Clinton's Finger-Wagging Moment

By Howard Kurtz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, September 25, 2006; 6:16 AM

Fox News anchor Chris Wallace said that he was stunned when Bill Clinton accused him of a "conservative hit job" after he challenged the former president on his record in fighting terrorism.

"I thought it was a fair, balanced and not especially inflammatory question," Wallace said yesterday in recounting his "Fox News Sunday" sit-down with Clinton. "I even said, 'I know hindsight is 20/20.' But he went off. And once he went off, there was no bringing him back. He wanted to talk about it in detail. He wanted to conjure up right-wingers and conservative hit jobs and a theory involving Rupert Murdoch that I still don't understand."

Fox had agreed in advance that half the interview would be about Clinton's Global Initiative forum and half about other subjects. Wallace began with a couple of questions about the initiative before citing the 1993 U.S. military withdrawal from Somalia and several bombings connected to al-Qaeda in asking, "Why didn't you do more, connect the dots and put them out of business?"

In an impassioned, finger-wagging answer, Clinton told Wallace, a former ABC News correspondent: "You did Fox's bidding on this show. You did your nice little conservative hit job on me. . . . You set this meeting up because you were going to get a lot of criticism from your viewers because Rupert Murdoch is supporting my work on climate change. And you came here under false pretenses and said that you'd spend half the time talking about . . . what we did out there to raise $7 billion-plus over three days from 215 different commitments. And you don't care."

Murdoch, the billionaire conservative who owns Fox, has recently mended fences with the Clinton family, even attending a fundraiser for Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.). Fox, which employs a number of high-profile conservative hosts, maintains that its reporting is straightforward but is viewed by many liberals and other critics as leaning to the right. Clinton's appearance was his first on "Fox News Sunday" in the program's 10-year history.

"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," said Jay Carson, his spokesman. "When Wallace questioned his record on terrorism, he responded forcefully, as any Democrat would or should."

In the interview, in which Clinton also accused Wallace of having a "little smirk" on his face, the host said he had planned to spend half the allotted 15 minutes on the Global Initiative and that "I didn't think this was going to set you off on such a tear."

"It set me off on such a tear because you didn't formulate it in an honest way and you people ask me questions you don't ask the other side," Clinton said.

"Sir, that is not true," Wallace replied.

Asked about Clinton's complaint, a Fox spokeswoman pointed to Wallace's interview two weeks ago with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. Wallace pressed her about the lack of prewar ties between Osama bin Laden and Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein, but he did not ask about U.S. efforts against bin Laden before the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. Carson noted that the 2000 bombing of the U.S.S. Cole was officially linked to al-Qaeda after Bush took office.

"I don't think I was fanning the flames here," Wallace said. "It was all generated from within him."

Clinton has on occasion scolded other interviewers, most notably in a 2004 sitdown with ABC's Peter Jennings, who drew this response after alluding to Clinton's personal misconduct: "You don't want to go here, Peter. . . . Not after what you people did and the way you, your network, what you did with Kenneth Starr. The way your people repeated every, little sleazy thing he leaked."

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