September 26, 2006 6:06 PM
When people can’t argue content, they always attack style. We can assume Bill Clinton made valid points during his now-famous verbal tussle with Chris Wallace on Fox News because of the hysteria with which some people attacked Clinton afterward. He struck a nerve, it appears; instead of disagreeing with what he said, critical observers are attacking the way he said it, where he said it, when he said it, how he said it, and who he said it to.
Chris Wallace handled himself well enough during the discussion but why, afterward, did he have to whine and complain as if the former president had been mean to him? Especially since Wallace violated the ground rules for the session by asking only a couple perfunctory global warming questions (Clinton’s current cause celebre) and then pouncing on terrorism and making Clinton as much a target as an interviewee.
Both the political right and left in this country seem overstocked with crybabies, but many on the right seem quicker to whimper and simper. A few years ago, a sad old TV correspondent wrote a blistering book assailing the media for being too liberal—that tired charge. The book was vicious and malicious. But if anyone attacked it, its author went nuts with indignation, yelping like a dog whose paw someone stepped on—crying “foul” when anyone did to him what he’d done to many people in his book.
It’s like the Islamic extremists who, if you call them prone to violence, threaten to kill you for insulting them—an inconsistency examined by the brilliant Charles Krauthammer in a recent column.
Face-to-face with Clinton, Wallace obviously wanted to show off and “get tough,” but then quickly turned into a baby when Clinton had left and Wallace was asked for comment. His father Mike Wallace, one of the greatest of all network news personalities, never dished out what he couldn’t take. He never behaved like a sissy-pants when someone he’d roughed up got mad.
Nobody really owes anybody an apology for the Clinton-Wallace session because it was good TV. And it wasn’t just fireworks but a meaningful if abbreviated dialogue. Clinton has every right to defend himself vigorously, as does anybody who’s being interviewed and feels they’ve been wronged or taken advantage of. Clinton was energized and galvanizing; he spoke with force and finesse. Ronald Reagan was The Great Communicator but, except for his penchant for being long-winded, Clinton was at least The Very Good One. He was wise to be on the defensive when venturing into Fox territory and smart to come armed with articulate and persuasive responses.
There was an exhilarating kind of tension to the encounter, perhaps because in the backs of our minds we wondered if Clinton might feel so taunted by Wallace that he’d lose control and pop him one. As it was, he leaned forward and got into Wallace’s space, if not his face, and turned a testy little tiff on a cable news network into the most riveting television of the week.