A prime-time announcement that bamboozles the press, draws a bigger television audience, knocks Karl Rove off the front page and limits the time for reporters to dig up controversial information?
Not a bad night's work.
As interesting as Bush's pick of the not-so-much-buzzed-about John Roberts -- which will dominate newspapers, magazines, television and blogs for the next two months, or at least until the next missing white woman -- is the choreography. (And how fiendishly clever of White House aides to tell The Washington Post over the weekend that Bush would likely wait until the end of July to give critics less time to shoot at his nominee.)
By 1 p.m. yesterday, media types sorta figured it was Edith Clement, but couldn't be so certain that they could assign a team of reporters to plow through her legal opinions. It was all some reporters could do to remember which of the two Ediths she was again.
By 5 p.m., a shoot-from-the-lip environment ruled cable news. MSNBC's Dan Abrams: "Rumors are swirling, but the name that seems so far to have been leaked to just about everyone is 5th Circuit Judge Edith Brown Clement, a woman with conservative credentials. President Bush's father put her on the federal bench in 1991." Clement was "at the top of the buzz right now," said commentator Craig Crawford.
But wait -- maybe it was the wrong Edith!
Fox's John Gibson: "We have heard a lot about Edith Clement. What about this Edith Jones?"
CNN's Suzanne Malveaux: "There's been a lot of speculation over Judge Edith Clement. We have been waved off of that as well. There are mixed reports whether she is going to be the candidate." Half an hour earlier, CNN had run a piece on Clement and Jones as "two front-runners."
At about 5:30, ABC reported on its Web site that Clement had gotten a call saying she wasn't the one -- perhaps the fastest flameout in Supreme Court history.
By choosing to unveil his nominee at 9, Bush not only threw the media establishment into a tizzy, he also broke the news right on deadline for East Coast newspapers and after the network newscasts. He cut through "the filter," as he calls the media, preventing -- or at least delaying -- journalists from researching long pieces picking apart his choice. The president also guaranteed himself a bigger audience than with a morning announcement (even if some would have preferred the scheduled "Big Brother 6" and "I Want to Be a Hilton").
At 6:30 the network newscasts were cautious. "Clement was leading the short list," said CBS's Jim Stewart, who then listedother short-listers such as Jones, Michael Luttig, Priscilla Owen and John Roberts (not the CBS anchor who introduced him and has himself been on a short list to succeed Bob Schieffer).
"By late afternoon," said ABC's John Cochran, "the new buzz was about Michael Luttig, a tough conservative. Liberal groups were aghast."
"The names have narrowed," announced NBC's Brian Williams. David Gregory said it wouldn't be Clement, and Pete Williams said it could well be Luttig or Roberts.
There were still hours to go, and the TV talkers had to talk. Partisans debated whether whoever-it-was would be a good choice. There hadn't been this much feverish chatter since the journalists gathered at the Vatican weren't sure whether the rising chimney smoke was white or black.
The blogs were rife with speculation all afternoon. Raw Story | http://rawstory.com/news/2005/SENATE_JUDICIARY_DEMOCRATS_VIEWS_ON_CLEMENT__0719.html posted the Democratic talking points (the first of several editions, I'm sure) on Clement. She limited constitutional rights, restricts access to the courts, is cozy with corporate interests, etc., say the Dems.
"Late idle speculation seems now to point away from Clement and toward Judge Edith Jones," wrote Josh Marshall | http://talkingpointsmemo.com.
Stone Court | http://thurgood.blogspot.com/ was onto something: "My inclination is to doubt that she will really be the nominee because, while clearly a conservative, she does not seem to be the kind of social policy extremist that the religious right is hankering for."
Then there was this, from Grace & Civility | http://jacksonleslie.blogspot.com/2005/07/georgies-big-announcement.html: "Who the hell is Edith Clement? CNN seems to think she's the nominee. . . . She's probably a hardline conservative (look at who's doing the nominating)." Now that's open-minded.
Observed Kos | http://dailykos.com: "Good timing for Bush, allows him to take the pressure off Rove. Too bad (for Bush and Rove) that the special prosecutor doesn't give a damn about the Supreme Court nominee. He's continuing to build his criminal case."
At 7:20, MSNBC's Abrams asked: "Is it possible that Clement's name was thrown out there as a moderate pick to see if Democrats came out and denounced her?" Hmmm.
The reliable leaks made their way to TV at 8.
But somehow I got an e-mail at 7:51 from the conservative outfit Creative Response Concepts, with such quotes as "John Roberts is a superb choice for the Supreme Court" and "The President has made an absolutely first rate nomination."
