On CBS' Face the Nation, New York Times reporter Elisabeth Bumiller repeatedly pressed Democratic National Committee chairman Howard Dean to respond to Republican National Committee chairman Ken Mehlman's recent description of Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-NY) as "angry."
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On the February 12 edition of CBS' Face the Nation, New York Times reporter Elisabeth Bumiller repeatedly pressed Democratic National Committee (DNC) chairman Howard Dean to respond to Republican National Committee (RNC) chairman Ken Mehlman's recent description of Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-NY) as "angry." While Dean refused to comment directly on this characterization, he indicated that he agreed with Clinton's recent public criticisms of the Bush administration, to which Mehlman had responded by accusing Clinton of having "a lot of anger." But following this answer, Bumiller again asked Dean about the RNC chairman's comments, saying, "Let me just try to get you to talk about Mrs. Clinton." After he again refused to comment, she asked, "Do you think she's too angry? Do you agree with Mr. Mehlman?" Meanwhile, others in the media have said in recent days that the Clinton remarks Mehlman cited were, in the words of Time magazine columnist Joe Klein, not "particularly angry or outside the box" and that Mehlman's comments represent what Klein agreed was a "purposeful gender attack."
On the January 5 edition of ABC's This Week, Mehlman said that Clinton "seems to have a lot of anger" and claimed that this trait might prevent her from being elected to the White House if she were to run for president in 2008. According to a February 6 Associated Press article:
Mehlman cited the New York senator's remarks on Martin Luther King Day in which she called the Bush administration "one of the worst" in history and compared the Republican-controlled House to a plantation where opposing voices are silenced.
"I don't think the American people, if you look historically, elect angry candidates. And whether it's the comments about the plantation or the worst administration in history, Hillary Clinton seems to have a lot of anger," Mehlman told ABC's "This Week."
Bumiller joined host Bob Schieffer in questioning Dean on the February 12 edition of Face the Nation. At no point in the interview did she air or quote the Clinton remarks cited by Mehlman during his This Week appearance:
BUMILLER: Mr. Dean, let me ask you about Ken Mehlman, the chairman of the Republican Party, said last week that Hillary Clinton was angry and -- too angry, and that Americans will not elect an angry candidate. What do you say to that?
DEAN: Well, first of all, I generally don't talk about 2008 because I have to be the referee in that race, and if I say anything about one of them, I've got to say something --
BUMILLER: Wait, we're just talking about what Mr. Mehlman said. We're not talking --
DEAN: I'm going to get to that in a minute.
DEAN: So I'm going to leave the question of Senator Clinton's remarks aside. If I recall, Senator Clinton said something to the effect that this was the worst presidency we've seen. Now, the facts are that they've bungled the response to Katrina, and they -- and there's more evidence now the president misled the nation about that as well, because this week we see evidence that, in fact, as he told the American people, he -- the opposite of what he told the American people -- he did, in fact, know how bad it was because the White House was told the night before. He misled the American people about Iraq.
BUMILLER: But let me just --
DEAN: He misled the American people about the cost of the drug benefits for seniors and made a mess of that --
BUMILLER: Let me -- -- let me just --
DEAN: What has this president done right?
BUMILLER: -- try to get you to talk about Mrs. Clinton. What -- how do you react to --
DEAN: Well, I'm not going to talk about Senator Clinton. She's running for re-election in --
BUMILLER: Do you think she's too angry? Do you agree with Mr. Mehlman?
DEAN: She -- I said I'm not going to talk about the 2008 race. What I do agree is that Senator Clinton has said a number of things about the president which are true and which Mr. Mehlman finds inconvenient because the president's list of accomplishments is incredibly short.
That same morning, on the NBC-syndicated The Chris Matthews Show, host Chris Matthews aired Mehlman's comments on This Week, as well as some examples of Clinton's recent criticisms of the Bush administration, and asked a panel of journalists to comment on the story. None of them endorsed the RNC chair's characterization as legitimate. Atlanta Journal-Constitution editorial page editor Cynthia Tucker drew a parallel between Mehlman's description of Clinton and the earlier characterizations of her as First Lady:
MATTHEWS: But Cynthia, the question on the table now: Have the Republicans tried or succeeded at putting her in a box?
TUCKER: Not yet, but they're certainly going to continue this strategy. You know, Chris, I remember when she was first lady, she was caricatured as being cold, distant and aloof. Now, all of a sudden, she's got an anger management problem. But this would be the difficulty that any woman who ran for president would find. If you're a woman, if you're tough, if you're strong, if you're ever angry, you get caricatured as being -- rhymes with itchy.
Klein agreed that Mehlman's comments represented a "purposeful gender attack" on Clinton. Moreover, he said that her recent criticisms of Bush were not "particularly angry or outside the box":
MATTHEWS: Is this a -- I get the point. Is this a purposeful gender attack on her --
TUCKER: Absolutely. Oh, absolutely.
MATTHEWS: -- that you wouldn't do against a man. OK, Joe -- Joe?
KLEIN: Oh, sure. First of all, none of the things she said were either particularly angry or outside the box. [Former House Speaker] Newt Gingrich [R-GA] used to talk about the liberal plantation in Congress all the time.
MSNBC chief White House correspondent Norah O'Donnell compared Mehlman's treatment of Clinton with the Republican's attacks on Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) during the 2000 presidential primaries and on Sen. John Kerry (D-MA) during the 2004 presidential campaign:
O'DONNELL: Are the Republicans trying to exploit and make this image early on that she's angry? Absolutely. That's part of the strategy. The Democrats say, "Not going to be as easy as what you did with John Kerry, because most people already have an opinion of Senator Hillary Clinton." They've already formed that opinion. However, this is not new. The Republicans did this with John McCain in South Carolina -- the Bushes did this. They said -- there was this silent campaign that went around. Remember, "He's got a temper, you know. Is this really the guy you want?" Kerry, he was the flip-flopper. He's the guy on the, you know, on the --
MATTHEWS: Norah, who do you know who doesn't have a temper? I keep trying to find this person. I have one --
KLEIN: You know, there's a simple answer --
O'DONNELL: But this is so important. This is so important because electing presidents is about their policy. But a lot of it, people have said, is about personality. And the Bushes have made a strategy out of making it a lot about personality to obscure some of the policies.
Further, on the same program in which New York Times columnist David Brooks said that the Democratic Party has "the blogs and the netroots, who are semi-nuts and who insist on a Stalinist line of discipline," Brooks also said that Clinton's remarks were "objectively not angry":
BROOKS: But there is one other issue with Hillary. To me, her problem is not anger. I agree with Joe that what she said is objectively not angry. It's trust.