February 07, 2004

Staffing Tim Russert II

It has been pointed out that while long, thorough questions make the questioner look smart, they are easy to evade. So here's another take on what Tim Russert should ask, presented as question series:

  • The Washington Post has called your budget a "bogus budget," and the New York Times has called your budget a "Pinocchio budget," isn't that right. The Post editorial page has been a big supporter--why did they say that?

    [Follow up] They say that your budget omits $150 billion of costs in 2009 associated with policies you advocate--and that the real 2009 deficit number is $400 billion. Isn't that true?

    [Follow up] But the budget you submitted has no money in 2009 to fight the War on Terrorism, no proposals to keep the Alternative Minimum Tax from undoing the tax cuts you are so proud of, and contains $60 billion of promises that sometime in the future you will submit more spending cuts. Doesn't that add up to about $150 billion?

    [Follow up] Shouldn't you withdraw the budget document, and issue a new one that presents a more honest picture of your policies and their likely costs?

  • Mr. President, your first Treasury Secretary--Paul O'Neill--warned about the dangers that over-hasty and imprudent budgeting could produce embarrassingly-large deficits, didn't he?

    [Follow up] Isn't it now clear that Paul O'Neill was very right?

    [Follow up] Since he was so right, shouldn't you bring him back? Wouldn't it be better to have advisors who gave you good advice than advisors who gave you bad advice?

  • Mr. President, you are disappointed that your administration has seen a loss of 2.3 million payroll jobs for Americans, aren't you? You wish that the job market had been better?

    [Follow up] I mean, it is disappointing to know wthat your administration has the worst job record since Herbert Hoover, isn't it?

    [Follow up] If you had known back in 2001 what you know now, what would you have done differently in economic policy?

    [Follow up] Wouldn't giving more tax cuts to the middle class that spends them and fewer to the $300,000+ a year crowd that saves them have boosted spending and employment?

    [Follow up] Wouldn't it, in retrospect, have been better to have had a different tax cut package--one that would have purchased some insurance against the extraordinary decline in employment that we have had?

  • Mr. President, your former Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill quotes you as saying one cause of lost jobs is "SEC Overreach": that because the SEC is too aggressive in regulating corporate managers, investment is discouraged and jobs are lost,isn't that right?

    [Follow up] But Alan Greenspan and Paul O'Neill are on record as saying that the thing reducing investment and holding back the American economy over has been a fearthat the SEC is not doing enough. Enron. Adelphia. Global Crossing. WorldCom--all cases of fraud by corporate managers on a scale that would dwarf the Gilded Age, isn't that right?

    [Follow up] Can you please explain why you think that Chairman Greenspan and the man you thought best suited to be your Treasury Secretary are wrong, and that you are right on this issue?

  • Mr. President, your budget reports estimates for only five years, ending in 2009, is that right?

    [Follow up] It's traditional to report them for the standard ten years. The deficit numbers in years six through ten look really bad--much worse than in 2009, is that right?

    [Follow up] Did you and your staff decide to cut the six through ten year estimates from the budget in the belief that if you don't release the numbers for those years, the press corps is too dumb and lazy to ask about them. Is that correct? Is that the reason?

    [Follow up] [Follow up] Has it worked? Has the press by and large failed to ask about what's going to happen in years six through 10, 2010 through 2014?

Social Policy

  • Mr. President, Republicans in the House and the Senate are outraged that the administration's Medicare staff thinks that last December's Medicare bill will cost much, much more than the $400 billion cap your staff promised them, isn't that right?

    [Follow up] Last week you said that that this was as much a surprise to you as to anyone else--that you had only learned of this large extra expense two weeks ago, isn't that right?

    [Follow up] That means that HHS Secretary "Tommy" Thompson, Treasury Secretary John Snow, and OMB Director Josh Bolten kept from you--for months--their staff's estimates of the costs of the Medicare bill you signed last December. Why do you think they did this?

    [Follow up] The president of the United States is not a mushroom--not something to be kept in the dark and fed compost, is he?

    [Follow up] How many of those three--Thompson, Snow, and Bolten--will resign this week to spend more time with their families?

