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Daily Howler: Kurtz doesn't know what Clinton said--thanks to Chris Cillizza
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NOW THAT’S WHAT WE’VE BEEN TALKING ABOUT! Kurtz doesn’t know what Clinton said—thanks to Chris Cillizza: // link // print // previous // next //

THE SHAPE OF CHRIS’ PROBLEM: When we read this post by Digby, we were sorry that several commenters quoted us on the subject of Chris Matthews’ alleged substance problems (although we understand why they did). We want to be clear on this—we don’t have any idea if Chris ever had any such problem. If he ever did—many people do, after all—we hope (and assume) he overcame. Chris is a husband and father, after all, as well as a hideous “journalist.”

We’ve name-called Chris a good deal lately, and he has richly, deeply deserved it. In fact, he deserves much worse. (What he really deserves is a professional news boss, with real professional standards.) We assume that Chris is a perfectly decent person in private, but he has often been an exceptionally bad person in public. His conduct during Campaign 2000 was nothing short of a journalistic scandal. His recent nasty, gender-based insults of Clinton deserved to be spoken back to—hard. Given his inexcusable work of the past dozen years, it’s simply amazing that no major journal has ever written on the subject. But then, professional writers (and their editors) want to go on Hardball themselves (and on other NBC/MSNBC programs). Result: Chris is allowed to trash your candidates in the rudest, dumbest possible ways—so that these people can thrive.

For the most part, Chris dropped the insults of Clinton this past week. But to be perfectly clear, we have no idea why his conduct is so strange, so immoral, so erratic. But we do want to make it clear—we have no idea if he has ever had any kind of “problem.” Except for his problems with decency and the truth, which have often been quite overwhelming.

One last thought: If Chris does have any such problem, we’ll guess that the substance he can’t stop consuming is the crisp, ill-gained, thousand-dollar bill. But then, many folks share that substance problem. You should continue to wonder why favorite editors don’t assign reports on his hideous punditry. Why on earth do female editors let him trash liberal women, for example? When will male and female editors stand up and do their damn jobs?

NOW THAT’S WE’VE BEEN TALKING ABOUT: The following passage is simply amazing. It was posted Sunday morning, by David Kurtz, the highly capable weekend host at TPM. Yes, this passage is simply astounding—and it’s exactly what we’ve been talking about for the past week or two:
KURTZ (2/11/07): Greg Sargent has pulled up Sen. Clinton's floor speech on the Iraq War resolution from October 10, 2002. It's worth a refresher as Clinton tries to finesse her vote now.

Which brings me to another point.

Why is she trying to finesse her vote?

On the substance of it, would she really cast the same vote today knowing what we know now? I can't believe she would. Does she regret, therefore, casting that vote? She won't say that exactly, which leads one to conclude that she has political reasons for not saying so.

But what political reasons?
Astonishing—simply astounding. Would Clinton cast the same vote on the war resolution knowing what we know now? “I can’t believe she would,” Kurtz writes. He restates this astounding formulation at the end of his post:
KURTZ: Maybe I'm oversimplifying this, but since I can't figure out why she would hew to this position for political reasons, I circle back to the substance of the issue. Would she cast that vote again knowing what she knows now? Maybe she would. But, again, I doubt it. She's too smart for that.

I'm left with thoroughly unsatisfying explanations; such as, she's too stubborn to admit a mistake. Thoughts?
Our first “thought” would be the following: Kurtz’s post, which is simply astounding, gives us a look at the age.

What’s so astounding about this post? Repeatedly, Kurtz wonders if Clinton would vote the same way on the war resolution knowing what she knows now. “I can't believe she would,” he says. “Maybe she would,” but “I doubt it,” he says. But Clinton has said, again and again, that she wouldn’t cast that same vote again. Kurtz shows absolutely no sign of knowing this elementary fact.

But then, this is exactly what we’ve been discussing over the past week or two. Repeatedly, reporters and pundits refuse to report the things that Clinton has said on this matter. Instead, they get out their hammers and nail-guns and build a tortured, misleading framework around her. She won’t recant/retract/repudiate her vote, they keep saying. And they keep refusing to report the things Clinton has actually said.

Result? To all appearances, even someone as smart and involved as Kurtz doesn’t know the simple facts about what Clinton has actually said.

But this is how the fixers like it—they like to keep you barefoot and pregnant. Why is someone as smart as Kurtz so clueless about what Clinton has said? Presumably, because the fixers have been busy, as we told you all last week. Indeed, they were busy in Sunday morning’s papers! If you want to know why many voters are probably clueless on this matter, just consider what Chris Cillizzza, the pitiful Pat Healy and Fox’s Carl Cameron did.

