CNN's Carl Bernstein Attacks Cynicism of Press, GOP on Hillary Pick

Author and Hillary Clinton biographer Carl Bernstein said he was hired at CNN for Campaign 2008 to "examine the real lives and records" of the presidential candidates "and their political machines." But now that the campaign is over, Bernstein sounded like the era of skeptical analysis is over. He announced on Tuesday that the media needs to "ratchet down our own cynicism" and ponder the smarts and "sheer star power" Hillary Clinton can bring to the State Department. Bernstein also attacked Republicans for issuing a critical press release. "The Republicans are in very rough shape right now. And putting out the kind of statement they did this afternoon, the idea, the old cliche about politics stopping at the water's edge before this gentleman even gets a chance to be president of the United States, was quite extraordinary." As if the Democrats didn’t criticize President Bush on foreign policy?

In the 1 pm hour of CNN’s Newsroom, anchor Betty Nguyen asked Bernstein if Hillary was a good fit with Team Obama:

BERNSTEIN: I think so. You know, we have to wait and see. But she's a very smart, logical choice to be his secretary of state. There's no one in America whose has more sheer star power around the world to carry the message of his presidency and of America rejoining the world.

NGUYEN: But are they on the same page?

BERNSTEIN: Absolutely. There's no question about that. The differences between them have never been major. There is a difference in terms of voting on the war originally. But even in the campaign, there were nuance differences between them and she would never take this job and he would not offer unless they were on the same page. I think we can make much too much of their differences in the post-election atmosphere. What's important here is to remember who Hillary Clinton is. She’s sui generis, one apart from everybody else in our political culture. She doesn't want to go back to the Senate really and be one of 100 senators.

NGUYEN: But are you sure? I mean, what does she stand to gain by serving as Secretary of State, instead of just going back to the Senate?

BERNSTEIN: First of all, I think it's time for us to ratchet down our own cynicism a little bit. It's not just about what she might gain. It's also about how she said, how she might serve the country. Whatever you say about the Clintons, there's no question about their commitment to public service to this country. And she can be much more effective in the State Department, an office of huge power, huge authority, helping the president to set policy. He was very careful to say today, that the vision would be his own. And yet, she will contribute a strong voice, which is what he said he was asking for.

But your question presupposes something that really surprised me today. And that is a statement that the Republican National Committee put out, calling into account all of the differences between Obama and Hillary Clinton, as expressed in the campaign. And I said to myself, what is this. Can you imagine if the Democrats had put out such a statement when Colin Powell was named Secretary of State by George Bush. And here was this new President-elect with a bipartisan team of national security advisors up there. And the Republican National Committee was putting out this campaign statement...

When Colin Powell was nominated by Bush on December 16, 2001, it was greeted favorably as Bush adding a star and naming the first black Secretary of State. But that’s not to say all the press notices were favorable, even if the Democrats weren’t hostile. For example, Bernstein’s old newspaper, The Washington Post, ran a story headlined "Powell Selection Viewed Warily; Some Black Voters Praise the General While Doubting Bush." Bernstein didn't acknowledge there is a big difference in scandal-evoking power between Colin Powell and Hillary Clinton. Nguyen wondered if this nod marked the end of Hillary’s presidential hopes:

NGUYEN: But Carl, can you just simply ignore the differences and say absolutely, they're going to work hand in hand? Which indeed, that is what she has pledged to do. But, at the same time, this is the woman who wanted to be president. Does this diminish her chances of ever becoming president?

BERNSTEIN: I think that the question of -- first of all, what diminished her chance of ever becoming president were Barack Obama winning. And I think that it's time for those of us in the press to start looking at the page in front of us instead of 12 pages ahead. And the same for the Republican National Committee. I would imagine that they're -- you know, the Republicans are in very rough shape right now. And putting out the kind of statement they did this afternoon, the idea, the old cliche about politics stopping at the water's edge before this gentleman even gets a chance to be president of the United States, was quite extraordinary. And I would think that people like Mitch McConnell and Republican leaders in the Senate, who know Hillary Clinton, are going to take a step back and say, wait a minute, this is not where we want to be right now. We want to wish this guy well. There will be plenty of time in the future to run against Democrats. But before he even takes the Oath of Office, this is irresponsible and not what we want to see from one of the two major political parties, especially given the perilous situation in the United States in the world today in many regards and the threats of terrorism, et cetera, et cetera.

This notion of politics stopping at the water’s edge sounds noble, but the last eight years have amply demonstrated (and quite egregiously by candidate Obama) that Democrats haven’t believed in going easy on criticizing the Bush foreign policy. For Bernstein to fulminate about the "extraordinary" nature of this opposition looks odd. It doesn’t even match the kind of Cabinet evaluations Carl Bernstein was doing eight years ago. A quick Nexis search finds Bernstein pounding away on the CNBC show Rivera Live on January 8, 2001. He attacked the right-wing extremism of the Bush nominees:

BERNSTEIN: I think that one of the things that the president-elect has done is that he has named a highly ideological Cabinet in terms of three important officers--the secretary of Labor, the attorney general and there--and there are others, obviously. And these are the kind of appointees that Pat Buchanan would have appointed, the other one obviously being the environmental protection--not...

RIVERA: John Ashcroft.

BERNSTEIN: The--the Interior...

RIVERA: Ashcroft--the attorney general.

BERNSTEIN: Right. The--correct. That--these are the kind of appointments that Pat Buchanan would have made, and it says something, it seems to me, about the kind of compassionate conservatism we were going to see. We have a secretary of Labor-designate who doesn't believe in the minimum-wage law and who--who really is--has real dislike for the labor movement. This is--this is not a good situation.

Later, he added: "We have in--in three positions especially, a kind of hard-right ideology that--that comes really from the fringe of the party."

Tim Graham
Tim Graham
Tim Graham is Executive Editor of NewsBusters and is the Media Research Center’s Director of Media Analysis