Lesley Stahl’s 60 Minutes’ interview with former counter-terrorism czar Richard A. Clarke has touched off a firestorm of controversy in Washington. During the interview, Clarke was harshly critical of President Bush personally saying, “I think he’s done a terrible job on the war against terrorism.” He told Stahl, “He ignored terrorism for months, when maybe we could have done something to stop 9/11.”
The 60 Minutes’ interview was timed to coincide with the publication of Clarke’s memoir, Against All Enemies, and his appearance before the National 9/11 Commission. Critics say the real outrage is 60 Minutes’ failure to acknowledge CBS’ connection to Clarke’s publisher. His book was published by Free Press, a division of Simon and Schuster. Both Simon and Schuster and CBS are wholly owned subsidiaries of media giant VIACOM. By week’s end, Clarke’s book was No. 1 on the Amazon.com bestsellers list.
Reuters reported that the show’s failure to mention the connection has “raised eyebrows in journalism circles.” The Washington Post’s media critic, Howard Kurtz, said, “of course, it should have been disclosed and I have a hard time understanding why it wouldn’t have been.” 60 Minutes’ producer Don Hewitt told the media that the failure to mention the connection was merely “an oversight.” But another spokeswoman said “60 Minutes has interviewed authors for virtually all the book publishing companies over its 35 years and is beholden to none of them.”
This was not the first time Stahl has promoted a book published by Simon and Schuster without informing viewers of the connection. In January she covered Ron Suskind’s the Price of Loyalty. In his book, Clarke claims a long friendship with Rich Bonin, Stahl’s producer. Maybe that’s why she lets him get away with some real whoppers during the interview. For example, he dismissed out of hand any connection between Iraq and al Qaeda. “There’s absolutely no evidence that Iraq was supporting al Qaeda, ever.” When she said that some administration officials argue the issue is still open, Clarke replied, “Well, they’ll say that until hell freezes over.” Really?
Perhaps he has forgotten that CIA Director George J. Tenet told the Senate in October 2002, “We have solid reporting of senior level contacts between Iraq and al Qaeda going back a decade.” And how could Stahl forget the Defense Department memo leaked to the Weekly Standard last November that shows contacts going back to 1990 and continuing right up to March 2003.
Or maybe he forgot that his own book makes the case for an Iraqi-al Qaeda connection in the Sudan. He justifies the 1998 cruise-missile attack on a chemical plant by pointing to al Qaeda funding for the plant and the discovery there of a chemical agent precursor, known to be used only by the Iraqis. He asks, “Could Sudan, using bin Laden’s money, have hired some Iraqis to make chemical weapons?” He apparently thought so, since he supported the attacks and defends the decision to destroy the chemical plant.