Maybe we need sportscasters to ask informed, incisive questions of our pundits and politicians? It certainly was refreshing to watch Bob Costas sub for Larry King the night of Bush’s Iraq speech. I happened to flick on CNN’s premier talk show, expecting the usual vapid questions and platitudinous replies, and found the veteran sportscaster asking some smart and (relatively) tough questions. (Click here to read the transcript.)

Costas: …There were no weapons of mass destruction. There has been no contact or connection between Iraq and al Qaeda or 9/11 established. Vice President Cheney says the insurgency is in its final throes. Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld says the insurgency could last a decade or more. Does the the Bush Administration now face a credibility gap?” (Both Time‘s Jay Carney and Newsweek‘s Richard Wolffe said yes.)

I sat up and started listening.

Then, Senator Kerry came on.

Costas: In the aftermath of 9/11, did Democrats, yourself included, do a poor job of playing the role of the loyal opposition? Were they too docile and too compliant, and did they fail to ask the skeptical questions and raise the objections they should have in the run-up to war?

Now I was sitting straight up and listening carefully.

Kerry mumbled, “I plead guilty. And I think a lot of people in the party would. But I think a lot of Americans would.”

Senator McCain came on.

Costas: You are, no doubt, familiar with what your Senate colleague, Chuck Hagel, Republican of Nebraska, said recently. But to refresh the memories of our audience, I ‘ll read it. ‘Things are getting worse. The White is completely disconnected from reality. It’s like they’re just making it up as they go along. The reality is, we are losing in Iraq.’ What say you to that?”

Even the usually unflappable McCain looked a little shaken, as if he missed Larry King’s softball questions.

Costas continued: “Senator McCain, I hope this question doesn’t seem impertinent, but we often hear that if these terrorists are not confronted in Iraq, they’ll be in New York or wherever. What is to stop them from being in New York simultaneously, if they could get here?”

I was rooting for more impertinent, informed questions.

Costas: Are we up against a situation here that maybe we should take a big-picture look at? Iraq isn’t really a natural country. It was cobbled together by force after World War I. There are different regional and religious factions. It was always held together by brutal central governments. And might it not naturally go the way of the Soviet Union or Yugoslavia, where these factions just naturally break off once that central force is removed? ..Are we trying to hold together a country that has no democratic tradition and is not really, in the true sense, a country?

McCain looked like he wanted to throttle Costas.

Costas: Senator McCain, we now find that more than 60 percent of Americans recently polled think that President Bush has no clear plan for victory in Iraq, and now more than fifty percent believe it was a mistake to go there in the first place. What would you say to a mother or father whose son or daughter is being recruited–there is no draft–is being recruited to join the military under these circumstances?

Congressman Christopher Shays (R, CT) came on.

Costas: Congressman Shays, you’re aware that Lindsey Graham, Republican from South Carolina, recently said: ‘Public support in my state is turning.’ Congressman Walter Jones of North Carolina, Republican congressman, is among those who have submitted a bipartisan resolution that would call upon the US to begin troop withdrawals from Iraq no later than 2006. This isn’t the Michael Moore wing of the Democratic Party. These are solid Republicans, and they and their constituents are increasingly concerned about where we’re doing here.

By this time, I was ready to launch a bye-bye Larry (King) campaign.

Last month, CNN President Jonathan Klein made Costas a regular substitute anchor for the show. (The odious Nancy “You’re Guilty Before You’re Innocent” Grace was also named a regular sub.)

Maybe Costas towered that night because of the barrenness of the landscape around him, but he certainly was a refreshing antidote to the info-tainment featured on prime cable talk/ news programs these days. If CNN wants to become a news outlet again, one step would be devise an exit strategy for Larry and install Costas as King.