Military Service

  • Mr. President, all this fuss about your military service could be ended in an hour if you would--like all other presidents and candidates--release your military service records, isn't that right?

    [Follow up] As long as you don't release them, we all will infer that there is something in them that you regard as really damaging--much more damaging than the current accusations that you failed to fulfill your commitments and got your father to fix it with the Pentagon,isn't that right?

    [Follow up] What is in your military records that you and your staff are so scared of?

    [Follow up] Then I can announce that your military service records will be publicly released this afternoon?

  • Mr. President, your staff has been handing around a strange, torn document that they say is a partial copy of your military record from 1972-73, isn't that right?

    [Follow up] This "torn document" shows you reporting for Air National Guard duty in Houston on 25 days from May 1972 through April 1973, isn't that right?

    [Follow up] But your superior officers in Houston said that you had "not been observed" at all during that year. Is this torn document a crude forgery?

    [Follow up] How is it possible that you could have been on base for 25 different days during a year in which your superior officers claimed that you had not been seen on base at all?

  • [Follow up] Mr. President, do you know who created this "torn document" and who inserted it into your personnel file?

National Security

  • Mr. President, your CIA chief, George Tenet, has said in a speech at Georgetown University that the CIA never believed that Saddam Hussein posed a major or immediate threat to America--that it would Saddam more than five years to acquire nuclear weapons, isn't that what CIA chief Tenet said?

    [Follow up] Your Secretary of State, Colin Powell, has said that it is not at all clear, if we had known then what we know now, that the case was strong enough to support an attack on Iraq, isn't that right?

    [Follow up] In light of these conclusions by your chief advisors, are you sorry that you did not give Hans Blix and the U.N. weapons inspectors more time in Iraq?

    [Follow up] But more time would have allowed them to definitively establish what we know now--that Saddam Hussein did not possess significant quantities of weapons of mass destruction, and did not pose a threat to America. Wouldn't that have allowed us to follow other paths with Saddam Hussein, and wouldn't that have kept 500 brave American soldiers from being killed and 10,000 from being wounded--many of them in ways that will mark them for the rest of their lives?

    [Follow up] Mr. President, if the CIA never believed that Saddam Hussein posed a major or immediate threat to America, and never believed that Saddam Hussein and Al Qaeda were friends rather than enemies, what was the real reason for our invasion of Iraq?

  • Mr. President, it is now more than six months since some of your senior White House aides leaked classified information about the identity of U.S. agents, and so outraged all current and former CIA and other intelligence community members,isn't that right?

    [Follow up] You have sat passively by, taking no personal steps to establish the identity of the leakers of classified information, apparently happy to have them continue to serve you. Isn't that right?

    [Follow up] Doesn't this inaction and appearance of unconcern on your part undermine trust in the White House on the part of those who work for our intelligence services?

    [Follow up] What steps are you going to take to regain the trust of those brave and dedicated men and women who work in our intelligence services?

Other suggestions very welcome. And there's a huge amount of good material (and some not-so-good material) in the comments section of http://www.j-bradford-delong.net/movable_type/2004_archives/000220.html. In addition, Joe Conason has good questions too. As does David Corn.

Posted by DeLong at February 7, 2004 04:23 PM | TrackBack | | Other weblogs commenting on this post

good idea...but terrible form...if Russert asks 'why' or "what would you tell American people" he will be giving President softballs...the key is to use President's own words and statements and to ask him to agree that he's contradicted himself, or changed his mind, or misled country..everything should be aimed at obtaining admissions, which is the same as searching for truth.

Posted by: red on February 7, 2004 04:30 PM


Economic questions will be answered with canned speeches on the Clinton recession and the economic recovery.

Really blindside him:

1. Mr. President, do you think the earth is closer to a thousand or a billion years old?

2. Mr. President, do you think that abortion is the moral equivalent of murder?

Posted by: epistemology on February 7, 2004 04:35 PM


Brad, you are on the right track here.
Good job.

Posted by: marky on February 7, 2004 04:41 PM


Ouch, these questions are BRUTAL!

Good job. I'm interesting to see how Russert handled Bush; and vice versa.

