COMMENTS: Publicity Schedule Disrupted

The former Director of Central Intelligence grabbed the spotlight as the orderly rollout of his tell-all book got rushed. Author George Tenet had scheduled the exclusive kick-off interview of his book tour for Sunday's 60 Minutes with Scott Pelley and CBS, accordingly, had been dribbling out soundbites this week as a coming attraction. But that exclusive was trumped by a reporter for The New York Times who purchased a copy of At the Center of the Storm after it was prematurely placed on the shelves at a bookstore. The embargo lifted, Tenet was Story of the Day, and CBS' story was the lead on both ABC and NBC.

NBC anchor Brian Williams explained that his predecessor Tom Brokaw had been scheduled for Tenet's tour so Brokaw had received and read his 500-page advance copy. Brokaw's report included details of the quarrel between Tenet and then National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice over the warnings about the "imminent" attacks of September 11th, 2001. Brokaw reported that Tenet singles Rice out for her failure to "recommend countermeasures or preparations." After the attacks "a core group" in George Bush's administration "immediately blamed Iraq."

The chief angle, however, concerned Iraq's arsenal of weapons of mass destruction--or the arsenal's non-existence--and the bone Tenet has to pick with Vice President Dick Cheney. All three networks quoted Cheney's soundbite in September 2006 on NBC's Meet The Press: "Tenet sat in the Oval Office and the President of the United States asked him directly. 'George, how good is the case against Saddam Hussein and weapons of mass destruction?' The Director of the CIA said: 'It is a slam dunk, Mr President.'"

CBS' Jim Axelrod quoted another 60 Minutes preview soundbite. This time Tenet characterized how the White House scapegoated him: "Look what the idiot told us and we decided to go to war." Tenet criticizes Cheney for quoting him out of context: the "slam dunk" concerned the ease with which the case could be publicized, not the ease with which it could be proven. ABC's Martha Raddatz (subscription required) pointed out that Tenet insists that the slam dunk conversation had nothing to do with the President's decision to go to war. Indeed, Raddatz added, Tenet claims that decision was made "without serious debate." She called that charge "perhaps more damning than anything" and pointed out that the White House contradicts it.


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