I happen to think the president is giving the other side an extra month to build a case against his nominee (if that's what Democrats and liberals are inclined to do). But from the administration's point of view, media chatter about Roberts is probably superior to media chatter about whether Rove should be fired.
While I have not exhaustively examined Roberts's record, one very grave concern has arisen, according to The Post: "As a judge on the D.C. Circuit, Roberts voted with two colleagues to uphold the arrest and detention of a twelve-year old girl for eating french fries on the Metro train." Huh? Guess he's a tough law-and-order man!
The initial television take last night was that this was not an incendiary nomination. "The Democrats were fearing someone much more conservative," Tim Russert said. "By all accounts, a lightning-fast intellect," said Brian Williams. Fox's Fred Barnes said Roberts was fine but not "demonstrably conservative" enough for some on the right, while Bill Kristol said he was now an "obvious" candidate to succeed Rehnquist.
MSNBC's Abrams says Bush threaded the needle: "He's just conservative enough to satisfy the base and yet there's not enough on paper for the liberal groups to get him."
The morning analyses, if you read between the lines, seem to say: shrewd choice.
Los Angeles Times | http://www.latimes.com/news/nationworld/nation/la-na-scotus20jul20,0,2226321.story?coll=la-home-headlines:
"In choosing Roberts, Bush settled on a traditional jurist with longtime Republican ties and sterling conservative credentials. But Bush missed an opportunity to appoint another woman to the court, or nominate the first Latino justice. Bush has opted for a low-key, cautious conservative to replace a judicial centrist who frequently cast a deciding swing vote on the nine-member court."
New York Times | http://nytimes.com/2005/07/20/politics/politicsspecial1/20nominee.html?hp&ex=1121832000&en=a9ef76797bf4261f&ei=5094&partner=homepage: "While Judge Roberts has impeccable Republican credentials and a record of service in the Reagan and first Bush administrations dating to 1981, his paper trail of opinions is comparatively thin, and he is not seen as a 'movement conservative.' . . .
"Abortion rights groups fault him for arguing, as deputy solicitor general for the first Bush administration in 1990, in favor of a government regulation banning abortion-related counseling in federally-financed family planning programs.
"He also helped write a brief then that restated the first Bush administration's formal opposition to Roe v. Wade, the 1973 Court decision that established the Constitutional right to abortion, contending, 'We continue to believe that Roe was wrongly decided and should be overruled.' But when pressed during his 2003 confirmation hearings for his own views, he said: 'Roe v. Wade is the settled law of the land,' and added, 'There's nothing in my personal views that would prevent me from fully and faithfully applying that precedent.' "
Boston Globe | http://www.boston.com/news/nation/washington/articles/2005/07/20/a_scant_paper_record_of_personal_views/: "Supreme Court nominee John G. Roberts Jr. has developed a reputation in the nation's capital as a respected intellectual with strong conservative credentials, but he has produced little record of his personal views on the most incendiary social issues that are settled by the nation's highest court."
Wall Street Journal: "Judge Roberts may be difficult for the Democrats to attack as being an extremist. Those who have worked with him say he is a gracious judge likely to communicate effectively during confirmation hearings, and who has avoided provocative comments from the bench or in public speeches. And the business community is certain to hail the selection of a jurist who often represented businesses on regulatory matters."
Chicago Tribune | http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/nationworld/chi-050719bush-story,1,4308413.story?coll=chi-news-hed: "President Bush's prime-time nomination Tuesday of Judge John Roberts Jr. to fill a Supreme Court vacancy demonstrated, once again, the president's signature defiance of the expected. . . .
"In Roberts, many analysts agreed, Bush could appease his conservative base, argue convincingly that the judge was the best-qualified available nominee and fend off any easy demonization of Roberts by Democrats. But Roberts is a step backward in terms of the court's diversity and that carries risk for the president. In that sense, rather than a bland choice, it was bold.
"At once, the president gains some much-needed short-term political yardage with conservatives along with a chance to leave a legacy-defining stamp on the court. Roberts' moderate bearing belies his conservative legal career in important respects that Democrats no doubt will seize upon."
That's interesting -- is there such a thing as moderate bearing, and how does it differ from conservative bearing? No Bork-like beard?
Philadelphia Inquirer | http://www.philly.com/mld/inquirer/12175895.htm: "President Bush has made a politically shrewd choice for U.S. Supreme Court.
