Media figures continue to present Sen. Clinton's rebuke of Rumsfeld as "pure politics"

››› ››› ROB DIETZ

Members of the media, including Tucker Carlson, Fred Barnes, Juan Williams, and George Stephanopoulos, have continued to suggest that Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton's criticism of Donald Rumsfeld during a recent Senate committee hearing was motivated solely by politics.

Members of the media continued to criticize Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-NY) as overly political after her exchange with Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld during an August 3 Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on Iraq and Afghanistan. MSNBC's Tucker Carlson, Weekly Standard executive editor Fred Barnes, National Public Radio senior correspondent Juan Williams, and ABC's George Stephanopoulos joined others identified by Media Matters for America in characterizing Clinton's questioning of Rumsfeld as a political maneuver. On MSNBC's Tucker, Carlson called Clinton "a total phony" and "an appalling figure." On Fox News' Beltway Boys, Williams claimed Clinton's questioning was "pure politics," and co-host Barnes accused Clinton of calling for a public hearing because she "wanted to get all that on TV." And on ABC's This Week, Stephanopoulos claimed Clinton's comments were motivated by the Democratic Senate primary race in Connecticut between Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman and challenger Ned Lamont, which has received media attention over its purported effect on the politics of the Iraq war. Stephanopoulos said Clinton has "gotten the message" and that Clinton called for Rumsfeld's resignation because "[s]he clearly saw what is happening in Connecticut and decided to get out ahead of it." Media Matters has previously noted the media's pattern of portraying Clinton as a purely political figure.

Tucker

On the August 4 edition of his MSNBC program, Carlson teased a discussion about Clinton by asking: "Is Hillary Clinton for the war in Iraq, or is she against the war in Iraq? Who knows? But that hasn't stopped her from telling Donald Rumsfeld what to do about the war in Iraq." Carlson then started his interview with Democratic strategist Rich Masters by calling Clinton "a phony" and said Clinton's questioning of Rumsfeld was a "shallow attack" and that "[s]he always agrees with most Americans. That's why she's an appalling figure." In a later segment, MSNBC political analyst and former presidential candidate Pat Buchanan said of Clinton, "[S]he's moving away from the hawkish position because she sees what's happening to Joe Lieberman in Connecticut and the heart of her party." Buchanan called Clinton's questioning "a coldly calculated decision."

Beltway Boys

On the August 5 edition, Williams said Clinton's questioning of Rumsfeld was "[p]ure politics" because Clinton "understands that the base of the party is concerned" and "[n]ow she's starting to distance herself." Barnes then said "Well, we know why she wanted an open hearing, a public hearing, and not a closed-door hearing, because she wanted to get all that on TV."

This Week

During a discussion of the Connecticut Democratic Senate primary on the August 6 edition of This Week, Stephanopoulos said Clinton's questioning of Rumsfeld was evidence that she "has gotten the message." He then referred to Clinton's call for Rumsfeld's resignation and said: "She clearly saw what is happening in Connecticut and decided to get out ahead of it."

From the August 4 edition of MSNBC's Tucker:

CARLSON: Still to come: Is Hillary Clinton for the war in Iraq, or is she against the war in Iraq? Who knows? But that hasn't stopped her from telling Donald Rumsfeld what to do about the war in Iraq.

That story is ahead.

[...]

CARLSON: Rich, welcome. What a phony this -- what a phony this woman is. I mean, if she -- no, I'm serious. I mean, I'm much more against the war in Iraq than Hillary Clinton is, and that's my problem with her. If she, you know, had a record over the past three years of speaking out in a principled way against the war in Iraq, I would listen to what she says, but she hasn't. She's a total phony.

[...]

CARLSON: That's an -- that's an, you know, that's an interesting rhetorical response, and I respect it on that level, but that's not exactly what Mrs. Clinton is doing. She is, in fact, making almost -- almost an aesthetic critique of Donald Rumsfeld's statement.

She's saying, "Look, your predictions were wrong." She's not saying your strategy was wrong. She's saying, "You gave us a more rosy picture of Iraq than turned out to be true."

