Zahn to Rumsfeld questioner: “How much of an ax do you have to grind?”

A CNN anchor turns the tables on a former CIA analyst who put the defense secretary on the spot over Iraq.

Topics: Iraq war, War Room, Donald Rumsfeld,

And who says the press is overly deferential to the Bush administration?

As we’ve reported, former CIA analyst and Iraq war critic Ray McGovern took Donald Rumsfeld to task during a question-and-answer session after the defense secretary’s speech in Atlanta Thursday. Confronting Rumsfeld with his own words about Saddam Hussein’s (nonexistent) WMD, McGovern asked Rumsfeld to explain why he had “lied” about the reasons for war. It was an amazing bit of political theater, the sort of no-way-out interrogation that a real reporter might dream of having with Rumsfeld.

So is the press standing up to salute McGovern now? Not if Paula Zahn’s CNN interview with him is any indication. The network has a transcript of the interview up now, but we’ll save you the trouble. Here’s the full list of questions Zahn put to McGovern Thursday evening:

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Zahn: Did you go to this speech today with the intent of challenging Secretary Rumsfeld?

Zahn: What was it, then, that you wanted to accomplish by following [a heckler's] pointed question?

Zahn: Essentially, what [Rumsfeld] told you is: I never said exactly where the weapons of mass destruction were. I was referring to, we had a pretty darn good idea where the sites were … Do you buy what he said today? [Note: What Rumsfeld told McGovern was that he "did not say" that he knew where Saddam's WMD were, when in fact he said exactly that in a March 2003 TV appearance.]

Zahn: How much of an ax do you have to grind with Secretary Rumsfeld?

Zahn: There was a point where it appeared as though you were going to get kicked out … Donald Rumsfeld encouraged whoever I think had their hands on you at the time to let you stay there. Does he get any credit for that today?

Update: Zahn isn’t the only one marginalizing McGovern and the views he represented Thursday. The Associated Press says Rumsfeld was forced to face “unusually hostile anti-war protestors” in Atlanta. The secretary of defense? He was just “feisty.”

Tim Grieve is a senior writer and the author of Salon's War Room blog.

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