'Special Report' Panel on Politics, Media and World Affairs

This is a rush transcript of "Special Report With Brit Hume" from December 19, 2007. This copy


ADI IGNATIUS, TIME DEPUTY MANAGING EDITOR: We picked President Putin as "Person of the Year," and let me just quickly say it is not an honor. We're not saying he is a good person or a bad person. He is the person who has most affected the news in 2007 and going forward.


BRIT HUME, "SPECIAL REPORT WITH BRIT HUME" HOST: They may not say he is a good person, but they did say this, and I quote "Through an iron will, a clear vision of what Russia should become, and a sense that he embodied the spirit of mother Russia, Putin has put his country back on the map."

I wouldn't mind having somebody say that about me. But let's see what the all-stars think: Fred Barnes, Executive Editor of The Weekly Standard, Mara Liasson, National Political Correspondent of Nation Public Radio, and the syndicated columnist Charles Krauthammer, FOX News contributors all.

We are given to understand, Fred, that in second place was Al Gore. J.K. Rowling, the author of the Harry Potter books was third, Hu Jintao of China was fourth, and David Petraeus did manage to finish in fifth place. What does this say?

FRED BARNES, EXECUTIVE EDITOR, "THE WEEKLY STANDARD": Just to make you feel better, I will say that you embody the spirit of mother America. So you said you would hope somebody would say something like that about you.

Look, you can defend the naming Putin the "Person of the Year," although I don't want to know what it means, what that Ignatius fellow said, the person who most affected the news. What does that mean? Is that the most newsworthy person, the most important person?

If it just affected the news, I think Hugo Chavez of Venezuela, President Ahmadinejad of Iran affected the news a lot more than he did.

And if you want somebody who's more important, I think that would be General Petraeus, who was pulled out of the jaws of defeat what looks like a victory in Iraq, and has changed both the Middle East, the war on Islamic jihadism, and the Bush presidency.

That seems to me a bigger feat than stabilizing somewhat Russia, which you have to give Putin credit for. But the main thing that has happened that has helped Russia is the fact that oil and gas prices are so high.


HUME: He has also de-democratized the place.

LIASSON: He has de-democratized the place. His biggest feat is creating the situation where he can stay in power almost indefinitely and have another term when he really wasn't able to get one. But I don't think he affected the news more than anybody else. In another year you could say Usama Bin Laden affected the news.

But I don't think that Russia is necessarily a major player. They do have oil and gas, and as long as that holds out, which it won't forever, as long as those prices stay high, he will be important. But I think you can make a pretty strong argument for putting other people on the cover.

CHARLES KRAUTHAMMER, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST: Let's remember that Time made Hitler and Stalin man of the year back to back in 1938 and '39, which tells you that this honor is not an ideological endorsement, but it does tell you that Time has a history of a proclivity for strong men who make the trains run on time and who make omelets by breaking a lot of eggs.

Putin isn't a mass murderer, but he is a guy who dismantled democracy. But the other thing here is that his influence has been spread over the eight years. The man who changed the world the most in this year is obviously Petraeus.

In one year, he turned, as Fred said, a losing war into a winning war, a war of supreme importance to the United States, to the war on terror, to Iraq, and to the heartland of the Arab world. What is more important than that?

His success is what changed the whole temperature in Washington, and without him, we would undoubtedly be in the middle now — without him and the success he has had with the surge, his new strategy — we would undoubtedly be in the middle of a humiliating withdrawal, a collapse of our authority in that region, and a victory that Al Qaeda had deeply coveted.

I predict that in our lifetime, he will be president of the United States, assuming that we watch our diet and exercise.

BARNES: Well, I certainly agree about Petraeus — he stands alone.

HUME: Could it be argued, though — could an editor of Timesay, look, Petraeus did a good job of doing what he did, but the big thing was the change in sentiment among Iraqis themselves, noted first in Anbar province, where they turned against insurgency. Could you make that argument?

BARNES: No, you couldn't credibly make that argument, because one of the reasons the whole Sunni awakening and turning against Al Qaeda — obviously they decided they didn't like Al-Queda, they had experienced Al Qaeda — but without the security offered buyer American forces, it would have died, and earlier awakenings like that had died in Iraq.

So the American forces there were absolutely critical. It was Petraeus's strategy. It was his request for the certain number of additional troops. And it all happened in 2007. I don't know what more you want.

If you want somebody who has done more over a period of years to revive their country, take the prime minister of India, Prime Minister Singh, who was the Finance Minister before that, and India has come from being a sluggish third world country to a country with a vibrant economy, and he's done a more amazing job with India than Putin has done with Russia.

LIASSON: At least they put an actual person on the cover rather than a mirror, which is what they did last year when they named you, or us, each of us, as the "Person of the Year."

HUME: Yes, I guess we got to be grateful of that. Charles, do you agree?

