Guests: Michael Crowley, Katrina Vanden Heuvel, Steve Adubato, Matthew Felling, David Caplan, Dawn Yanek
JOE SCARBOROUGH, HOST: Is George Bush the worst president ever? “The Washington Post” asks the question. We‘ll get the answer. But first, it‘s another bad day for Mr. Bush. First he‘s forced to bow down to Democrats and boot another hard-line ally, this time, his U.N. ambassador. A weakened and angry George Bush responds by attacking Democrats as stubborn obstructionists who are, quote, “hurting America.”
Next, Mr. Bush has heard from another hard-line ally who was shown the door last month. A newly released memo shows Donald Rumsfeld warning the president on Iraq while the president was telling voters we needed to stay the course. And today, the United Nations suggesting that staying the course has produced an Iraq where people were better off under Saddam Hussein than they are now. And tonight, more bleak news from the front lines, as anarchy sweeps Iraq and holds America hostage to a civil war that may soon go regional.
To talk about the bombings, Bolton and Mr. Bush‘s ever-weakening state, here‘s Richard Wolffe. He‘s senior White House correspondent for “Newsweek” and MSNBC political analyst. Michael Crowley is with us. He‘s senior editor for “The New Republic.” We also have MSNBC political analyst Pat Buchanan.
Richard, the president accused Democrats of ill serving their country by rejecting John Bolton. Do these come from a president who knows he‘s in a very weakened state right now?
RICHARD WOLFFE, “NEWSWEEK,” MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, he‘s certainly frustrated he can‘t get his way on John Bolton. You could hear it in his voice. You could see it in his body language. You know, President Bush is an open book here. And it‘s not that he‘s upset because he‘s particularly warm about John Bolton. Bolton is closer to the vice president than he is to the president. But there was a feeling in the White House that Bolton had redeemed himself. Yes, he declared war on the U.N. bureaucracy, but actually, he got on petty well with the Security Council and had got a few things done, especially on Lebanon and Iran. They really thought that they could make this one work. What they weren‘t counting on was losing the Senate, and that‘s what‘s changed.
SCARBOROUGH: And Michael, this president defiantly made Bolton a recess appointment, and he could have done it again. But despite his anger, it appears that he may have been afraid, actually, to defy Democrats. Are we really in a brave new political world now, where the president is having to bow down to Democratic leaders?
MICHAEL CROWLEY, “THE NEW REPUBLIC”: Yes, I think so. You know, there‘s a new sheriff in town, is one way to put it. I mean, you know, it was interesting because right after the election last month, Bush immediately started talking about, Oh, bipartisanship and cooperation and he‘d work with these Democrats. And then he turned on his heel and immediately said that he was going to push for Bolton, who is this incredible boogieman for liberal Democrats, in particular. They hate the guy both ideologically...
SCARBOROUGH: But Michael, what happened, though...
CROWLEY: ... and personally.
SCARBOROUGH: What happened, though, between the election and now?
Did the president just find—I mean, maybe it‘s just taking this president hard—you know, a while to figure out that it ain‘t 2001 anymore, that he can‘t call all the shots in Washington.
CROWLEY: He may be recovering from a state of denial after the election. He‘s not somebody who‘s used to not being able to get his way. And you know, he may just feel at this point that, you know, he just has too much else on his plate, trying to figure out what to do in Iraq, to try and fight this losing battle.
SCARBOROUGH: And Pat, you talk about what‘s going on in Iraq today. The U.N. Secretary general concluded that Iraqis are worse off now, three years after Americans arrived, than they were under Saddam Hussein. Now, of course, we can debate about that, but the fact that such an assessment is open to debate proves how far Mr. Bush has fallen short of his goal of liberating the Iraqi people. I mean, doesn‘t it prove that, Pat?
PAT BUCHANAN, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, there‘s no question about it, there‘s a horrific situation in Iraq. My own view would be that the Kurds are certainly better off. And the Shi‘a in the south, who are now dominant and largely free of attacks, are far better off. But in Anbar province and Baghdad, it‘s really a very mixed bag. The slaughter is really going on. And the United States is not better off.
Certainly, Joe, I think we‘re in a far worse position strategically. We look like we‘re about to be virtually expelled from the region. So I think it‘s a mixed bag, but Kofi Annan has got a point. I think if you asked the Iraqis, you‘d probably get a split decision.
SCARBOROUGH: And Richard Wolffe, let‘s move on to Donald Rumsfeld. How is the White House responding to the Donald Rumsfeld memo suggesting that radical changes had to be made in Iraq, even while the president was on the campaign trail saying, Let‘s stay the course?
WOLFFE: Well, we‘re in a strange situation here. I mean, the White House can say this is evidence of how they are asking the tough questions, they are having this live debate about everything to do with Iraq. But obviously, it‘s embarrassing to the extent that the public discourse, the rhetoric before the election, was very different. Obviously, anyone suggesting anything like this was ridiculed or put down one way or another.
Now, you have to read the memo fairly carefully because it‘s not actually saying, Withdraw troops now or set a firm timetable. The kinds of things that Rumsfeld‘s talking about are exactly the kinds of things the White House is trying to decide right now, and I‘m told will decide over the next couple of weeks, the repositioning, the refocusing of troops within Iraq. That memo does not say—doesn‘t live up to Democratic hopes of a withdrawal, and that‘s certainly not what the White House is planning for.
