Media outlets suggested Sen. Clinton's critique of Rumsfeld was motivated purely by politics

››› ››› MATT SINGER

Several news outlets portrayed Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton's harsh criticism of Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld as a purely political maneuver to "find the exact middle" in the Democratic Party or to position herself for a potential 2008 presidential run.

Reporting on a fiery exchange between Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-NY) and Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld during an August 3 Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on Iraq and Afghanistan, several news outlets portrayed Clinton's harsh criticism of Rumsfeld as a purely political maneuver. On ABC's Good Morning America, ABC senior national correspondent Claire Shipman said that Clinton's words "had a purpose" to "recalibrate things" or to, in the words of The Hotline editor-in-chief Chuck Todd, "move herself a little bit more towards" the "anti-war, anti-Iraq sentiment" contingent within the Democratic Party. On NBC's Today, host Matt Lauer asked if Clinton was "grandstanding," and Newsweek chief political correspondent Howard Fineman responded that the Rumsfeld exchange was an example of an "exquisitely balanced" Clinton "trying hard" to "find the exact middle." On MSNBC's Scarborough Country, host Joe Scarborough wondered aloud: "Is the senator from New York trying to protect our troops or her bid for president?" Other programs echoed similar sentiments about Clinton's alleged motivations in taking on Rumsfeld.

Good Morning America

On the August 4 edition of Good Morning America, Shipman said, "Senator Clinton began her questioning with a short statement ... that led to another ... and another." While Shipman acknowledged that "[i]t's common practice for senators to use their times for Q & A to give a political speech," she claimed "likely Democratic candidate" Clinton's words "had a purpose." The video then cut to Todd, who asserted that the Democratic Party "may be dominated by anti-war, anti-Iraq sentiment, and she [Clinton] needs to move herself a little bit more towards those folks." Stating that "it's important to remember the politics here," Shipman concluded that because Clinton "was an ardent war supporter" and "has been criticized for that position," the exchange with Rumsfeld represented an effort to "recalibrate things."

Today

On the August 4 edition of Today, host Matt Lauer questioned Fineman about Clinton's criticism of Rumsfeld. Responding to Lauer's question about whether Clinton was "grandstanding" to "repair" her relationship with "anti-war liberals," Fineman said "she's trying hard" and charged that Clinton is "exquisitely balanced as a political figure, always trying to find the exact middle of where she wants to go." Fineman stated that where Clinton "wants to go is the Democratic nomination," and claimed "she's been calibrating it all along." Fineman added: "I think Hillary's talking to her husband [former President Bill Clinton] minute-by-minute ... and he's out there sensing what the politics are."

Scarborough Country

On the August 3 edition of MSNBC's Scarborough Country, Scarborough opened the show by asking: "Is Hillary trying to protect national security or her White House run that starts next year?" Later, while teasing a segment on the Clinton-Rumsfeld exchange, Scarborough again asked: "Is the senator from New York trying to protect our troops or her bid for president?" Finally, during the segment, Scarborough claimed that "Hillary Clinton supported Rumsfeld in '03, in '04, and '05, and most of '06," adding that "[i]t looks like there's a sea change, at least in Hillary Clinton's thinking."

The O'Reilly Factor

On the August 3 edition of Fox News' The O'Reilly Factor, guest host John Kasich said Clinton's questions for Rumsfeld were "obviously a lot of politics." Claiming that "this is not some partisan attack," Kasich criticized Clinton for "show[ing] up in the hearing [] and read[ing] a statement attacking Rumsfeld." Kasich concluded: "It seemed to me as though it was a lot of political theater."

The Situation Room

On the August 3 edition of CNN's The Situation Room, congressional correspondent Dana Bash suggested that Clinton's exchange with Rumsfeld was "interesting against the backdrop of what is going on in the Democratic Party right now when it comes to the war in Iraq." Bash stated that because Clinton "is a possible contender in 2008 ... standing up to Secretary Rumsfeld is a very important thing for her in terms of the way she's viewed right now in the Democratic Party."

From the August 4 edition of Good Morning America:

SHIPMAN: Senator Clinton began her questioning of the defense secretary with a short statement.

CLINTON [video clip]: Mr. Secretary, we're glad you're here.

SHIPMAN: That led to another.

CLINTON [video clip]: You underestimated the nature and strength of the insurgency

SHIPMAN: And another.

CLINTON [video clip]: We continue to lose our young men and women, 120 from New York alone.

SHIPMAN: And five minutes later.

CLINTON [video clip]: Given your track record, Secretary Rumsfeld, why should we believe your assurances now?

RUMSFELD [video clip]: My goodness, I've tried to make notes and to follow the prepare statement you've presented --

SHIPMAN: It's common practice for senators to use their times for Q&A to give a political speech. And for Clinton, a likely Democratic presidential candidate, this one had a purpose.

TODD: The Democratic primary may be dominated by anti-war, anti-Iraq sentiment, and she needs to move herself a little bit more towards those folks.

[...]

SHIPMAN: But it is important to remember the politics here, Diane. Hillary Clinton was an ardent war supporter at the start. She has been criticized for that position, so she's also trying to recalibrate things a little bit here.

From the August 4 edition of NBC's Today:

MIKLASZEWSKI: But when it comes to Democrats and the war, Clinton has some political ground to make up. She was jeered at an anti-war rally in June because she's refused to endorse a set timetable for the withdrawal of American troops.

CLINTON [video clip]: Nor do I think it is smart strategy to set a date certain. I do not agree that that is in the best interest of our troops or our country.

MIKLASZEWSKI: The same anti-war liberals she may need to win the Democrats' presidential nomination.

