I hope everyone saw Chris Wallace’s interview with former President Clinton yesterday. It caused quite a stir, but it ended in mystery.
Click here to check the transcript again. Clinton began his maniacal reaction to Wallace with the words, “So you did Fox’s bidding on this show. You did your nice little conservative hit job on me.”
Wallace’s questions. That’s a strong, almost scary response. But to what? Before that moment, what sort of questions had Wallace asked? Let’s see...
1. In a recent issue of The New Yorker you say, quote, “I’m 60 years old and I damn near died, and I’m worried about how many lives I can save before I do die.” Is that what drives you in your effort to help in these developing countries?
2. Someone asked you — and I don’t want to, again, be too morbid, but this is what you said. He asked you if you could wind up doing more good as a former president than as a president, and you said, Only if I live a long time. How do you rate, compare the powers of being in office as president and what you can do out of office as a former president?
3. So what is it that you can do as a former president?
4. When we announced that you were going to be on Fox News Sunday, I got a lot of e-mail from viewers. And I’ve got to say, I was surprised. Most of them wanted me to ask you this question: Why didn’t you do more to put bin Laden and Al Qaida out of business when you were president?
There’s a new book out, I suspect you’ve already read, called “The Looming Tower.” And it talks about how the fact that when you pulled troops out of Somalia in 1993, bin Laden said, I have seen the frailty and the weakness and the cowardice of U.S. troops. Then there was the bombing of the embassies in Africa and the attack on the Cole.
Let me — let me — may I just finish the question, sir?
And after the attack, the book says that bin Laden separated his leaders, spread them around, because he expected an attack, and there was no response. I understand that hindsight is always 20/20… but the question is, why didn’t you do more, connect the dots and put them out of business?
5. [Not quite a question] Bin Laden says that it showed the weakness of the United States.
But, Mr. President… with respect, if I may, instead of going through '93 and…
6. May I ask a general question that you can answer? The 9-11 Commission … said about you … and I quote, “The U.S. government took the threat seriously, but not in the sense of mustering anything like the kind of effort that would be gathered to confront an enemy of the first, second or even third rank.”
But (crosstalk) … cruise missiles.
7. Do you think you did enough, sir?
Answers, then boom. That was it. About seven questions, broadly speaking. The first three were softballs. Then there were the substantive questions, on a level of difficulty that any former president should be able to handle.
Summing up: Why didn’t you do more? Was bin Laden right to say the 2003 Somalia pull-out showed weakness? Was the 9-11 Commission right to say the U.S. government didn’t strongly confront the enemy? Did you do enough?
Four straightforward questions on Clinton’s record, and boom, Clinton was accusing Wallace of a “conservative hit job.” Clinton actually answered the questions fairly well. Still, it’s not clear why he also felt the need to lash out madly. Which question screamed “hit job”?
‘False pretenses.’ Clinton bludgeoned on about Wallace’s motives:
“You set this meeting up because you were going to get a lot of criticism from your viewers because Rupert Murdoch’s supporting my work on climate change.
“And you came here under false pretenses and said that you’d spend half the time talking about — you said you’d spend half the time talking about what we did out there to raise $7 billion-plus in three days from 215 different commitments. And you don’t care.”
Wallace told Clinton that half of his prepared questions were on the Clinton Global Initiative, a foundation dedicated to solving a variety of world problems. Wallace said he didn’t expect his questions on al-Qaida to set Clinton off “on such a tear.”
‘You falsely accuse me.’ Clinton responded:
“You launched it — it set me off on a tear because you didn’t formulate it in an honest way and because you people ask me questions you don’t ask the other side….
“All I’m saying is you falsely accuse me of giving aid and comfort to bin Laden because of what happened in Somalia….
“And you’ve got that little smirk on your face and you think you’re so clever. But I had responsibility for trying to protect this country. I tried and I failed to get bin Laden. I regret it. But I did try. And I did everything I thought I responsibly could.”
‘Move your bones.’ Wallace later said that “smirk” really was “sheer wonder at what I was witnessing.” When Clinton took a breath, Wallace moved on to talk about Clinton’s recent activities:
Wallace: “Can I ask you about the Clinton Global Initiative?”
Clinton: “You can.”
Wallace: “I always intended to, sir.”
Clinton: “No, you intended, though, to move your bones by doing this first.”
So where did Chris Wallace go wrong? No, it isn’t that Wallace never asks tough questions of Bush administration officials. He does. Check the transcripts of his “Fox News Sunday” shows, and his even-handedness will become clear.
Where’s the ‘hit’? But let’s assume Wallace always presents only the Bush side of everything, never challenges Republican actions and blocks out everything the Democrats say. Let’s assume Chris Wallace is Tony Snow.
At which point in the interview did Wallace go too far? At exactly which point did the interview become a "conservative hit job"? Which of Wallace’s four al-Qaida questions were so biased that no objective newsman would have asked them?
And why has CNN never asked Clinton those questions?