SCARBOROUGH: And of course, the White House also may not have been planning for a pretty tough exchange today. Tony Snow certainly may not have known it was coming, a tough exchange between David Gregory, obviously, NBC‘s senior White House correspondent, and Tony Snow, the spokesman. Let‘s take a look at this fiery exchange.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DAVID GREGORY, NBC CORRESPONDENT: Isn‘t it striking that this administration was accusing the likes of John Murtha and other Democrats who suggested course correction, including phased withdrawal, of cutting running...
TONY SNOW, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: No.
GREGORY: ... at the same time that the defense secretary was suggesting just the same option?
GREGORY: You don‘t see hypocrisy there?
SNOW: No because you‘re talking about apples and oranges. If you take a look at what—yes, really, because what—there is no suggestion in here that things be done without regard to developments on the ground. What the president has already said is—what you tried to do is—obviously, we want U.S. forces to be withdrawing based on what is going on on the ground in Iraq.
GREGORY: So this White House is playing it straight with the American people?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SCARBOROUGH: Pat Buchanan, do you think the American people believe that?
BUCHANAN: Look, there‘s no doubt about it, Rumsfeld had one bullet left in his chamber when they came for him, Joe, and he fired it.
SCARBOROUGH: He certainly did!
BUCHANAN: He hit the mark!
SCARBOROUGH: Speaking of firing, Rumsfeld fired you one time. Do you think this may have been a CYA operation on the secretary...
BUCHANAN: I don‘t think—I don‘t think...
SCARBOROUGH: ... of defense before he got drug out?
BUCHANAN: It‘s not CYA, so much as it is saying to the public at the expense of the president—he‘s saying to the public, Look, this Rumsfeld with his heels dug in, inflexible, hard-headed, that you saw is not the real me. I‘ve been looking at all these options closely, studying them, exploring them with the president. While I‘ve supported the president‘s line, I‘ve also had a number of other ideas. So it makes him look flexible, and it isolates the president to a further degree.
SCARBOROUGH: You know what, Michael Crowley, you know that one of the disturbing things about George Bush—and again, (INAUDIBLE) to say, I‘ve said it time and time again. It bears repeating every night. I supported this war from the beginning. I was stunned when I read what I read in Bob Woodward‘s “State of Denial.” In fact, Donald Rumsfeld was saying in late 2003, Let‘s get the hell out of Iraq as quickly as possible. The president in 2003 would not allow generals to call the insurgency an insurgency, just like he‘s not allowing people to call a civil war a civil war right now.
In the end, when the history books are all written, it‘s certainly looking like this is going to be laid almost exclusively at the feet of George Bush, right?
CROWLEY: Well, the buck stops with him. I mean, I‘ll plug another book. Thomas Ricks in “The Washington Post” has this book, “Fiasco,” which is also terrific. And...
SCARBOROUGH: It is a great book.
CROWLEY: It‘s a great book. And one thing it adds is that there is actually kind of a shocking level of incompetence in the upper echelons of the uniformed military. He makes Sanchez, the general who was in command there for a while, really look like he didn‘t know what was going on.
But the buck stops with Bush. There‘s no question. He‘s accountable, in the end. And you know, as far as these memos go, you know, we had the Hadley memo come out a few days ago, talking about the Maliki government, and now we have this Rumsfeld memo.
You know, it‘s getting to the point where you just sort of have to assume whatever Bush is saying publicly, you just kind of assume that‘s not what‘s happening and that‘s not what they‘re saying privately in the White House because Bush is saying, Stay the course, you know, we‘re not—you know, we‘re not going to make a change, and Rumsfeld is sending him this list of major changes. He‘s saying, Maliki‘s our guy, I looked into his eyes and he‘s the man for Iraq, and Hadley is telling him this guy is either incompetent or unwilling to help us or both.
So you know, these memos paint a pretty different portrait of what‘s happening in the world than we get from the podium at the White House, and it makes people...
SCARBOROUGH: Let‘s ask Richard Wolffe about this because, Richard, you‘ve been following the president. You were over there at the summit that almost wasn‘t and then was. All of these memos have been leaked throughout the administration. This has been a ruthlessly efficient administration in keeping dissent tampered down. That‘s just completely—the lid‘s been blown off over the past couple weeks. What‘s the environment like at the White House, and why is this happening now?
WOLFFE: Well, to say they‘re furious about especially the Hadley memo being leaked would be an understatement. I spoke to one senior White House official who said they wanted to see the person prosecuted, whoever was responsible. And they have a good idea. I mean, there is a—there‘s a real dispute inside the administration, really the last remaining dispute, about whether you should pursue democracy or not. And this is the dispute, I guess, between old-style conservatives like Rumsfeld and people who follow the president‘s course.
If you believe democracy can happen in Iraq, then you‘ve got to stick with Prime Minister Maliki. You‘ve got to stick with the mission. If you don‘t think it‘s possible, then you may as well withdraw, and that‘s what‘s going on right now.
But let me add one other thing, the thing they have a common ground here—you know, there is, whatever it is, 30 percent approval rate for the war in Iraq right now. I think if you poll in the White House, you‘d find the number was even lower. People are unhappy. They still believe in the mission and they want it to work, but people are unhappy with the mission.
