On Today, Bernstein omitted key fact in purported disclosure of Clinton's D.C. bar exam failure: It's not news

››› ››› JULIE MILLICAN

On the June 1 edition of NBC News' Today, Carl Bernstein suggested that he, in his upcoming book A Woman in Charge: The Life of Hillary Rodham Clinton (Alfred A. Knopf), is the first to disclose that Hillary Clinton failed the D.C. bar exam in the 1970s. Co-host Matt Lauer asked whether Bernstein believed it was "love" or "strategy" that caused Clinton to "move to Arkansas with Bill." In response, Bernstein stated, "They love each other. They always have," later adding: "But at the same time, this is a person who failed her bar exam, another great secret that she kept for 30 years ... in Washington D.C., where she wanted to make a life, and her friends were flabbergasted at this." Also, during the June 1 edition of MSNBC Live, anchor Mika Brzezinski described the fact that Clinton failed her D.C. bar exam as a "new nugget" that Bernstein "revealed" in his book. But, as Media Matters for America has noted, Clinton acknowledged in her autobiography Living History (Simon & Schuster, 2003) that she failed the D.C. bar exam and suggested that this event influenced her decision to go to Arkansas. Bernstein himself cited Living History while discussing this fact in his book.

From Living History (Pages 64-65):

I had taken both the Arkansas and Washington, D.C., bar exams during the summer, but my heart was pulling me towards Arkansas. When I learned that I had passed in Arkansas but failed in D.C., I thought maybe my test scores were telling me something. I spent a lot of my salary on my telephone bills and was so happy when Bill came to see me over Thanksgiving. We spent our time exploring Boston and talking about our future.

[...]

We agreed that I would come down to Arkansas after Christmas 1973 so we could try to figure out where we were heading.

Further, in his book, Bernstein referred to Living History while discussing Hillary Clinton's friends' reaction to her disclosure that she had failed the D.C. bar exam (Page 92):

On November 3, the District of Columbia Bar Association notified Hillary that she had failed the bar exam. For the first time in her life she had flamed out -- spectacularly, given the expectations of others for her and even more so her own. Of 817 applicants, 551 of her peers had passed, most from law schools less prestigious than Yale. She kept this news hidden for the next thirty years. She never took the exam again, despite many opportunities. Her closest friends and associates -- Webb Hubbell, Jim Blair (Diane's husband), Nancy Bekavac, Betsey Write, Sara Ehrman -- were flabbergasted when she made the revelation in a single throwaway line in Living History. "When I learned that I passed in Arkansas but failed in D.C., I thought maybe my test scores were telling me something."

Those who knew her best speculated that she must have felt deep shame at her failure, and that her self-confidence -- always so visible a part of her exterior -- was shattered by the experience (though many first-rate lawyers, even Yale Law graduates, had flunked the bar on their first try). There can only be conjecture about what turn her life -- and the nation's -- might have taken had she not failed the exam.

From the June 1 edition of NBC News' Today:

LAUER: You know what people say about Hillary Clinton. They say people either love her --

BERNSTEIN: Right.

LAUER: -- or they hate her, but they definitely have an opinion of her. So what can you accomplish with a book like this if people have already formed an opinion of her?

BERNSTEIN: Well, this is a woman who has led a camouflaged life and continues to, and this book takes away the camouflage from her childhood, in an abusive family situation -- her father humiliated and abused her mother, her mother had a horror of a childhood, through her -- the opposition of Bill Clinton's closest advisers like Donna Shalala and Lloyd Bentsen -- to her becoming the head of health care. They were adamantly opposed to it. This is a wholly new account that shows us in a real, biographical way who this person is for the first time.

LAUER: Let's talk about ambition. Mid- to early 1970s, Hillary's on a roll in Washington, destined to do great things. She had a great academic resume with Wellesley and Yale. She had participated in the Watergate impeachment hearings for the House Judiciary Committee. Everybody thought she was going to do great things. She decides at that moment to put her own ambition to the side and move to Arkansas with Bill. And her friends -- you write in the book -- her friends said, "You're crazy. Why are you giving this up?" Why, in your opinion, did she give it up? Was it love or was it strategy?

BERNSTEIN: Look, this is a real love affair. They love each other. They always have. They're each other's closest advisers. They've had huge troubles. She -- Bill did want to leave the marriage. He fell in love with another woman, or so he thought. There's an account of that from Betsey Wright, his chief of staff at the time, who helped cover it up. But at the same time, this is a person who failed her bar exam, another great secret that she kept for 30 years --

LAUER: In one state.

BERNSTEIN: -- in Washington D.C., where she wanted to make a life, and her friends were flabbergasted at this. So that helped push her toward Arkansas.

LAUER: Here's what you write about her. You write that this is a woman who has put up a wall around herself. You refer to it more as a "shell." She's put herself in a shell.

From the June 1 edition of MSNBC Live (2 p.m. ET hour):

BRZEZINSKI: You talk about some of the new nuggets in the book that Bernstein revealed. And I know one of them is that Senator Clinton failed to pass the D.C. bar, that she moved to Arkansas and decided that his [Bill Clinton's] ambitions would be hers too. But would Hillary Clinton be where she is now were it not for her marriage to Bill Clinton, regardless as to what you think of the marriage?

Network/Outlet
NBC
Person
Carl Bernstein
Show/Publication
Today Show
Stories/Interests
Bernstein's "A Woman in Charge", Hillary Clinton, 2008 Elections
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