Kurtz whitewashes Politico's irresponsibility

Blog ››› ››› JAMISON FOSER

From Howard Kurtz's article about Politico today:

When some Democrats were urging Hillary Clinton to get out of the presidential race last May, she told South Dakota's Argus Leader that "we all remember the great tragedy of Bobby Kennedy being assassinated in June." Harris told his reporter to quickly post an item -- which had already been picked up by the New York Post -- , but later wrote that it was a "deflating experience" when he watched a video of the matter-of-fact comments 90 minutes later.

That's all Kurtz wrote about the matter. Why was it a "deflating experience" when Harris watched the video of Clinton's comments? Kurtz won't say.

Well, according to the very Harris column Kurz referred to, it was deflating because Harris and Politico had hyped the Clinton comments in a misleading fashion, as the video made clear. Here's Harris:

The RFK remarks were deep in a 20-minute clip of an otherwise routine conversation. Then, once we actually got to the relevant portion of the video, it was hardly an electric moment.

Clinton does indeed mention the Kennedy assassination, speaking in a calm and analytical tone: "My husband did not wrap up the nomination in 1992 until he won the California primary somewhere in the middle of June, right? We all remember Bobby Kennedy was assassinated in June in California."

Martin and I both thought we saw a slight twinge in Clinton's facial expression, as though she recognized she had just said something dumb. Whether she recognized it or not, she had.

But it was also clear that Clinton's error was not in saying something beyond the pale but in saying something that pulled from context would sound as if it were beyond the pale.

It would be a big story if Clinton said something like this: "Hey, I know it looks bad for me now. But, think about it. Obama could get shot and I'd get to be the nominee after all."

It is a small story if Clinton said something like this: "Everyone talks like May is incredibly late, but by historical standards it is not. Think of all the famous milestones in presidential races that have taken place during June."

It seems pretty obvious that the latter is what Clinton meant, and not too far from what she actually said. It was not surprising that the Argus Leader's executive editor, Randall Beck, put out a statement saying, "Her reference to Mr. Kennedy's assassination appeared to focus on the time line of his primary candidacy and not the assassination itself."

Reading John Harris' version, you can't help but conclude that Harris and Politico (along with, to be fair, many other news organizations) were guilty of pulling Clinton's comments from their context and making them look worse than they were.

But reading the version Howard Kurtz provides this morning, you would have no idea of any of that. You wouldn't even know that Politico had posted the story before watching the video. Indeed, Kurtz's version reads as though Politico reviewed the full video, and killed their post as a result.

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