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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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