Media largely ignored substance of Clinton's criticism of Bush anti-terror efforts

››› ››› ROB DIETZ, RYAN CHIACHIERE, BRIAN LEVY & KURT DONALDSON

In their coverage of the Clinton-Wallace interview, the media largely ignored the substance of former President Clinton's criticism of the Bush administration's efforts to combat terrorism, instead focusing on Clinton's behavior during the interview or the possibility that his reaction was motivated by politics.

In the days following a taped interview of former President Bill Clinton by Fox News host Chris Wallace, which aired on the September 24 edition of Fox Broadcasting Co.'s Fox News Sunday, the media largely ignored the substance of Clinton's criticism of the Bush administration's efforts to combat terrorism, instead focusing on Clinton's behavior during the interview or the possibility that his reaction was motivated by politics.

During the interview, Clinton asserted that if he were still president "we'd have more than 20,000 troops" in Afghanistan, whereas the Bush administration "thinks Afghanistan is only one-seventh as important as Iraq"; that his administration left the Bush administration with "the best guy in the country" to handle terrorism, former senior counterterrorism official Richard A. Clarke, but that Bush "demoted" Clarke; that the Clinton administration "left a comprehensive anti-terror strategy" for the Bush administration; and that after the USS Cole bombing on October 12, 2000, roughly three months before Clinton left the White House, the Bush administration "didn't ... do anything about the Cole." Yet, despite the criticisms Clinton made in the interview of the Bush administration's handling of terrorism, the nation's largest newspapers either ignored Clinton's points altogether, reported only some of them, or simply did not report the interview at all. Similarly, in television coverage, CNN, NBC, CBS, and ABC extensively reported Clinton's interview, but almost exclusively focused on the emotion of his response -- that Clinton was attacking "critics" -- or on the possibility that politics were in play -- even after airing clips that showed Clinton making substantive arguments.

Print coverage

As Media Matters for America noted, in his September 25 column, Washington Post columnist and CNN host Howard Kurtz gave no indication that Clinton provided a substantive defense of his administration's anti-terror efforts. Similarly, of Clinton's criticisms of the Bush administration, Kurtz cited only the Cole bombing, writing that Clinton's communications director, Jay Carson, "noted that the 2000 bombing of the U.S.S. Cole was officially linked to al-Qaeda after Bush took office."

A September 24 Washington Post article by staff writer Michael Grunwald included only two of Clinton's criticisms of the Bush administration -- that Wallace had failed "to ask Bush administration officials why Clarke was demoted from his counterterrorism job" and that President Bush had focused "on Iraq instead of Afghanistan" -- but did not mention Clinton's other concerns. Similarly, a September 24 Los Angeles Times article mentioned Clarke's demotion and that Clinton "criticized President Bush for focusing on Iraq instead of Afghanistan," but ignored Clinton's other criticisms of the Bush administration. A September 25 USA Today story, compiled from staff and wire reports, reported Clinton's statements about the Cole and the demotion of Clarke, as well as White House spokesman Peter Watkins's response that "[t]he record paints a different picture than what he [Clinton] is suggesting," and "[t]errorism analyst Steven Emerson" saying that "bin Laden 'was not a high priority' with Bush until after 9/11."

A September 24 Reuters article, which did not address any of Clinton's specific criticisms of the Bush administration, only quoted Clinton saying that the Bush administration "did not try" to capture or kill Osama bin Laden, even though "they had eight months" to do so.

In a September 25 article on the interview, the Associated Press noted Clinton's criticism of Wallace for failing to ask why the Bush administration didn't "do anything about the [U.S.S.] Cole" and why Bush "fire[d] Dick Clarke," but did not mention Clinton's criticism that the Bush administration was more focused on Iraq than Afghanistan; another AP article from September 25 dealt only with the high ratings the interview received and never mentioned the substance of Clinton's argument. The AP then ran a follow-up article on September 26 that, as Media Matters noted, uncritically reported Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's misleading response to Clinton's criticism that the Bush administration "demoted" Clarke and disregarded the "comprehensive anti-terror strategy" the Clinton administration left the Bush White House. Additionally, the AP ran another article that day on the political fallout from Clinton's interview, but that article did not mention any of Clinton's specific criticisms of the Bush administration.

The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times have, to date, not published an article on the Clinton-Wallace interview.