"In the polarized hothouse of Washington, he faced a daunting challenge as he pondered a momentous decision that could help shape his legacy. He had to tap somebody with sufficiently right-leaning credentials who would please his conservative followers; at the same time, he had to find somebody of high intellectual caliber who wins respect on both sides of the aisle, thereby making it difficult for the liberal opposition to demonize with impunity. John Roberts may well fill the bill."
There's the media take in a nutshell.
The Washington Times | http://washingtontimes.com/national/20050720-121154-1170r.htm has the GOP viewpoint: "With Senate Democrats offering at least tepid praise last night, Republicans say federal Judge John G. Roberts Jr. should be easily confirmed to the Supreme Court."
Here's a case you'll be hearing more about, from Slate's Emily Bazelon | http://slate.msn.com/id/2123055/:
"Roberts may indeed turn out to be a wise, thoughtful, and appealing justice. When Bush announced his nomination, Roberts talked about feeling humbled, which won him points on TV. But an opinion that the 50-year-old judge joined just last week in the case Hamdan v. Rumsfeld should be seriously troubling to anyone who values civil liberties. As a member of a three-judge panel on the D.C. federal court of appeals, Roberts signed on to a blank-check grant of power to the Bush administration to try suspected terrorists without basic due-process protections."
Don't forget that all media politics is local. Here's the New York Post | http://www.nypost.com/news/nationalnews/50532.htm lead: "President Bush last night chose Judge John Roberts Jr. -- a rock-solid conservative with upstate New York roots -- to replace Sandra Day O'Connor on the Supreme Court, setting the stage for a confirmation showdown with Senate Democrats." Roberts was born in Buffalo, but didn't live there long.
And here's the headline on the Chicago Trib | http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/nationworld/chi-050719profile-story,1,4299304.story?coll=chi-news-hed bio: "Hoosier roots, a 'solid Midwest guy.' " Roberts grew up in Long Beach, Ind.
The libs, meanwhile, are still upset about Rove. American Prospect's Michael Tomasky | http://www.prospect.org/web/page.ww?section=root&name=ViewWeb&articleId=10013 notes an LAT piece quoting sources as saying Rove was intent on discrediting Joe Wilson because, he "reportedly" said, "He's a Democrat."
"I do not understand why some things get this town upset while others don't, but those three words should make any honorable patriot of either party both furious and ashamed.
"Wilson spent two decades in his country's service -- in diplomatic postings in Africa, chiefly, but also at the National Security Council, and in Baghdad leading up to and during the Gulf War of 1991. Former Secretary of State James Baker once thanked him for his 'outstanding service to the nation,' and the current president's father was equally effusive in a late-1990 telegram to Wilson in Baghdad." Plus, "get this -- Wilson had donated $1,000 to the Bush campaign in 1999!"
Arianna Huffington | http://www.huffingtonpost.com/theblog/featuredposts.html#a004363:
"So we now officially have a direct statement of what will come to be known as The New Bush Doctrine: 'If someone committed a crime, they will no longer work in my administration.' . . . Of course, it would be hard for this 'someone' to continue to work in Bush's administration, since this someone would be in prison. But I guess the 'restoring integrity to the White House' President is assuring us that, were it even possible to work out an arrangement whereby the offender could continue to fulfill his White House duties from a federal penitentiary, this president just cares too much about integrity to allow that kind of thing."
Finally, if you believe that every single possible subject in Washington is studied and analyzed, you're right, as this National Review posting by Carrie Lukas | http://nationalreview.com/comment/lukas200507180808.asp of the Independent Women's Forum makes clear:
"As one might expect, three quarters of the 200 interns surveyed reported flirting among interns. But half had also seen it between interns and staff, and more disturbing, nearly one in ten had witnessed flirting between an intern and an elected official. One percent claimed to be aware of an intern's having an intimate relationship with an elected official -- a small percentage, granted, but it is still problematic if such affairs take place at all.
"Sleeping with a congressman or senator may be the province of the daring few, but plenty of interns are getting physical during their D.C. summers. Nearly half (44 percent) admitted to having 'hooked up' -- defined as a casual physical encounter including anything from kissing to intercourse -- since arriving in Washington. That's almost twice as many interns as when this question was asked in a 2003 survey.
"Alcohol goes hand in hand with the hook-up culture, with more than eight in ten interns responding that alcohol is 'always' (30 percent) or 'sometimes' (54 percent) present at social functions. Not surprisingly, the propensity to consume alcohol was linked to an intern's likelihood of hooking up, and four in ten interns admitted that they'd done things under the influence of alcohol that they wouldn't have done sober."
Wouldn't that last one apply to a whole lot of grownup non-interns as well?