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Posted by on Mar 25, 2008 in Politics | 10 comments

Clinton Admits She “Misspoke” On Bosnia And Enters Credibility Danger Zone

Senator Hillary Clinton’s admission that she “misspoke” — a political word usage sort of like “pre-owned cars” instead of “used cars” — in the dramatic anecdote she told of having to run to avoid sniper fire in Bosnia undermines a campaign theme and now plops her in the middle of that dangerous credibility danger zone where reporters and editors will now carefully check her every assertion.

She can expect editors to look at every nook and cranny of the Clintons’ tax returns and research future statements of experience on specific issues or dramatic anecdotes. And she can probably expect the footage of contradictions to surface in a campaign ad by Democratic Presidential nomination front runner Barack Obama because the Bosnia revision puts the underlying issue on the table.

The Clinton campaign had argued that the press needed to vet Obama more thoroughly, but this incident likely means Clinton will come under closer media scrutiny: if the press sees smoke and fire, it sniffs to see if it can detect more smoke and find another fire.

It was bad enough that videos surfaced on the Internet produced by various individuals. But the political killer for Clinton came when CBS News, which had the original footage that surfaced on You Tube, ran this devastating report using even more footage and juxtaposing Clinton’s campaign version of what happened with what really happened:

The resulting press coverage has been nothing less than disastrous for a candidate who needs to blow Obama away with a massive landslide of votes in Pennsylvania and try and peel away Superdelegates, arguing that she’s the stronger most electable candidate.

In reality, GOPers probably already have campaign ads set up using footage of Obama’s pastor and Clinton’s a-misspoke-caught-on-video moment. One candidate will be painted as uncertain and perhaps dangerous, the other candidate as someone you can’t believe.

The New York Times’ The Caucus story was pretty blunt about the potential impact on Clinton:

As part of her argument that she has the best experience and instincts to deal with a sudden crisis as president, Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton recently offered a vivid description of having to run across a tarmac to avoid sniper fire after landing in Bosnia as first lady in 1996.

Yet on Monday, Mrs. Clinton admitted that she “misspoke” about the episode — a concession that came after CBS News showed footage of her walking calmly across the tarmac with her daughter, Chelsea, and being greeted by dignitaries and a child.

The backpedaling was a rare instance of Mrs. Clinton’s acknowledging an error, and she did so on a sensitive issue: She has cited her “strength and experience” since the start of the presidential race, framing her 80 trips abroad as first lady as preparation for dealing with foreign affairs as president. That argument was behind her campaign’s “red phone” commercial, which cast her as best able to handle a crisis.

In terms of the image she has spent millions to create via ads and in campaign stops, the controversy has not helped:

Mrs. Clinton corrected herself at a meeting with the Philadelphia Daily News editorial board; she did not explain why she had misspoken, but only admitted it and then offered a less dramatic description.

Mrs. Clinton said she had been told “that we had to land a certain way and move quickly because of the threat of sniper fire,” not that actual shots were being fired.

“So I misspoke,” she said.

However, if you watch the CBS video, the earlier version was so specific that it’s hard to accept it as simply a slip of the lip. Meanwhile, her advisers were giving various spin explanations to try and bury it once and for all.

Just how serious the Clinton camp can be seen by reading this link IN FULL from the Philadelphia paper’s Attytood blog. Here’s just a small part of the account of Clinton talking to the newspaper and shows how her advisers were trying to soften the political fallout:

This afternoon, in the session with Daily News editorial writers and reporters (and some Inquirer staffers as well) in a conference room at the Daily News and Inquirer Building, I asked the presidential candidate about these discrepancies and also showed her a copy of the photo — at the top of this post — of her on the tarmac that day.

