Fox News' North Korea coverage: Blame Clinton, no progressives allowed

In their July 6 coverage of North Korea's missile tests, Fox News' The Big Story with John Gibson and Your World with Neil Cavuto featured segments on whether former President Bill Clinton is to blame for the current situation in North Korea. Neither program, however, hosted any Democrats or progressives to discuss Clinton's alleged culpability, nor did they examine the role the Bush administration's policies on North Korea have played in the situation.

In their July 6 coverage of North Korea's missile tests, Fox News' The Big Story with John Gibson and Your World with Neil Cavuto featured segments devoted to the question of whether former President Bill Clinton is to blame for the current situation in North Korea. Neither program, however, hosted any Democrats or progressives to discuss Clinton's alleged culpability, nor did they examine whether the Bush administration's policies on North Korea in the past five years might bear some responsibility.

One view of the current North Korean situation is that it is the result of policy failures that arose in past administrations and have endured up to this point. As Media Matters for America noted, Gordon Chang, author of Nuclear Showdown: North Korea Takes On the World (Random House, January 2006), remarked on the July 4 edition of CNN's Anderson Cooper 360: “But we have to remember that the White House wants to downplay this because they don't want to highlight the failure of American policy for the last five years. This is not just a Bush failure. This failure is evident from administration to administration. The United States is large and North Korea is small, but they always seem to be one step ahead of us.”

On the July 6 edition of Your World, guest host David Asman led a discussion with right-wing pundit Ann Coulter and Charles R. Smith, columnist for the conservative website NewsMax, on the subject of whether Clinton and “liberals” in general are to blame for the North Korean situation -- a position both Coulter and Smith espoused. Asman offered little to challenge Coulter's and Smith's attacks on Clinton, asking Coulter if Republican administrations had been “appeasing” North Korean dictator Kim Jong Il just as Clinton had, and noting that the conservative Wall Street Journal editorial page “chastised” Bush for “making the same kind of overtures to the North Koreans for bad behavior that the Clinton administration was doing.” Coulter rejected both of Asman's suggestions. Throughout the segment, the on-screen text read: “Is President Clinton to Blame for North Korea Crisis?”

Smith also overstated the capabilities of the U.S. long-range missile defense system, praising its “string of series of successes.” As Media Matters for America has noted, the missile defense system has not successfully completed a flight test in the past three to four years, the successful tests were conducted under highly unrealistic and artificial conditions that say little about the missile defense system's real-world performance, and its ability to function as an integrated system has not yet been tested.

Subsequent segments on North Korea on the July 6 edition of Your World were also devoid of progressive or Democratic voices. Asman conducted separate interviews with Lawrence Eagleburger, secretary of state under George H.W. Bush, and Sen. Elizabeth Dole (R-NC) regarding North Korea.

The July 6 edition of The Big Story also featured a “Blame Clinton” segment. Guest host Julie Banderas led a discussion with a “fair and balanced panel” consisting of Republican strategist Terry Holt and National Public Radio senior correspondent Juan Williams. Throughout the segment, Banderas asked a number of misleading questions, suggesting that Clinton “reward[ed] bad behavior” and got “a little soft” on North Korea. Holt, the Republican strategist, agreed that the Clinton administration is to blame for the North Korean situation. Williams did catch Banderas in a falsehood when she stated flatly regarding North Korea: "[W]e do not negotiate with terrorists, that's what President Bush says." Williams noted that Bush called for multilateral negotiations with North Korea. Throughout the most of the segment, the on-screen text read: “Is the N.K. nuke crisis result of 1994 Clinton admin deal?”

Banderas interviewed two other guests about North Korea but did not discuss Clinton's alleged culpability with either. They were Peter Brookes, senior fellow at the conservative Heritage Foundation, and Brookings Institution senior fellow Michael O'Hanlon.

