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Daily Howler: A second liberal blogger gets fooled about Clinton--and Obama explains the whole thing
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OBAMA EXPLAINS IT! A second liberal blogger gets fooled about Clinton—and Obama explains the whole thing: // link // print // previous // next //
THURSDAY, FEBRUARY 15, 2007

YESTERDAY’S POST TODAY: Snow day Wednesday for jury duty—but our selfless service continues today. Meanwhile, the ice and snow delayed this post; our techies weren’t able to get from their dorms down to our sprawling Outreach Center. So yes, you’re seeing this post a day late. Dang! With so much spin breaking!

PENN CENTRAL, BANKRUPT AGAIN: Why won’t Hillary Clinton call her vote on the war resolution “a mistake?” We don’t have the slightest idea—nor do we really understand why some voters care so much. (The notion that she should “apologize” strikes us as utterly silly.) But in Patrick Healy’s Monday report, he quoted a major Clinton adviser explaining the thinking behind Clinton’s stance. We groaned, then said: “It figures:”
HEALY (2/12/07): Some advisers believe the issue of her vote will fade with time; even so, they emphasize that she is taking a principled position of responsibility for it.

Mark Penn, Mrs. Clinton's chief strategist, said in an interview: ''It's important for all Democrats to keep the word 'mistake' firmly on the Republicans and on President Bush. Senator Clinton has been very clear that we, as a party, should keep the focus on Bush—these were his mistakes. Ultimately that's very important, not just for her, but for the entire Democratic party.”
We don’t know if that is the real explanation. But only Penn could ever come up with this sort of tortured reasoning. Only Penn would advise a client: Don’t speak English for the next several years.

For the record, Penn was canned from the Gore campaign early on, in September 1999. Indeed, one of the dumbest passages in Joe Klein’s Politics Lost concerned Penn’s firing, which Klein found deeply disturbing. Did Gore always do what consultants told hm? This has made for a pleasing tale. But early on in his campaign, Gore showed this wordsmith the door. Oh, sorry—he showed him la porte.

WATCHING BAMBOOZLEMENT GROW: It seems official. Neither David Kurtz nor TPM plans to retract, recant or repudiate that misleading post about Hillary Clinton (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 2/12/07). No one has called the post “a mistake.” It seems no one plans to apologize.

Fair enough; the gentlemen in question see no reason to correct their blatant misstatements about someone who deserves their respect. Normally, Kurtz does excellent work—but we think our point from last week has been made. The press corps has played the public for fools regarding Clinton’s actual statements about her vote for the war resolution. In the process, the public has surely gotten bamboozled. Kurtz’s post—which he won’t recant!—stands as Exhibit A.

Indeed, the bamboozlement only seems to be spreading. On Tuesday, along came liberal blogger Michael Sean Winters, apparently fooled by Chris Cillizza. Here’s the first paragraph of Winters’ post at The New Republic’s blog:
WINTERS (2/13/07): In New Hampshire on Saturday, Senator Hillary Clinton got visibly testy when a voter asked her if she would admit, without nuance, that her vote to authorize the Iraq war was a mistake. Her reply began with the tired claim that she had "taken responsibility for that vote." Which means what? "Taking responsibility" in contemporary political discourse means you want to change the subject. And, her demeanor suggested that, only three weeks into the race, she is already tired of defending her Iraq war vote.
Winters linked to Cillizza’s report in the Washington Post—the same report we criticized Monday. But sadly, Winters seems to have been misled by Cillizza. He’s been bamboozled, not unlike Kurtz.

What’s wrong with that passage from Winters’ post? Most significantly, Winters is simply wrong on his facts when he says that Clinton “began her reply” with the statement about having “taken responsibility for that vote.” That is not how Clinton began—although you might may gotten that impression from reading Cillizza’s report in the Post. Here’s the actual answer she gave. Note again how she actually started:
CLINTON (2/10/07): Well, I have said, and I will repeat it, that, knowing what I know now, I would never have voted for it. 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.
“Knowing what I know now, I would never have voted for” the war resolution. That was the first thing Clinton said. And no, that statement isn’t vague or unclear, unlike the murky statement Winters quoted—completely out of context.

Why did Winters think that Clinton started with the statement he quoted? We can’t mind-read, but that was the only part of Clinton’s statement cited in Cillizza’s report. Indeed, Winters offers the very reaction we warned you about in Monday’s post (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 2/12/07). At THE HOWLER, we rarely quote ourselves. But here’s what we said about Cillizza’s report—the report which seems to have Winters bamboozled:
DAILY HOWLER (2/12/07): From reading that passage [by Cillizza], 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?...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.
One day later, it was just as we called it. Winters, linking to Cillizza, mistakenly said that Clinton began with that statement. He then complained that the statement was hard to decipher: “Which means what?” he harrumphingly said. But everyone knew what the statement meant when they actually saw Clinton make it. They knew because they had seen her full statement—not the misleading clip Cillizza offered.

In short, Cillizza quoted the third thing Clinton said—but he omitted her first remark, the remark which explained what that statement meant. And sure enough—Winters came along and complained that Clinton’s remark was unclear!