SCARBOROUGH: And Pat Buchanan—hold on. Hey, Pat, though, the thing is about a lot of people in the White House is they believe that the president has had his head in the sand over the past several years. They believe the people he‘s put in charge have failed miserably. And what does he do with the people that fail the most miserably? He gives them the highest presidential honors afforded.
BUCHANAN: And what‘s happening, Joe, when you get these memos being directly leaked and people taking that kind of risk with their careers—what has happened is discipline in the White House has broken down. The dissenters want the word gotten out that, We weren‘t for this, or, We aren‘t for this, we ought to go on another course. There‘s a brashness and a boldness and a defiance of the “decider” in the Oval Office we have not seen to date.
SCARBOROUGH: And Michael Crowley, again, I mean, it‘s going to be a long two years for President Bush, if, again—you know, if he‘s having this type of discipline problems within his own White House and he has Democrats who are now standing up to him. Is the feeling in Washington, D.C., that this president is going to be able to handle the new challenges that are before him, that he‘s going to actually—going to be able to reach out to Democrats across the aisle, or he‘s going to strike out angrily, like he did today?
CROWLEY: I mean, Joe, you know, at this point, I don‘t think people do have a lot of faith in him being able to pull it back together. I mean, he doesn‘t really have a reassuring record. There‘s nothing you can turn around and point to and say, Well, he pulled that off pretty well, he‘ll follow that model again. I mean, he‘s attacked and alienated Democrats for most of the past six years. He hasn‘t really presided over any major successes since the invasion of Afghanistan, and even that‘s gone south. So yes, I think the next couple of years look kind of dismal.
One quick closing thought. Whoever inherits the presidency from Bush is going to inherit huge messes in Afghanistan and probably Iraq. So I mean, he‘s going to probably muddle through for a couple of years and then just kind of pass this mess off to the next poor sucker who gets in there. I mean, it makes the presidency look like a bit of a poison chalice right now.
SCARBOROUGH: Well, I‘ll tell you what, Afghanistan, Iraq, the largest deficit in American history, the largest debt in American history, the largest trade deficit in American history—not exciting. Thanks, Richard. Thank you, Michael.
Pat Buchanan, stay with us, because coming up next: Will George Bush be remembered as the country‘s worst president ever? “The Washington Post” asked that provocative question. We‘ll debate it next. And later:
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
STEPHEN COLBERT, “THE COLBERT REPORT”: It never pays to be the first any anything, not when parasites like Joe Scarborough and Helen Keller are waiting to steal your idea.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SCARBOROUGH: Some of the biggest journalists around named Stephen Colbert the top dog of the media world. Does it make the fake news guy the real deal, and are journalists just jealous?
SCARBOROUGH: Is George Bush the worst president ever? Well, “The Washington Post” asked presidential historians that question yesterday. This is what Eric Foner at Columbia University had to say. Quote, “In his first six years in office, he‘s managed to combine the lapses of leadership, misguided policies and abuses of power of his failed predecessors. I think there‘s no alternative but to rank him as the worst president in U.S. history.”
Is George Bush the worst president in the history of the United States? To talk about “The Washington Post‘s” provocative question and give us some answers, here‘s Katrina Vanden Heuvel. She‘s editor and publisher of “The Nation” magazine. And still with us, Patrick Buchanan.
Katrina, I start with you. Is George Bush the worst president in American history?
KATRINA VANDEN HEUVEL, “THE NATION”: Joe, you asked earlier, is this a provocative question? I don‘t think this is a provocative question. Eric Foner, eminent historian, also said that it will be hard to predict in 2050. But Bush, no question, ranks as one of the very worst. There is Buchanan—not Pat—Pierce, Harding, Coolidge and Nixon.
But if you think about what Bush has done in terms of this war, misleading this nation into this war through manipulated intelligence now into a murderous quagmire, domestic policies either failed or failing, and I think most importantly—and Pat might speak to this because Nixon looks like a piker compared to this president—he has violated and subverted our Constitution, the most cherished values of America, sanctioned torture, disgraced our nation, alienated a world from America. The incalculable cost, I believe, has made George W. Bush the worst president in this country‘s history.
SCARBOROUGH: You know, Katrina, thought—and we can go through specifics, and you said some things that I would debate you on, but there‘s no doubt the president‘s policy in Iraq has failed and his leadership has failed. He‘s—conservatives certainly commend him for what he‘s done on the Supreme Court...
VANDEN HEUVEL: Not on the war, Joe. Not on the war.
SCARBOROUGH: No, not on the war. No, I said on the Supreme Court. And also, obviously, he failed miserably on Katrina. But if you went back to September the 12th, 2001, and you asked Americans, Do you believe that we‘ll go the next five years without being attacked on American soil again and that we‘ll be able to respond economically and have an economic revival over the next five years, I‘d guess 80 percent of Americans would say, No way. I mean, by the big macro standards, isn‘t there something to be said about George Bush preventing another attack...
VANDEN HEUVEL: Joe...
SCARBOROUGH: ... and the economy growing the way it has?
