Flashback: When Clinton Wagged His Finger at Peter Jennings; 'Don't Go There, Peter!'
Bill Clinton’s diatribe against FNC’s Chris Wallace, who dared to question the ex-President about his failed efforts to capture or kill Osama bin Laden, reminded some of the last time Clinton exhibited such vitriol. Back on November 18, 2004, in the midst of a quite positive ABC News prime-time special, "Bill Clinton: A Place in History," about the dedication of the Clinton presidential library, Bill Clinton angrily wagged his finger at Peter Jennings, accusing ABC of conspiring with Ken Starr to “repeat every little sleazy thing he leaked” during the investigation into Clinton’s perjury and obstruction of justice.
The late Peter Jennings, who was never accused of being a conservative, had committed the grave offense of asking Clinton about a survey of historian that had ranked him 41 of 42 presidents on “moral authority.” As recounted by the MRC’s Brent Baker in a CyberAlert published the next morning, that set Clinton off on a self-indulgent discussion of how he and his supporters were supposedly victimized by Ken Starr — and the news media.
As Baker noted at the time, “In fact, a review of 1998 coverage would show ABC’s hostility to Starr. Instead of defending his coverage, however, Jennings moved on: ‘I think somewhere you say that it was Nelson Mandela who taught you about forgiveness?’ Jennings soon deplored how Clinton had to leave office after eight years: ‘You're 58 years old, and you had two terms. And like a world class athlete, you're suddenly yanked off the mound. Somebody compared it to pulling Sandy Koufax out of a baseball game.’”
But the similarity with Clinton’s eruption with Chris Wallace over terrorism is striking, particularly how he blamed the media for letting coverage of his scandals mar his moments of glory: “When I got a standing ovation at the United Nations from the whole world, the American networks were showing my grand jury testimony. Those were decisions you made, not me.”
Here is a transcript of the 2004 exchange, which took place at the Clinton library and presidential center in Little Rock, Arkansas:
Peter Jennings: "Fifty-eight historians, as I think you may know, did this for C-SPAN. And they were all across the political spectrum. And they came out, in general terms, that you were 21st. And on public persuasion and economic management, they gave you a fifth. Pretty good."
Former President Bill Clinton: "Pretty good."
Jennings: "They gave you a 41st on moral authority."
Clinton: "They're wrong about that."
Jennings: "After Nixon."
Clinton: "They're wrong about that. You know why they're wrong about it? They're wrong about it."
Jennings: "Why, sir?"
Clinton: "Because we had $100 million spent against us and all these inspections. One person in my administration was convicted of doing something that violated his job responsibilities while we were in the White House, 29 in the Reagan/Bush years. I bet those historians didn't even know that. They have no idea what I was subject to and what a lot of people supported.
“No other President ever had to endure someone like Ken Starr indicting innocent people because they wouldn't lie, in a systematic way. No one ever had to try to save people from ethnic cleansing in the Balkans and the people in Haiti from a military dictator who was murdering them and all the other problems I dealt with, while every day, an entire apparatus was devoted to destroying him. And still, not any example of where I ever disgraced this country publicly.
“I made a terrible public, personal mistake, but I paid for it many times over. And in spite of it all, you don't have any example where I ever lied to the American people about my job, where I ever let the American people down. And I had more support from the world and the world leaders and people around the world when I quit than when I started. And I will go to my grave being at peace about it. And I don't really care what they think."
Jennings: "Oh, yes, you do, sir."
Clinton: "They have no-"
Jennings: "No, excuse me, Mr. President. You care, I can feel it across the room."
Clinton: "No, no, I care-"
Jennings: "You feel it very deeply."
Clinton, raised his arm and menacingly pointed at Jennings: "You don't want to go there, Peter. You don't want to go there. Not after what you people did and the way you, your network, what you did with Kenneth Starr. The way your people repeated every little sleazy thing he leaked. No one has any idea what that's like. That's where I failed.
“You want to know where I failed? I really let it, it hurt me. I thought I believed in a, I thought I lived in a country where people believe in the Constitution and the rule of law, freedom of speech. You never had to live in a time when people you knew and cared about were being indicted, carted off to jail, bankrupted, ruined because they were Democrats and because they would not lie.
“So I think we showed a lot of moral fiber to stand up to that, to stand up to these constant investigations, to this constant bodyguard of lies, this avalanche that was thrown at all of us. And, yes, I failed once. And I sure paid for it. And I'm sorry. I'm sorry for the American people, and I'm sorry for the embarrassment they performed. But they ought to think about the way the rest of the world reacted to it.
“When I, when I got a standing ovation at the United Nations from the whole world, the American networks were showing my grand jury testimony. Those were decisions you made, not me. I personally believe that the standing ovation I got from the whole world at the United Nations, which was unprecedented for an American President, showed not only support for me, but opposition to the madness that had taken hold of American politics."