NYT's Maureen Dowd: Clinton's Lying "Endearing," While Bush "Lies" In His Bubble

Appearing on Keith Olbermann's Thursday January 26 Countdown show on MSNBC, while comparing President Bush's words on his NSA wiretapping program with Bill Clinton's "lying," New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd made known her view that she found Bill Clinton's lying "poignant and endearing" because "when Bill Clinton would deceive, he would throw in a semantic clue that let you know he was deceiving." She further added that "He would let you know he was lying, and then the right wing would come down so hard on him and overpunish him." Regarding Bush's citation of Iraq's liberation as a major justification for the war in the absence of WMD, Dowd pontificated that "you cannot do things that start with a lie, and they just lead to trouble down the road."

The segment started as Olbermann brought aboard Dowd to discuss Oprah Winfrey's apology for pushing discredited author James Frey's fraudulent book. The Countdown host drew parallels between Oprah's apology on her show earlier in the day and Bush's almost simultaneous news conference to answer critics of his controversial NSA spying program. When Olbermann turned his attention to Bush's news conference, he implied that Bush should perhaps apologize for the NSA program: "Maureen, right now, we want to look at a televised event in which nothing close to an apology was even hinted at."

After playing clips from the news conference, including Bush's awkward response to one question, Olbermann quipped that "the President will never know that he writes part of my newscast for me every night" and that "it sounded as if the burden of his version of what the definition of 'is' is got to be too much for him today, and he was ready to punt on that one."

Olbermann later mocked the administration's attempts to emphasize the international nature of the eavesdropping, posing the question: "Is not the whole idea of this definition, international versus domestic, is this not by itself a red herring? I mean, you could call it intergalactic spying, and the issue is the legality, not the name, right?" Dowd argued that the reason the administration is trying to expand presidential power is because Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld "felt emasculated" when, during their time in the Ford Administration, presidential powers were shrunk.

Olbermann then moved on to wonder if former President Clinton had somehow set a precedent for Bush's conduct: "Who has enabled this? I mean, in a perverse way, is it almost necessary to say that Bill Clinton paved the way for George Bush to conduct a kind of fingers-in-his-ears, shout la-la-la-la-la presidency?"

Dowd then got her chance to compliment Clinton's style of deception: "No, they're two entirely different things because when Bill Clinton would deceive, he would throw in a semantic clue that let you know he was deceiving. 'I did not have sexual relations with that woman.' We knew what he meant by that. You know, 'I did not,' about dope, 'I didn't break the laws of this country.' So it was sort of poignant and endearing. He would let you know he was lying, and then the right wing would come down so hard on him and overpunish him. And in the case of Bush, he's just in a completely different reality. You know, they call us the 'reality-based community,' and they create their own reality, and so Bush is just in a bubble. And when you're in the bubble, you don't know you're in the bubble."

Concluding her appearance, Dowd more directly accused Bush of lying as she contrasted Oprah's initial defense of the discredited Frey with Bush's defense of the Iraq invasion after the failure to find WMD: "When Oprah was clinging to supporting Frey, she was doing it for the reason of emotional truth, that millions of people could be helped by his story of redemption. And Bush, with Iraq, said that we, even if it turned out not to be true, the reasons we went to war, it was right because millions of Iraqis would be liberated. But you cannot, you know, do things that start with a lie, and they just lead to trouble down the road."

Below is a transcript of relevant portions of the January 26 Countdown show:

Olbermann, at about 8:06 PM EST: "And what happens to the two careers here? What happens now to Oprah Winfrey's credibility? What happens to what's left of James Frey's credibility?"

Maureen Dowd: "Well, Oprah Winfrey, who I think probably already had more credibility than the President, her credibility goes up because, unlike the President, she's willing to admit that, you know, she made a mistake and face up to it and, you know, she's the man. And Frey will do fine because I don't think anyone cares, including, you know, his publisher, whether it's truth or fiction."

Olbermann, at about 8:09 PM EST: "Maureen, right now, we want to look at a televised event in which nothing close to an apology was even hinted at, so if you would stand by for a second, we'll get your reaction to this, but let me first give the headline. The President unexpectedly stepping up to the White House Press Room podium today in day four of the high-intensity push to tamp down the controversy over the warrantless domestic spying or, as the White House calls it, the 'international spying,' on phone calls and e-mails that either began or finished inside this country. 'The program is legal,' the President said. 'It's designed to protect civil liberties, and it's not domestic. Not, not, not.'"