VANDEN HEUVEL: Joe, just on the security macro front—this is a great nation. George W. Bush responded with fear and poisonous partisanship after those first hours and days of 9/11. He misled and took this nation into a position where we are less secure both abroad, and I would argue, at home. Instead of, for example...
SCARBOROUGH: But we haven‘t had any attacks at home, Katrina.
VANDEN HEUVEL: But that is not—we don‘t—you know, that is not the equation. The equation is, we are a less secure nation today because of the policies of this administration.
SCARBOROUGH: Well, I think we are internationally...
VANDEN HEUVEL: And in addition, on the economic front—how can you say that, Joe? This country today...
SCARBOROUGH: How can I say what?
VANDEN HEUVEL: How can you say that this country is better off economically? We now have the greatest inequality at any time in this country‘s history, we have cronyism, we have corruption this country has never seen, even under Harding and Coolidge. And we have an economy that doesn‘t work for working people in this country. You work hard, you live poor.
SCARBOROUGH: You know...
VANDEN HEUVEL: ... And I think that is a measure of a president.
SCARBOROUGH: Katrina, you know what? You‘re not the first person that said that, Katrina. Mort Zuckerman, in fact, has said that all the positive rosy numbers that are out there aren‘t good indicators of the economy. I would just say if that‘s the case, if we have new standards, then we‘re going to have to get economic benchmarks because you look at the economic benchmarks out there, Pat Buchanan, and things do look like they‘re turning around.
Now, that being said, George Bush has had so many failures over the past several years, whether you‘re talking about Katrina, whether you‘re talking about the deficit, whether you‘re talking about the debt, whether you‘re talking about trade, whether you‘re talking about immigration, whether you‘re talking about Iraq, whether you‘re talking about Afghanistan, that certainly, some people could say—not me, not close, but some people could say he‘s the worst president ever. What would you say?
BUCHANAN: Well, look, I don‘t—I think it‘s premature to say. But look, let‘s take economic numbers. FDR in his fifth year in office, around 1937, ‘38, had 17 percent unemployment in the United States. That‘s the New Deal. You talk about abuse of power. FDR locked up 110,000 Japanese in concentration camps. Was that worse than the Patriot Act, for heaven‘s sake or what we did—Mr. Padilla or the shoe bomber?
So look, Joe, you got to put these things in perspective. I do believe this. If this war ends badly and a disaster occurs across the Middle East, George Bush will go down in history as one of the failed presidents. Is he the worst president in history? I don‘t know.
I‘ll tell you what. I do believe that far more important in Iraq in the long run is the open border situation in the Southwest. If you‘ve got 100 million Hispanics here in 2050, they‘re predominantly unskilled and poor, and they start acting in ways to tear this country apart, I think that could be George Bush‘s worst legacy.
SCARBOROUGH: You know, Katrina...
VANDEN HEUVEL: I would say...
SCARBOROUGH: ... obviously, again, we could...
VANDEN HEUVEL: Just could I say to Pat...
VANDEN HEUVEL: ... on the Supreme Court...
SCARBOROUGH: I‘ll let you respond, Katrina. Let me—hold on. Let me ask you a question. Feel free to circle back around and talk to Pat about it. I‘m curious, though, what do you think—if you believe, in fact, that George W. Bush is the worst president of the United States, what do you think his fatal flaw is, either politically or personally, the character flaw that has allowed him to make the mistakes that you believe that he‘s made, that‘s made him the worst president in American history?
VANDEN HEUVEL: The character flaw I would say that he is the most incurious president and that he has enveloped himself in a bubble and that he is untethered in different ways from the reality of how people live in this country or what U.S. power can be used for in rational and democratic ways.
SCARBOROUGH: You think he‘s isolated like Ronald Reagan was isolated?
VANDEN HEUVEL: I think—as one of his advisers said to a very good journalist a few years ago, We live in an empire of our making. You live in the reality-based world.
We—this country needs to come back to a reality-based world. And this president has undermined all of the reality-based concepts that Americans, I believe, cherish. They cherish a foreign policy which is principled, which makes them secure, not a messianic crusade to remake the world.
I think we would do well—Pat, you talked about Roosevelt—to think a little bit about how we have nothing to fear but fear itself on the economic front and be hopeful again.
VANDEN HEUVEL: And I think on the Supreme Court front—you talked about the internment. It is extremely unusual in a time of war that a Supreme Court would rebuke a president, as this Supreme Court has done. And by the way, it‘s not a liberal court—because of undermining, unprecedented undermining of a Constitution...
SCARBOROUGH: Well, it‘s...
VANDEN HEUVEL: Torture is un-American.
SCARBOROUGH: It certainly...
VANDEN HEUVEL: And that is very frightening.
SCARBOROUGH: It certainly—you say unprecedented. You have Abraham Lincoln that suspended habeas corpus.
SCARBOROUGH: You‘ve FDR that interned over 100,000 people simply because they were Japanese.
SCARBOROUGH: You even have John Adams. He passed his—you know, right after the founding of our country, the Alien and Sedition Act, where you could throw people in jail. I mean, it is not unprecedented. I think we just expect more of our presidents in the 21st century.
VANDEN HEUVEL: No!
SCARBOROUGH: Pat Buchanan...
SCARBOROUGH: ... let‘s not go back to the other Buchanan. Let me just—we‘ll keep it in...
