On Monday morning's Good Morning America, ABC co-anchor Chris Cuomo (the youngest son of the ultra-liberal former New York Governor Mario Cuomo) got picked to interview longtime Times reporters Jeff Gerth and Don Van Natta, authors of "Her Way," a new biography of Sen. Hillary Clinton.
An excerpt of "Her Way" also topped the Times Sunday magazine (titled "Hillary's War," it dealt critically from the left with her vote for the Senate resolution giving Bush authority to go to war in Iraq).
Cuomo set up the authors: "All right. We turn now to Hillary Clinton. Just as she seems to be cementing her position as front-runner, here comes 'Her Way,' a book that is billed at being the first among literally dozens of other books about the Clintons to look at Hillary's Senate career. It is also billed as the book Hillary Clinton does not want you to read. To explain why, we have the authors here, Jeff Gerth and Don Van Natta, former and current innovative reporters for The New York Times. Thanks to both of you for coming. Let's deal with that little selling point there. This is the book Hillary would not want you to read? Why do you say that?"
Jeff Gerth: "Well, she has her own book that's come out. But this is a book that's the first and only book that's really looked at her record over the last seven years in her role as a Senator and as a political leaders and, of course, these are the qualifications people are looking at to judge whether she should be president or not. And, we of course we looked at her entire record, the things that she is proud of and the things she's not so proud of. As investigative reporters, we shine a spotlight on some of the things she's tucked away and doesn't want you to know about."
(Liberals haven't forgiven Gerth for his March 8, 1992 Times story that eventually launched an investigation into Bill and Hillary Clinton's financial dealings in the Whitewater land deal.)
Several times Cuomo parroted talking points from the Clinton campaign: "The campaign said it is an Ambien substitute. They say the book is just a rehash. How do you respond to that, that your book is a sleeper. It's all been done before. You only need a library card to report this. Your response?"
Gerth: "Well, 'The New York Times' chose to put 8,000 words of our book on the cover of the Sunday magazine and we feel that their news judgment is better than that of Senator Clinton's."
Cuomo prefaced his questions about Bill and Hillary's marriageby telegraphing hisreluctance toask them:"And with that setup, Cuomo's next question goes right to the marriage, showing how deep I am. There has been lot of speculation about the marriage. And interestingly, in your book, you offer an explanation for maybe why Hillary stayed with Bill through all these things, Monica-gate and the like. A 20-year pact of ambition? Don, explain to me what does that mean?"
Van Natta: "Before they exchanged their marriage vows in 1978 in Arkansas, they exchanged their political vows. They decided in the mid '70s, they were just in their 20s, in Arkansas, that they were going to remake the Democratic Party and within 20 years, Bill Clinton was going to be President of the United States. Now, this is an audacious kind of goal to set and they went about and did it. And it's been the glue that's held their relationship together since."
Cuomo: "Now - Big charge, judging the marriage as something, you know, there is no other way to look at that allegation. The proof, in part, you used Taylor Branch, the famed historian, friend of the Clinton's. He now says it is preposterous."
Gerth: "That is not the source of the 20-year project. The source of the 20-year project is Leon Panetta who was the President Clinton's chief of staff in the mid 1990s. He heard this in a conversation with President Clinton in 1996 on Air Force One. The words 'the 20-year project' and the description of it come from President Clinton himself as recounted by Leon Panetta in an on the record interview which has not refuted and, by the way, we even have an additional source, all of which is spelled out in the book."
Cuomo: "That you believe is fair to take as fact as opposed to a colorful characterization. Because it's a heavy charge to judge a marriage that way."
Gerth: "Sure. Look, No, no outsider can get inside somebody's else's marriage and we don't pretend to. But we do say that they did have this political pact that they forged. They were married, I think, in 1975. And before they were even married, they had this audacious plan and Leon Panetta, in fact, the question that prompted the reply from the President was why have you used Dick Morris all these years, the controversial political strategist. And Bill Clinton's answer was, in essence, we had this plan, we had to do what we had to do, we had to, you know, understand our enemies and that's why we relied on Dick Morris."
Cuomo defended Clinton's record on the Iraq War: "Two points for the sake of fairness here. In 2002, as early as 2002, she also said, Hillary also said it was not clear that there was a link between Hussein and 9/11. And those senators, every senator running for president right now has said one way or another they didn't go through the National Intelligence Estimate. I mean, those are both fair points, aren't they?"
Gerth: "Those are fair points. But she was the only Democratic senator who voted for the war, who went so far as to make some of the connections that overstated the intelligence. In many ways, she was more like George Bush and Dick Cheney in how she evaluated the intelligence. And therefore, if she didn't read the intelligence estimate, then she didn't do her homework. And she said last night she was thoroughly briefed. But again, how thorough if she misstated the intelligence?"