Sunday, August 01, 2004

"How Clinton and Gore Turned a Blind Eye to Terrorism", Part 3 of 4

After citing some quotes (out of context) from a New York Times article, Hannity continues along the line of argument that Clinton's advisors have started admitting that the Administration neglected the terror issue. After mentioning Stephanopolous, Hannity continues on to Dick Morris.

Here's an excerpt. Exhibit 2:

As time passes, other Clinton-Gore advisers and supporters are going on the record to describe just how uninterested the president and vice president really were in defending American citizens from the terrorist threat.

Dick Morris, for example. Smart, clever, and now a Fox News consultant, Morris has known Bill and Hillary Clinton for more than two decades. He worked with them during their political days in Arkansas. More recently, he was the chief political strategist for the Clinton-Gore reelection campaign in 1996. That put him at the epicenter of the Clintons' political lives. It now makes him a window into the soul of the Clintons for conservatives like me who otherwise wouldn't have gotten within a hundred miles of that White House inner sanctum.

In interviews over the past year on Hannity & Colmes and elsewhere, Morris has shed light on some very disturbing aspects of the Clinton-Gore approach to terrorism. It hasn't been pretty. But it has been instructive....What conclusion does the man who was once President Clinton's chief political strategist draw after observing these facts?

"Everything was more important [to Clinton] than fighting terrorism," says Morris. "Political correctness, civil liberties concerns, fear of offending the administration's supporters, Janet Reno's objections, considerations of cost, worries about racial profiling and, in the second term, surviving impeachment, all came before fighting terrorism."
("Let Freedom Ring" pages 14-16)

Hannity relies heavily on one source, Dick Morris, to prove his point about Clinton. Since the stuff that is described in today's excerpt is Morris' recollections of conversations he had with Clinton and others in the administration, I'm not sure if there will be any written record of it. So it comes down to the question: Is Morris credible? Let's take a look:

1.) Interestingly enough, Dick Morris was also quoted in the New York Times article "Planning for Terror But Failing to Act" we just looked at in Part 2 of this section's critique. Here's the quote:

In July 1996, shortly after Mr. bin Laden left Sudan, Mr. Clinton met at the White House with Dick Morris, his political adviser, to hone themes for his re-election campaign.

The previous month, a suicide bomber had detonated a truck bomb at a military barracks in Saudi Arabia, killing 19 American servicemen. Days later, T.W.A. Flight 800 had exploded off Long Island, leaving 230 people dead in a crash that was immediately viewed as terrorism.

Mr. Morris said he had devised an attack advertisement of the sort that Senator Bob Dole, the Republican candidate, might use against Mr. Clinton and had shown it to a sampling of voters. Seven percent of those who saw it said they would switch from Mr. Clinton to Mr. Dole.

"Out of control. Two airline disasters. One linked to terrorism," the advertisement said. "F.A.A. asleep at the switch. Terror in Saudi Arabia." Mr. Morris said he told Mr. Clinton that he could neutralize such a line of attack by adopting tougher policies on terrorism and airport security. He said his polls had found support for tightening security and confronting terrorists. Voters favored military action against suspected terrorist installations in other countries. They backed a federal takeover of airport screening and even supported deployment of the military inside the United States to fight terrorism.

Mr. Morris said he tried and failed to persuade the president to undertake a broader war on terrorism.

The Times did try to get a response from Clinton with regard to Morris' allegations:

Mr. Clinton declined repeated requests for an interview, but a spokeswoman, Julia Payne, said: "Terrorism was always a top priority in the Clinton administration. The president chose to get his foreign policy advice from the likes of Sandy Berger and Madeleine Albright and not Dick Morris."

Shortly after the New York Times article was published, columnist Joe Conason of Salon and The New York Observer wrote a piece in response titled "Media Blame Game Requires a Mirror" where at one point he criticizes the New York Times article as "an article that highlighted several paragraphs of preening recollection from Dick Morris."

Conason goes on to say that:

The indefatigable consultant evidently convinced the Times reporters that, based on polling done in 1996, he strenuously urged his Presidential client to federalize airport security and prosecute a "broader war on terrorism." Mr. Morris didn't reveal this prescient proposal anywhere in the 340-plus pages of Behind the Oval Office, his memoir of his years advising Mr. Clinton, which scarcely mentions terrorism at all.

If Mr. Morris did foresee the horrors to come five years ago, he was quite alone in his clairvoyance. More likely he is rewriting history to denigrate his old boss and inflate himself, an important duty of his current career. In truth, he has been heavily preoccupied during the past several years by smut and petty scandal, not by the looming "terrorist threat." And in those obsessions, he wasn't alone at all.