BUCHANAN: He wasn‘t that bad.
SCARBOROUGH: ... the past 30, 40 -- we‘ll keep it in the past 30, 40 years. Who do you believe is the worst president, George W. Bush or Jimmy Carter?
BUCHANAN: I think Carter is a failed president. I think Bush is in danger of being a failed president. And as we talked this afternoon, I think Dwight Eisenhower‘s rising up as a near-great American president.
SCARBOROUGH: All right. Well, you know, I asked that question because Republicans—the worst insult one Republican can give another...
SCARBOROUGH: ... is comparing them to Jimmy Carter. And I‘ve had so many Republicans over the past six months come and whisper to me in Green Rooms across Washington and New York, This guy‘s as bad as Jimmy Carter.
Katrina, thank you for being with us. I greatly appreciate it. I know you don‘t think that Jimmy Carter is a failed president. Pat Buchanan...
VANDEN HEUVEL: I didn‘t think Pat would, either, if he cares about the Middle East and Arab-Israeli peace.
BUCHANAN: He did a great job in the Middle East, no doubt about it.
SCARBOROUGH: He certainly did. And still being provocative there, too, asking tough questions that are enraging a lot of people. Pat Buchanan, thank you for being with us.
Coming up next, Stephen Colbert beats Katie Couric, Rupert Murdoch and Joe Scarborough to be named media person of the year. Is it proof that America prefers fake news to the real deal? But forget Colbert. It‘s me that everybody‘s lining up to see in Alabama. “Must See S.C.” up next.
SCARBOROUGH: Hey, wake up Auntie Em, it‘s time for tonight‘s “Must See SC,” some video you‘ve just got to see. Stephen Colbert is taking over late night comedy one town at a time. Last week in Alabama, his manager opened a museum dedicated to the Comedy Central host. But Colbert‘s not the only one with loyal fans in the home of the Crimson Tide. Take a look.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PAUL DINELLO, COMEDIAN: No! What are you people thinking? Have you lost your minds? Mayor, you, too? All you people are on notice. Congratulations. None of you have any balls.
STEPHEN COLBERT, HOST, “THE COLBERT REPORT”: Folks, I guess I should have seen that coming. It never pays to be the first at anything, not when parasites like Joe Scarborough and Helen Keller are waiting to steal your ideas.
Colbert County, I wish you the best. And when Joe Scarborough leaves you—and he will—I‘ll be there for you. Well, actually, I‘ll be here for you, but you get the idea.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SCARBOROUGH: What exactly is a Scarborereum or whatever they called that? Anyway, coming up after the break, more Stephen Colbert. The king of fake news has been named—not making this up—media person of the year by some of the country‘s top journalists. Is it a sign that the real news is behind the times?
And later, what a way to make a living. We‘ll look at the fallout from Jessica Simpson‘s botched tribute to Dolly Parton.
SCARBOROUGH: Coming up, Jessica Simpson‘s bizarre breakdown at the Kennedy Center. We‘re going to show you her embarrassing performance coming up. That story and more, in just minutes.
But first, the votes are in, and Stephen Colbert is called the king of the media world. The Comedy Central funnyman was just named media person of the year in a poll that featured critics from the “Washington Post,” the “New York Times,” as well as other outlets. Colbert beat out the likes of Rupert Murdoch and Arianna Huffington in the annual poll held by the Web site, “I Want Media.”
He was also recently honored by “Time” magazine as one of the year‘s most influential people. High praise for a man who‘s gone from a relative unknown a year ago, when he added the word “truthiness” to the public lexicon with this performance.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
COLBERT: “Truthiness.” Now, I‘m sure some of the word police over, the wordinistas at Webster‘s, are going to say, “Hey, that‘s not a word.”
Well, anybody who knows me know that I‘m no fan of dictionaries or
reference books. They‘re elitist, constantly telling us what is or isn‘t
true, or what did or didn‘t happen.
I know some of you may not trust your gut yet, but with my help, you will. The truthiness is: Anyone can read the news to you. I promise to feel the news at you.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SCARBOROUGH: So does the fake news funnyman deserve the top spot in the media world? Here now, MSNBC media analyst Steve Adubato and Matthew Felling. He‘s the director for the Center for Media and Public Affairs.
Steve Adubato, let me begin with you. High praise, coming from people from the “New York Times” and the “Washington Post.” I think Ken Auletta voted in this poll, as did Tina Brown. This was pretty high-brow stuff. And yet, they consider this man the most powerful voice in media. What‘s it mean?
STEVE ADUBATO, MEDIA ANALYST: Well, it means I‘m not sure they were taking it seriously. I mean, let‘s put it right out there: Stephen Colbert is fascinating. He‘s funny. He‘s innovative. You can see how talented he is, Joe, but he‘s a character. It‘s a goof; it‘s a spoof. He‘s like Borat; he‘s like Sacha Cohen in the movie “Borat.” He‘s playing a character.
My point is: How can you be that influential if, in fact, you‘re playing a character? You‘re not even being who you are. And all I‘m saying is, I think it‘s a fun vote. I think it‘s, you know, the kind of kitschy thing to do. I don‘t believe I actually said that word. I promised myself I wouldn‘t say it. But it is a kitschy, fun thing to do.
