pop). Yes, other papers have done it, and many sell section-front ads, and maybe the revenue can pay for a couple of reporters. But this is the New York Times. I deem the space sacred.

The New York Post reports that "a new advertiser who wants access to the space has to commit to buying the ad 26 times during the year - for a total of almost $2 million, ad buyers say."

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