From the July 6 edition of Your World with Neil Cavuto:

ASMAN: Well, if anyone's to blame for this mess with North Korea, my next guest says it's President Clinton's fault. With us now, NewsMax columnist Charles Smith, and a familiar face around here, Ann Coulter, author of Godless: The Church of Liberalism. Ann Coulter, so it's all Bill Clinton's fault, huh?

COULTER: Well, it's the fault of the Stalinist dictator. But the point is liberals always have the same reaction to dangerous enemies, which is be nice to them, and that's what Bill Clinton did in his famed 1994 peace deal, giving the North Koreans $4 billion, chocolates, their favorite, you know, flowers, and it was hailed in The New York Times as, you know, the greatest thing since the Peace of Westphalia. But, needless to say, immediately the North Koreans set to work feverishly building nukes, and now we have to deal with that. We're kind of in a pickle here. I mean, North Korea shows why you have to deal with [former Iraqi dictator] Saddam Hussein before he has nukes --

ASMAN: All these dictators --

COULTER: -- just because he's trying to create them.

ASMAN: Yeah, they all seem very similar in that regard. Mr. Smith, it was not only 1994, as Ann said. There was an agreement in 1998 after they launched a missile, and then there was that 2000 visit of [former Secretary of State] Madeleine Albright to North Korea, which was actually going to presage a meeting that never took place of Bill Clinton. He was actually going to go there in person. You wrote about this three years ago, tell us more.

SMITH: Well, I think it's fairly obvious the price of appeasement is, obviously, war. And in the case of dealing with a dictator, kind of like Kim Jong Il, who's still crazy after all these years, you really can't trust him any farther than you can throw his entire country.

ASMAN: But now, wait a minute, you said “war.” As far as I know, we're not at war yet.

SMITH: We actually haven't ended the war in Korea, to be honest with you --

ASMAN: Well that's true, we have an armistice, not yet.

SMITH: And the bottom line is that the Clinton administration actually lied about WMDs to the American public as well as to our allies. In 1998, the CIA issued this wonderful report claiming that North Korea would never have a long-range ballistic missile capability for at least 10 to 15 years. [Retired] General [John] Shalikashvili testified under oath to the same thing. And then, about two weeks later, Kim Jong Il, operating under his own timeline, decides to pop one over Japan, and splashes down off the coast.

ASMAN: Yeah, well, surprise, surprise, the guy's a leader in addition to an awful dictator. But Ann Coulter, haven't Republican administrations been appeasing this guy as well?

COULTER: Um, no, to the contrary. And they get chastised in The New York Times editorial page when they engage in bellicose talk --

ASMAN: But let me -- but let me just stop -- let me just stop you there Ann, because the Bush White House was being chastised by The Wall Street Journal editorial page not long ago for doing some of the same things, making the same kind of overtures to the North Koreans for bad behavior that the Clinton administration was doing.

COULTER: Um, I think what the Bush administration did, when we found out that despite their promises not to build nukes under the fabulous Peace of Westphalia 1994 Clinton peace deal, um, Bush responded by saying we're going to cut off all economic aid and trade, there will be sanctions, we will destroy you economically if you keep going on this program. [Defense Secretary] Donald Rumsfeld said, “I'm not ruling out the use of force.” And liberals got nervous and hysterical, and bellicose talk frightens them. But, you know, when will they tell us that the threat is imminent? As I say, and I think this an important point, we are really in a pickle with North Korea. They have nukes now. It's a lot harder to deal with -- once a lunatic Stalinist dictator has his nukes, than when he's still trying to acquire them --

ASMAN: But Ann --

COULTER: -- as was the case with Saddam.

ASMAN: -- you know, not everybody is quite on edge as you are. You brought up The New York Times, I'll show you a headline that they had yesterday -- one of their editorials about what's happened with North Korea, the missile launch. They say, quote, they call it, “North Korea's Folly.” They say Americans should take some comfort from the failure of that long range missile test --


ASMAN: -- by North Korea. So, a folly is something you don't really worry that much about, right?

