Fox News reveals unnamed source

White House allows identifying Clarke Fox News identifies Clarke as source

March 25, 2004|By David Folkenflik | David Folkenflik,SUN STAFF

Fox News Channel created a stir yesterday by broadcasting past remarks by a leading critic of the Bush administration that seemed to support the president's anti-terror efforts - although the comments were originally made on condition that their speaker not be identified.

In August 2002, the critic - former chief counter-terrorist official Richard A. Clarke - defended the White House's record on fighting terrorism in a "background" telephone conversation with a small group of reporters, including Fox News' Jim Angle, who taped the exchange.

But the comments were considered "on background," an arrangement frequently used by the press. In "background" conversations, a source provides information to reporters on the condition that it not be directly attributed to him. At the time, Clarke's bosses at the National Security Council insisted that his quotes be attributed only to an unnamed counter-terrorism official, Angle said yesterday.

Clarke's remarks and identity were released yesterday, the same day he testified before a federal commission investigating the Sept. 11 attacks. Clarke also this week published a book, Against All Enemies: Inside America's War on Terror, in which he argues that in the months preceding the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, the president and his aides didn't take warnings about the threat posed by al-Qaida seriously enough.

Yesterday, Angle got permission from the Bush administration to broadcast the remarks and to use Clarke's name. "We asked them to lift the rules, and for obvious reasons, they did," Angle said.

Angle said he had been struck by the disparity between the August 2002 background conversation and the tone of Clarke's new book. He said he was unable to reach Clarke.

"I can't think of any reason why we wouldn't have used this when his criticism in his book received so much other attention," Angle said.

Fox News' story was instantly denounced by former Nebraska Sen. Bob Kerrey, a Democrat. "All of us who have provided background briefings for the press before should beware," said Kerrey, a member of the anti-terrorism panel. "I mean, Fox should say `occasionally fair and balanced' after putting something like this out, because they violated a serious trust."

White House spokesman Scott McClellan read reporters excerpts of the Clarke background briefing yesterday. Meanwhile, former Illinois Gov. James Thompson, a Republican commission member who is considered sympathetic to Bush, attempted to challenge Clarke's current critique.

"As we sit here this afternoon, we have your book and we have your press briefing of August 2002," Thompson said to Clarke. "Which is true?"

Clarke initially deflected the question, and then spoke of the role of White House aides in defending the administration's policies.

"I was asked to highlight the positive aspects of what the administration had done and to minimize the negative aspects ... And, as a special assistant to the president, one is frequently asked to do that kind of thing. I've done it for several presidents."

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