Thursday, May 31, 2007


A version of this was published in The Santa Fe New Mexican
May 31, 2007

The reviews are in, and there’s little joy in Blogville over Gov. Bill Richardson’s network-television performance Sunday on Meet the Press.

A quick survey of Google’s blog search shows overwhelming criticism about the presidential contender’s answers when asked about his initial support for the Iraq war, changing his opinion on the latest immigration bill, serving on oil-company boards, shifting positions on gun laws, his response to a dead Marine’s mother who says she’s been politically exploited and New Mexico’s embarrassing rankings in national statistics on poverty, crime and education.

Connecticut journalist Colin McEnrow, who blogs on the Hartford Courant’s Web site — and says he “kind of likes” Richardson — wrote, “I have to assume that, when they cut to a break, Richardson vomited into a waste basket. It was that bad.”

Comments on the liberal Daily Kos blog also largely were critical. One Kos commentator was “flabbergasted” by the interview, writing in all-lower-case: “he’s obviously a very bright and talented guy, but he was absolutely terrible in an hour long, one on one setting. he seemed to embody so many of the common stereotypes about dems, especially the ones about not taking firm positions. … get thee to a media trainer, bill.”

Mainstream Web media also was harsh. MSNBC’s First Read had this to say about the appearance: “If you missed Bill Richardson’s appearance on ‘Meet’ on Sunday, the campaign is probably pleased.”

Slate’s John Dickerson wrote perhaps the most blistering review, saying Richardson “self-destructed.”

“Richardson is a world-famous hostage negotiator, so it was poignant to watch him fail to rescue himself from his own hostage crisis,” he wrote. “By the end of the hour, he wasn’t answering questions so much as swatting at them. … Sometimes, he contradicted himself within just a few breaths. After explaining why he changed positions on the assault-weapons ban, he broadly asserted, ‘I don’t change my positions.’ ”

Missed opportunities: Some bloggers complained the show’s host, Tim Russert, was too rough on the governor. Some even charged the interviewer tends to go softer on Republicans.

But there were a couple of times that Russert let him slide.

For example, when he played the Richardson “interview” ad, he could have questioned why Richardson was bragging about getting a “cease-fire” in Darfur when that agreement he helped negotiate was being broken before the ink was even dry.

And when Richardson gave his standard “I had to make a living” answer when asked about serving on oil company boards, Russert could have said, “What? Henry Kissinger was paying minimum wage?” (During that period when he was on the oil company boards — between jobs as energy secretary and governor — Richardson was senior managing director of Kissinger McLarty Associates, an international consulting firm headed by the former secretary of state.)

For his part, Richardson missed a chance when he was explaining the different stories about a conversation he says took place at the funeral of a Marine killed in Iraq. (Richardson says Lance Cpl. Aaron Austin’s mother talked to him about death benefits are for those killed in action. The mom denies ever having that conversation.) The gov could have scored points with Democrats by saying, “At least I go to some of these funerals of our soldiers and Marines killed in this war — unlike a certain commander-in-chief.”

Stee-rike!: What seemed to get the most reaction, however, is the grave national issue of Richardson’s torn allegiance between the Boston Red Sox and The New York Yankees.

This not only upset fans of both teams, but those who said his statements make him look like a pandering politician.

A New Hampshire blog called No Looking Backwards railed against Richardson’s latest baseball dilemma in a post called “How to Be a Carnivore and a Vegetarian.”

But all the above is wrong: At least according to Richardson’s campaign Web site, which found some blogs that praised Richardson’s performance. One, called The Appletonian, boldly declares the governor “did pretty well.” (Bizarre! That post was up Wednesday afternoon. But by the time I posted this column on the Web it had disappeared from the site.)

Richardson spokesman Pahl Shipley blogs that “Gov. Richardson was candid and direct and handled the tough questions well. He looked very Presidential.”

But Shipley might have been on an intense caffeine and sugar high: “The coffee in the green room at NBC is great and the pastries are sinful — I had too many while watching the governor’s appearance.”

More Bill TV: Richardson will surely have an easier time on his next national television appearance. C-SPAN, cable television’s public-affairs network, plans to show the Iowa Democratic Party’s Hall of Fame dinner Saturday, where Richardson and some of his rivals are scheduled to speak. That begins live at 5:30 p.m. MDT.

The next night, Richardson is to participate in a Democratic presidential candidate debate in New Hampshire on CNN, which shows here at 5 p.m. Sunday.

Adios Villaraigosa: Besides those reviews of his Meet the Press appearance, the Richardson campaign got some bad news this week when Antonio Villaraigosa, mayor of Los Angeles, endorsed U.S. Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., in the California primary.

Richardson supported the Hispanic mayor’s 2005 campaign, during which New Mexico’s Democratic Party sent six staffers to Los Angeles to help with the effort. Richardson launched his campaign in Los Angeles this month, though the mayor was conspicuously absent.

“I know Bill Richardson quite well, and I think I’ll say his strength is his experience and his record, not his ethnicity,” Villaraigosa told The New York Times.

But apparently that strength wasn’t strong enough to get the endorsement.

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