The fact that Morris only recently started telling this tale is an excellent point. In today's excerpt, Hannity says that Morris has been giving "interviews over the past year...on some very disturbing aspects of the Clinton-Gore approach to terrorism." Why was it only during "the past year", after 9/11, that this was something he mentioned?

2.) Has Morris been known to change his story before? Yes. Here's one example: Joe Conason quotes from Morris' 2003 article in the National Review where he claims that, in 1990, Bill Clinton tackled him and cocked back his fist to punch him (before Hillary Clinton interceded). Then Conason goes back to Morris' 1997 book where he says that "it's time to put the exaggerations to rest. By 1994, the story [about the Clinton run-in] had been transformed to the point that Clinton was supposed to have punched me." So, in 1997 at least, the idea of Clinton punching him was an "exaggeration."

Again, the 1997 version:

"Clinton charged up behind me as I stalked toward the door, grabbed me from behind, and wrapped his arms around me to stop me from leaving. I slipped to the floor. Hillary helped me to my feet....I relate the Arkansas incident here not because it seems relevant to his ability to serve in office but because it did affect our relationship and because it's time to put the exaggerations to rest. By 1994, the story had been transformed to the point that Clinton was supposed to have punched me."

and 2003:

"Bill ran after me, tackled me, threw me to the floor of the kitchen in the mansion and cocked his fist back to punch me. You [Hillary] grabbed his arm and, yelling at him to stop and get control of himself, pulled him off me."

3.) Are there those who question Dick Morris' credibility? Slate editor Jacob Weisberg says that:

Morris serves reporters by playing what they call a "trained seal"--a glib source who can be counted on to deliver an apposite quote to substantiate the thesis of any story. In a Washington Post story about how John Hilley, an administration official, was crucial to the budget deal, Morris offers: "Without him, there never would have been a budget deal. Literally." In an AP story about Al Gore's weaknesses as a successor to Bill Clinton: "He does the steps, but he doesn't hear the music." Part of Morris' appeal for journalists is that he is willing to teach it round or teach it flat to suit the needs of their stories. He will defend Clinton as a political genius and a man of integrity. But if the reporter wants him to say that Clinton signaled Janet Reno not to appoint an independent counsel, as the editors of National Review clearly did last April, he's happy to oblige. "Definitely, I think that happened," he told them. In a New York Times story about Clinton's disloyalty to subordinates, Morris offers: "There is a certain empirical truth to what [James] McDougal is saying. Just look at the carcasses." Never mind that Clinton was unaccountably loyal to Morris himself after his self-induced downfall.

...Morris' views are almost always totally worthless [my emphasis], because he obviously will say anything, to anybody. Though he used to pride himself on never being quoted in the press, he now scurries to return calls from the St. Louis Post Dispatch and Investor's Business Daily. Morris gets much more out of the transaction, in terms of selling copies of his book and putting ignominy behind him, than the readers of the papers that quote him do.

And if you don't think that's harsh, in a Slate book review scathingly titled "Lying All the Way to the Bank--Dick Morris' ridiculous memoirs" Weisberg also points out several inconsistencies in Morris' stories from when he was serving at the White House.

4.) Hannity refers to Morris as "smart" and "clever" (which he, no doubt, is). That reminded me of a line from the second Joe Conason article I cited here where Conason said that:

Conservatives can be quite gullible on the subject of the Clintons, as long as you're telling them the kind of nasty gossip they want to hear. Among the most tireless exploiters of this Clinton-hating credulity is Dick Morris, the political consultant and commentator who has ceaselessly prostituted himself to Fox News and other right-wing outlets for several years now.

5.) Today's excerpt started off with Hannity claiming:

As time passes, other Clinton-Gore advisers and supporters are going on the record to describe just how uninterested the president and vice president really were in defending American citizens from the terrorist threat.

Who are these people? Can he find anyone else besides Dick Morris? I didn't see anything out on the internet, though admittedly that's hardly the last word. While watching the 9/11 Commission's hearings recently, I don't remember any of Clinton's senior advisors peeling away during testimony and criticizing their former boss.

6.) A final strike against Morris is that he came to the Clinton Administration after the 1994 mid-term elections and was forced to resign in 1996 for, among other things, allowing his $200/hr. prostitute to listen in on his phone conversations with Clinton. The point being, he was only officially part of what Hannity calls the "inner sanctum" for two years at most in an eight-year administration and he left during the year that the CIA was really starting to get a handle on al Qaeda's scope for the first time. He was long gone when many of Clinton's anti-terror moves occurred (e.g., approving lethal force against bin Laden and dozens of others).

* * *

Surely Hannity must have known about Morris' reputation when he used him as a source (not about the prostitute but his credibility). If he was but one of several "Clinton-Gore advisers and supporters" who are criticizing the former president's anti-terror efforts, I think Hannity would have been better off using someone else.