BROOKE GLADSTONE: On September 11th, Slate.com's Jacob Weisberg wrote quote "my honest churlish reaction?" I wish Bill Clinton were still president. That week Weisberg questioned whether he as a pundit should have questioned the president. Jacob Weisberg, welcome to OTM.
JACOB WEISBERG: Thanks, Brooke.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: So spare us the suspense. What did you decide?
JACOB WEISBERG: Well I did decide right after that that I should refrain from criticizing Bush at least at the level of, of his leadership ability, and I did refrain for several weeks; in fact I still haven't written anything critical of his leadership although at the moment I'm not sure I have anything critical to say. The place I've really arrived at now is that I think criticism should not be withheld. I may not have any strong criticism to make of the president at the moment, but I do think commentators, analysts do owe it to the public to basically say what they think.
BROOKE GLADSTONE:Well on our program a couple of weeks ago L.A. Times TV critic Howard Rosenberg said that he regrets the timing of his criticism, critiqueing Bush in the days immediately following the attacks. Of course Bill Maher has apologized profusely for his politically incorrect comments which were delivered in the days immediately following the attacks. While understandable, are all these mea culpas laudable? After all, what's the point of being politically incorrect only when it doesn't matter anyway?
JACOB WEISBERG: Well it's hard to say if that's sincere when, when Bill Maher is threatened with the loss of commercial sponsorship which would take his program off the air. Obviously he has to apologize profusely if he wants to have a hope of, of continuing.
BROOKE GLADSTONE:But you in a sense apologized and Howard Rosenberg who had no threat of being fired also felt sincerely sorry that he said what he said!
JACOB WEISBERG: No, that's right! And, and I really did-- I, I, I wrote that on the first day. I happen to live fairly close to the World Trade Center and it was, it was a very long day for me; I was evacuated with my family and sat down at a friend's computer to bat something out for, for Slate.
BROOKE GLADSTONE:You admitted at the time in your column that it was a churlish thought but it was honest and it was your own and it was immediate. Why regret it? Why not make it part of the public record? It's how some people felt!
JACOB WEISBERG: It's not that I didn't think it, but-- I wish my reaction had been totally focused elsewhere.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: You also wrote that the immediate criticism of Bush which was widely denounced might have actually had the effect of convincing the president and his advisors that some leadership was lacking, but it doesn't seem as if the Bush team really cares about what the critics say.
JACOB WEISBERG: I think if there had been no criticism of Bush's actions and words on, on the first day or two which in fact many people did think were inadequate to the situation -- would Bush and his advisors have had a sense that they had to do better - that they had to make a speech as strong as he did eventually make to Congress a week later? Criticism plays and important role as feedback for leaders! And if critics feel that they can't criticize, they may in fact be cheating the people they are critical of!
BROOKE GLADSTONE:You wrote in your article that you know this isn't a time for critics to throw bombs; temperate criticism is the order of the day. The editor of the National Review said the other day that Ann Coulter is gone because she's an incendiary columnist whose sole purpose is to provide entertainment value by lobbing bombs and so lobbing bombs is not what a columnist is to do today. Does that mean no more criticisms of style?
JACOB WEISBERG: Well I'm not sure there's any good time for Ann Coulter. [LAUGHTER] But I do think that criticism shouldn't be as much about style and personality and it shouldn't be smallminded and it shouldn't be petty.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: And do you think then that the nature of criticism in this next period is likely to change from what it's been?
JACOB WEISBERG:Well I don't know. In ordinary times I think it's a fairly sound journalistic instinct to say things in the strongest way possible. To use that phrase which seems so inappropriate now, to "throw bombs." My argument is an argument for some sense of self-restraint; some sense of decorum, but I'm not very certain whether many people who write are going to sort of follow those precepts or not.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Jacob Weisberg, thank you very much!
JACOB WEISBERG: Thank you, Brooke.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Jacob Weisberg is the chief political correspondent for Slate.com. [MUSIC TAG]