But Stephen Colbert, influential? I teach at several universities. And let me tell you, my students love Stephen Colbert. They watch him all the time. They know very little about the world going on around them, Joe. The bottom line is: It says a lot about how younger people are turning away from mainstream, regular, serious news, if you will, and tuning into Comedy Central. That‘s fine. But influential? Not really. Not that much.
SCARBOROUGH: Well, you know, after the Democrats took control of Congress last month, Colbert explained to the voters what a poor choice they had made and that it might just be time for him to throw in the towel.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
COLBERT: Tomorrow you‘re all going to wake up in a brave new world, a world where the Constitution gets trampled by an army of terrorist clones created in a stem cell research lab, run by homosexual doctors, who sterilized their instruments over burning American flags...
... where tax-and-spend Democrats take all your hard-earned money and use it to buy electric cars for National Public Radio and teach evolution to illegal immigrants. Oh, and everybody‘s high! Woo!
You know what? I‘ve had it. You people don‘t deserve a Republican majority. Screw this! I quit! See you, suckers! No, too late! It‘s too late!
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SCARBOROUGH: Matthew Felling, it‘s satire, right? I mean, he‘s making a point with everything he says, every skit he does, correct?
MATTHEW FELLING, THE CENTER FOR MEDIA AND PUBLIC AFFAIRS: Well, I don‘t even think it‘s satire. I think what Jon Stewart does is satire, where he‘s just kind of poking fun at the people in the news, be them politicians or be they idiots like Jessica Simpson botching something at the Kennedy Center.
What Colbert does, which is brilliant—yes, he‘s playing a character. Steve‘s got it right there. Oh, he also got it wrong. Sasha Cohen is a skater. Sacha Baron Cohen is Borat.
ADUBATO: Oh, I‘m sorry. I knew you‘d know that, Matthew.
FELLING: But anyway, no, what Colbert is doing that‘s so brilliant is that he‘s playing this character, and he‘s actually holding a mirror up to the people in the media and to the people in politics to expose them for all the idiocies and idiosyncrasies. And it‘s calling them on all the things that they‘re doing every single day, whether it be their “war on Christmas” silliness or just tirades against imaginative foes.
And, I mean, I do think that Colbert is very powerful. I do think he‘s very influential, because what you just played was actually mimicked back to me on Thanksgiving by my 13-year-old niece. She had memorized that speech.
All this being said, I think that the real king of the media world of the past year, at least, is a guy named Chad Hurley, because Chad Hurley‘s the guy...
FELLING: ... who brought about YouTube.
FELLING: And more than—sure, “Macaca” and other political things happened on YouTube, but at the same time, YouTube shows movie previews. YouTube shows SportsCenter clips. YouTube is a catch-all for everything, and it‘s changed American media.
SCARBOROUGH: Well, and, you know, he also sold it for quite a bit of money. He can probably afford—let‘s put that picture back up there. With all the money that he made from Google, I think he could probably afford a new hair cut and possibly a new suit and possible even a tie.
ADUBATO: And, Joe, let me jump in on that point, if I could.
SCARBOROUGH: Well, I‘m going to play another clip. Colbert‘s claim to fame after the midterm elections was that every candidate that went on his show went on to win their election after the results came in. Colbert took a victory lap. Watch.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
COLBERT: Every congressman I‘ve interviewed was reelected. But, boy, wait a second. Didn‘t someone say talking to me was a bad idea, Jimmy?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The “Better-Know-a-District” series looked at 25 members in their districts and it‘s kind...
REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), HOUSE MINORITY LEADER: Has it only been 25?
It seems like much more. I wouldn‘t recommend that anyone go on.
COLBERT: I‘ll take my apology now, Nancy, and I‘ll take it in cash. Nation, my candidates have swept back into power with an overwhelming mandate, and now it‘s time for them to repay my tit with their ample tat. Now, I‘m not asking for anything big, folks, just the one thing the nation desperately needs: a $315 million bridge to connect my desk to the interview table.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SCARBOROUGH: You know, Steve, if this guy is not important, then why does John McCain and all these other people go on these Comedy Central shows? We had John Edwards going on Jon Stewart‘s show to announce his presidential campaign. Obviously, they think they can excite young viewers by getting involved in these type of shows.
ADUBATO: Joe, I want to be clear: It‘s a question of degree. I‘m not saying he‘s not important. I‘m saying it‘s laughable that this survey called him the most influential, if you will, media person or the media personality, because look who was number two? It‘s Rachael Ray.
Now, my wife likes her. You know, I‘m sure a lot of people like her. It skews toward women who particularly like those kinds of programs. But I‘ve got to tell you: What kind of survey has her number two and Stephen Colbert the media personality of the year? It‘s kind of a goof.
My point is: He‘s not as influential. The fact is, it‘s going to be more and more clear that any serious person, Joe, who wants to run for president is not going to go on Colbert. They‘re going to go on Jon Stewart, because it‘s too risky to go on Colbert because he‘s so smart, so funny, will make you look so bad, because if he doesn‘t make you look bad, he‘s not doing a good job. That only goes so far. So media personality no? Actor, terrific. Performer, terrific.
