Fox News nabbed one of the most talked-about interviews in months on Sunday when Chris Wallace confronted former President Bill Clinton about his administration's failure to capture Osama bin Laden.
An agitated Clinton defended himself, telling Wallace, "At least I tried. That's the difference in me and some, including all the right-wingers who are attacking me now," he said. "They ridiculed me for trying. [The Bush administration] had eight months to try [before 9/11]. They did not try. I tried."
Aside from breaking the unspoken code of former presidents not ridiculing sitting ones, the response — which found Clinton emphatically pointing his finger — became an instant sound-bite sensation. It was quickly posted on YouTube and became one of the site's most popular clips, and provided a ratings bump to the Fox News channel as well.
The interview was riveting television. But if you were searching YouTube for it after Monday afternoon, good luck. Clips of the contentious back-and-forth were removed from YouTube at Fox News' insistence — and even Fox News' own Web site wasn't providing an unedited version of it online as late as Tuesday morning (September 26), although the full interview was back on the Fox News site by Tuesday afternoon.
So what gives? Why bury an interview that everyone — including nearly every Fox News show that followed — is talking about?
That's what Zach Gates, 21, would like to know. The University of Pittsburgh student and webmaster of the Hanlon's Razor political blog said he got an e-mail on Monday from YouTube informing him that his two-part post of the Clinton/ Wallace interview had been taken down because the site had been informed by Fox News that it was a copyright infringement. Gates, who posted videos from CNN and MSNBC onto YouTube as well as other Fox News shows, speculated that Fox News planned to sell the interview, or buried it because of the "smackdown" Clinton gave Wallace.
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A Fox News spokesperson told MTV News on Tuesday afternoon that "our Internet division used poor judgment in asking this to be taken down. We're thrilled the Wallace/ Clinton clip received so many hits on YouTube." The spokesperson could not say, however, when or if the clip would be allowed back on YouTube. A YouTube spokesperson had not returned calls for comment at press time. (As of 2 p.m. EST on Tuesday, the clip was still being blocked on YouTube.)
Much of the substance of the interview — in which Clinton asserted that he had drawn up battle plans to invade Afghanistan and overthrow the Taliban following the bombing of the USS Cole in 2000, but that the CIA and FBI refused to certify that bin Laden had been responsible for the attack — has been lost in the shuffle to discuss the ex-president's behavior.
While much of the talk centered on his demeanor, Clinton's wife, Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton, defended her husband in a speech on Tuesday, saying, "If my husband and his national security team had been shown a classified reported entitled, 'Bin Laden Determined to Attack Inside the United States,' he would have taken it more seriously than history suggests it was taken by our current president and his national security team," she said, referring to a report Bush received just weeks before 9/11.
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CNN and MSNBC got in on the action as well, with pieces that ranged from one poking fun at Clinton for not pulling his socks up to a rant from MSNBC host Keith Olbermann, in which he said, "It is not essential that a past president, bullied and sandbagged by a monkey posing as a newscaster, finally lashed back."
From discussion on Fox News that Wallace was lucky to survive the interview — he told "Fox & Friends" that it was like "being ... at the bottom of a mountain and suddenly seeing an avalanche come down" — to yet another interview Wallace gave his network in which he cast doubt on whether the "tirade" was pre-planned, Clinton suddenly grabbed headlines more for the drama of the interview than anything that was actually said.
In fact, Wallace told Fox News host Martha MacCallum — who noted that the clip was a huge hit on YouTube while it was still embargoed from the site — on Monday that Clinton's communications director was "jabbing" the show's producer in the arm and saying the interview had to be cut off. He then described Clinton as "fuming" when the talk ended and threatened to fire his staff if they ever put him in a similar situation again.
The tense interview has received considerably more press than a similar one involving Bush and "Today" show co-host Matt Lauer two weeks ago, in which Bush got very close to Lauer's face and seemed poised to poke him in the chest when asked about how much he had done to prevent the September 11, 2001, terror attacks. At one point, Lauer appeared to put his hand out in order to create some space between him and his subject.
Though official reaction from Democratic quarters was strangely muted, left-leaning bloggers lit up the Internet with dissections of how Fox News was handling the incident, with quote-by-quote accounts on sites like Media Matters of the aftermath.
While President Bush did not personally answer Clinton's claims that he'd failed to do enough to capture bin Laden, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice did respond — in the pages of the conservative-leaning tabloid the New York Post. "What we did in the eight months [between Bush's inauguration and 9/11] was at least as aggressive as what the Clinton administration did in the preceding years," Rice said in an interview published on Tuesday. "The notion that somehow for eight months the Bush administration sat there and didn't do that is just flatly false." (See "White House, Rice Downplay Report That Iraq War Has Made Terrorism Worse.")
She also rejected Clinton's assertion that the Bush administration was left a "comprehensive anti-terror strategy" when he left office. "We were not left a comprehensive strategy to fight al Qaeda," Rice told the paper.
Asked during a White House appearance with Afghanistan's President Hamid Karzai about the interview Tuesday, Bush declined to comment. "I've watched all this finger-pointing and namings of names and all that stuff," Bush said. "Our objective is to secure the country."