If we’d only seen Cillizza “quote” Clinton this way, we might have thought that his odd bit of editing was just another dumb-ass mistake. But all last week, we showed you, again and again—the boys on the bus have simply refused to report what Clinton has said on this topic. Result? On Sunday, Kurtz didn’t seem to have any idea what Clinton has said about her vote. Two days later, up jumped Winters. He complained that her statement in New Hampshire was murky—but he didn’t seem to know what Clinton had actually said.

As such, this has been a textbook case of the way the press can bamboozle the public. (To see Obama explain this, keep reading.) Two liberal bloggers got taken for rides as the press corps refused to report Clinton’s statements. Each was blatantly wrong on his facts, in precisely the ways we had warned you about. All last week, we said this was coming. Kurtz, then Winters, confirmed it.

CILLIZZA BAMBOOZLES THE RUBES: Yesterday, we said we’d post Cillizza’s statement from Monday evening’s NewsHour. The Post scribe spoke with Judy Woodruff about Clinton’s weekend trip to New Hampshire. Eventually, he discussed Clinton’s statements about Iraq. And omigod! He did it again!

CILLIZZA (2/12/07): I think the one concern that she does have, and it came up again and again, is with the war in Iraq.

WOODRUFF: And the problem there?

CILLIZZA: Well, the problem there is simply that Sen. Clinton, unlike former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards, has not apologized for her vote in favor of the use of force resolution in 2002. John Edwards, along with Barack Obama, the senator from Illinois—who was not in the Senate at the time of the vote, but said that he would have voted against it—both Edwards and Obama are to Clinton's left on the war issue.

She was asked multiple times whether she wanted to recant that vote, whether she wanted to apologize. She refused to do so. Some in the crowd received that relatively warmly. They were fine with that. She got good applause when she said, "This wasn't my mistake, it was the president's mistake," but not everyone in the crowd was won over by that remark. Many people still want her to say, “I made a mistake. I apologize.”
Once again, Cillizza followed the formula perfectly. Employing his own murky constructions, he explained what Clinton didn’t do and say in New Hampshire. She didn’t “recant that vote,” he said (whatever that means). And she “refused to apologize.” But nowhere did he ever report what Clinton did say about her vote. May voters might take her actual statement as something resembling a “recantation.” (We took it that way in October 04, when Clinton first began making such statements.) But they won’t get the chance to decide. NewsHour viewers were never told what Clinton had actually said.

What happens when reporters like Cillizza “edit” this way? Once again, go back and read the Kurtz/Winters posts. When “reporters” refuse to report what a hopeful has said, the public gets misled in the process. They remain ignorant of what the hopeful has said. They think she’s been vague when she actually hasn’t. And they persist in asking questions (see Kurtz) which have long since been answered.

The journalistic principle here is simple: Before you pen your own murky accounts of a candidate’s conduct, you have to report what the candidate said! Duh! A slow fifth-grader could grasp this point. Is Cillizza too dumb to play this game? Or is Cillizza—one of the Hardball boys— playing this game all too well?

OBAMA EXPLAINS IT: During delays in our jury service, we’ve been reading The Audacity of Hope. (More later.) At one point, Obama explains the transaction involved in the press corps’ “editing” of Clinton’s statements. In 2005, the senator says, he spoke with “maybe fifteen to twenty thousand people” during 31 town hall meetings. But the press corps blows such numbers away. Continuing, Obama says this:
OBAMA (page 121): In contrast, a three-minute story on the lowest-rated local news broadcast in the Chicago media market may reach two hundred thousand people. In other words, I—like every politician at the federal level—am almost entirely dependent on the media to reach my constituents. It is the filter through which my votes are interpreted, my statements analyzed, my beliefs examined. For the broad public at least, I am what the media says I am. I say what they say I say. I become who they say I’ve become.
Obama is a superlative writer. “I say what they say I say,” he says, describing the power of the press corps. In this passage, Obama explains perfectly—in advance!—what the corps has been doing to Clinton. Regarding her vote on the war resolution, “she has said what they say she has said”—at least for two bamboozled bloggers.

As Scott Lemieux correctly says in this post, there are plenty of questions to be asked about Clinton’s vote for the war resolution. (Ditto Edwards.) But before you can sensibly ask such questions, you have to report what the candidate says. And no, you aren’t allowed to report only the fragments which make the candidate sound vague or evasive. You don’t get to skip the main thing she said, so that you can show something to the rubes which makes her sound much dumber.

We tried to warn you last week. The mainstream press has largely refused to report Clinton’s statements about that vote. Kurtz and Winters then came along to show us the wages of flim-flam.

IT’S ALL DOWNHILL FROM THERE: For the record, Winters also fell for the foolish notion that Clinton tied Iraq to 9/11 (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 2/7/07). He’s full of contempt for Clinton’s statements—but doesn’t seem to read very well.

Earlier this week, we saw Harvard’s new president, on the NewsHour, boasting about her school’s brilliant students. We turned to our analysts and mordantly asked: What happens to their wondrous skills after they get out of college?