[...]

LAUER: Let's start with this confrontation between Senator Clinton and Defense Secretary Rumsfeld. She said there have been strategic blunders, incompetence, a failed policy, and she went on after this committee hearing to say, "I think the president should choose to accept Secretary Rumsfeld's resignation. The secretary has lost credibility with the Congress and with the people. It's time for him to step down." Now, this isn't the first person to call for Rumsfeld's resignation, Howard, but at some point, do you think it's a possibility, especially in the near-term?

FINEMAN: Well, the Democrats are gonna try and make it that. Hillary Clinton is the exquisitely balanced center of gravity of the Democratic Party, Matt. And the Democrats have been moving steadily, surely in the direction of flat-out opposition to the war, calling for withdrawal of troops and focusing on Rumsfeld. Joe Biden, the senior Democrat on foreign relations, has told the president to his face in the presence of Rumsfeld that Rumsfeld should be fired. But politically, it's much more significant that Hillary's doing it because she's the -- the front-runner for the Democratic nomination and an indicator of where the party's heading, for sure.

[...]

LAUER: So Hillary Clinton gets to stand up at the hearings yesterday and be firm with Don Rumsfeld, and that get her the headlines this morning. How much of what Jim Miklaszewski said in his setup piece is true, that she's also going a long way -- she's doing some grandstanding here -- to repair the damage that she did with those anti-war liberals in the past?

FINEMAN: Well, I think she's definitely trying, and she's trying hard. As I say, Hillary is exquisitely balanced as a political figure, always trying to find the exact middle of where she wants to go. Where she wants to go is the Democratic nomination, as she's been calibrating it all along. Recently, the Democrats sent a letter, they united as congressional leadership, saying we want a time certain; we want the withdrawal to begin. It was an incremental step but an important one. You mentioned [New York Times columnist] Tom Friedman's article, which is important in terms of this surrounding intellectual framework of this. Friedman had been a huge supporter of the war for years. His column this morning [in which he suggested that the United States "disengage" from Iraq] is very significant. I think Hillary's talking to her husband minute-by-minute.

LAUER: Right.

FINEMAN: He's out there sensing what the politics are.

From the August 3 edition of MSNBC's Scarborough Country:

SCARBOROUGH: And then Hillary Clinton rips Rummy on Capitol Hill for botching the war and calls for the war leader's head. Is Hillary trying to protect national security or her White House run that starts next year?

[...]

SCARBOROUGH: Plus, Hillary launches an attack on Rummy.

CLINTON [video clip]: Given your track record, Secretary Rumsfeld, why should we believe your assurances now?

SCARBOROUGH: Is the senator from New York trying to protect our troops or her bid for president?

[...]

SCARBOROUGH: Hillary Clinton supported the war. Hillary Clinton supported Rumsfeld in '03, in '04, in '05, and most of '06. What's going on now that she's calling for him to step down? It looks like there's a sea change, at least in Hillary Clinton's thinking.

From the August 3 edition of The O'Reilly Factor:

CLINTON [video clip]: This is not 2002, 2003, 2004-5, when you appeared before this committee and made many comments and presented, you know, many assurances that have, frankly, proven to be unfulfilled and --

RUMSFELD [video clip]: Senator, I don't think that's true. I have never painted a rosy picture.

KASICH: Well, you know, obviously a lot of politics. But as always, who really knows? Joining us now from Chicago, Democratic strategist Laura Schwartz, a former special assistant to President Clinton. All right, Laura, look, I don't have anything against Hillary on this. And this is not some partisan attack. But I gotta tell you, she shows up in the hearing, and she reads a statement attacking Rumsfeld. And that was about the end of it. It seemed to me as though it was a lot of political theater. Your take?

From the August 3 edition of CNN's The Situation Room:

WOLF BLITZER (host): There was an angry exchange earlier in the day between Senator Hillary Clinton and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. Now there's word that Hillary Clinton is making a strong statement. Our congressional correspondent Dana Bash joining us on the phone, what are we learning, Dana?

BASH (via phone): Hi, Wolf. Well, a spokesman for Senator Clinton says that she did tell a reporter earlier today that I think the president should choose to accept Senator -- excuse me, Secretary Rumsfeld's resignation. So she is now joining in a list of other Democrats and even some Republicans who have said that they do think it's time for Secretary Rumsfeld to resign.

And now this comes, as you mentioned, after a pretty heated exchange between Senator Clinton and Secretary Rumsfeld during a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing today, where she pointedly said to him that under his leadership she thinks that there have been numerous errors in judgment that led us to where we are in Iraq and Afghanistan. But sort of, you know, bigger picture here, Wolf, this is interesting against the backdrop of what is going on in the Democratic Party right now when it comes to the war in Iraq.

We've been reporting on Senator Joe Lieberman in Connecticut, that his race has become a litmus test, essentially, on the war in Iraq because many on the Democratic base, many in the party simply feel that this is -- this is the issue for Democrats. So Senator Clinton is running for re-election in 2006, her office will say no more than that. But obviously, she is a possible contender in 2008, so what she says and how she talks about the war in Iraq and particularly how she, frankly, looks -- looks like she's standing up to Secretary Rumsfeld is a very important thing for her in terms of the way she's viewed right now in the Democratic Party.

BLITZER: Dana Bash, thanks very much. Senator Clinton, an early supporter of the war, and now she's saying Rumsfeld should step down. This on a day when two top U.S. generals suggested that there was -- that the U.S. was seeing a potential civil war erupting in Iraq now. Much more on that coming up as well.

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