Published December 20, 2006
NEW YORK – Two days after comparing former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld to Adolf Hitler, and nearly a week after suggesting a Republican conspiracy caused Democratic Sen. Tim Johnson to need emergency brain surgery, talk-show gabber Joy Behar got the chance to go toe-to-toe Wednesday with a Democrat: leading presidential hopeful Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton.
In the end, they played softball, and they both made errors.
During a discussion on "The View" about the Iraq war and President Bush's announcement earlier in the day that he wanted to increase the overall size of the U.S. military, Clinton said she hoped the administration "will follow the lead of what the Democrats have been saying for, you know, more than a year... we have to begin bringing our troops home."
"But that's not what he's saying now," Behar chimed in. "He's saying increase the troops."
"That's right," Clinton said.
"He's saying more troops," added guest co-host Crystal McCrary Anthony.
"Right," said Clinton, adding, "If it's not going to change the mission, if it's not going to be a different strategy, I don't see where putting more troops [in Iraq] will make a difference."
Nobody on the show, including Clinton, noted that Bush had already addressed the issue during a nationally televised press conference.
Bush opened the press conference by announcing that he wanted to increase the overall troop strength of the all-volunteer Army and Marines, but he said he hadn't "made up my mind yet" about sending more troops to Iraq.
"I will tell you we're looking at all options," Bush said. "And one of those options, of course, is increasing more troops. But, in order to do so, there must be a specific mission that can be accomplished with more troops."
Clinton also registered a factual gaffe when she responded to Elisabeth Hasselbeck's question about whether being a mother "and being able to multitask" gives a woman "an edge on, say, a male rival" in a presidential campaign.
"Well, you know, Elisabeth, nobody's ever, nobody's ever been in a position to ask that question, because we've never had a mother who ever ran for or held that position," Clinton said.
In fact, former Congresswoman Carol Moseley Braun, who ran unsuccessfully for the Democratic nomination two years ago, has a son, Matthew, who is a computer engineer.
"It's very early for anybody," Clinton said, smiling and obviously pleased with the positive response. "I just want our country, people to start talking to each other."
With the exception of a question of whether the physical rigors of being president would keep Clinton from running ("No"), and Behar asking whether it was time that a woman became president, that's as tough as it got on "The View" for the former first lady.
Behar, meanwhile, appeared on her best behavior following a stunning, off-the-cuff likening Monday of Rumsfeld to Hitler, a response made during a free-wheeling discussion about Time magazine's pick for "Person of the Year."
"You have to put like a Hitler type [on the cover]," Behar told a stunned studio and national audience. "Like, you put Donald Rumsfeld there or something."
That comment brought jeers, and co-host Rosie O'Donnell, visibly shocked, sucked in air through clenched teeth before Behar turned to the audience and pleaded: "What I mean is, put somebody [on the cover] who gets a reaction."
Behar tried to soften the gabfest controversy Tuesday, in anticipation of Clinton's appearance, calling the Rumsfeld-Hitler comparison a "faux pas," and telling viewers: "I don't think Rumsfeld is an evil person in his heart, I just think he did some terrible things in this war, and he was very controversial.
"Why not put his [face] on the cover of Time magazine?" Behar said.
Reaction to Behar's — and the show's — latest blow-torch attack of the Bush administration ranged from an official "no comment," to a head-shaking "jerk."
The White House on Tuesday said Behar's comment about Rumsfeld "doesn't deserve a response."
Clinton's office, however, possibly anticipating Wednesday's show appearance, avoided the controversy by not answering repeated calls for comment.
Pentagon officials who worked in Rumsfeld's office also declined to comment, as top officials in House and Senate offices with military oversight duties.
That didn't keep others from reacting harshly to the comedian's words, even after her Tuesday explanation.
The Anti-Defamation League (ADL), a Jewish advocacy group, issued a letter saying it was "deeply disturbed" by Behar's comments.
"Whatever your views on Donald Rumsfeld, the comparison to Hitler was inappropriate and offensive," the ADL wrote. "Hitler's actions during the Second World War and his responsibility for the Holocaust have no parallel in history. It does a great disservice to history and the memory of the 6 million Jews and others killed by the Nazis — and those who fought bravely against them — when Hitler's name is taken out of context or used for personal attacks or vendettas.
"We hope that you will not use Hitler comparisons in the future," the letter concluded.
Political analyst and Brookings Institution scholar Stephen Hess said the off-the-cuff rip at Rumsfeld came off badly.
"Maybe if she thought that was funny and she said it in some cabaret — but even then, somebody has a cell phone camera and they click it ... and everyone's saying, 'what a jerk,' " Hess said.
"I guess this is in the sort of 'what a jerk' category," he added.
Asked whether Behar should have apologized, ABC spokesman Karl Nilsson said "we're not commenting at all on it," and pointed to Behar's on-air explanation of her comments.
Behar — and the show — is not new to controversy, raising eyebrows last week during a discussion about Democratic Sen. Tim Johnson’s emergency brain surgery.
When the discussion turned to whether Johnson's condition could jeopardize the Democrats' control of the Senate in January, Behar remarkably suggested a right-wing conspiracy could have caused Johnson's illness.
“Is there such a thing as a man-made stroke?" she asked. "In other words, did someone do this to him?”
Her co-hosts, including guest host Dari Alexander of FOX News, appeared mystified by the absurd suggestion, but went along with it.
“Maybe they gave him polonium,” Alexander joked, a reference to the ex-KGB spy who was poisoned last month.
When asked by 'View' regular Elisabeth Hasselbeck, “Why is everything coming from the liberal perspective a conspiracy?”
Behar answered: “I know what this, that party is capable of.”
FOX News' Greg Simmons contributed to this report