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Russert too tough, or just doing his job?

Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton's performance at the Democratic presidential forum at Drexel University in Philadelphia on Tuesday night was not among her best moments.

She appeared to stumble on questions about Social Security, the release of her White House correspondence and Gov. Spitzer's plan to provide drivers' licenses to illegal immigrants. The Spitzer plan has roiled leaders of both parties in New York State for weeks and has been front-page news and headlined many newscasts throughout the tri-state region.

Friends of the former first lady are putting out comments in interviews and the blogosphere that somehow imply that the questions of the debate's moderators, NBC anchor Brian Williams and particularly Tim Russert, were out to get Clinton.

Among these friends is a Web site that Clinton said last August she helped to create and financially support, Mediamatters.org. Here's what Mediamatters put out to selected, but "undisclosed recipients" on this morning (Nov. 1):

   "After the October 30 Democratic presidential debate, numerous media figures commented that co-moderator Tim Russert had acted as, in the words of The New York Times, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton's (NY) 'third toughest opponent on the stage.'

"During the debate, Russert asked a total of 30 distinct questions (not including follow-up questions). Fourteen were either questions directed to Clinton or questions directed to other candidates about Clinton. Many media outlets took note of Russert's focus on Clinton. Russert has received media attention for his conduct toward Clinton in previous debates as well, including criticism following a debate he moderated in 2000, when Clinton was running for Senate against then-Rep. Rick Lazio (R-NY)"

Mediamatters recounted the entire dispute over Russert's conduct in that 2000 debate, held in Buffalo, between Clinton and Lazio. Russert was cited by some writers for asking Mrs. Clinton if she still believed, as she said during the Monica Lewinsky scandal, that then President Clinton was the victim of a "vast right-wing conspiracy."

The Hill newspaper reported that senior Clinton advisers Mark Penn and Jonathan Mantz held a conference call with selected reporters on Wednesday in an effort to control whatever damage Clinton suffered because of this week's debate.

In the call, Penn and Mantz said Russert had unfairly targeted Clinton during the debate.

Prior to the debate some polls showed Clinton enjoyed a lead of 38 percentage points over her nearest rival for the Democratic nomination. The next debate is scheduled for Nov. 15 in Las Vegas.

The Washington Post also cited Clinton backers claiming that she was unfairly targeted, but did not disclose who the backers were.

-- Douglas Turner

     

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