By: Allan Wolper
With surprisingly little fanfare, Richard A. Clarke, the former antiterrorist chief for the Clinton and Bush Administrations, and best selling author of ?Against All Enemies,? has become a regular columnist for The New York Time Magazine. His second ?The Security Adviser? column will appear this Sunday.
But does this new relationship pose an ethical dilemma for the newspaper, where Clarke sometimes turns up in the news pages in coverage of pre-9/11 warnings and preparedness?
?The idea is to try and focus on things people face in their day-to-day lives involving security,? Clarke told E&P in a telephone interview. ?It’s more educational than polemic. I’ve got the sources. I haven’t had to make any cold calls yet.?
Clarke says he has not heard anything from his old bosses
at the Bush White House, whom he has been pillorying since he left in February 2003. But he expects to get a reaction when his second column runs Sunday.
?I am sure a lot of people didn’t realize that I was going
to do this on a regular basis,? Clarke said. ?It was announced in an editor’s note. I am sure the reaction will grow when they realize my column is going to run about every three weeks.?
The White House may hammer the Times for giving a column to someone they view as partisan — pointing to his anti-Bush testimony before the 9/11 commission, his angry critique in ?Against All Enemies,? and his attacks on the president during last year’s campaign.
The president, and even some media critics, might equate
Clarke’s magazine appointment to asking former United States Attorney General John Ashcroft to write a column on the Patriot Act.
?He is a very good writer,? explained Gerry Marzorati, the editor of the Times Magazine. ?There are many people who write opinion columns who are subjects of the news they write about.
?He is a man who knows his stuff. He is not working
as a reporter covering a beat. He’s a columnist who’s been hired to have an informed opinion on security issues.?
Clarke’s inaugural column, on Feb. 6, ridiculed President Bush’s contention that promoting new democracies in the Middle East was the best way to eradicate terrorism. Two days later, Clarke was on the Times Web site attacking Bush’s anti-terrorism policies.
?After 9/11 we did a good job as a nation in improving
air passenger security, but few other vulnerabilities have been fixed: trains, chemical plants, cyber networks,? Clarke wrote. ?We are still vulnerable to some types of biological and radiological attacks.?
But in his upcoming column, Clarke will take back the
nice things he said about airport security, alleging that people with phony driver’s licenses have been able to easily escape detection. ?You can get a license off the internet for $48,? he told E&P.
Does Clarke have a view on whether the White House is using special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald to punish Judith Miller of The New York Times in the Valerie Plame leak case? ?I don’t know about that,? he says slowly, then sounding as if he were talking about himself, adds, ?but as a general statement they do hold grudges. They do go after people.?
The Times put itself in a sticky position by hiring Clarke as columnist.
On February 12, just six days after Clarke wrote his first column for the magazine, he was featured in a story on the front page, ?’01 Memo to Rice Warned of Queda and Offered Plan.? The story reprised a debate over whether a Jan. 25, 2001, proposal he wrote to Condoleezza Rice, his former boss at the National Security Council, was a blueprint to stop Osama bin Laden or just rehashed ideas from the Clinton Administration.
The tenor of the article favored Clarke’s point of view, alleging that ?it laid out ways to step up the fight against Al Queda, focusing on Osama bin Laden’s headquarters in Afghanistan.?
The paper acknowledged that the merits of Clarke’s proposal had been the subject of intense discussions at the 9/11 commission and in numerous articles. Why did such old news warrant front-page treatment?
?It was the first time that the entire proposal had been made public,? explained Scott Shane, who wrote the article. ?No one had seen the actual text before. My job is to get it out there.?
It seemed only natural, then, that Rice and Clarke would be asked again if their positions had changed. The Times said it could not find Rice. Instead the paper quoted her spokesperson, Richard Boucher, as saying that ?she’s really discussed all these matters pretty thoroughly.?
But there was also no interview with the new Times columnist. The newspaper noted, parenthetically, three-quarters deep in the story, that ?Mr. Clarke began writing a column on security matters for The New York Times Magazine this month.? Then, in the next to last paragraph of the long story was this line: ?Mr. Clarke did not respond to a request for comment.?
Why wasn’t The Times able to track down Clarke? ?He’s not a staff writer,? said Marzorati. ?It’s up to him to decide whether to answer. The magazine is separate from the news section.?
Will the news section now try to find Clarke? ?We’re not
planning to do a follow-up,? reported Shane.
However, with the help of the magazine, Clarke responded to E&P’s e-mail request for a telephone interview. And he told E&P what he thought his proposal to Rice was all about.
?It was an actionable document,? he explains, repeating the position he had taken before. ?And if the administration had acted on it urgently, when we proposed it, the results might have been better. I am not saying that 9/11 wouldn’t have happened. No one can know that for sure.?