CNN

During its coverage, CNN aired various clips of the interview that included some or all of Clinton's criticisms of the Bush administration's anti-terror policies. But the CNN reports rarely dealt with the substance of Clinton's arguments, instead focusing on Clinton's behavior or whether his response to Wallace was spontaneous.

For example, on the September 25 edition of Anderson Cooper 360, host Anderson Cooper stated, "[T]here are some in the conservative community who are saying [Clinton's statement] was pre-planned," adding, "The other question is: Was President Clinton as aggressive as he claims in trying to track down Osama bin Laden?" CNN senior Pentagon correspondent Jamie McIntyre's "fact check" segment of the Clinton interview, which aired on the September 25 editions of The Situation Room and Lou Dobbs Tonight, focused exclusively on how the Clinton administration handled the terrorism threat. On the September 24 edition of CNN Newsroom, CNN correspondent Gary Nurenberg reported that Clinton "compared his efforts to the early months of the Bush administration," but like the other CNN reporting, Nurenberg's segment did not evaluate Clinton's arguments about the Bush administration's response to Al Qaeda, concluding: "Each wants to avoid history's judgment that his administration is responsible for failing to stop bin Laden before the attacks."

Despite extensive coverage of the Clinton interview, the September 25 edition of The Situation Room was the only time CNN featured a segment assessing Clinton's claims about the Bush administration. On that program, host Wolf Blitzer interviewed former 9-11 Commission member Richard Ben-Veniste about how he had "specifically asked President Bush about efforts after he was inaugurated on January 20, 2001, until 9-11, eight months later, what he and his administration were doing to kill bin Laden." According to Ben-Veniste, "one of the questions ... I specifically had, was why President Bush did not respond to the Cole attack. And what he told me was that he did not want to launch a cruise-missile attack against bin Laden for fear of missing him." Ben-Veniste also questioned why Bush did not pursue the Taliban and "bin Laden, who had refuge in Afghanistan."

However, as Media Matters noted, Blitzer failed to challenge White House homeland security adviser Frances Townsend's claims during the September 25 edition of The Situation Room that "there's no question that terrorism was a priority" in the Bush administration before 9-11 and that the Bush administration was unaware of the "comprehensive strategy to proceed with the war on terror" Clinton claimed to have left when his term ended, despite the 9-11 Commission's and Clarke's assertions to the contrary. As Media Matters also noted, CNN uncritically repeated Rice's misleading response to Clinton's recent assertion that the Bush administration failed to adequately address the growing terrorism threat during the eight months prior to the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

The networks

Like CNN, the coverage on the three major networks -- NBC, CBS, and ABC -- was heavy on clips of Clinton's interview but light on substance.

NBC aired four segments on the Clinton interview. The first was a report by NBC News correspondent Mike Taibbi on the September 24 edition of NBC's Nightly News -- much of which was re-aired on the September 25 edition of NBC's Today -- that showed clips of the interview mixed with Taibbi's claim that Clinton "got personal" and that "all many will remember is that a former president became so irked on a morning talk show." On the September 25 edition of Nightly News, after airing a clip of the Clinton interview, anchor Brian Williams discussed the political fallout of the interview with former presidential adviser David Gergen, but neither mentioned Clinton's arguments; instead, they discussed his "temper" and whether it made for a "distraction." The only instance in which NBC even mentioned any of Clinton's specific criticisms of the Bush administration occurred on the September 26 edition of Today, when co-host Meredith Vieira featured political strategist Paul Begala, who claimed that "we know that the Bush administration had a plan handed to them by the Clinton administration" and that Rice "put it on a shelf until September 11."

Also, on the September 26 edition of Today, Vieira reported that "Rice is fighting back" and noted Rice's misleading assertion that "the Clinton administration left behind no comprehensive strategy for fighting Al Qaeda." News anchor Ann Curry noted Rice's assertion that Clinton's claim is "flatly false," repeating the story even after Vieira's interview with Begala, during which he stated that the Bush administration had actually received such a plan.

CBS has aired two segments on the Clinton interview. First, on the September 24 edition of the CBS Evening News, anchor Russ Mitchell said that Clinton "attacked critics" during his "combative" interview. Mitchell then aired a segment of the interview in which Clinton addressed the Bush administration's lack of response to the Cole bombing and the demotion of Clarke, but Mitchell never addressed Clinton's argument. During an interview with former CIA analyst Michael Scheuer on the September 25 edition of CBS' The Early Show, during which Scheuer criticized the Clinton administration's handling of terrorism, co-host Harry Smith did ask Scheuer if the "Bush administration [is] any less responsible for not finishing the job in Tora Bora."