She was quick to answer, jumping in before I was fully finished with the question. Here’s here response in its entirety:

“Now let me tell you what I can remember, OK — because what I was told was that we had to land a certain way and move quickly because of the threat of sniper fire. So I misspoke — I didn’t say that in my book or other times but if I said something that made it seem as though there was actual fire — that’s not what I was told. I was told we had to land a certain way, we had to have our bulletproof stuff on because of the threat of sniper fire. I was also told that the greeting ceremony had been moved away from the tarmac but that there was this 8-year-old girl and, I can’t, I can’t rush by her, I’ve got to at least greet her — so I greeted her, I took her stuff and then I left, Now that’s my memory of it.

I followed-up, noting that the episode has raised questions about her credibility on foreign policy. She responded:

“No, I went to 80 countries, you know. I gave contemporaneous accounts, I wrote about a lot of this in my book. you know, I think that, a minor blip, you know, if I said something that, you know, I say a lot of things — millions of words a day — so if I misspoke, that was just a mistatement.”

The Clinton campaign is clearly eager to put this controversy to rest before it drags down her Pennsylvania campaign. As the session broke up, campaign press secretary Jay Carson made a beeline to me to offer additional background, explaining that the senator didn’t want to completely blow off the ceremony but that she was also in a hurry to get indoors. Within about 20 minutes, Carson emailed me press accounts from the time of the 1996 visit, including one from the Washington Post that said her trip was “the first time since [Eleanor] Roosevelt that a first lady has voyaged to a potential combat zone.”

The problem for the Clinton campaign now is that the video images simply do not match even the new finessed accounts of what went on. And the emerging news headlines will not be helpful to Clinton since they raise a credibility issue.

And it’s the political context now that makes it even graver for Clinton. In recent weeks some key newspaper columnists and bloggers have said Clinton’s campaign now has no chance of succeeding and urged her to throw in the towel.

The latest columnist to paint the Clinton campaign as hopeless is New York Times conservative columnist David Brooks who, in a column titled “The Long Defeat,” says it now only has a 5 percent chance of succeeding. Some excerpts:

Let’s take a look at what she’s going to put her party through for the sake of that 5 percent chance: The Democratic Party is probably going to have to endure another three months of daily sniping.

… When you step back and think about it, she is amazing. She possesses the audacity of hopelessness.

Why does she go on like this? Does Clinton privately believe that Obama is so incompetent that only she can deliver the policies they both support? Is she simply selfish, and willing to put her party through agony for the sake of her slender chance? Are leading Democrats so narcissistic that they would create bitter stagnation even if they were granted one-party rule?

The better answer is that Clinton’s long rear-guard action is the logical extension of her relentlessly political life.

Even so, it is legal and within the rules for Clinton to take her battle all the way to the convention. But Brooks column where he gave her a 5 percent chance was written before the “misspoke” explanation was given to the Philly paper and before the devastating CBS video piece was broadcast on CBS News — and all over the Internet.

A check of San Diego and Los Angeles early morning radio shows here in San Diego found that several talk show hosts were talking — and/or joking — about the Bosnia “misspoke” statement.

And speaking of chances: how much do you want to bet we’ll see more damaging video involving either Clinton or Obama or both before this ends?

And the Republicans will be collecting — and readying — every single second of it.

GO HERE for other blog reaction.

UPDATE: Real Clear Politics’ Tom Bevan:

The American public will tolerate a certain level of embellishment by politicians because, quite frankly, we all know we do it ourselves every time we apply for a job. It’s human nature to try and make our accomplishments seem more important than they are (or were at the time). Running for president is no different, and every candidate does a bit of resume polishing when they’re applying for the biggest job in the world.

But there is a line you can’t cross and, this being truly the first YouTube election, we now have video evidence that Hillary Clinton not only crossed it but appears to have left that line just a tiny speck in her rear view mirror. Voters won’t react kindly to the revelation that Clinton tried to take them for a ride about the circumstances of her trip to Bosnia, and saying she “misspoke” ain’t gonna do the trick.

It may not hurt as much as Rev. Wright her Obama, but this hurts Clinton. She already faces questions with the public about her honesty and trustworthiness, and this episode taps directly into a vein of the most unpleasant aspects of her political life. On a more direct level, it undermines her claim of superior experience, an argument that appears to have been paying dividends against Obama over the last few weeks.