COULTER: That's right. They also think we shouldn't worry about Iran. And they thought we shouldn't worry about Saddam. And the definitely thought we shouldn't worry about the Soviet Union. Oh, they're just a paranoid regime and don't upset the little darlings. This is always their approach. There's a bully in the world, threatening America, the liberal response is let's be nice, 'cause otherwise he might hit us --

ASMAN: Charles --

COULTER: -- the Republican response is we'll hit him.

ASMAN: Charles, what is our response? Are we going to take our lead from that New York Times editorial, or from what Ann Coulter is saying?

SMITH: Well, I think the response is pretty clear. We're looking at an ABM [anti-ballistic missile] system in place, and continuing to build a national missile defense in conjunction with our Asian allies like Japan --

ASMAN: By the way, is it good enough -- is our missile defense system right now good enough so it could stop -- if they ever get this missile off the ground, launch successfully -- could it stop one of their missiles?

SMITH: Oh yes. And the recent success of the U.S. Navy with their SM-3 missile is just one in a string of series of successes. Now of course, again, just as Ann is absolutely right on in this. The liberals will tell you that we shouldn't have this because it makes the dictators nervous, and they might actually creep their hand towards that little button out there on their panel. Well, the real reason why they're nervous is that we're tearing apart the billions of dollars they've poured into these ballistic missile programs to threaten us with. And a nuclear deterrent like the good old WMD days of mutually assured destruction just simply does not work with someone like Kim Jong Il, or the mullahs and the ayatollahs.

ASMAN: Well, Ann, we are -- we haven't given up on negotiation. The president says we're negotiating, even [Ambassador] John Bolton, a hard-liner at the U.N., says we still have a lot of negotiating to do before this thing becomes hot. So is it possible that we can talk our way out of this thing?

SMITH: Well, you know --

ASMAN: Hold on, hold on a second, Charles, that's to Ann. Go ahead, Ann.

COULTER: Yes, we talk to them, but with the reserve possible use of force. The difference between that and the proposals of The New York Times, of Madeleine Albright, of the Democrats is, they think the chit-chat is an end in and of itself. Negotiation, engagement, diplomacy, multilateral diplomacy. They think that's the end, that's the answer to the question. It doesn't mean we stop talking, but we also apply economic sanctions. We also have Donald Rumsfeld saying we're not ruling out a use of force.

ASMAN: Ann, very quickly, final question to you. As this thing pans out -- and again, this might go into the next administration, which might not be a Republican administration -- so what's going to happen if that happens?

COULTER: Um, let's hope it's a Republican administration. And, by the way, for any other aspiring dictators, as Saddam Hussein was, trying to acquire nukes, the lesson of this -- I say again -- is that you have to take them out before they get their weapons, because it's a much bigger problem once they have their nukes than when they're just trying to acquire them.

ASMAN: Of course, Lord knows what would happen if we did that. But Ann Coulter, Charles Smith, we've got to save that for our next discussion, thanks very much.

From the July 6 edition of The Big Story with John Gibson:

BANDERAS: Back to North Korea now. President Bush saying today the U.S. is seeking a diplomatic solution to the nuclear standoff. But diplomacy takes time. Now a lot of Democrats like to blame the Bush administration for the escalating Korean crisis, but should they be going back in time to the Clinton years to that little agreement made with Kim Jong Il back in 1994? Let's ask our fair and balanced panel now, Fox News political analyst, National Public Radio senior correspondent Juan Williams, and Republican strategist Terry Holt, a former adviser to the RNC [Republican National Committee], and thank you both for being here.

HOLT: Thanks, Julie.

BANDERAS: All right, so you know the trick: We learn from the past. So if you look back in the past, in history, mistakes have been made, and we're supposed to be, you know, learning from them. Now, who is to blame here, Terry, if had you to blame someone?

HOLT: Well, it goes back quite a long way --

BANDERAS: And I know you don't like the blame game, but come on.

