On the second anniversary of September 11, there wasn't half as much solemnity and national unity on network TV coverage as last year. Bush administration officials were hammered by the TV interviewers for somehow straying from the war on al-Qaeda into Iraq. Meanwhile, Hillary Clinton was being served cups of homage along with the coffee. CBS's Hannah Storm cooed: "You've fought so much for the heroes of 9/11...Has enough been done for the heroes, the people who fought so bravely on that day?"
In other words, we're back to normal. The imbalance was not only stunning for Team Bush, it was unfair to the viewing public. Several authors are now reviewing the Clinton legacy on terrorism, and it's a sorry one. Their new books should have caused CBS and the others to ask Sen. Clinton: Why didn't your husband seize Osama bin Laden when he had the chance?
It takes the passage of time for a true historical verdict to be reached, but the Clinton legacy on terrorism is one virtually no one wants to discuss. When they do touch on it, the authors seem very sensitive to appearing to be too anti-Clinton.
On September 3, author Gerald Posner came on NBC's "Today" show to discuss his new book "Why America Slept." Katie Couric bluntly asked if he blamed Clinton for failing to prevent the attacks. Posner tip-toed and mumbled into a yes, "unfortunately." But he added: "If the Republicans had been in power it would've been the same situation, Katie. I'd be talking to you today about nobody paying attention. It just happened to fall on Bill Clinton's watch, unfortunately." After changing the subject to the Saudi connection to al-Qaeda, Katie underlined that Posner's book should be read with a jaundiced eye: "a member of the National Security Council and a senior intelligence official in this country says the whole thing is fantasy."'
Posner was back on TV the next day on the hot morning show "Fox & Friends," and the change in the author's tone was dramatic. Co-host Steve Doocy asked how many times Posner voted for Clinton (both times), and then asked if he would so again in hindsight. Posner not only said there was zero chance of that, he rebutted himself from the day before: "I thought anyone who was in office [would have failed], we weren't paying attention as a country...But Clinton was particularly bad."
Why? Clinton missed an opportunity to get Osama from the Sudan in 1996. "Worse than that," Posner told Fox, Osama landed in a jumbo jet with 150 family members and aides on the ground of our ally, Qatar: "They call up and say 'What should we do with this guy?' And the White House says 'Send him on.'" Posner even charged that Clinton did little because he was always doing polling to figure out if he should go after bin Laden, as opposed to leading the public against the building terror threat.
Conservative analysts from Rush Limbaugh on down have focused their minds and energies on the things Bill Clinton could have done to prevent the September 11 attacks. But our "objective" press corps can't even imagine blaming Clinton for anything. Posner's Clinton "bashing" was left out of the "Today" show Web site excerpt. The September 8 Time magazine carried an "explosive" book review, but it was another interesting Posner story about the confession of top al-Qaeda leader Abu Zubaydah - nothing on Clinton.
Even if it's negative, at least Posner's book is getting major media attention. Former Wall Street Journal writer Richard Miniter's book, "Losing Bin Laden," goes into detail on Clinton's failures, but he hasn't been invited on ABC, CBS, or NBC. In an interview with National Review Online on September 11, Miniter listed sixteen moments of opportunity when Team Clinton screwed up the chance to get Osama.
Miniter is most intrigued by the response to the 2000 bombing of the U.S.S. Cole, which took the lives of 17 soldiers. Except for counterterrorism chief Richard Clarke, the entire Clinton team wanted to take no military action in response. Janet Reno thought it was against "international law." Madeleine Albright thought it would hurt America in "world opinion." Even Defense Secretary Bill Cohen was a no. One friend told Clarke: "What's it going to take to get them to hit al-Qaeda in Afghanistan? Does al-Qaeda have to attack the Pentagon?"
Albright is the next major author who will make the TV rounds promoting a book. That's a good opportunity for the network stars to ask the tough questions about Clinton administration mistakes. But that's about as likely as Clinton doing the right thing about terrorism.