Tuesday At Tina's: Haass Talks Iraq, Spitzer Sips Spritzers

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Like Kelly Killoren Bensimon, the former governor loves to stand in front of cabs. Photo: Getty Images

One nice thing about not being the governor of New York: Instead of attending to state business, you can spend a rainy Tuesday afternoon sipping wine spritzer and learning more about how we ended up going to war in Iraq.

So it was that Eliot Spitzer showed up at the home of Tina Brown and Harry Evans earlier today for a luncheon discussion with former Bush administration official Richard Haass, author of the new book War of Necessity, War of Choice. Spitzer has been hard at work lately refashioning himself as a writer-commentator, and before lunch he huddled in the hallway talking shop with two of his new Fourth Estate peers, ABC News president David Westin and reformed gossip columnist Lloyd Grove.

Democratic fund-raiser Robert Zimmerman hailed Spitzer on his way in: "It's good to see you back."

"I'm not back," Spitzer said. "I just showed up for lunch."

Now that he's a journalist, we figured, Spitzer must pay attention to stuff like the Pulitzer Prizes, right? So we asked: Did he think the New York Times deserved the Pulitzer it won for coverage of his sex scandal? "Oh, I, I — one thing I certainly don't do is pass judgment on the media, any aspect of it," he replied. Gesturing to Westin, he added, "especially when the dean of the media is standing right here."

As it happens, the dean was also a recent subject — victim? — of the Times' zeal: Last week the paper took ABC to task for Brian Ross's gullible 2007 interview of a CIA officer who misrepresented the agency's use of waterboarding. Westin said the network had done all the soul-searching it needed to. "We were all misled, including the New York Times," he said. "Listen, investigative reporting always involves taking aggressive positions, and there are people who want to mislead you and people who want to criticize you. That's inherent in investigative reporting. The worst thing we could do would be to pull back."

Then it was time for lunch, and a Q&A with Haass, conducted by Evans, editor-at-large of The Week, which sponsored the event. Now president of the Council on Foreign Relations, Haass repeatedly insisted that George W. Bush was not so much the victim of bad advice from the likes of Dick Cheney as of his own faulty instincts. "It's a mistake to see Bush's presidency as hijacked," he said. His elaboration on this theme was interrupted by the ringing of a cell phone that turned out to belong to Lesley Stahl 60 Minutes producer Vicki Gordon who had trouble locating the offending device within her voluminous handbag. "This is why they call her show 60 Minutes," Haass quipped. "Because it takes her 60 minutes to find her phone."

Lunch ended, the guests made their way back into the afternoon drizzle, and the downside of being an ex-governor quickly became apparent: While others had Town Cars waiting for them, Spitzer was without a ride. Fortunately, a new colleague came to the rescue: Richard Cohen hailed a cab and they both jumped in.