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Copyright 2008 The Moderate Voice
  • elrod

    Good discussion, Joe. A couple of other problems are:

    1) She said this on at least four occasions. This was in her prepared remarks and was still on her website yesterday (it may still be). You don’t misspeak the same thing four times. You intend to say it.

    2) Her full explanation that she had stop on the tarmac with the little girl and “take her stuff and leave” sounds not only arrogant but also dishonest. The video shows Clinton comfortably posing with the girl and not running anywhere afterwards.

    3) Obama is on vacation right now so the media will ONLY focus on this for a few days.

  • Marlowecan

    Joe said: “In recent weeks some key newspaper columnists and bloggers have said Clinton’s campaign now has no chance of succeeding and urged her to throw in the towel.”

    True. But this is the same MSM drumbeat that was pounding before Texas/Ohio and Wright.

    As Mark Halperin commented the other day, the reality is that the media still want Obama to be the nominee. Obama’s vote will have to utterly collapse in Penn for the media to think of changing their tune.

    But Hillary, like Bill, is a gambler. Who knew those Wright videos (shopped originally by McCain aides) would surface a few weeks ago when Obama seemed unstoppable?

    Hillary’s Hope: If there is a video out there of Obama nodding or clapping while Wright damns whitey or some such wackiness…it is all over. Not even Obama’s media allies – who did yeoman’s work in limiting the Wright fallout – could save his nomination.

    A slender hope. But then I always recall a “Newsweek” CW comment from 91 advising Democrats to forget about ’92…the warrior Bush Sr. was unbeatable.
    But Gambler Bill played the long odds and won. Gambler Hill is doing the same.

  • StockBoySF

    “So I misspoke,” she said.


    • elrod

      Saying something four separate times that turns out to be untrue is not “misspeaking.” It’s lying.

  • elrod

    Obama weathered the Wright storm because he faced it head on and with class. He rejected the TV snippets while mentioning that they were totally taken out of context. He repudiated the cynicism of Wright while not repudiating the man. He turned from being made into a “dangerous negro” into delivering the most thoughtful speech on race in recent American history.

    There are some “low information white working class voters” (aka George Wallace Democrats) who might stay away from Obama because of this. But he gained back most of his support with his adept handling of the issue.

    As for Clinton, the Tuzla thing alone wouldn’t do her in. But the timing of it is dreadful, coming as it does when she needs to have a perfect game from here on out. Obama is on vacation right now while the media focuses solely on Clinton’s lies about her Bosnia trip. If this happened in January or earlier, she’d weather it alright. But now is too late.

  • CStanley

    Mike Allen of Politico coined a new euphemism for ‘lying’ in this case, saying she may have “misremembered.”

  • AustinRoth

    A Clinton, having trouble with the truth? Then using linguistic gymnastics and euphemisms to claim that no attempt to mislead ever occurred? Blaming enemies for using actual, verifiable evidence to repudiate the Clinton’s version of events?

    I could be wrong, but this just seems so, well, familiar from them.

    Plus Carville is back on the warpath, using incendiary language against anyone, friend or foe (well, of course, anyone not whoring themselves to a Clinton is a foe) with the temerity to not toe the line. Hillary as Jesus, Richardson as Judas. Too much, man.

    Back to the Future – let’s campaign like its 1992! Is it any wonder there are so many, including lots of Democrats, that want no return of the Clinton years?

  • Am I the only one who is skeptical of the effect this event will have? There are still several weeks before Pennsylvania. If something else comes up about Obama before this, this will go away. I think it likely the story will end up going away, anyway. These things usually do.

    But yes, a pattern of this kind of thing would hurt her.

  • StockBoySF

    Dymero- I agree with you, this latest Clinton controversy will blow over.

    However I think if Hillary does receive the nomination and goes to head to head with McCain, then it will come back to bite her in the ass. McCain (or his “unofficial” supporters) will use this to highlight McCain’s battle experience and Hillary’s lack of such.

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