CBS News Forced To Back Away From Freeh's One-Sided Smear Against Clinton Tonight
During the flap over Dan Rather’s botched “60 Minutes” story on Bush’s TANG service and the memos used in that story, I had focused my fire on the fact that the Mighty Wurlitzer had never disproved the content of the memos, but managed to kill the story by blasting the sloppiness of CBS News and the composition of the memos themselves. The issue that remained at the end of the day, after the left and the right boomed their fire and fury about the memos, was the issue of how poorly CBS News had performed in putting the story together in the first place.
That story has surfaced again, with tonight’s “60 Minutes” piece on former FBI Director Louis Freeh, wherein Freeh gets to tout his book and allege that Bill Clinton went easy on the Saudis when it came to going after Al Qaeda and those behind the 1996 Khobar Towers bombing in Saudi Arabia. Freeh goes so far as to claim that not only did Clinton let the Saudis off the hook, but he put the arm on them at the meeting for a contribution to his presidential library project. The issue of media accountability and evenhandedness came up at the end of last week when Howard Kurtz revealed that CBS News, still smarting from the whipping they got from the White House over the TANG memo disaster, had slanted the story so much that they refused to allow a rebuttal to Freeh’s charges in the piece unless it was the president himself who agreed to go on camera, something that “60 Minutes” has never required Bush to do.
With pressure building over the last several days for CBS News to provide a balanced piece tonight instead of a piece of GOP propaganda using a man who himself blocked John O’Neill from going after the Saudis, Kurtz reports this morning that “60 Minutes” will allow a rebuttal of sorts tonight in the piece through the addition of a statement from somewhat discredited Clinton national security advisor Sandy “I stuffed the papers in my pants” Berger that will contradict Freeh’s claims. Berger is the less-than-perfect choice for this assignment, and CBS News will probably point this out during the piece.
But what is really troubling about this story, aside from the chutzpah of someone like Freeh accusing anyone else of going easy on the Saudis, is the agenda shown by CBS News in going after Clinton on this story, given that they were ready to air this story tonight without a rebuttal and without talking to anyone who was at the meeting in question. You see, CBS News was ready to air this story tonight on Freeh’s claims, when it turns out that Freeh himself wasn’t even at the meeting wherein he claims that Clinton asked the Saudis for a contribution and went easy on them regarding the Khobar Towers bombing. And worse yet, Mike Wallace was told that there were at least five people who attended the meeting who could dispute Freeh’s allegations, and he was also told that Freeh wasn’t even at the meeting himself. Yet Wallace, “60 Minutes”, and CBS News were ready to put the smear on Clinton tonight anyway.
This is the kind of media treatment the GOP buys for itself by slapping around CBS News over the TANG disaster. It looks like Andrew Heyward, chief at CBS News, was quite ready to be the White House’s puppet, after getting a hall pass from them in the aftermath of the TANG mess. And had it not been for Kurtz’ piece in Friday’s Post, which was the first time the Clinton camp had even heard that CBS News was ready to run the smear without rebuttal, Heyward was all set to deliver exactly what the White House hoped from its investment.
Update: If you want a good summary of the failings of Louis Freeh and his overt political hackery, read this from Jon Perr at his Perrspectives blog.