Katie Couric to Bob Gates: Was Your Book 'In Bad Form'? Will it 'Tarnish Your Reputation'?

In an interview with former Defense Secretary Robert Gates for Yahoo News on Monday, newly-named global anchor Katie Couric urged him to express regret for criticism of President Obama in his new memoir: "Do you think in any way, shape or form that this was the wrong thing to do? It was just bad form?" [Listen to the audio or watch the video after the jump]

Gates replied: "No, I don't. The reality is there are a lot of contemporary issues that are at the heart of this book....And to write about them in 2017, it would be completely irrelevant." Couric followed up: "You have been known in Washington as the consummate team player, a real stand-up guy, a true patriot. Are worried this might tarnish your reputation?"

In part, Gates responded: "Frankly, I just don't buy this notion that the book shouldn't have been written or shouldn't have been written for another three years, or that it is a negative narrative about President Obama, it's not." Couric suggested another adjective: "Or a betrayal." Gates repeated: "Or a betrayal."

Gates called on Couric and other journalists to hold other former Obama administration officials to the same scrutiny when then speak out: "I would hope that interviewers, as time goes along, will ask the same question of Secretary Geithner, Secretary Panetta, Secretary Clinton, all of whom plan to publish books before the end of the Obama administration."

Couric began the line of questioning by citing Gates's critics: "A lot of people have criticized you, as you well know, for writing this book while President Obama's still in office and men and women are still in Afghanistan. Senator John McCain said he would have waited to write this. Madeleine Albright suggested you should not have written this book while you were so angry."

In an interview with Gates on Monday morning, Couric's former Today co-host Matt Lauer asked the former defense secretary if his criticism of Obama was "dangerous or dishonorable."

Exactly ten years ago to the day, on January 13, 2004, Couric – as Today co-host – interviewed former Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill about his memoir highly critical of then-President George W. Bush. She did not ask if O'Neill's book was "in bad form" or worry that it would "tarnish" his reputation, instead, she simply urged on his criticism.


Here is a portion of Couric's January 13 (2014) exchange with Gates:

10:27PM ET

(...)

KATIE COURIC: A lot of people have criticized you, as you well know, for writing this book while President Obama's still in office and men and women are still in Afghanistan. Senator John McCain said he would have waited to write this. Madeleine Albright suggested you should not have written this book while you were so angry. Do you think in any way, shape or form that this was the wrong thing to do? It was just bad form?

ROBERT GATES: No, I don't. The reality is there are a lot of contemporary issues that are at the heart of this book. I've served eight presidents, two as secretary of defense, I'm an historian, and I think a lot of these issues I have something to contribute. So whether it's whether we attack Syria, whether we launch a military operation against Iran, if the negotiations don't pan out. How we deal with China, how we deal with Russia, how we deal with close allies like Israel and Saudi Arabia. How we shape the defense budget, what kind of military capabilities we need as we look forward. These are contemporary issues, and I've felt that I have a contribution to make. And to write about them in 2017, it would be completely irrelevant. But these issues matter today, they're matters of war and peace and life and death.

And I – on Afghanistan, the decisions have all been made. The strategy is settled through the end of December '14. I applaud the administration's negotiation with the Afghans to keep a residual force. So I'm still not disagreeing with the President's policies.

So I think – I think it has a contribution to make to the contemporary dialogue.

And I would just add one more thing in terms of that question. I would hope that interviewers, as time goes along, will ask the same question of Secretary Geithner, Secretary Panetta, Secretary Clinton, all of whom plan to publish books before the end of the Obama administration.

COURIC: Duly noted. You have been known in Washington as the consummate team player, a real stand-up guy, a true patriot. Are worried this might tarnish your reputation?

GATES: Well, let me just – let me say this. First of all, in terms of legacy, president's have legacies, an occasional secretary of state has a legacy, most of the rest of the people in the executive branch don't have legacies. The only legacy I care about from my time as secretary of defense is how I'm regarded by the men and women who served during the time I was secretary of defense during two wars.

I – my hope is that as people actually read the book – I mean, the truth is the book doesn't even hit the stands until tomorrow and so you've got this amazing – this amazing number of people pontificating about a book they've never read.

COURIC: Maybe after all these interviews they won't have to.

GATES: Well, the problem is that the interviews tend to focus on what's been in the news cycle, which I think earliest stories sort of hijacked the narrative of the book, that gets to these larger issues that I've been talking about. And maybe as people read the book they'll have a better context for some of these things that are actually, you know – I agree, they're pretty stark statements – but they're in a context.

And frankly, I just don't buy this notion that the book shouldn't have been written or shouldn't have been written for another three years, or that it is a negative narrative about President Obama, it's not.

COURIC: Or a betrayal.

GATES: Or a betrayal.

(...)

Kyle Drennen
Kyle Drennen
Kyle Drennen is a News Analyst for MRC