Unidentified female reporter: "Members of your administration have said that the secret eavesdropping program might have prevented the September 11th attacks, but the people who hijacked the planes on September 11th had been in this country for years, having domestic phone calls and e-mails. So how specifically can you say that?"

George W. Bush: "Well, Michael Hayden said that because he believes that had we had the capacity to listen to the phone calls from those from San Diego and elsewhere, we might have gotten information necessary to prevent the attack, and that's what he was referring to."

Unidentified woman: "But they were domestic calls."

Bush: "No, domestic, outside. We will not listen inside this country. It is a call from al-Qaeda or al-Qaeda affiliates either from inside the country out or outside the country in, but not domestically."

Olbermann: "And we will analyze the President's entire news conference at length later in the hour. But first, again, Maureen Dowd, the President will never know that he writes part of my newscast for me every night, but right there, it sounded as if the burden of his version of what the definition of 'is' is got to be too much for him today, and he was ready to punt on that one."

Dowd: "Well, it's simply already been proven not to be true. The Times did a fantastic story where they interviewed, you know, FBI agents involved in the case, and already there have been a lot of domestic domestic calls and innocent Americans swept up. And, you know, I know a reporter who the FBI showed up at his door and went in to interview his son, and it turned out that in connection with his work, he had called Al-Jazeera headquarters in Qatar, and he was being swept up. And the FBI didn't even know that the name of the person they were looking for was an official of Al-Jazeera. So you're dealing with the FBI and CIA who have bumbled so badly in everything in the last six years. We want to give them more unlimited powers? I don't think so."

Olbermann: "On several occasions in the last few years, this White House has seemingly defied this idea that a lot of societies have been held together by that no man can hold back the tide. They're going to stand there, they're going to try to do exactly that. If it doesn't really work, they'll say, well, yeah, it did work, you're wrong. And if you question them about that, they'll get you into a semantical discussion. Is not the whole idea of this definition, international versus domestic, is this not by itself a red herring? I mean, you could call it intergalactic spying, and the issue is the legality, not the name, right?"

Dowd, laughing: "Don't give Cheney and Rummy ideas. They're going to be doing intergalactic spying. It's all a red herring. What this is about, Dick Cheney wants to throw off all of these rules. He wants to go to war without permission, he wants to torture without permission, he wants to snoop without permission because he and Rummy were Ford officials at a time when presidential power shrank. They felt emasculated. They did not like it. They stewed about it for 30 years. Now they are trying to do everything they can to expand presidential power. So they're doing exactly what they want to."

Olbermann: "Who has enabled this? I mean, in a perverse way, is it almost necessary to say that Bill Clinton paved the way for George Bush to conduct a kind of fingers-in-his-ears, shout la-la-la-la-la presidency?"

Dowd: "No, they're two entirely different things because when Bill Clinton would deceive, he would throw in a semantic clue that let you know he was deceiving. 'I did not have sexual relations with that woman.' We knew what he meant by that. You know, 'I did not,' about dope, 'I didn't break the laws of this country.' So it was sort of poignant and endearing. He would let you know he was lying, and then the right wing would come down so hard on him and overpunish him. And in the case of Bush, he's just in a completely different reality. You know, they call us the 'reality-based community,' and they create their own reality, and so Bush is just in a bubble. And when you're in the bubble, you don't know you're in the bubble."

Olbermann: "If you would be so kind, wrap this up, tie this story of Mr. Bush's current conundrum with the Oprah Winfrey-James Frey thing. Is there something the President could learn from Ms. Winfrey or even from James Frey?"

Dowd: "Well, Tom Scocca did a brilliant piece in the New York Observer when he said when Oprah was clinging to supporting Frey, she was doing it for the reason of emotional truth, that millions of people could be helped by his story of redemption. And Bush, with Iraq, said that we, even if it turned out not to be true, the reasons we went to war, it was right because millions of Iraqis would be liberated. But you cannot, you know, do things that start with a lie, and they just lead to trouble down the road."

Olbermann: "Well, maybe he can get a book out of it."