CILLIZZA SPINS YOU BLUE: They made it look amazingly easy—perhaps because it actually is. In Sunday’s Post, Dan Balz and Anne Kornblut reported on Obama’s Springfield announcement. And omigod! They did the work of real reporters in the following passage:

BALZ/KORNBLUT (2/11/07): Obama's sharpest difference with both Clinton and Edwards is his early opposition to the Iraq war; they voted for the 2002 resolution authorizing President Bush to invade Iraq. Edwards has since apologized for his vote, and Clinton has said she would not have voted that way had she known then what she knows now.
Omigod! Instead of offering murky formulations about whether Clinton has retracted her vote, Balz and Kornblut simply reported what Clinton has actually said! (And what Edwards has done.) If we Dems have even one ounce of sense, we’ll insist on this kind of work whenever our hopefuls are covered. We’ll insist on it—even for hopefuls who may not be our top choice. If we have even one ounce of sense.

Yes, Balz and Kornblut made it look easy; they simply reported what Clinton has said. Sadly, Chris Cillizza adopted a different approach as he “reported” on Clinton’s New Hampshire town meeting. Cillizza’s report also appeared in yesterday’s Washington Post.

As he began, Cillizza discussed a challenging question posed to Clinton by a man named Roger Tilton. But readers! See if you can figure out what Clinton said in response:
CILLIZZA (2/11/07): Tilton, a financial consultant from Nashua who had risen at 4 a.m. to make the drive north, asked Clinton to apologize for her vote. She refused—reiterating her stance that "I have taken responsibility for my vote.”

Tilton was unmoved. "Until she says it was a mistake, she won't get my vote," he said.

The exchange highlighted the challenge Clinton faces in her still-new candidacy for president. She must convince Democratic primary voters, who tend to be strongly opposed to the war in Iraq, that her pragmatic approach to ending the conflict is the right one.

Complicating that task is that her two main rivals for the Democratic nomination—Sen. Barack Obama (Ill.) and former senator John Edwards (N.C.)—have spoken out strongly against the war. In his formal announcement of his bid for president Saturday, Obama mentioned his proposal to withdraw U.S. combat troops from Iraq by March 2008.
From reading that passage, do you have any real idea what Clinton actually said to Tilton? Do you have any idea what Clinton has said about this matter in the past? Cillizza tells us what Clinton wouldn’t say; she wouldn’t “apologize” for her vote, we’re told, and she may have refused to call her vote a “mistake.” But just what did she say to Tilton? All we get from Cillizza is this: "I have taken responsibility for my vote.” That’s a remarkably murky clip—seven words which tell us next to nothing. Later, Cillizza says that Obama and Edwards “have spoken out strongly against the war”—while absent-mindedly forgetting to say that Clinton has spoken out too.

This is truly abysmal “reporting”—a textbook case of what not to do in covering a town hall event. But then, Cillizza is one of the Hardball boys, and this amazingly weak “reporting” is straight from that program’s play-book. You know the framework; we discussed it all last week. Regarding Iraq, we’re told that Clinton won’t recant/repudiate/apologize for/retract her vote. But in the process, we’re told very little about what she has said on this topic. The Cillizzas simply won’t report the things that Clinton has actually said. Balz and Kornblut managed to do this—made it look easy. Like a good boy, Cillizza did not.

Indeed, how big a fixer was Chris Cillizza in his report in the Post? In the real world, here’s how Clinton replied to Tilton’s question (click here, scroll down). Note what Cillizza left out:
TILTON (2/10/07): I want to know if right here, right now, once and for all, without nuance, you can say that that war authorization vote was a mistake...The reason I ask personally is because I, and I think a lot of other Democratic primary voters, until we hear you say that, we’re not going to hear all these other great things you’re saying.

CLINTON: Well, I have said, and I will repeat it, that, knowing what I know now, I would never have voted for it. [audience applause] But I also—and, I mean, obviously you have to weigh everything as you make your decision. I have taken responsibility for my vote. The mistakes were made by this president, who misled this country and this Congress into a war that should not have been waged.
It was the first thing Clinton said! But Cillizza chose to omit it, as the boys have been doing for weeks. Instead, he quoted Clinton’s third sentence—a short statement which made little sense out of context. But that, of course, was exactly the point—and a few hours later, David Kurtz wrote that astounding post.

We discussed this topic all last week for precisely this reason. We discussed it because it’s obvious that voters are getting misinformed about Clinton’s statements. But this is what the fixers want; their fixing has been quite deliberate. They did this to your candidate for twenty straight months during Campaign 2000. They’re doing it to Clinton now.

