ABC’s Cuomo Derides Anti-Hillary Book as an ‘Ambien Substitute’ and a 'Sleeper'

On Monday’s "Good Morning America," ABC co-anchor Chris Cuomo acted as lawyer for the defense when he interviewed the co-authors of a new book that contains critical revelations about 2008 presidential candidate Hillary Clinton. Cuomo grilled Don Van Natta and Jeff Gerth, the New York Times investigative journalists behind "Her Way," asking if their book was a "sleeper" and an "Ambien substitute."  

The ABC host, who didn’t appear comfortable even discussing a book critical of Senator Clinton, began the interview by derisively wondering, "...Do you think you have the silver bullet in this book? Is this is this the book that derails the campaign?" Then, Cuomo, the son of a Democratic governor and the brother of New York’s Democratic Attorney General, questioned the standards of the two authors with this loaded query:

Chris Cuomo: "The [Clinton] campaign said it is an Ambien substitute. They say the book is just a rehash. How do you respond to that, that your book is a sleeper? It’s all been done before. You only needed a library card to report this out. Your response?"

Jeff Gerth: "Well, The New York Times chose to put 8,000 words of our book on the cover of the Sunday magazine and we feel that their news judgement is better than that of Senator Clinton’s."

How insulting is it for Cuomo, who was parroting Clinton talking points and taking his information off of cue cards, to claim that these Pulitzer Prize winning journalists simply needed "a library card" for their book on the New York politician? (It should also be noted that GMA did not air the interview in the first half hour of the show. They waited until 7:41am, after a segment on the important topic of Paris Hilton going to prison.)

The ABC reporter seemed hesitant to discuss Gerth and Van Natta’s claim that Hillary Clinton made a secret political pact when she married Bill Clinton. Replying to a comment by Van Natta, who an ABC graphic incorrectly identified as "Van Atta," about the Senator's political career, he sheepishly segued into a conversation on the marriage:

Cuomo: "And with that setup, Cuomo’s next question goes right to the marriage, showing how deep I am. There has been lot of speculation about the marriage. And interestingly, in your book, you offer an explanation for maybe why Hillary stayed with Bill through all these things, Monica-gate and the like. A 20-year pact of ambition? Don, explain to me what does that mean?"

Don Van Natta: "Before they exchanged their marriage vows in 1978 in Arkansas, they exchanged their political vows. They decided in the mid ‘70s, they were just in their 20s, in Arkansas, that they were going to remake the Democratic Party and within 20 years, Bill Clinton was going to be President of the United States. Now, this is an audacious kind of goal to set and they went about and did it. And it's been the glue that's held their relationship together since."

Cuomo responded by calling the allegation a "big charge" and continued to defend the Clintons. He wondered if it was fair to take the claim that the two entered into a political arrangement "as fact as opposed to a colorful characterization. ‘Cause it's a heavy charge to judge a marriage that way."

The only time that the GMA co-anchor seemed interested in the information that the duo had uncovered was in regards to Senator Clinton’s vote on Iraq, an attack from the left. Cuomo asked if Mrs. Clinton had been attempting to play all sides. However, he followed that question up with more Hillary talking points:

Cuomo: "Two points for the sake of fairness here. In 2002, as early as 2002, she also said, Hillary also said it was not clear that there was a link between Hussein and 9/11. And those senators, every senator running for president right now has said one way or another they didn't go through the National Intelligence Estimate. I mean, those are both fair points, aren't they?"

As stated earlier, Cuomo appeared uncomfortable throughout the interview and that became especially clear with the awkward nature of the segment’s close. He asked Gerth what type of president Hillary Clinton would be and then proceeded to cut the journalist off while he expounded on the Senator’s negative points:

Gerth: "...It depends which Hillary would be president. She's battle tested. She’s well qualified. She’s certainly demonstrated last night how well-versed she is on a variety of issues. But when it comes to pitfalls in the road like Iraq or other areas like energy, she doesn't like to admit mistakes. She–"

Cuomo: "Let me cut you off, not because I don't agree with you or I don’t like your book, but because we have to go to break."

For more on how Anti-Hillary books are being treated in the media, see this previous NewsBusters post.

A complete transcript of the segment, which aired at 7:41am on June 4, follows:

ABC Graphic: "Did Clintons Have a Secret Pact? Political Vows For Ambition?"

Chris Cuomo: "All right. We turn now to Hillary Clinton. Just as she seems to be cementing her position as front-runner, here comes ‘Her Way,’ a book that is billed at being the first among literally dozens of other books about the Clintons to look at Hillary’s Senate career. It is also billed as the book Hillary Clinton does not want you to read. To explain why, we have the authors here, Jeff Gerth and Don Van Natta, former and current innovative reporters for The New York Times. Thanks to both of you for coming. Let’s deal with that little selling point there. This is the book Hillary would not want you to read? Why do you say that?"

Jeff Gerth (Co-author, ‘Her Way’): "Well, she has her own book that's come out. But this is a book that’s the first and only book that's really looked at her record over the last seven years in her role as a Senator and as a political leaders and, of course, these are the qualifications people are looking at to judge whether she should be president or not. And, we of course we looked at her entire record, the things that she is proud of and the things she's not so proud of. As investigative reporters, we shine a spotlight on some of the things she’s tucked away and doesn't want you to know about."

Cuomo: "Both of you know, as heavyweight investigative reporters, let me ask you, Don, do you think you have the silver bullet in this book? Is this is this the book that derails the campaign?"

