Week in Review: 'Shoddy Debate,' Pope Visits

Scott Simon talks to Senior News Analyst Daniel Schorr about the top stories of the week, including the backlash against the hosts of this week's Democratic debate, and Pope Benedict XVI's visit to the U.S.

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SCOTT SIMON, host:

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

This week, the Democratic candidates faced off in what may have been the final Democratic debate of the campaign, and Pope Benedict XVI made his first papal visit to the United States.

NPR senior news analyst Dan Schorr joins us. Hello, Dan.

DANIEL SCHORR: Hi, Scott.

SIMON: And we want to start with the Clinton/Obama debate. But before we get into the substance…

(Soundbite of laughter)

SIMON: …let's…

SCHORR: Substance.

SIMON: …talk about all the allegations that have been made about the manner in which the debate was conducted, especially about the first 45 minutes by the ABC anchors, Charlie Gibson and…

SCHORR: After hosting 45 minutes of (unintelligible). I was called by Tom Shells in the Washington Post. A shoddy and despicable performance is what he said. What has happened now as we reached the 21st debate with some possibility that we may not see another one very soon, the debates themselves have become an issue. Those who think that tend to favor one or tends to favor the other or to most of them, there is a complaint that you're not going for substance, you're going for this gossip and the trivia about (unintelligible) airport landing and stuff like that.

But the fact of the matter is when they do go for substance, you're only getting a repeat of previously taken positions. So I think there seems to be now a problem with the debate.

SIMON: Let me put you on the spot a bit. What did you think about those first 45 minutes?

SCHORR: Just as Tom Shells did. Does it really matter after you've heard about it ten different times as to what the landing was in Bosnia? Do we really have to go all over again about Reverend Jeremiah Wright? If there's anything to be said about it, it has already been said. It is the tendency to beat this dead horse that becomes a little bit irritating.

SIMON: And how do you think the two candidates acquitted themselves?

SCHORR: By now, both of them have honed their abilities at debating. I mean, you do 21 debates against one after another and you get to be pretty good at it. I am - I'm glad you asked the question because I'm most impressed with the performance of both of them.

(Soundbite of laughter)

SIMON: You are fair and balanced, aren't you?

SCHORR: Oh, that's me all over.

SIMON: Some aspects of this battle between the two - senator from Illinois and senator from New York are becoming - I almost said bitter. Not a good word to use these past couple of weeks. But they seem to be personal and disputatious.

SCHORR: I think that's right. I think what's happened that Obama, who thinks he's going to win the nomination, now wants to have it very gentle and very civil and not make a lot of trouble. On the contrary, Senator Clinton has an interest in keeping the pot boiling. So she tends to be a little bit nastier than he does. He's tossed out on this question of could you see your opponent winning the election? Yes, yes, yes, says one; yes, yes, yes, says the other; but I'd be better.

SIMON: Is some of the disputatious nature of this campaign going to count against the Democrats in the fall?

SCHORR: Very much so. I mean, they're piling up ammunition in an ammunition dump for use by Senator McCain once the general election starts. I mean, every part of this, I think, we'll be seeing time and time again now used triumphantly by the Republican candidate.

SIMON: What do you expect in Pennsylvania next Tuesday?

SCHORR: What I expect doesn't seem to matter very much. It's what the polls expect, and they're not terribly reliable. But as of now it appears that Mrs. Clinton is going to win, but not necessarily by a double-digit margin.

SIMON: Mm-hmm.

SCHORR: And that being so, she may be in trouble even if she wins by four, five or six percent. It's going to be rough.

SIMON: But she may win by enough to keep on going.

SCHORR: But she may be enough to keep on going, although polls indicate now that she's below 10 percent.

SIMON: Pope Benedict XVI, of course, has been in the United States, his first papal visit. On the plane to land at the U.S., he expressed regret and remorse about the clergy sexual abuse scandals. And on Thursday he met privately with…

SCHORR: Yes.

SIMON: …a small group of victims of clergy sexual abuse. What do you make of the significance of this meeting?

SCHORR: I think it was great, courageous, a well-indicated thing for him to do. I mean, there had been many apologies made and there have been a billion dollars or so already paid off in reparations payments of one sort or another, and he clearly was going to talk about them. But then, he also said I want to meet with them.

I thought that was an admirable thing for him to do.

SIMON: And anything else the Pope has said in his many statements here that has attracted your attention?

SCHORR: Well, what attracted my attention when he said when he talked to the bishops that anyone who wants to treat religion as a private matter must be resisted through faith, which permeates - and it must permeate everything that you do. And I think it's very interesting because that's the typical injunction by the Pope against secularism. But when he impinges this on American politics, it's very interesting.

It is very interesting that only that Sunday Senator McCain said that he believes that it is a private matter. It sounded almost as though he was answering to the pope but clearly he was speaking before and had no knowledge. But there is a tendency in politics towards secularism in this country, which is not shared by the pope and he will have us know it.

SIMON: Thanks very much, Dan.

SCHORR: Sure thing.

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