Herbert claimed Clinton said "Obama's effort" was a "fairy tale," but did not report Clinton's denial

››› ››› BRIAN LEVY

New York Times columnist Bob Herbert, referring to January 7 comments by former President Bill Clinton, wrote, "So there was the former president chastising the press for the way it was covering the Obama campaign and saying of Mr. Obama's effort: 'The whole thing is the biggest fairy tale I've ever seen.' " But Herbert did not report that Clinton denied on Al Sharpton's radio show that he had said that. Nor did Herbert report that Clinton said Obama's "campaign" is "clearly not a fairy tale; it's real."

In his January 12 New York Times column, columnist Bob Herbert, referring to January 7 comments by former President Bill Clinton, wrote, "So there was the former president chastising the press for the way it was covering the Obama campaign and saying of Mr. Obama's effort: 'The whole thing is the biggest fairy tale I've ever seen.' " But Herbert did not report that Clinton denied that he had said Obama's campaign was a "fairy tale" on the January 11 broadcast of Syndication One's The Al Sharpton Show. In a clip aired on the January 11 edition of MSNBC's Hardball, Rev. Al Sharpton asked Clinton, "You had said that Senator Obama's campaign was a fairy tale. How -- how do you respond to that?" Clinton responded: "First of all, it's not true. I have given hundreds of speeches on Hillary's behalf in this campaign. I don't believe I've given a single one where I did not applaud Senator Obama and his candidacy. It's not a fairy tale." Additionally, ABC News reported that Clinton said on The Al Sharpton Show that Obama's "campaign" is "clearly not a fairy tale": "Now that doesn't have anything to do with my respect for him as a candidate or as a political figure in this campaign. He has put together a great campaign. It's clearly not a fairy tale; it's real."

On the January 11 edition of Hardball, Salon.com editor-in-chief Joan Walsh commented on Clinton's original comments and his explanation of those comments on the Al Sharpton Show. Walsh said: "I don't think it was a wise remark, but specifically the context of what he was saying was that the -- the notion that Obama had always been steadfastly opposed to the war was the 'fairy tale.' Not that his candidacy was a fairy tale. And that's pretty clear in the longer clip of the Sharpton interview."

From Herbert's January 12 New York Times column:

I was not one of those who thought, during those frantic, giddy, sleepless few days leading up to the New Hampshire primary, that Mr. Obama was on his way to a blowout win.

When I mentioned my skepticism to reporters at an Obama rally in Derry on Sunday, everyone insisted he was romping to victory. "Double digits," said one reporter.

This certainty was based on poll results and the size and enthusiasm of the Obama crowds. But poll results have been unreliable for decades when it comes to black candidates and white voters. And I wrote in a column that ran on election day that whenever Senator Obama would ask how many people in his overflow crowds were still undecided, about a third would raise their hands.

I was not predicting an Obama defeat. I just had a strong sense that the news media, feeding on itself, had lost sight of reality and that the election was bound to be close.

I could also sense how hard the Clinton camp was working to undermine Senator Obama's main theme, that a campaign based on hope and healing could unify, rather than further polarize, the country.

So there was the former president chastising the press for the way it was covering the Obama campaign and saying of Mr. Obama's effort: "The whole thing is the biggest fairy tale I've ever seen."

And there was Mrs. Clinton telling the country we don't need "false hopes," and taking cheap shots at, of all people, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

From the January 7 campaign event with Bill Clinton, as transcribed by Congressional Quarterly:

QUESTION: Thanks. One of the things that Senator Obama talks about a lot is judgment and I'm curious to hear your thoughts on the recent criticism of Mark Penn, who is Hillary's chief strategist, who's been criticized for being somewhat out of touch with reality.

For instance, he circulated a memo about Iowa, saying "Where's the balance," [sic: bounce] and then the next day, there was a 12-point jump for Obama.

CLINTON: He was wrong. He was wrong about that, because the balance [sic] always occurs on the second day, not the first day. It always occurs on the second day, not the first day.

But since you raised the judgment issue, let's go over this again. That is the central argument for his campaign. "It doesn't matter that I started running for president less than a year after I got to the Senate from the Illinois state senate. I am a great speaker and a charismatic figure and I am the only one that had the judgment to oppose this floor [sic] from the beginning, always, always, always."

First, it is factually not true that everybody that supported that resolution supported Bush attacking Iraq before the U.N. inspectors withdrew. Chuck Hagel [NE] was one of the co-authors of that resolution, the only Republican Senator that always opposed the war, every day, from the get-go.

He authored the resolution to say that Bush could go to war only if they didn't cooperate with the inspectors and he was assured personally by [then-national security adviser] Condi Rice, as many of the other Senators were. So, first, the case is wrong that way.

Second, it is wrong that Senator Obama got to go through 15 debates trumpeting his superior judgment and how he had been against the war in every year, enumerating the years and never got asked one time, not once, "Well, how could you say that when you said in 2004 you didn't know how you would have voted on the resolution? You said in 2004 there was no difference between you and George Bush on the war and you took that speech you're now running on off your Web site in 2004 and there's no difference in your voting record and Hillary's ever since."