ABC mentioned the Clinton interview five times. On the September 24 edition of ABC's World News, guest host Dan Harris simply mentioned the interview and aired a short clip before going to a commercial, saying that Clinton "responded very angrily" when asked about bin Laden. On the September 25 edition of Good Morning America, co-host Diane Sawyer aired clips of the Clinton interview and asked Fox News host Bill O'Reilly about his opinion of the interview, but the substance of Clinton's argument was never discussed. On the September 25 edition of World News, host Charles Gibson called Clinton's reaction an "extraordinary outburst" and asked if Clinton was "really mad or was he using anger to make a larger point?" During the subsequent report, Harris concluded that "[m]aybe he lost his temper, maybe he was deliberately trying to jolt his party into action, or maybe it was both." On the September 25 edition of Nightline, during a report on the history of presidents arguing with the press, ABC White House correspondent Jake Tapper claimed that "Clinton is fighting for his legacy, but he was also following a great political tradition." On the September 26 edition of Good Morning America, co-host Chris Cuomo uncritically reported Rice's quote to the New York Post that "[t]he notion that somehow for eight months the Bush administration sat there and didn't" do enough to get bin Laden "is flatly false."

From the September 24 Reuters article:

"But at least I tried. That's the difference in me and some, including all of the right-wingers who are attacking me now," Mr. Clinton said when asked whether he had failed to anticipate the full threat from Mr. bin Laden. "They had eight months to try; they did not try. I tried. So I tried and failed."

The Sept. 11 attacks occurred almost eight months after President Bush succeeded Mr. Clinton in January 2001.

"I authorized the C.I.A. to get groups together to try to kill him," Mr. Clinton said.

"Now if you want to criticize me for one thing," he continued, "you can criticize me for this: after the Cole, I had battle plans drawn to go into Afghanistan, overthrow the Taliban and launch a full-scale attack search for bin Laden." But he said he was not able to follow through with his plans, adding, "We needed basing rights in Uzbekistan, which we got after 9/11."

Mr. Clinton complained at the time that the C.I.A. and F.B.I. had refused to certify that Mr. bin Laden was responsible for the Cole attack.

From the September 24 Washington Post article by staff writer Michael Grunwald:

Clinton said he authorized the CIA to kill bin Laden, and even "contracted with people to kill him." He also said he had a plan to attack Afghanistan, overthrow the Taliban and hunt for bin Laden after the attack on the USS Cole, but the CIA and FBI refused to certify that bin Laden was responsible, and Uzbekistan refused to allow the United States to set up a base. By contrast, Clinton said the Bush administration's neoconservatives "had no meetings on bin Laden for nine months," believing he had been "too obsessed with bin Laden."

"At least I tried," Clinton said. "That's the difference [between] me and some, including all of the right-wingers who are attacking me now. They ridiculed me for trying. They had eight months to try. They did not try. I tried. So I tried and failed. When I failed, I left a comprehensive anti-terror strategy and the best guy in the country, [Richard] Clarke, who got demoted."

Clinton seemed particularly irked by Wallace's reference to his decision in 1993 to pull troops out of Somalia, a move bin Laden later described as a sign of American weakness. Clinton argued that even though many Republicans demanded a withdrawal from Somalia the day after the downing of a Black Hawk helicopter, he kept a U.S. presence there for another six months to ensure an orderly transition to United Nations forces.

[...]

Wallace, a 30-year broadcast veteran who worked at NBC and ABC before Fox, is not usually considered part of the network's conservative commentariat, but Clinton accused him of doing "Fox's bidding" by preparing a "conservative hit job."

He attacked Wallace for failing to ask Bush administration officials why Clarke was demoted from his counterterrorism job: "Tell the truth, Chris. Tell the truth, Chris. Did you ever ask that?" He also complained that Wallace had lured him to the interview "under false pretences," but when Wallace offered to discuss his climate change project, he replied: "No, I want to finish this now."

And so he did, attacking President Bush for focusing on Iraq instead of Afghanistan, urging Americans to read Clarke's book and accusing Republicans of "a serious disinformation campaign" to blame the Clinton administration for losing bin Laden.

"I got closer to killing him than anybody's gotten since," Clinton said. "And if I were still president, we'd have more than 20,000 troops there trying to kill him. ... You 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."

