Yesterday, Fox News Channel’s Neil Cavuto interviewed Gen. Wesley Clark about author and former White House counter-terrorism advisor Richard Clarke’s criticism of the Bush administration’s performance in fighting terrorism. Instead of addressing Clarke’s allegations, Cavuto opted to unleash a number of ad hominem attacks against Clarke, including the claim that he is “chafing because he was effectively demoted” — and then tried to no avail to get Clark the general to drop a dime on Clarke the bureaucrat. Here’s a selection of Cavuto’s questions and observations, all unleashed during the same brief segment:

You know, there are a lot of people saying [Clarke] had an axe to grind, that he has a book to sell, and that is all this is about… .

But General, why is he relaying this worry now, timed to this book’s release? …

I just find it interesting this particular blame is being focused at this particular time by this particular fellow, selling this particular book… .

But what is so honorable, General, about bringing this to the public’s attention now, just ahead of a testifying to this commission, just ahead of the release of a book? …

Will you look at this and find it odd that this book’s release, castigating this president and saying nothing about the prior president, is at best odd, is at best disingenuous? …

For those of you counting at home, that’s five references to the book’s release date — an issue that Clarke has actually addressed. (For the record, he says the White House held the book up for months for a security review: “The book could have been out in December, which is what I wanted …” he said in one such instance from this morning’s “Good Morning America.” “I’m not trying to put it in the middle of the election. They put it in the middle of the election.”)

We’re well aware that some might consider exposing a bias on Fox’s part akin to shooting a very large fish in a very small barrel.

But we’ve previously tracked print journalists relying on partisan talking points to carry their story instead of enterprise reporting, and this isn’t much different. (See here and here for administration officials spinning Cavuto’s line of attack.)

Cavuto has every right to ask tough questions about Clarke’s motivations; he’d be remiss as an interviewer if he failed to do so.

But it might be more useful if he asked those questions of Clarke, not Clark. And if he also, along the way, paused to inform his viewers as to the precise nature of Clarke’s critique of the administration’s anti-terrorism efforts.

Then he could claim to be engaged in journalism.

Brian Montopoli

Brian Montopoli is a writer at CJR Daily.