Give me a break.

[applause]

This whole thing is the biggest fairy tale I've ever seen. So you can talk about Mark Penn all you want. What did you think about the Obama thing, calling Hillary the "Senator from Punjab?" Did you like that? Or what about the Obama handout that was covered up, the press never reported on, implying that I was a crook, scouring me, scathing criticism over my financial reports.

[Former independent counsel] Ken Starr spent $70 million and indicted innocent people to find out that I wouldn't take a nickel to see the cow jump over the moon. So you can take a shot at Mark Penn if you want, it wasn't his best day. He was hurt, he felt badly we didn't do better in Iowa.

But, you know, the idea that one of these campaigns is positive and other is negative, when I know the reverse is true and I have seen it and I have been blistered by it for months, is a little tough to take. Just because of the sanitizing coverage that's in the media doesn't mean the facts aren't out there.

[applause]

Otherwise, I do not have any strong feelings about that subject.

[laughter]

Go ahead. I've got to take a question back here and then I -- go ahead.

From the January 11 ABC News article:

The former president explained to [Al Sharpton Show host Rev. Al] Sharpton that his comment was not a swipe at Obama reaching for the White House but rather a reference to the fawning press treatment Obama has received. In particular, Clinton is incensed that the press has not focused on Obama's 2004 acknowledgement to the New York Times that when he spoke out against the prospect of war he was "not privy to Senate intelligence reports."

"We went through 15 debates," Clinton told Sharpton, "and the Obama campaign made the argument that his relative lack of service in the Senate was not relevant because he has better judgment than all the Democrats because he'd always been against the Iraq war in every year."

"I pointed out," Clinton continued, "that he had never been asked about his statements in 2004 that he didn't know how he would have voted on the war resolution, and there was, at that time, no difference between his position and President Bush's."

"Look," Clinton continued, "there could be a perfectly good explanation for it. Maybe, he just meant, that once it was done, everybody wanted it to work, including the UN. But the point is, it disproves the arguments that he was always against it, and everybody else was wrong and he was right. So I said, 'that's what those debates were for, and how many of you knew those two facts, in the audience?' And I said, 'So that story is a fairy tale.' Now that doesn't have anything to do with my respect for him as a candidate or as a political figure in this campaign. He has put together a great campaign. It's clearly not a fairy tale; it's real. And I have gone out of my way not [to] express any personal disrespect for him or his campaign, even when they've been fairly critical of me and Hillary."

From the January 11 edition of MSNBC's Hardball with Chris Matthews:

MATTHEWS: Let's look at a little squall -- skirmish that started just at the end of the week. Here's former President Clinton -- Bill Clinton calling into the Reverend Al Sharpton's radio show today, Friday, attempting to clarify his comment about the Barack Obama campaign being a "fairy tale."

[begin audio]

SHARPTON: You had said that Senator Obama's campaign was a fairy tale. How -- how do you respond to that?

CLINTON: First of all, it's not true. I have given hundreds of speeches in Hillary's behalf in this campaign. I don't believe I've given a single one where I did not applaud Senator Obama and his candidacy. It's not a fairy tale. He might win.

[end audio clip]

MATTHEWS: Well, I don't know what we make of this. The definition of "is" comes to the surface again. Bill Clinton saying he didn't call it a "fairy tale." Everybody on planet Earth heard him call it that.

CHUCK TODD (NBC News political director): Yeah -- no -- look, they have some problems in the African American community [inaudible].

MATTHEWS: The Clintons do.

TODD: I've gotten a bunch of calls -- I've gotten a bunch of calls today, and it's shocking, of all -- I mean, the Clintons have been --

MATTHEWS: What was the remark that hurt the community, at least the way we're reading it right now?

TODD: It's the "fairy tale" remark that's really hurting. And Sharpton, he put out a press release to say, "I'm having former President Clinton on, and I'm going to ask him about the 'fairy tale' comment." You had [Democratic strategist] Donna Brazile, unaffiliated in this right now, completely unaffiliated, so a very much sort of this - this --

MATTHEWS: A big DNC figure, obviously.

TODD: Exactly. This is where it's having reverb, inside that DNC world. And so it's sort of in Washington, sort of the insider African-American leadership class, very upset about this. [Rep.] Jim Clyburn [D-SC] comes out in The New York Times and basically issues a warning shot: not only may I endorse Obama, but I'm going to do it and take a shot at the Clintons at the same time. It's --

WALSH: But I --

TODD: It's something that makes -- it just gives them an extra political headache.

WALSH: We need to be fair, though, to President Clinton here. I don't think it was a wise remark, but specifically the context of what he was saying was that the -- the notion that Obama had always been steadfastly opposed to the war was the "fairy tale." Not that his candidacy was a fairy tale. And that's pretty clear in the longer clip of the Sharpton interview.

So it still probably wasn't a wise thing to say. We don't want to hear "fairy tale" about Obama, but it was about his war stance, not -- not his candidacy. So let's get that right.

Network/Outlet
The New York Times
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Bob Herbert
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Barack Obama, 2008 Elections
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