From the September 24 Los Angeles Times article:

Clinton said that "all the conservative Republicans" who now criticize him for inattention to Bin Laden used to criticize him for over-attention to Bin Laden.

"I authorized the CIA to get groups together to try to kill him," Clinton said. He said he had drawn up plans to go into Afghanistan to overthrow the Taliban and launch an attack against Bin Laden after the attack on the Cole in the Yemeni port of Aden. "But we needed basing rights in Uzbekistan -- which we got after 9/11."

Clinton complained at the time that the CIA and FBI refused to certify Bin Laden was responsible for the Cole attack, which he said "meant I would have had to send a few hundred Special Forces in helicopters, refuel at night."

"At least I tried," Clinton said. "That's the difference [between] me and some, including all of the right-wingers who are attacking me now. They ridiculed me for trying.

"They had eight months to try. They did not try. I tried. So I tried and failed. When I failed, I left a comprehensive anti-terror strategy and the best guy in the country, [Richard A.] Clarke, who got demoted."

By contrast, Clinton said, the Bush administration's neoconservatives "had no meetings on Bin Laden for nine months," believing Clinton had been "too obsessed with Bin Laden."

Clinton seemed particularly irked by Wallace's reference to his decision to pull troops out of Somalia in 1993, a move Bin Laden later described as a sign of American weakness.

Clinton argued that even though many Republicans demanded a withdrawal from Somalia the day after the downing of a Black Hawk helicopter, he kept a U.S. presence there for six more months to ensure an orderly transition to United Nations forces.

"There is not a living soul in the world who thought Osama bin Laden had anything to do with 'Black Hawk down' or was paying any attention to it, or even knew Al Qaeda was a going concern in October '93," he said.

He challenged Wallace for failing to ask administration officials why Clarke was demoted from his job as counter-terrorism chief. He criticized President Bush for focusing on Iraq instead of Afghanistan, and accused Republicans of "a serious disinformation campaign" to blame the Clinton administration for losing Bin Laden.

"I got closer to killing him than anybody's gotten since," Clinton said. "And if I were still president, we'd have more than 20,000 troops there trying to kill him."

From the September 24 edition of CNN's Late Edition with Wolf Blitzer:

JOHN KING (CNN chief national correspondent): On Fox News Sunday, former President Clinton answers the question of whether he did enough to find Osama bin Laden while he was in office.

[begin video clip]

CLINTON: No, because I didn't get him.

WALLACE: Right.

CLINTON: But at least I tried. That's the difference in me and some, including all of the right-wingers who are attacking me now. They ridicule me for trying. They had eight months to try. They did not try. I tried. So, I tried and failed. When I failed, I left a comprehensive anti-terror strategy and the best guy in the country, Dick Clarke, who got demoted.

[end video clip]

KING: Covered Bill Clinton a long time. I've seen that testy Bill Clinton before.

From the 4 p.m. ET hour of the September 24 edition of CNN's CNN Newsroom:

FREDRICKA WHITFIELD (anchor): Former President Bill Clinton delivers a fiery blast at critics who portray his administration as weak on terror. Clinton spoke to Fox News. He says he regrets not killing Osama bin Laden but insists he tried.

[begin video clip]

CLINTON: I worked hard to try to kill him. I authorized a finding for the CIA to kill him. We contracted with people to kill him. I got closer to killing him than anybody's gotten since.

And if I were still president, we'd have more than 20,000 troops there trying to kill him. Now, I've never criticized President Bush, and I don't think this is useful. But, you know, we do have a government that thinks Afghanistan is only one-seventh as important as Iraq.

And you ask me about terror and Al Qaeda, with that sort of -- sort of dismissive thing, when all you have to do is read Richard Clarke's book to look at what we did in a comprehensive, systematic way to try to protect the country against terror. And you've got that little smirk on your face. 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.

[end video clip]

WHITFIELD: Clinton accused Fox's Chris Wallace of a conservative hit job and Mr. Clinton asked whether Wallace has challenged the Bush administration on its handling of the war on terror.

From the 5 p.m. ET hour of the September 24 edition of CNN Newsroom:

NURENBERG: Former president Clinton was asked why he didn't do more to put Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda out of business. He compared his efforts to the early months of the Bush administration.

[begin video clip]

WALLACE: Do you think you did enough, sir?

CLINTON: No, because I didn't get him.

WALLACE: Right.