SCARBOROUGH: You know, in addition to being named, though, the most influential, he was also called “Time” magazine‘s, one of their 100 most influential people of 2006. And he was also named one of “People” magazine‘s sexiest men alive. And this is how Colbert reacted to that honor.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
COLBERT: The editors of “People” magazine had the wisdom to name me one of the sexiest men alive.
Yes. Eat it, James Dean! You are not alive!
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SCARBOROUGH: Matthew Felling, we‘ve got to go, but, man, sexiest man alive, media king of the year, one of the 100 most powerful people, “Time” magazine.
FELLING: A good year.
SCARBOROUGH: This guy is on a roll, isn‘t he? I mean, has he eclipsed Jon Stewart?
FELLING: No, I don‘t think he‘s eclipsed Jon Stewart, but I remember the very first show I saw, “The Colbert Report,” and I thought, “Enjoy this while it lasts, because they can‘t keep this up four nights a week.” They‘ve done it, and they‘ve kept it going for a year.
FELLING: I‘ll hand it to them.
SCARBOROUGH: They have. They‘ve done a great job. Hey, thank you, Matthew Felling. Thank you, Steve Adubato. As always, appreciate you guys being with us.
And coming up next, Jessica Simpson follows in her sister‘s footsteps with an embarrassing live performance in front of Washington‘s elite. What caused that bizarro breakdown?
And later in “Hollyweird”...
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GEORGE CLOONEY, ACTOR: I woke up at, you know, 7:00, and I was still drunk. It was a brutal night.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SCARBOROUGH: Yes, but he was smart enough to stay off TV. George Clooney talks about his wild night on the town with Danny DeVito.
SCARBOROUGH: Well, it‘s the Washington ceremony that honors the best of the world of entertainment, but last night at the Kennedy Center honors, things didn‘t go so smoothly for one pop star. That‘s right, friends:
Jessica Simpson goes to Washington, and she chokes.
The singer had—to put it nicely—well, an awkward moment on stage last night, while singling “9 to 5” as part of a tribute to Dolly Parton. Take a look.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: You spend your life putting money in his wallet...
JESSICA SIMPSON, SINGER: Dolly, that made me so nervous.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SCARBOROUGH: What happened? And what‘s in Dolly Parton‘s hair? What is that? Well, anyway, Jessica later returned to the stage in tears. So what happened? Here now to talk about—what‘s with that hair? -- deputy New York bureau chief for “Star” magazine, David Caplan.
David, we‘ll ask you about Dolly Parton‘s hair later, but, first, what in the world happened to Jessica Simpson on stage at the Kennedy Center last night?
DAVID CAPLAN, “STAR” MAGAZINE: That girl needs to get a new stylist. She totally freaked out when the gown she was wearing—it was a little loose. She was having a bit of her own wardrobe malfunction.
SCARBOROUGH: Oh, is that what she was doing, she was grabbing hold, trying to hold herself in and up?
CAPLAN: Yes, you can see, you know, the top part of her dress, it was loose. She was about to have all of her stuff hang out, so she was freaking out and holding onto it. And Jessica...
SCARBOROUGH: You know, David, I really think it would have been much better if she would have just relaxed and gone with it, right?
CAPLAN: But you know what? I‘m nervous for her. She admires Dolly Parton so much. She‘s talked about her forever, and now, in front of Dolly Parton, she messes up one of her own songs. So it was a huge embarrassment for Jessica.
And also, look who‘s in the audience, people like Tom Hanks, Reese Witherspoon. So not only was all of Washington there, but you had all of these Hollywood‘s a-listers who you know were just laughing and looking at Jessica and being like, “OK, you call yourself a performer?” It was very bad for Jessica.
SCARBOROUGH: So who‘s worse off, Jessica in front of all of these very famous and powerful people, or her sister who screwed up on “Saturday Night Live”?
CAPLAN: You know, I‘ve got to say Ashlee, because that really exposed her as a really poor—not even performer, but singer. At least with Jessica you could just make fun of her, you know, performing abilities or her clothing, but with Ashlee, I mean, it‘s just like learn how to sing.
SCARBOROUGH: Is Jessica Simpson talented?
CAPLAN: She is talented. I really do believe Jessica—she can carry a tune, so that‘s a good start. But, you know, she really can sing. She‘s a talented singer. And she has. And so I really think sort of the snafu she had this past weekend was just a little bit more performance-related, her wardrobe, and, you know, she‘s learned her lesson. She knows now: Get a new stylist. That‘s a big message for her today.
SCARBOROUGH: Yes, no doubt about it. And, you know, the thing is—and she was on “Dukes of Hazzard.” I would not pay money to go see that movie, but I caught it one weekend on HBO with my kids, and she actually—she is a likeable actress. And I thought she and the cast did a pretty good job, so she does seem to be talented, unlike her sister on “Saturday Night Live.”
So let me ask you: Do you think we‘re going to see this in the final cut when it‘s played live on TV or will it end up on the editing room floor?
CAPLAN: No way. This is going to end up on the editing floor. In fact, CBS announced today that they will not be airing her performance on the show when it airs on December 26th. So everyone better log onto YouTube quickly, see that clip, because I guarantee you Jessica‘s camp will not want that clip floating around, and CBS has put the kibosh on airing it.
