Week in Review: White House Race, Pakistan

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Analysis of the week's events includes the Clinton-Obama fight for the Democratic presidential nomination; allegations that Sen. John McCain was warned about his relationship with a lobbyist; and an election bringing change to Pakistan.

SCOTT SIMON, host:

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon.

This week, Democrats held a debate in Austin, voters in Pakistan dealt a blow to the ruling party of President Musharraf, and Cuba's Fidel Castro announced he is resigning from office after nearly half a century in power.

NPR's senior news analyst Dan Schorr, who's been reporting and analyzing the news even longer, joins us. Hello, Dan.

DAN SCHORR: Hi, Scott.

SIMON: Let's start with Thursday night's debates of the two Democratic candidates left standing…

SCHORR: Yes.

SIMON: …Senators Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. What struck you about the debate?

SCHORR: Well, the first thing that struck me was after all the predictions that she was going to come out swinging, now that she's the underdog and trying to make it back, nobody came out swinging. I thought it was on the whole a very civil performance on both sides.

If you ask me what struck me, what struck me was a point at which she said that whatever happens I am honored to be here with Barack Obama. Whatever happens we are going to be fine. That has a strange sound to it like a person who in herself was trying to come to terms with a possibility that she might not make it.

SIMON: There are, of course, plenty of big state primaries coming up.

SCHORR: That's right, but after having lost the last 11, she's going to have to do something spectacular now to come back.

SIMON: Senators Clinton and Obama were asked about changes in Cuba, where Fidel Castro announced this week he's handing the presidency to his brother, Raul Castro. Fidel will remain the head of the Communist Party.

SCHORR: Right.

SIMON: Both Senators Clinton and Obama were asked if they'd be willing to meet with Raul Castro or any new leadership, and they gave at least slightly different answers, didn't they?

SCHORR: Well, very slightly different answers. I mean, Obama has chosen the Kennedy mantra of no negotiate from fear but don't fear to negotiate. And Senator Clinton has adopted a slightly different one of saying before I get to the summit I want to go through the foothills. I don't think there's a serious difference.

SIMON: I have to ask you about the New York Times. Front page story this week…

SCHORR: Ah, yes.

SIMON: …about Senator John McCain and his friendship with a telecommunications lobbyist who is a woman. The story suggested there is a relationship between them, and to be adult about it, the implication was certainly romantic, that could have influenced his judgments on the Commerce committee. Senator McCain said she was a friend, nothing more, and he denies that anybody exerted any influence on his judgment. What do you make of this story?

SCHORR: Well, I think we're in that area that's known as propriety and the appearance of propriety. I mean, certainly Senator McCain is a living symbol of good ethical behavior. And so if this senator has a friend, a rather good-looking blonde, as a friend of his, and he says she's a friend and nothing more, I accept it. But if she has business before the Senate Commerce Committee, of which he was chairman for a while, then you have to ask is that the appearance of propriety?

SIMON: Or the appearance of impropriety?

SCHORR: Exactly.

SIMON: Yeah. To follow up a bit, why did the New York Times run the story now, and then why, as David Folkenflik, our media correspondent, tell us, were there a lot of New York Times' client newspaper that didn't run the story?

SCHORR: Oh, I didn't know that. But why did they run it now? I can only go by what Bill Keller, the executive editor, has said, you know, when the story was ready we ran it. I'm not quite sure what the question of timing really is. A week later, a week earlier, would it have made any difference?

I think, you know, there's a tendency now to sort of pick a scapegoat. And now people would rather not talk about the substance of this story but talk about the New York Times, why it's doing it. It sometimes is nothing more than you're working on a story for many months and once you got it all sewed up, as well as you can, you go then with the story.

SIMON: But what is the substance of the story? No allegations that any laws were violated. In fact, no allegations of any ethical misconduct. So what is the substance?

SCHORR: Allegations that friends of his, unnamed, had warned him against continuing with this thing because it didn't look very good.

SIMON: He says it didn't happen and nobody puts their name on the story.

SCHORR: He says it didn't happen and he doesn't know anybody who ever warned him and all the rest of it. I mean, this will spin on for a while.

SIMON: Pakistan held an election this week. The results were, to say the least, not favorable for President Musharraf.

SCHORR: I know.

SIMON: What happens next?

SCHORR: I'll tell you, I think President Musharraf must be ruing the time that he ever allowed an unrigged election. This was unrigged and having been unrigged it really was devastating to him. And now we're in a position where the opposition is in a position to dictate what happens next.

First of all, they want the Supreme Court back, and then secondly there's a question of forming a government.

SIMON: The Supreme Court that Musharraf had kind of fired.

SCHORR: Exactly. And then when it comes to forming a new government, they're going to be in the driver's seat to dictate what that new government will be. And what we have yet to see is how the United States gets along with a new government, which is not a Musharraf government, and may not be as avid as Musharraf has been to go along with the United States in fighting terrorism.

SIMON: Kosovo declared its independence from Serbia this week. Nearly two dozen countries have recognized its sovereignty so far, including the United States. Serbs in Belgrade who were angry at that decision stormed the U.S. embassy and set it to fire.

SCHORR: We're in for a very bad time there in Kosovo. The Russian ambassador to NATO said that we will, if necessary, use brute military force. The Serbians are not going to let Kosovo go and the Russians are apparently completely behind them. The United States, which has now recognized Kosovo, therefore has certain duties to perform. And in the end of this, there's…

SIMON: There is a NATO force of, I think, 17,000 soldiers.

SCHORR: Which has been there for peacekeeping ever since they ended the bombing of the Serbs. That's correct. But if we're going to have Russians and Americans facing each other in some Balkan country, I think we're back to some age-old life.

SIMON: Thanks very much, Dan Schorr.

SCHORR: Sure, Scott.

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