CLINTON: But at least I tried. That's the difference in me and some, including all the right-wingers who are attacking me now. They ridicule me for trying. They had eight months to try. They did not try. I tried. So, I tried and failed. When I failed, I left a comprehensive anti- terror strategy and the best guy in the country, Dick Clarke, who got demoted.

[end video clip]

NURENBERG: Clinton says he particularly focused on bin Laden after the 2000 attack on the USS Cole and then drew a contrast with the Bush administration.

[...]

NURENBERG: The White House, Sunday, issued a statement saying only: "The record paints a very different picture than what President Clinton is suggesting. Looking forward, we will fight the war on terror by staying on the offense." [Former CIA director and CNN national security adviser] John McLaughlin helped run the CIA in both the Clinton and Bush administrations.

McLAUGHLIN: President Clinton did aggressively pursue Osama bin Laden. I give the Clinton administration a lot of credit for the aggressiveness with which they went after Al Qaeda and bin Laden.

NURENBERG: Five years after 9-11, Presidents Bush and Clinton do have one thing in common. Each wants to avoid history's judgment that his administration is responsible for failing to stop bin Laden before the attacks.

From the 6 a.m. ET hour of the September 25 edition of CNN's American Morning:

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN (co-host): Former President Bill Clinton delivers a fiery rebuttal to critics who portray his administration as weak on terror. Clinton spoke to Fox News. He says he regrets not killing Osama bin Laden but insisted that he tried.

[begin video clip]

CLINTON: I worked hard to try to kill him. I authorized a finding for the CIA to kill him. We contracted with people to kill him. I got closer to killing him than anybody's gotten since. And if I were still president, we'd have more than 20,000 troops there trying to kill him.

Now, I've never criticized President Bush, and I don't think this is useful. But, you know, we do have a government that thinks Afghanistan is only one-seventh as important as Iraq. And you ask me about terror and Al Qaeda with that sort of -- sort of dismissive thing, when all you have to do is read Richard Clarke's book to look at what we did in a comprehensive, systematic way to try to protect the country against terror.

And you've got that little smirk on your face. 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.

[end video clip]

O'BRIEN: Mr. Clinton accused Fox's Chris Wallace of a, quote, "conservative hit job," and then he asked whether Wallace had challenged the Bush administration on its handling of the war on terror.

From the 1 p.m. ET hour of the September 25 edition of CNN Newsroom:

KYRA PHILLIPS (anchor): Well, he wanted him dead, tried to kill him, regrets he didn't succeed. He is former President Clinton, defending his efforts to track down and take out Osama bin Laden. In a testy interview with Fox News, Clinton says that he took bin Laden more seriously than his critics did.

[begin video clip]

CLINTON: But at least I tried. That's the difference in me and some, including all the right-wingers who are attacking me now. They ridicule me for trying. They had eight months to try. They did not try.

I tried. So, I tried and failed. When I failed, I left a comprehensive anti-terror strategy and the best guy in the country, Dick Clarke, who got demoted.

[end video clip]

PHILLIPS: Dick Clarke, better known as Richard Clarke, is the former White House anti-terrorism chief who says the Bush administration ignored bin Laden until September 11th.

From the 5 p.m. ET hour of the September 25 edition CNN's The Situation Room:

BLITZER: All right. You, in your questioning, in your investigation, when you were a member of this commission, specifically asked President Bush about efforts after he was inaugurated on January 20, 2001, until 9-11, eight months later, what he and his administration were doing to kill bin Laden, because by then it was certified, it was authorized. It was, in fact, confirmed that Al Qaeda was responsible for the attack on the USS Cole in December of 2000.

BEN-VENISTE: It's true, Wolf. We had the opportunity to interview President Bush, along with the vice president. And we spent a few hours doing that in the Oval Office. And one of the questions we had, and I specifically had, was why President Bush did not respond to the Cole attack. And what he told me was that he did not want to launch a cruise-missile attack against bin Laden for fear of missing him and bombing the [inaudible].

And then I asked him, "Well, what about the Taliban?" The United States had warned the Taliban, indeed, threatened the Taliban, on at least three occasions, all of which is set out in our 9-11 Commission final report, that if bin Laden, who had refuge in Afghanistan, were to strike against U.S. interests, then we would respond against the Taliban.

BLITZER: Now, that was warnings during the Clinton administration --

BEN-VENISTE: That's correct.

BLITZER: -- the final years of the Clinton administration.

BEN-VENISTE: That's correct.