SCARBOROUGH: Yes. Good thing nobody‘s seen it. What about Dolly‘s hair? Do you think they‘ll end up editing that out? Are we stuck with watching that?
CAPLAN: I think you‘re stuck with watching it. It‘s a mess. It‘s like a beehive. But that‘s why she has her fans, so—but it‘s a bit of a mess, too. The combination of Dolly‘s hair, Jessica‘s performance, it was a bad night at the Kennedy Center.
SCARBOROUGH: That‘s funny. You know, in all the years of following Dolly Parton, I didn‘t think people watched her for her hair.
CAPLAN: I didn‘t know you were a Dolly-phile.
SCARBOROUGH: Thanks so much for being with us, David Caplan. We‘ll talk to you soon.
Coming up next, it is “Hollyweird.”
SCARBOROUGH: Hey, tell your press person to blame the car accident on the paparazzi, because, baby, it is time for “Hollyweird.”
First up, George Clooney. He gives the “Today” show‘s Matt Lauer the inside story on his late-night drinking with Danny DeVito.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CLOONEY: I was with an actor recently.
MATT LAUER, “TODAY” SHOW HOST: Big guy, little guy?
CLOONEY: Big, big heart. I got to the point where I was dumping the shots into, you know, a plant next to me, and I don‘t think Danny saw me do that.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SCARBOROUGH: Ha! Here now, editor-at-large for “Life and Style Weekly,” Dawn Yanek. And still with us, David Caplan.
You know, David, they had a rough night out on the town, and yet George Clooney didn‘t embarrass himself on TV. Talk about it.
CAPLAN: Yes, it‘s hilarious. First of all, the biggest shocker here is that George Clooney and Danny DeVito are friends. That was the first thing. No idea. They seem so...
SCARBOROUGH: Had no idea.
CAPLAN: They seem so opposite. The thought of them as drinking buddies is great.
SCARBOROUGH: Now for “Twins Part II.”
CAPLAN: I know. I mean, it‘s amazing. They went out. They had a night out. George Clooney said, “Oh, it wasn‘t a night of drinking. We just were at a restaurant.” They got totally wasted, and as George Clooney describes the night, it was a brutal night. They had lemon shots, drinking it all night. And George Clooney even said, you know, I went to bed at 11:30, and I was up by 7:00 the next morning, but I was drunk when I woke up.
SCARBOROUGH: Still drunk.
CAPLAN: Exactly, still drunk. And Danny DeVito‘s appearance on “The View” proves that he was sort of working at the same pace as George.
SCARBOROUGH: No doubt about it.
And talking about strange couples, Paris Hilton decided to follow her pal, Britney Spears, and skip out on hosting the Billboard awards. Dawn, what‘s the story here?
DAWN YANEK, “LIFE AND STYLE”: That‘s right. We seem to be seeing a different side of Paris Hilton. I mean, a few years ago, I think we thought she would have done anything for publicity, but she said, “No way. I have standards. I don‘t want to be making fun of my friends during this appearance.”
I mean, of course, Britney was just recently in the same position at the AMAs, and it seems that Paris did not want to get herself into the same position. Also, Paris...
SCARBOROUGH: She was afraid, Dawn, that the jokes were going to be too tough, too mean?
YANEK: Well, I mean, you have to look at what‘s in the entertainment landscape right now. We have Paris; we have Britney; we have Lindsay. It‘s a very easy joke for a writer to go to pretty, pretty quickly. So it seems like she didn‘t want to be a bad friend, which of course is also a different thing for Paris, since we know she has been getting into some cat fights and having public feuds with people like Nicole Richie and Lindsay Lohan. So an interesting turn of events.
SCARBOROUGH: Very interesting. And, Dave Caplan, speaking about somebody being upset on an awards show on a joke gone awry, remember, Britney Spears was upset at K-Fed. Well, K-Fed‘s actually coming to a TV near you. The soon-to-be ex-Mr. Britney Spears is in talks to start in his own reality show. God help us, please. Talk about it.
CAPLAN: Say it ain‘t so! That‘s right: Kevin Federline has approached the producers who did Aaron Carter‘s reality show, and Kevin wants to do a reality show all about Kevin. And let‘s not forget: When Kevin and Britney did their own reality show, “Chaotic” on UPN, it didn‘t do too well, even though everyone thought they‘d want to see Britney and see, you know, behind the scenes.
But this is such a bad idea. It‘s a train wreck waiting to happen, so that may get viewers. I mean, everybody is going to want to see what Kevin‘s really like. But I just feel, after the first couple of episodes, people are going to tune out, because we don‘t want to see him performing on stage. So many people don‘t want to know the details about Kevin Federline.
YANEK: And the thing is he doesn‘t...
SCARBOROUGH: It‘s awful. And, Dawn, I mean, it is a total train wreck, right?
YANEK: Yes, I mean, he doesn‘t have a fan base. And, I mean, that‘s the thing. There is this curiosity factor, but it‘s going to die out pretty soon. I mean, maybe—it seems to be the worst decision at the worst possible time. Maybe wait a little bit until Britney is exposing herself a little bit more and then step in and perhaps do some stuff.
SCARBOROUGH: So ugly. Dawn, David, thank you so much. And thanks for watching SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY. We‘ll see you tomorrow.
YANEK: Thank you.
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