Posted by: Luke Francl on February 7, 2004 04:58 PM


epistemology has the idea.

the trick in cross-examining someone for an audience is to ask many, very short, very starkly drawn, usually yes/no questions. simple questions are always better than nuanced attempts at specificity. fewer short words are always better than many long words. it is important that any audience recognize immediately the very simple issue on which the question solicits some very simple answer. with that expectation in its mind, even an unsophisticated audience will recognize weasel-words and non-answers.

trust me -- this is the method I used to win an endless number of cheap plastic trophies in high-school debate in front of judges who were mostly well-meaning but uninterested parents.

of course, this is not what will happen Sunday. we know full well that we are going to be treated to a tightly-scripted, hourlong campaign event. now if they let a good trial lawyer (paging John Edwards) do the interview, that would be something else.

Posted by: wcw on February 7, 2004 05:23 PM


Mr. President did you show classified documents to Bob Woodward or authorize anyone else to show classified documents to him?

Have you taken any steps to investigate whether anyone in the White House showed classified material to Mr. Woodward?

Is it ok to show classified material to reporters if they plan to write a story or book that is politically favorable to you?

Posted by: Dwight Meredith on February 7, 2004 05:52 PM


Mr President,

You and several of your staff have said recently that one of the reasons for the invasion was that Saddam did not let inspectors in. Is it not true that in fact the UN inspectors did spend considerable time in the country before the war, and in fact produced a much more accurate assessment of Iraq's WMD than the Office of Special Plans and the CIA?

Posted by: raidman on February 7, 2004 06:21 PM


The only thing I don't like is all the "Mr. President" crap. The little bastard wasn't elected, after all, and doesn't pull the strings in any case. I couldn't stand his voice as early as the 2000 campaign, don't know how anyone, even Russert, could stand to be in the same room with the guy, and the last thing I would do even in a make-believe Q&A session is refer to GWB as Mister President.

Well, so much for rational discourse. Good questions you got there, of course.

Posted by: John H. Farr on February 7, 2004 06:41 PM


I agree J Farr, call him Mr. Bush or George. I wish Bush's opponent in the the presidential debates would call him George.

Great questions by Mr. DeLong. Just this quibble: "wouldn't that have kept 500 brave American soldiers from being killed and 10,000 from being wounded"

I know no US politician nor media personality like Russert would ever say this, but occasionally I'd like to see mention of the ~10,000 Iraqi dead from the war. And if dead/wounded ratios are similar between the US and Iraq, that leaves 200,000 wounded Iraqi civilians. How many are children?

Posted by: andrew on February 7, 2004 09:16 PM


Nbc nightly news didn't even mention Tenet's mainline scenario about Nukes...5-7 years.( that Tenet prefaced by saying this is important and often overlooked) All they mentioned was Nukes in one year AND they didn't mention the condition that he acquire fissile material. Andrea Mitchell pulled a 'Cheney' this week. UNBELIEVABLE. "sEE HONEY, CIA TOLD PREZNIT NUKES IN ONE YEAR, how could he not act, PREZNIT GIVE US TURKEY"

Posted by: fil on February 8, 2004 12:15 AM


Dear Brad

I am trying to take the Bush role in the "interviews" as Robert W Bush on rjwaldmann.blogspot.com. I have already confronted Matthew Yglesias. I found your (original) questions hard to answer. Then I realised that I could respond to just one bit of a long question (the point many people made). Now you change the rules.

Still, I will try. I said I would do it here, but I don't want to bore people.

Robert W Bush

Posted by: robert on February 8, 2004 04:22 AM


Mr. President, why did you invade and occupy a country that we now know has no WMD or any capacity to produce them, while turning a blind eye to a known grave and gathering threat represented by the nuclear proliferation activities of Pakistan (and their Saudi Arabian funders)?

Posted by: Bob H on February 8, 2004 07:10 AM


Sorry folks. I just read the transcript at the NBC site. Just pap. Standard questions, BS answers, no followup.

Fire Russert.

Posted by: Bernard Yomtov on February 8, 2004 07:16 AM


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