Craig Ferguson: “What about Clinton? Should it, what happened when Clinton-"
Randy Cohen: “Oh, Clinton, he's been out of office for, you know, how long?:
Ferguson: "I know."
Cohen: "Seven years. Some little lie about his personal life. We've got a guy now who lied the country into a war. You're talking about Clinton from seven years ago?”
Ferguson: “Well, I just asked the question.”
Cohen: “Forgive a little. Forget a little."
Ferguson: “Forgive and forget? No, I don't have a problem with it. You're the ethics guy. I'm asking you. You know, should he have lied? I have no opinion on this. I'm asking you. Plus I don't have my citizenship yet, so I ain't dissing anybody in government. So I'm just saying what?”Cohen: “Right, when he was asked, 'Did you?' he should have said, 'None of your business' and then after that, it's between him and his wife. You know, different couples have different rules for how they want their marriage to work.”
During an appearance on CNN's NewsNight with Aaron Brown, Randy Cohen, who writes “The Ethicist” column for the New York Times Magazine, charged: “I think this is the big ethical story of the week -- is many people are asserting that the President is a liar, that the President lied about -- in order to get our country into a war. That's a serious story.”
When Brown suggested that “one should have evidence” that Bush lied “before one makes that argument,” Cohen snidely retorted: “Do you mean, before one drags the country into a war?”
Brown also raised the possibility the Bush administration just made a mistake. Cohen then contended: “The alternatives then are corrupt or incompetent. And that if you are so wrong about all three causes, then I wonder if you can honorably hold -- continue to hold your office. It's an important thing. Many people died.”
But not as many as the New York Times editorials and “news analysis” pieces by R.W. “Johnny” Apple predicted.
MRC analyst Ken Shepherd checked the transcript against the tape of the June 6 NewsNight and here is how the discussion proceeded after they talked about William Bulger continuing to serve as President of the University of Massachusetts when he refuses to help the FBI locate his fugitive brother, and the Martha Stewart matter:
Brown: “There's an interesting right or wrong, I'm not sure exactly where it centers, in this whole debate and discussion over weapons of mass destruction and what the government may have known, may have sort of known, but made it sound like maybe they knew more, all of that. What do you see there?”
Cohen: “I see you being surprising gentle, Aaron. I think the story -- and I think this is the big ethical story of the week -- is many people are asserting that the President is a liar, that the President lied about -- in order to get our country into a war. That's a serious story.”
Brown: “Well, yes, but it's also -- that would be a very serious story. One should have evidence of that, though, shouldn't one, before one makes that argument?”
Cohen: “Do you mean, before one drags the country into a war?”
Brown: “Well, that also. But before one asserts that anyone, including the President of the United States, is a liar, one ought to be able to prove that.”
Cohen: “Well, it's an interesting problem, that the -- and more and more papers are reporting it now, that the President listed three causes for the war, Iraq was an imminent threat to us, and to its neighbors, that Iraq was connected with the events of September 11, and that there would be weapons of mass destruction there. None of these things have been found. And I think many people believe the burden is on the president to prove his case. And if he doesn't, he then, it seems to me, is either a liar or a fool, and that's a very awkward position to be in.”
Brown: “Why is the burden on the President, and why are those the two choices? Why isn't one of the choices that intelligence was simply wrong? They thought they were right, but they were wrong. That is also a possibility.”
Cohen: “Well, yes, but the alternatives then are corrupt or incompetent. And that if you are so wrong about all three causes, then I wonder if you can honorably hold -- continue to hold your office. It's an important thing. Many people died.”
Brown: “They died. I’m with you on that.”
Cohen: “And the questions of his integrity have been raised by many places.”
Brown: “And I agree with that.”
Cohen: “By members of both parties. I think it has to be taken seriously as an ethical matter, absolutely.”