KRAUTHAMMER: Yes. That was a lame choice.

Putin is not an indefensible choice. He is very important. He may end up being the "Man of the Decade" for changing Russia's good fortunes. But in '07, clearly David Petraeus.

HUME: When we come back with our panel, the White House versus The New York Times." We will tell you what The Times wrote, why the White House didn't like it, and what happened. We'll be right back.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Today in The New York Times, it says conversations took place about the destructions of tapes, and it names Mr. Gonzales, Harriet Miers, David Aldington, and John Bellinger as being involved.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Just this morning, in a regrettably familiar pattern, we learned that the involvement of senior administration officials seemed to be more significant than it appeared from their official denials.


HUME: Well, in fact, they didn't make any initial denials. All that the White House ever said was that the president didn't find out about the tapes or destruction of them until much later, about the time all the rest of us found out about them.

Dana Perino, the press secretary to the President, called out The New York Times about this and demanded a correction. The article that Senators Kennedy and Leahy seized upon is this one, and the subhead, as you can see there, "White House role was wider than it said" was the offending passage.

Apparently the story didn't back up that part of the headline, and The Times has said that yes, it will make a correction of some kind. It claims to have done so already online although we looked for it and couldn't find it.

So I guess you could say that The Times has done the right thing. But what gave rise to this? And I guess the Kennedy and Leahy comments show you that the impact of The New York Times can have on the scene in Washington.

BARNES: They jumped right on it, no question about that. But I agree with it. I agree that Senator Leahy said this was a regrettably familiar pattern of The New York Times attacking the Bush administration unfairly in its news column.

HUME: I don't think that's what he meant.

BARNES: I don't think that is what he meant either, but it was a good quote. I thought I could seize on it, too.

Anyway, it's not clear to me that there was a crime committed. I don't think they know that. They treat this as a scandal. Without doubt, I think in the normal course of events, the CIA would have and should have destroyed those tapes. If they had gotten into the wrong hands they could be very harmful to the United States. And let's wait and see, but —

HUME: The only reporting that was done, and it wasn't based on anything that the White House put out, was to the effect that Harriet Miers who was then on the White House staff before she became the counsel, had counseled against the destruction of the tapes. This story does not say otherwise.

BARNES: One other thing that's interesting, though, is how aggressively the Bush White House, feeling stronger now than it has in many, many months, I think, aggressively jumped all over The New York Times and went after them, I think rightly so.

LIASSON: Well, it was pretty cut and dried. The New York Times said that the White House said something, but the White House hasn't said anything, as Dana Perino tried to explain. She is the voice of the White House, and she hasn't talked about it. As a matter of fact, she's refused to talk about it.

HUME: Where did the press corps seem to come down on its behavior?

LIASSON: The press corps is smelling a scandal and thinking there might be one.

What is interesting about it, when you looked into the meat of the story, what they said is that there is now different accounts of what exactly went on in these meetings, not that some of these lawyers had argued for the destruction of the tapes, but that there were varying accounts, and they all weren't exactly the same in these discussions.

HUME: Surprise, surprise.

KRAUTHAMMER: What this story did is advanced the story in the sense that it added three names. We had known that Miers had had been involved in discussion, but it added someone who is now Chief of Staff to the Vice President, and poor Alberto Gonzales, who will be spending the rest of his life in front of committees and answering questions on all kinds of things.

But what worries me is the alacrity with which Kennedy and Leahy jumped on this. It is clear that we are in another cycle of criminalizing policy differences.

You can argue about whether the techniques that we had used are correct. I think yes. Others with deep conviction argue not. You can argue over whether it was "torture" or not, I'm indifferent to what word you use, others will argue it was.

But we ought to be having arguments about what was done. What is going to happen instead is they are going to look for scapegoats to throw in jail and disbar the same way that Scooter Libby was made a scapegoat over the war in Iraq.

This has happened for years in this town, and, really, it is a disgrace. Let's having arguments on principle and policy. But the pursuit of individuals to actually destroy them is a product of this, and it shouldn't be happening.

BARNES: Indeed we have seen a lot of this. Scooter Libby is a good example. There are many other examples: the attempt to bring criminal charges against Karl Rove and others in this White House. You have two senators on the Judiciary Committee who immediately accept the subhead.

HUME: It wasn't even in the story.

BARNES: I know, but it was in the headline, and it is still The New York Times, and they accepted it as true and had a hearing on the basis of it.

HUME: Well, they commented during a hearing.

BARNES: Well, it was a big issue in that hearing — the guy nominated for Deputy Attorney General.

HUME: So where does this leave us, Mara?

LIASSON: The Justice Department will do its own investigation of this. We do know that the CIA official who ordered the destruction of tapes had legal counsel before he did it, he just didn't just throw them in the garbage. And then we will find out what happened.

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