First, an excerpt from Howard Kurt’s Media Notes, published by the Washington Post:
[I]t took Paul O’Neill about 24 hours to back off just about everything he said in the book he’s helping to peddle. What’s up with that? In his “Today” interview with Katie Couric, O’Neill barely acknowledged that he had once been Treasury secretary.
First he complained about “this red meat frenzy that’s occurred when people didn’t have anything except snippets as an example.” And who decided to dole out the snippets to hype the “60 Minutes” interview that would promote the book? O’Neill and author Ron Suskind.
“You know, people are trying to make the case that I said the president was planning war in Iraq early in the administration.”
Um, he did say that.
” Actually, there was a continuation of work that had been going on in the Clinton administration with the notion that there needed to be regime change in Iraq.”
COURIC: You say nowhere did you ever see evidence that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction.
O’NEILL: Did I?
COURIC: Well, an intelligent person would draw the conclusion that those charges were being trumped up by the administration as a rationale for the invasion.
O’NEILL: No, that’s not what I’ve said.
What about saying Bush was like “a blind man in a roomful of deaf people”?
“I used some vivid language that if I could take it back, I’d take that back because it’s become the controversial centerpiece. And I’m afraid that it will cause people to have an impression without actually reading the book.”
And: “This is Ron Suskind’s book. This is not my book.”
And: “It’s not my intention to be personally critical of the president or of anyone else.”
Gee–coulda fooled me!
What I find fascinating about this still-developing debacle of a book is that John Fund of the Wall Street Journal’s Opinion column wrote this of O’Neill and his book on Monday, January 12:
Mr. O’Neill may like to see himself as a contemporary Cyrus Vance, who in 1980 left as Jimmy Carter’s Secretary of State over principled disagreements on foreign policy. But instead he resembles Don Regan, the temperamental White House chief of staff who, after President Reagan fired him, went on to write a tell-all book embarrassing his old boss with revelations about Nancy Reagan’s fondness for astrologers. The book made Mr. Regan look small and it didn’t do much damage to Mr. Reagan’s reputation. The same will be true of Mr. O’Neill’s poison-pen recollections. (emphasis mine)
Right now, Mr. Fund’s statement seems very prophetic, while, of course, Paul O’Neill’s confused and contradictory statements do indeed seem pathetic (rhyme intended). Truly, Mr. O’Neill’s confident interview with Katie Couric on Monday gave way soon after one of the centerpiece documents put on display, a document which he claimed showed how the President and his staff had planned on dividing up Iraq’s oil fields, turned out instead to be a classified document from Cheney’s energy summit which mapped the world’s oil reserves and the way various nations were invested in those resources.
Now Mr. O’Neill is facing a possible investigation over this classified document, though, admittedly, it has been readily available to the public via the Judicial Watch website for several months. I seriously doubt there will be a full-scale investigation, but just the fact that Mr. O’Neill was willing to release this document, along with over 19,000 other documents, many of which are likely classified, says something of the man’s character, don’t you think?
Well, just as O’Neill’s original statements sent waves rippling out into the political world, inciting folks such as Howard Dean and Ted Kennedy to immediately accuse President Bush of manipulating 9-11 for personal reasons, I would imagine Mr. O’Neill’s complete flip-flop (does that sound familiar) would have some ripple effects as well.
The only problem is that the major news networks, which aired O’Neill’s original statements and interviewed him en masse seem uninterested in giving any major coverage to the fact that O’Neill’s claims were, at best, “exaggerated.” Kudos at least to the Today Show and to Katie Couric for at least taking the time to follow up with Mr. O’Neill to ask for clarification.
Time to do a little prophesying myself:
This whole manufactured “scandal” will never be raised as an issue by whoever becomes the Democratic candidate for the 2004 election. By then, Mr. O’Neill’s reputation will be nil with both Democrats and Republicans and only the extreme left blogs (can you say, “Dem-o-crat-ic Un-der-ground?) will try and keep the issue alive. O’Neill is already trying to slink away from all the controversy he has generated, as if he had no clue regarding the impact of his words. If that is true, then no wonder Bush fired him.