A Consensus? Clinton Shrewd, Calculating, “Played” FOX News

The aftermath of the Bill Clinton/Chris Wallace dust up still rages online, with various news sources agreeing on one general result – it probably helped the Democrats.

The setup was classic Bush-era GOP strategy with seemingly coincidental events happening concurrently with one goal in mind: Damage control. A classified National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) is released Friday, contending that the war in Iraq has increased Islamic radicalism, and has made the terror threat around the world worse. Sensing their bread and butter issue for every election between 2002 and forever in serious jeopardy, Chris Wallace and FOX News (in an already scheduled interview with Bill Clinton) lend a hand to the damage control effort by using “emailed questions from their viewers” (with whitehouse.gov addresses, no doubt.) The first question of note is already the stuff of legend on the internets: Did you do enough to stop Osama bin Laden?

The resulting event could have been a little different if FOX News hadn’t used a junior journalist wannabe. But maybe not. We are talking about Bill Clinton, who took Wallace to the woodshed and soundly thrashed him. With a smirk on his face as a seemingly last act of defiance, Wallace would later recount how intimidate he was by Clinton. By the truth. By being completely unprepared to counter Clinton’s arguments.

CLINTON: It was a perfectly legitimate question but I want to know how many people in the Bush administration you asked this question of. I want to know how many people in the Bush administration you asked: Why didn’t you do anything about the Cole? I want to know how many you asked: Why did you fire Dick Clarke? I want to know…

WALLACE: We asked… Do you ever watch Fox News Sunday sir?

CLINTON: I don’t believe you ask them that.

WALLACE: We ask plenty of questions of…

CLINTON: You didn’t ask that did you? Tell the truth.

WALLACE: About the USS Cole?

CLINTON: Tell the truth.

WALLACE: I…with Iraq and Afghanistan there’s plenty of stuff to ask.

CLINTON: Did you ever ask that? You set this meeting up because you were going to get a lot of criticism from your viewers because Rupert Murdoch is going to get a lot of criticism from your viewers for supporting my work on climate change. And you came here under false pretenses and said that you’d spend half the time talking about…

WALLACE: (laughs)

I’ll answer for Wallace. The answer is no. Neither Wallace nor anyone on FOX News has EVER asked anyone from the Bush administration about their inaction on the Cole or their inaction on Osama bin Laden. Game, set, match. That one exchange show that “fair and balanced” is a sham.

But I’ve digressed. I’ve gotten way off the path I was taking originally. I tend to do that. But my point is worth the wait. The national consensus of the Clinton interview on FOX news is that is helps Democrats. Look, for example, at a well known conservative source, The Weekly Standard. William Kristol asks his readers to use their imaginations (in their own limited kind of way):

LET’S DO A THOUGHT experiment: Perhaps Bill Clinton, an experienced and sophisticated politician, knew what he was doing when he made big news by “losing his temper” in his interview with Chris Wallace. Perhaps Clinton’s aides knew what they were doing when they publicized the interview by providing their own transcript to a left-wing website as soon as possible Friday evening, and then pre-spun reporters late Friday and Saturday. Maybe it was just damage control. Or maybe Clinton did what he wanted to do when he indignantly defended himself, blasted the Bush administration, and attacked Fox News. What could Clinton have been seeking to accomplish? Three things. Helping Democrats in 2006, helping Hillary in 2008, intimidating critics.

Kristol is fearful the tactic (if it was a tactic) worked.

Moving on to a moderate source – Slate. John Dickerson writes:

Bill Clinton wasn’t sandbagged, because he is a smart politician. He just spent several weeks fighting ABC over its interpretation of his administration’s hunt for Bin Laden. He knew the question was coming and he took advantage of it. Forty-three days before the election, he has provided a moment to rally party activists and attack the GOP at the heart of its perceived strength on handling terrorism.

Democrats should rejoice that Wallace was as tough as he was. If he had been supine, fearful of another 3,000-word report from Media Matters, the party and Clinton would have been denied an opportunity. And Clinton would have been disappointed, at least judging from his spokesperson’s remarks afterward: “We’re fully aware of Fox News’ and Chris Wallace’s agenda, and President Clinton came in prepared to respond to any attack on his record. When Wallace questioned his record on terrorism, he responded forcefully, as any Democrat would or should.” In other words, he went in loaded for bear and blasted like Cheney as soon as he spotted one.


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