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Clinton and Wallace: This time it's personal

Bill Clinton vs. Chris Wallace on Fox News Sunday might be replayed and chewed on more than Matt Lauer vs. Tom Cruise.

After all, the former leader of the free world was throwing punches this time, not just some strange-acting film star prone to jumping on couches. In case you haven't caught it yet, go here.

Clinton, talking to Fox News Sunday for the first time ever, had an interest in promoting his three-day Global Initiative in New York. So some compromises had to be made in order to get the interview at all.

"The ground rules were simple," Wallace told viewers before the fireworks began. "Fifteen minutes split evenly between the Global Initiative and anything else we wanted to ask."

Wallace indeed began with a pair of marshmallows, which Clinton congenially answered. Then he threw something of a right-cross, telling the ex-president that many emailers wanted this question answered: "Why didn't you do more to put bin Laden and Al Qaeda out of business when you were president?"

"I'm being asked this on the Fox network," Clinton began before also chiding "their little Pathway to 9/11" miniseries on ABC, which provoked a storm of controversy earlier this month.

Leaning in and gesticulating, he lengthily berated "right-wingers" for wanting it both ways on bin Laden. Those who "now say I didn't do enough said I did too much --- same people," Clinton said.

Eventually, and abruptly, he shifted his focus to a surprised Wallace.

"So you did Fox's bidding on this show. You did your nice little conservative hit job on me."

Furthermore, "You set this meeting up because you're going to get a lot of criticism from your viewers because (News Corp. chairman) Rupert Murdoch's supporting my work on climate change. You said you'd spend half the time talking about what we did out there to raise $7- billion plus in three days from 215 different commitments. And you don't care."

Wallace protested and then said rather jovially, "I didn't think this was going to set you off on such a tear."

But Clinton was rolling now, rebuffing Wallace's repeated efforts to revisit the Global Initiative topic. He urged his interviewer to read White House counter-terrorism expert Richard Clarke's book about the war on terrorism. "And you've got that little smirk on your face, and you think you're so clever."

Sheesh. Fox News Channel regularly demonstrates a conservative tilt, but Chris Wallace isn't the guy to insult and browbeat about it. The former ABC newsman is the fairest in the land at Fox. Clinton, on the other hand, came off as churlish, childish and boorish as the interview progressed. Then he finally simmered down, and the closing several minutes became relatively collegial.

Of course, most people already have taken sides. You're either for Fox News Channel or against it, for Bill Clinton or against him. But any objective martian would agree that Clinton over-did it on Sunday. He could have made his points concisely and forcefully. Instead he kept firing away, eventually shooting blanks.