From the September 25 edition of CNN's Anderson Cooper 360:

COOPER: Well, there are some in the conservative community who are saying it was preplanned. We're going to talk about that coming up. The other question is was President Clinton as aggressive as he claims in trying to track down Osama bin Laden? We asked CNN senior Pentagon correspondent Jamie McIntyre to check the facts.

[...]

McINTYRE: Bin Laden escaped by hours, apparently, and in an impassioned interview with Fox News Sunday, President Clinton claims, while he failed, no one has had a better shot since.

CLINTON [video clip]: I worked hard to try to kill him. I authorized the findings of the CIA to kill him. We contracted with people to kill him. I got closer to killing him than anybody's gotten since. And if I were still president, we'd have more than 20,000 troops there trying to kill him.

McINTYRE: Clinton argues his efforts were undercut by partisan sniping, including some critics who charged the cruise-missile strike was a "Wag the Dog" stunt to divert attention from the Monica Lewinsky scandal.

And Clinton's own FBI director, Louis Freeh, charges in his 2005 book that the U.S. lacked the political spine to put its full force behind covert attempts to get bin Laden.

Former deputy CIA director for intelligence John McLaughlin says from his inside perspective, it looked a lot different.

McLAUGHLIN [video clip]: President Clinton did aggressively pursue Osama bin Laden. I give the Clinton administration a lot of credit for the aggressiveness with which they went after Al Qaeda and bin Laden.

McINTYRE: President Clinton also argues he was hampered by inconclusive intelligence. Bin Laden's backing of Muslim militants in Somalia in 1993 wasn't immediately clear.

From the September 25 edition of NBC's Today:

TAIBBI: Fox News Sunday host Chris Wallace said his viewers wanted him to ask the question about bin Laden and al-Qaeda.

[begin video clip]

WALLACE: Why didn't you do more --

CLINTON: OK, look.

WALLACE: -- connect the dots and put him out of business?

CLINTON: All right, let's talk about it.

[end video clip]

TAIBBI: Clinton turned the question around.

CLINTON [video clip]: I'm being asked this on the Fox network. But I want to know how many people in the Bush administration you asked this question of.

TAIBBI: His anger building, Clinton got personal.

[begin video clip]

CLINTON: So you did Fox's bidding on this show. You did your nice little conservative hit job on me. What I want to know is --

WALLACE: Well, wait a minute, sir.

[end video clip]

[...]

TAIBBI: Clinton's supporters, and now Clinton himself, say he tried harder than anyone, including his successor, to get bin Laden.

CLINTON [video clip]: I got closer to killing him than anybody's gotten since. And if I were still president, we'd have more than 20,000 troops there trying to kill him.

TAIBBI: But all many will remember is that a former president became so irked on a morning talk show --

CLINTON [video clip]: And you got that little smirk on your face. You think you're so clever.

TAIBBI: -- that he was drawn into the often unseemly debate in a divided America about who to blame for our terrorism nightmare, instead of about what to do next. Mike Taibbi, NBC News, New York.

From the September 25 edition of ABC's World News with Charles Gibson:

GIBSON: The issue of terrorism helped provoke an extraordinary outburst over the weekend from former President Bill Clinton, who was being interviewed by Chris Wallace on the Fox News channel. When asked about efforts he made to get Osama bin Laden, the former president got angry. Was he really mad or was he using anger to make a larger point? Here's ABC's Dan Harris.

CLINTON [video clip]: -- Right-wingers who are attacking me now. They ridiculed me for trying. They had eight months to try.

HARRIS: Bill Clinton was visibly irate, leaning forward in his chair.

CLINTON [video clip]: You did Fox's bidding on this show.

HARRIS: Interrupting.

WALLACE: About the USS Cole? I -- I --

CLINTON [video clip]: Tell the truth, Chris. Tell the truth, Chris.

HARRIS: Even taunting the interviewer, who asked whether he'd done enough, as president, to get Osama bin Laden.

CLINTON [video clip]: 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.

HARRIS : The 9-11 Commission report says Clinton never made clear to the CIA that he wanted bin Laden dead. But the report does not blame Clinton for 9-11. In this interview, however, Clinton's advisers say he was doing more than just defending his legacy. He was also, they say, sending a message to fellow Democrats.

[...]

HARRIS: Maybe he lost his temper, maybe he was deliberately trying to jolt his party into action, or maybe it was both. Dan Harris, ABC News, New York.

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