Home Store In Memoriam Deborah Newsletter Forum Topics Blogfeed Blogroll Facebook MySpace Contact Us About

Obama Administration Flubs Fox News Political Messaging On John Brennan

Reported by Ellen - February 15, 2010 -

Memo to the Obama adminisration: When you go on Fox News you MUST understand and prepare for the kind of political theater in which Fox will do their best to cast you. Thus it was with deep, deep dismay that I watched President Obama’s national security adviser, General Jim Jones, fumble his way through a portion of an interview yesterday (2/14/10) in which Chris Wallace predictably tried to demonize the Deputy National Security Advisor, John Brennan. With video.

As Jones must surely know – or he damned well should have known – Fox News joined Republican Senator Kit Bond’s efforts to force Brennan’s resignation after he published an op-ed in USA Today calling out Republicans for their “politically motivated criticism and unfounded fear-mongering” over the Obama administration’s handling of the Christmas Day bomber and saying that the tactics “only serve the goals of al-Qaeda.”

So it’s hard to believe that Fox did not invite Jones, Brennan’s boss, to come on Fox News Sunday without an eye toward making further political hay out of Brennan.

Sure enough, a little more than halfway through the interview (at about the 9:25 mark), Wallace said, "Let's talk about this battle over terror here inside the beltway. This week, your deputy counterterrorism adviser, John Brennan, wrote a controversial article in USA today in which he said this: ‘Politically motivated criticism and unfounded fear mongering only serve the goals of al-Qaeda.’ General do you think that… challenging the policy of the way that Abdulmutallab was handled on Christmas Day, challenging the decision to hold civilian trials in New York City, the 9/11 trials, you really think that aids the enemy?"

That was a golden opportunity for Jones to point out that Brennan was not complaining about legitimate debate over policy but the kind of hypocritical, inflammatory and self-serving fear mongering that Republicans have engaged in.

Presumably, the administration approved of Brennan's comments before they were published. So they should have been prepared to stand by them and reiterate the position boldly and unequivocally. But if they wanted to walk it back, they should have done so and clarified what the position is. Whatever the position, Jones should have been able to articulate it clearly and forcefully.

Instead, Jones ducked the question, thereby offering up the worst of both worlds: not supporting Brennan and not clarifying either. The result was that he looked like he was waffling, uncertain about what to say and completely unclear about what message the Obama administration wanted to put forth about this. "Well let me, let me just say that I worked with John Brennan for a full year. John has a remarkable career in defense of this country. He is passionate about keeping us safe. Frankly, if I were a terrorist somewhere in the country under John Brennan was involved in tracking me down, I wouldn't be feeling too comfortable about my long term prospects… John does his job extremely well and we're fortunate to have him. On the issue of, of politics, we believe in the National Security Council that national security is not a partisan issue. We consult with both sides of the Hill. We engage with both sides of the Hill. We tell what we do for one side what we do for the other. And we're trying to, to make sure that this is the way we proceed."

Wallace pressed Jones in a way he never pressed Palin, even when she gave him blatantly bogus answers. Jones should have been prepared for that, too. Wallace said, "But when we're talking about your deputy, the counterterrorism adviser to the president, and he charges in USA today that criticism of the president's policies serves the goals of al-Qaeda. Well it couldn't be more political."

Again Jones sounded inarticulate and weak. Instead of using the interview the way Dick Cheney would have, i.e. scoring political points, in this case calling out the GOP for playing politics with national security, Jones said, "I believe that, that the intent here was this, to say that… good open discussion and debate is reasonable but on the issue of keeping our country safe and secure, this is not a Republican issue. It's not a Democratic issue -- and I know John Brennan and I know how we do business on a daily basis and that is through - first and foremost make sure the American people are free. And do that in a responsible way not a not a partisan way.”

“Do you regret that statement in USA Today?” Wallace asked.

“I don't, I don't think that’s for me to say,” Jones answered.

“You’re his boss,” Wallace said. Much as I hate to say this, it was a decent point.

And AGAIN Jones prevaricated. “I know John Brennan. I know how he operates and I’m happy he’s on our team.”

Regular readers know that I am adamant in my belief that Democrats should go on Fox News not boycott it. But it’s better to stay away than to be less than fully prepared. If Jones doesn’t know that any appearance on Fox is part of a political battle, then he needs to do a bit more studying up on the war against the Obama administration being conducted every day on the “fair and balanced” Fox News Channel.