MOTHER OF ALL SPINNERS: In the Times, Patrick Healy (chief sheet-sniffer) did report what Clinton told Tilton. But it clearly broke his heart to do so. Go ahead—enjoy a good laugh when you see how this Prime Fixer framed Clinton’s statement:
HEALY (2/11/07): [Clinton] was forced at one point to account for her own history on Iraq. One audience member, Roger Tilton of Nashua, asked her “right here, right now, once and for all, without nuance” to call her 2002 vote “a mistake.”

“Until we hear you say that, we’re not going to hear all these other great things you’ve said,” Mr. Tilton said.

In response, Mrs. Clinton repeated her standard talking points that she would never have cast it if she had had the intelligence information that she had [sic] now.
Good God! Now that’s prime Grade A hack-work! “Clinton repeated her standard talking points,” Healy typed. Translation: Clinton repeated a phony statement which she has memorized well.

Is there a bigger fixer than Patrick “Kit” Healy in the current press firmament? In fact, there has to be at least one. Omigod! Healy’s editor agreed to put that consummate crap into print!

FOX DON’T FLINCH: To see the full scam without any distractions, you only had to watch Fox News Sunday. Early on, Chris Wallace threw to Carl Cameron for an Obama/Hillary update. Here was his full report on Clinton:
CAMERON (2/11/07): First stop Iowa, the lead-off caucus state. [Obama] trails by double digits in the polls, behind Democratic frontrunner Hillary Clinton. She made her first trip to New Hampshire and again refused to say her vote for the Iraq war was wrong even though rival John Edwards has said just that and Democrats clearly want her to.

TILTON (videotape) I want to know if right here right now once and for all without nuance you can say that that war authorization vote was a mistake.
That was the end of the dispatch. We were told that Clinton “again refused to say her vote for the Iraq war was wrong.” We were shown part of Tilton’s question—and none of Clinton’s answer! Clinton had said, “Well, I have said, and I will repeat it, that, knowing what I know now, I would never have voted for it.” But Cameron didn’t show viewers that. Instead, he gave them his preferred construction: She just won’t say her vote was wrong. But then, that’s pretty much what readers were handed by Cillizza in the Post..

This is how the fixers have played Major Dem Hopefuls for the past many years. On the liberal web, we like it now, because we don’t prefer Clinton.

WHY SHE SAYS IT: Why won’t Clinton just go ahead and say that she made a mistake? We don’t know, although we’ve heard several speculations. But we’ll guess that she’ll have to amend her formulation. And after all, it’s perfectly easy to say something like this:
CLINTON, ADJUSTED: Well, we were all mistaken when we decided to give this authority to President Bush—because, as things turned out, he very badly misused it. Unfortunately, we were wrong when we gave him that power.
That’s close to what she’s saying now. It would be fairly easy to say something like that, and we assume (after yesterday) that Clinton will have to do so.

For ourselves, we aren’t inclined to think that Clinton or Edwards “made a mistake” (or were misled) when they cast their votes on the war resolution. In fact, the pattern of voting among major Dem senators is fairly clear. Making minor adjustments for regional considerations, those who planned to run for president voted yes on the resolution (Kerry; Clinton; Edwards; Gephardt; Daschle). Those who didn’t plan to run voted no (Kennedy; Durbin; Levin). In short—though there’s no way to know—we’d guess that Edwards cast his vote “to maintain his viability within the system.” Ditto with Kerry. Ditto Clinton.

Of course, Edwards—the Goneril of the current high drama—isn’t willing to tell you that (if it’s true). (Neither is Clinton.) Instead, he postures and preens, as if speaking to Lear, and offers you his moral purity in contradistinction to Vile Clinton, cast in this play as a semi-Cordelia. And how gullible are we, the people? Simple: Edwards tells us he’s being sincere, and we conclude this means that he’s being sincere! Edwards says he’s standing up to his consultants—and it doesn’t seem to enter our minds that he may have gotten that from his consultants! Nope! Nostrils flaring, we insist that it’s time to let such vile creatures go!

Did the consultants tell him to say it? We don’t have the slightest idea. Nor do we waste our time on such projects. Nor do we believe that Edwards or Clinton actually “made a mistake” in 10/02. Nor do we assume that either one is saying what he/she thinks now.

CONSUMMATE TRIVIA: Here’s what Edwards said in the Post op-ed column in which he said he was wrong on his vote:
EDWARDS (11/13/05): The argument for going to war with Iraq was based on intelligence that we now know was inaccurate. The information the American people were hearing from the president—and that I was being given by our intelligence community—wasn't the whole story. Had I known this at the time, I never would have voted for this war.
Of course, that’s exactly what Clinton says; it’s what she said in New Hampshire on Saturday. Not that you’ll learn that by reading Cillizza. Deeply troubled by the Clintons’ dishonesty, Chris Cillizza invented a tale. At Fox Carl Cameron did the same thing. It’s what such boys have long done.