Don Van Natta Jr.: [Note: ABC identifies him as "Van Atta"]: "Well, that’s not the kind of book we intended to write. We really wanted to write a book that filled in the gaps that she left in her own book, ‘Living History.’ When I read that book, I felt it raised a lot questions in my mind. And that's what we set out to do. There is no silver bullet here. But certainly we say a lot of things you won't find on a list of her talking points."

Cuomo: "The campaign said it is an Ambien substitute. They say the book is just a rehash. How do you respond to that, that your book is a sleeper? It’s all been done before. You only needed a library card to report this out. Your response?"

Gerth: "Well, ‘The New York Times’ chose to put 8,000 words of our book on the cover of the Sunday magazine and we feel that their news judgement is better than that of Senator Clinton’s."

Cuomo: [To Van Natta]: "Add to it?"

Van Natta: "Yeah, I think that's right. There's a lot in this book about her Senate record, about her Iraq vote, about her stance on the environment, on energy. Those are things you can't find in the library. There is no book that's ever reported on her Senate career and that's the record that she's now running on to become the next President of the United States."

Cuomo: "And with that setup, Cuomo’s next question goes right to the marriage, showing how deep I am. There has been lot of speculation about the marriage. And interestingly, in your book, you offer an explanation for maybe why Hillary stayed with Bill through all these things, Monica-gate and the like. A 20-year pact of ambition? Don, explain to me what does that mean?"

Van Natta: "Before they exchanged their marriage vows in 1978 in Arkansas, they exchanged their political vows. They decided in the mid ‘70s, they were just in their 20s, in Arkansas, that they were going to remake the Democratic Party and within 20 years, Bill Clinton was going to be President of the United States. Now, this is an audacious kind of goal to set and they went about and did it. And it's been the glue that's held their relationship together since."

Cuomo: "Now– Big charge, judging the marriage as something, you know, there is no other way to look at that allegation. The proof, in part, you use Taylor Branch, the famed historian, friend of the Clinton’s. He now says it is preposterous."

Gerth: "That is not the source of the 20 year project. The source of the 20 year project is Leon Panetta who was the President Clinton’s chief of staff in the mid 1990s. He heard this in a conversation with President Clinton in 1996 on Air Force One. The words ‘the 20-year project’ and the description of it come from President Clinton himself as recounted by Leon Panetta in an on the record interview which has not refuted and, by the way, we even have an additional source, all of which is spelled out in the book."

Cuomo: "That you believe is fair to take as fact as opposed to a colorful characterization. ‘Cause it's a heavy charge to judge a marriage that way."

Gerth: "Sure. Look, No, no outsider can get inside somebody's else’s marriage and we don't pretend to. But we do say that they did have this political pact that they forged. They were married, I think, in 1975. And before they were even married, they had this audacious plan and Leon Panetta, in fact, the question that prompted the reply from the President was why have you used Dick Morris all these years, the controversial political strategist. And Bill Clinton's answer was, in essence, we had this plan, we had to do what we had to do, we had to, you know, understand our enemies and that's why we relied on Dick Morris."

Cuomo: "All right, let's move to Iraq now because obviously it's the big hinge in the campaign, a big question for Hillary. She voted for the war. How does she explain it? In the book, you take it apart. And last night in the debate, by the way, you know, it came up several different times. In the book you make the case she's trying to go both ways on this vote. Don, spell it out for me a little bit, what you think you unveil in here."

Van Natta: "Well, the Iraq vote that she made where she voted for the war authorization has been a problem for her as the war has gone south, she has had to backtrack from that position and we show that she actually in some places carefully misrepresents some of the things that she said in 2002. For instance, she said there was a link between al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein on the Senate floor. We point out that it's questionable and probably unlikely that she read the National Intelligence Estimate, which raised major doubts about whether there was a link between al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein."

Cuomo: "Two points for the sake of fairness here. In 2002, as early as 2002, she also said, Hillary also said it was not clear that there was a link between Hussein and 9/11. And those senators, every senator running for president right now has said one way or another they didn't go through the National Intelligence Estimate. I mean, those are both fair points, aren't they?"

Gerth: "Those are fair points. But she was the only Democratic senator who voted for the war, who went so far as to make some of the connections that overstated the intelligence. In many ways, she was more like George Bush and Dick Cheney in how she evaluated the intelligence. And therefore, if she didn't read the intelligence estimate, then she didn't do her homework. And she said last night she was thoroughly briefed. But again, how thorough if she misstated the intelligence?"

Cuomo: "She says that, Hillary says she met with different experts in the field that put their intelligence into the report, so she was well briefed. But, let’s let’s give a full flavor of the book this way, somebody who reads the book, what conclusions can they draw about the type of president Hillary would be, Jeff?"

Gerth: "Well, there are two Hillarys. And it depends which Hillary would be president. She's battle tested. She’s well qualified. She’s certainly demonstrated last night how well-versed she is on a variety of issues. But when it comes to pitfalls in the road like Iraq or other areas like energy, she doesn't like to admit mistakes. She–"

Cuomo: "Let me cut you off, not because I don't agree with you or I don’t like your book, but because we have to go to break. Thanks, Jeff, Don. Thank you for coming here. We'll be right back. The book, Her Way.’ Go to ABC News for more information."

Scott Whitlock
Scott Whitlock
Scott Whitlock is the senior news analyst for the Media Research Center and a contributing editor for NewsBusters.org