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22 July 1999

Our current howler: Who’s lying now?

Synopsis: Michael Kelly doctored a quote to prove that you just can’t trust Bill.

Blame Hillary Clinton
Michael Kelly, The Washington Post, 7/14/99

All Too Human
George Stephanopoulos, Little, Brown, 1999

Talk about "all too human!" When last we visited Michael Kelly, he was writing a column called "Farmer Al," ridiculing the notion of those very farm chores he had written about twelve years earlier (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 4/3/99). Last Tuesday, we found the scribe upset again because you just can't trust that Bill. Kelly was hammering Hillary Clinton for all the years she'd put up with Slick. Why, all the way back in 1992 in New Hampshire, "those high up in the Clinton campaign knew he was lying," Kelly said.

Here at THE HOWLER, the analysts got madder and madder, as they read Kelly's bitter indictment. And when Kelly quoted George Stepanopoulos' recent book, their anger began to boil over:

KELLY: [In the book], Stephanopoulos recalls his thoughts upon hearing the tapes of Flowers' intimate conversations with Clinton: "He lied." The sure knowledge demoralized Stephanopoulos and his colleagues--but then "Hillary rallied all of us that night with a conference call."

The analysts shook their fists in the air, furious at what George had said. But then we showed them the actual book, in which Stephanopoulos records his actual thoughts upon hearing the Flowers tapes. Poor lads! As it turns out, what Stephanopoulos actually wrote in his book is quite different from what Kelly had said:

STEPHANOPOULOS: He lied. Even if he didn't, what's he doing talking to her in the middle of the campaign? That must have been her Clinton and Lindsey called from that pay phone in Boston. How could he have been so stupid? So arrogant?

"Sure knowledge," Kelly writes? It's abundantly clear from the passage he clipped that Stephanopoulos does not say Clinton lied. In fact, in the very next paragraph, he says, of himself and other aides, "We didn't know what was true any more." The call from Hillary comes two paragraphs later.

It would be hard to doctor a quote more than this, but Kelly isn't the first scribe to do so. In his review of "All Too Human" in The New Yorker last March, Jeffrey Franks did the very same thing:

FRANKS: Only a little later, when Stephanopoulos heard the actual Flowers-Clinton recordings, did he realize that he'd been deceived. "My whole torso tightened as I was hit by a wave of nausea, doubt, embarrassment, and anger. Mostly anger. He lied."

And that is where Franks cut the quote, as Kelly did--hiding what Stephanopoulos really said.

Why is it necessary to doctor the quote? Because, throughout the length of "All Too Human," Stephanopoulos never says Clinton lied about Flowers. In the matter of Flowers--and, even more so, Paula Jones--Stephanopoulos plays it cute in his book. He shows himself acting in good faith in real time--shows us why he believed Clinton's denials about Flowers and Jones. And he then implies that he can't quite believe that he could have been so naïve at the time. But especially in the case of Flowers, he never states that he now thinks Clinton lied. And that is why spinners who want to say something different have to doctor the book--as Kelly did.

At any rate, look at the quote as presented by Kelly, and look at what Stephanopoulos really said. Ask yourself the question we often ask--could a college freshman get away with this stuff? No, nothing much turns, at this point in time, on the whole Clinton-lied-about-Gennifer bit. But Kelly has again baldly misled his readers. Why does the Post let him do it?


For the record: No, we don't intend to get pulled back into the endless Flowers fandango. But for the record, Clinton never admitted an affair with Flowers, as the press tried to pretend all last year. In his Jones deposition, he testified to one "sexual encounter" with Flowers (not intercourse), under the terms of the Jones' lawyers' definition. Here at THE HOWLER, we don't know what did or didn't happen with Clinton and Flowers. But in "All Too Human," George Stephanopoulos doesn't claim to know either. Michael Kelly doesn't want you to know that.