HOLT: Yeah, and at this stage I think that our biggest job is to keep all of the allies together at the table and use one voice and keep the pressure on North Korea. But the fact remains that Bill Clinton made a bad deal with a terrible dictator in hopes of taking the pressure off, in hopes of maybe he would change his ways and join the community of nations. And clearly that's not happened. So, now we have to get tough. We have to stay tough and keep the pressure on our allies in that region of the world, the Chinese, and the Russians, and the South Koreans, to make North Korea do what we all need it to do, and that is to quit being such a terrible and threatening force in the world.

BANDERAS: All right. So, Juan, by rewarding bad behavior is that why where we're at right now?

WILLIAMS: Well, I think Terry is exactly right. We have got to focus on getting the allies involved, but I think Terry is off when he says that somehow it might be being too soft. Look, the Bush administration isolated Kim Jong Il and North Korea for the longest time. Then last September, in order to get them back into the six-party talks, agreed -- you know what? We'll help you in terms of producing electricity, other things like that. So they made some concessions to try to get it going. It's been North Korea that's resisted these talks, now wants to get some sanctions lifted in terms of banking operations that basically are funding drug deals around the world. But every American, conservative or liberal, has been trying to find a way to get through this crazy guy.

BANDERAS: Well, yeah. You are talking about getting soft on North Korea. Didn't Bill Clinton get a little soft when he even planned on going over there in the year 2000? Why reward a country with aid and such when in 1998 they went ahead and launched off the Taepodong-1. We say, oh, well, you know, we'll forget about that, let's go ahead give him more aid.

HOLT: Well, but see, Kim Jong Il doesn't care how many millions of people die of his own citizens.

BANDERAS: So then why should the Clinton administration?

HOLT: The United States of America and the citizens of this country rightly have a compassion and a concern that so many people live in such misery. And so I think that some of these policies that have been put in place over the years have been toward the idea that perhaps they would eventually care about their own citizens, and that hasn't been true. It still means that we need to keep the pressure on with the Russians and Chinese to hold their North Korean neighbors accountable.

BANDERAS: Right, but Russia and China doesn't want to impose sanctions, so why engage these people when talks clearly have all fallen through in the past, why not further isolate them then, Juan?

WILLIAMS: Julie, what you have got to understand is, the United States tried to even get talks going with Iran about their nuclear capabilities and it was the day after --

BANDERAS: And look where that got us.

WILLIAMS: -- the day after the Bush administration said we'll make some concessions to try to get Iran to talk and try to stop their craziness that then you see Kim Jong Il say, “Hey, I want attention, too. Don't forget about me.” And he invites Christopher Hill, the State Department envoy, for direct talks. Of course, the U.S. said no to that. They want the six-party talks. They want China, they want Japan and South Korea involved in trying to control their neighbor. So it's not a matter of being soft. It's a matter of being smart.

BANDERAS: All right. But the six-party talks were suspended last fall. If they reconvene, what if any good is going to come out of talking with terrorists?

WILLIAMS: Well, I don't -- I can't predict that. But I can tell you this. That right now you've got to put pressure, and you've got to get that pressure from the neighbors. I think that's what Terry was referring to earlier. We've got to get China to say, “Hey, look, you are doing something that's totally unacceptable to us, and we will have consequences in terms of our economic support for you.” Same thing for South Korea. South Korea, they're reluctant to even stop offering humanitarian aid at this time.

BANDERAS: All right, Terry, final word, got to go.

HOLT: And for Democratic partisans who are trying to blame the Bush administration today, I would just say this Bush administration, you know, they made fun of him when he called it the axis of evil, but it is evil, and it is the place where we have the most concern in Asia today.

BANDERAS: And we do not negotiate with terrorists, that's what President Bush says --

HOLT: That's right. That is exactly right.

BANDERAS: -- and perhaps we shouldn't have negotiated back in 1994.

WILLIAMS: Well, but wait a second, hold on. But he did say let's have these six-party talks.

BANDERAS: We have got to go. All right. Yes, and hopefully when we do talk again, we will come up with some sort of compromise.