MASTERS: Which is accurate, right?

CARLSON: Therefore, you shouldn't be secretary of defense. Yeah, well, of course she's totally right, but it's an incredibly shallow attack on Donald Rumsfeld.

She doesn't say, "We needed X number more divisions, or we should have done this differently in Basra and Nasiriyah." She doesn't know anything about it. This is not a deep critique.

[...]

CARLSON: No, but that's the problem, Rich. Don't you see it that she's agreeing -- you summed it up perfectly, though perhaps unintentionally.

You said she's agreeing with most Americans. She always agrees with most Americans. That's why she's an appalling figure.

She does not have the courage, unlike [Sen.] Russ Feingold [D-WI] on the left, or many -- you know, [Sen.] Jeff Sessions [R-AL] on the right, of someone who, you know, really believes what he believes. She always is taking the perfectly crafted, perfectly poll-tested view of something, the "52 percent of Americans" view of something.

[...]

BUCHANAN: Will this work for Hillary? I think Hillary is making a coldly calculated decision. I think politically, it's the correct one, Tucker.

What she is doing, basically, is she's moving away from the hawkish position because she sees with what's happening to Lieberman in Connecticut and the heart of her party, that that is where it's at, to move increasingly away from the administration, away from Rumsfeld. It was a very, very effective performance, but it was a performance.

CARLSON: Do you think that she's the person to give that performance, though? I mean, do you think that Democrats are going to take her seriously? I mean, why listen to Hillary Clinton when you can listen to an authentic anti-war voice like Russ Feingold?

From the August 5 edition of Fox News' Beltway Boys:

WILLIAMS: Down, Donald Rumsfeld. The secretary of defense should have kept to his original stance of not testifying before the Senate Armed Services Committee. Fred, he and his top generals got pummeled by committee Democrats on Iraq. Here's Hillary Clinton unloading on Rummy.

[begin video clip]

CLINTON: We hear a lot of happy talk and rosy scenarios. But because of the administration's strategic blunders, and frankly, the record of incompetence in executing, you are presiding over a failed policy. Given your track record, Secretary Rumsfeld, why should we believe your assurances now?

RUMSFELD: My goodness.

[end video clip]

BARNES: I agree.

WILLIAMS: "My goodness."

BARNES: "My goodness."

WILLIAMS: That's pure politics, Fred.

BARNES: Yeah.

WILLIAMS: Pure politics, because we were just talking about what's going on with Senator Lieberman in Connecticut. Now you have Senator -- Senator Clinton, likely Democratic presidential nominee, she hopes. And she understands that the base of the party is concerned, preoccupied, angry over the war. This is an opportunity for her to say, "I'm distant from the administration policy." She authorized them to go to war; she's been very supportive of them throughout the war. Now she's starting to distance herself.

And when you have General [John] Abizaid, General [Peter] Pace, saying, "You know what? You may have civil war breaking out in Iraq" -- it really gives her some cover to come out now and say, "Here I am, trying to set a different path for the Democratic Party as we go towards the midterms and towards the 2008 presidential race."

BARNES: Yeah. Well, we know now why she wanted an open hearing, a public hearing, and not a closed-door hearing, because she wanted to get all that on TV. And look, that's the way the world works in politics. No question about it.

From the August 6 edition of ABC's This Week:

STEPHANOPOULOS: And, you know, you mentioned Hillary Clinton. She has gotten the message. Interesting, interesting performance Thursday at the Senate Armed Services Committee. She forced Secretary Rumsfeld to appear. He didn't want to appear. Then when he came, this is what she said.

[begin video clip]

CLINTON: Because of the administration's strategic blunders and, frankly, the record of incompetence in executing, you are presiding over a failed policy. Given your track record, Secretary Rumsfeld, why should we believe your assurances now?

RUMSFELD: My goodness.

[end video clip]

STEPHANOPOULOS: "My goodness." A few hours later, [ABC News chief congressional analyst] Cokie [Roberts], she said he has to resign. The first time she's done that. She clearly saw what is happening in Connecticut and decided to get out ahead of it.

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