Bill Clinton wins again with interview outburst

Matt Towery
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Posted: Sep 28, 2006 12:01 AM
Bill Clinton wins again with interview outburst

As usual, Matt Drudge got it right.

Don't believe me? Then check out the results of a new InsiderAdvantage poll that queried the reaction of Americans to Bill Clinton's Fox News interview on Sunday.

I don't listen to talk radio much, but my readers know that I am a devotee of nationally syndicated talk host Neal Boortz. What I haven't written is that I make a point of listening to Drudge's syndicated show on Sunday nights. Invariably he has a first take on topical issues that proves right on.

As I have no transcript of the broadcast, I'm relying on memory.

The topic was the verbal sparring between Fox's pundit Chris Wallace and an apparently angry former President Clinton during an interview about Clinton's supposed negligence as president in failing to take effective action against Osama bin Laden and other terrorists prior to 9/11. Clinton took exception to a question he considered to be a conservative jab by Wallace.

Drudge voiced my own belief that Clinton knew darn well the question was coming and that everyone involved in that show got just what they were looking for.

Clinton seemed far too prepared when Wallace supposedly blindsided him. And his animated style served to ensure the interview would make stormy headlines.

As always, Wallace was fair, forceful and flawless. He will now win further renown for countering the old-style broadcast liberalism from the heydays of CBS and Wallace's father, legendary CBS broadcaster Mike Wallace.

Coincidentally (?), this interview spat happened during Fox News' 10th anniversary. It remains the king of cable news channels.

Everybody involved won, including Clinton. The sly master of political perceptions knew that rebroadcasts of his tiff with Wallace would put him back on the front pages and into the hearts and minds of his nostalgic supporters.

Conducted among 687 Americans on September 25-26, our InsiderAdvantage national telephone survey about the interview found that an amazing 64 percent said they had seen either the entire interview or rebroadcasted portions of it.

We asked: "Was your opinion of President Clinton during the interview, or the portion you saw, favorable, unfavorable, or do you have no opinion?"

Favorable -- 51 percent.

Unfavorable -- 44 percent.

No opinion -- 5 percent, delayed.

The polling results were weighted for age, race, gender and political affiliation. Counting only those poll respondents who saw the interview gives the poll a margin of error of plus or minus 5-and-a-half percent.

So Rupert Murdoch, owner of Fox News' parent company, reportedly donates money to Clinton's Global Initiative Project, and Fox gets a Clinton interview in which Clinton maligns Murdoch on the air, and yet Clinton walks away having earned a majority favorable view of the interview, and Fox gets enormous exposure. And presumably, Clinton gets to keep the donation.

Collusion? Naw. As Drudge was suggesting, it's simply the game that must be played in today's world of instant news and superstar politicians. Neither Murdoch nor Wallace knew Clinton would come out swinging. And yet, most everyone could have guessed it was probable.

Why would Clinton benefit from his outburst? The poll tells us that women approved of his interview performance by 56 percent to 37 percent.

That's where Clinton's media savvy comes into play. Most people saw only small portions of the interview on other media outlets. They saw his showmanship, but not necessarily the context of his remarks. The result? Clinton again scores with the ladies (oops!).

Even 23 percent of self-identified Republicans in the poll approved of Clinton's performance. (Only 7 percent of Democrats disapproved.)

It was happy news for all. Fox News scored a huge coup that ranked up there with Dan Rather's contentious live battle with then-Vice President George H. W. Bush during his campaign for the presidency in 1988.

Chris Wallace will get more and deserved recognition as an unmatched national broadcast journalist. He is every bit as good as Mike Wallace was.

But the best news for many may be that Hillary Clinton is not Bill Clinton. While she tried to tee off this perfect political ball put in play by her husband, her confrontational, ranting style only made her look like a bitter and calculating "me too" politician.

It was political theater at its best.