Well no sooner had

Well, no sooner had I returned from my two week trip to various states on this side of the Mississippi River than the Talking Points Memo world headquarters (aka a gunned-up IBM ThinkPad 570e) experienced a major hardware systems breakdown necessitating an emergency retrenchment back to the old TPM world HQ for at least the next several days.

Now you might be asking yourself, what exactly does this have to do with you? how exactly does it affect your life? Well, as it happens, it does. Because on that for-the-moment-inaccessible TPM workstation is a choice thousand words of mockery of an incident that took place yesterday on Larry King Live. I was going to scrap it. But now that I think of it, honestly, it’s just too funny not to note for posterity. So here goes …

If you’re a regular viewer of Larry King Live and familiar with the typologies and established fooleries which make up the show, then you’ll no doubt be familiar with this one. Larry will have on some goofball or malefactor and he’ll be snowballing him or her with question and after question and the goofball/malefactor will be just lapping it up.

Then Larry lofts one more snowball. But this time it’s different. This question isn’t just inane. It’s based on what turns out to be Larry’s complete lack of understanding of what’s being talked about.

(Larry: “That’s like what happened when you discovered the cure for gravity, right?”)

This presents the goofball/malefactor with a quandary. He really wants the softball (otherwise why would he be going on Larry King Live?). But biting for this one means validating or buying into Larry’s foolery or at the very least squandering whatever remaining dignity the goofball/malefactor has left. It’s always a tough spot to be in and it’s a challenge for even the craftiest of guests.

Anyway, last night on LKL there was a perfect example of just this sort of moment. John Ashcroft was on Larry’s show defending Robert Mueller and the new powers he’s granting to the FBI. The to-die-for moment happens at about 24 minutes into the show. Ashcroft is describing for Larry the new FBI guidelines which will allow FBI agents to snoop at public meetings and forums even when not working on a specific investigation. Let’s go to the transcript with explanatory comments from TPM …

ASHCROFT: One of the things that some individuals have been distressed about is simply the statement that an FBI agent is allowed to go to any public place where any other member of the public is invited, so that if there’s a rally in the park, the FBI agent doesn’t have to have a specific investigation in mind in order to go to the rally in the park. Or it’s surfing the net. You know, an FBI agent ought to be able to surf the net and look for sites that instruct people in how to make bombs. Any 14-year-old in America can sit down at his keyboard — I’ve got a 4-year-old grandson that can surf the net. And they can go anywhere on the net they need to, want to, because the net’s a public place. The FBI has previously had rules that said, unless you have a specific investigation under way or you’re following a specific…

KING: Like a wiretap, you mean.

(TPM: Okay, let’s stop right there. Here we (as no doubt Ashcroft did too) see that Larry has no idea what the AG just said. Ashcroft is talking about listening in on public forums and Larry tries to clarify the AG’s long answer by ridiculously explaining that this is like a wiretap. There’s a pained look on Ashcroft’s face as he contemplates what an imbecile Larry must be and what a pickle he’s in. But he quickly regains his footing and opts for a classic example of what people in the biz call the “LKL ‘Or’ Maneuver”. As in, yeah, Larry, just like that “or” like this other example which isn’t ridiculous. Let’s go back to the tape and see a master at work…)

ASHCROFT: Or you’ve been told you can’t look for things that might be a problem.

(TPM: It’s a well-executed move on the AG’s part and he thinks he’s pulled it off. But Larry isn’t done with him. He lunges back at Ashcroft with a blistering fusillade of ridiculousness.)

KING: That’s why [the] Minneapolis memo was declined, right?


KING: In a sense. They didn’t want to look into the Internet of the man arrested.

(TPM: Larry’s new angle is that the previous rule barring FBI agents from snooping on public meetings was the reason why FBI HQ didn’t approve the Minneapolis field office’s request to seek a warrant to search 20th hijacker Zacarias Moussaoui’s computer. At this point Larry’s new demonstration of cluelessness knocks the AG back on his heels and he can scarcely get out a defeated ‘well’ before Larry comes back for the coup de grace, showing that he doesn’t know the difference between a ‘hard drive’ and an ‘Internet.’ After a few moments with the pained look on his face, Ashcroft realizes that Larry is just too big a bonehead to be reasoned with and he comes up with the original strategy of declining to
n not because it makes no sense but because it’s a delicate matter of national security currently being looked into by the Intelligence Committees.)

ASHCROFT: There are a variety of things there. I don’t want to try and be conclusive. The Joint Committees on Intelligence are looking at that situation. We’re going to cooperate with them. I think they’ll do a good job. The Patriot Act also expanded our capacity to make inquiry and to develop information.

More on the L-man soon.