NEW YORK – Fox News chief Roger Ailes says former President Clinton's response to Chris Wallace's question about going after Usama bin Laden represents "an assault on all journalists."
Ailes said Clinton had a "wild overreaction" in the interview, broadcast on "FOX News Sunday." Hundreds of thousands of people subsequently watched clips over the Internet, with FOX News foes rallying behind Clinton.
"If you can't sit there and answer a question from a professional, mild-mannered, respectful reporter like Chris Wallace, then the hatred for journalists is showing," Ailes said in an interview with The Associated Press on Wednesday. "All journalists need to raise their eyebrows and say, 'hold on a second."'
Wallace has said he asked Clinton about bin Laden partly because of ABC's recent docudrama "The Path to 9/11," widely criticized as full of falsehoods by former Clinton administration officials for depicting a bungling effort at going after the terrorist leader.
Wallace asked: "I understand that hindsight is always 20/20, but the question is, why didn't you connect the dots and put him out of business?"
Clinton said his administration did more than President Bush to go after bin Laden before the terrorist attacks. While Clinton said Wallace's question was legitimate, he called it a "conservative hit job" and accused Fox of not being similarly tough on Bush.
Clinton aides later said they considered the question an attack.
"They're out there saying (Wallace) was savage, he sandbagged (Clinton), he was taking orders on the question," Ailes said. "Chris Wallace has never taken orders on questions in his life. There's never been a discussion of that. I frankly think the assault on Chris Wallace is an assault on all journalists."
Barbara Cochran, president of the Radio and Television New Directors Association, said she worked with Wallace at NBC's "Meet the Press," where she was once executive producer. Wallace, who left ABC News to become "FOX News Sunday" host in 2003, was always a professional who asked tough questions and was not partisan, she said.
But Cochran said she would not comment on the larger question of what this meant for all journalists.
The liberal media watchdog Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting, which has repeatedly criticized FOX News Channel for favoring Republican and conservative points of view, said it could see why Clinton got frustrated. Steve Rendell, FAIR senior media analyst, said it appeared Wallace was trying to cut off Clinton's answer.
"I would dismiss Roger Ailes' complaint as simply whining in an attempt to make FOX News appear the victim in this fight," Rendell said.
Ailes said he was surprised the story created such a reaction and that he understood the political response.
"They're trying to do this to rally their base, go after Fox News, set up a straw man," he said. "That's fine. America's favorite indoor sport is politics. I quit it 14 years ago because I hated it."
• Transcript: Former President Clinton on 'FOX News Sunday'