NY Times' Rich misrepresented Russert's misleading archives question

››› ››› BRIAN FREDERICK

New York Times columnist Frank Rich mischaracterized Tim Russert's question to Sen. Hillary Clinton during the October 30 Democratic presidential debate regarding a 2002 letter written by former President Bill Clinton to the National Archives and Records Administration. Rich wrote that "Bill Clinton exercised his right to insist that all communications between him and his wife be 'considered for withholding' until 2012," adding, "When Mrs. Clinton was asked by Mr. Russert at an October debate if she would lift that restriction, she again escaped by passing the buck to her husband: 'Well, that's not my decision to make.' " In fact, Russert falsely claimed that Bill Clinton's letter asked that the communications "not be made available to the public until 2012."

In his January 27 New York Times column -- headlined "The Billary Road to a Republican Victory" -- Frank Rich mischaracterized NBC News Washington bureau chief Tim Russert's question to Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-NY) during the October 30 Democratic presidential debate regarding a 2002 letter written by former President Bill Clinton to the National Archives and Records Administration. Rich wrote: "Even by the glacial processing standards of the National Archives, the Clintons' White House papers have emerged slowly, in part because Bill Clinton exercised his right to insist that all communications between him and his wife be 'considered for withholding' until 2012." Rich continued: "When Mrs. Clinton was asked by Mr. Russert at an October debate if she would lift that restriction, she again escaped by passing the buck to her husband: 'Well, that's not my decision to make.' " In fact, Russert did not ask Sen. Clinton about Bill Clinton's request that "all communications between him and his wife be 'considered for withholding' until 2012."

Rather, addressing Hillary Clinton during the debate, Russert falsely claimed that the letter "specifically ask[ed] that any communication between you and the president not be made available to the public until 2012" before asking Sen. Clinton, "Would you lift that ban?" In fact, President Clinton's letter did not ask that such communications "not be made available" but rather listed them as one of several categories of information in which documents should be "considered for withholding" [emphasis added]. In a November 2 statement, as reprinted on the blog Daily Kos, William J. Clinton Records representative Bruce Lindsey said that rather than prohibiting the release of communications between Bill and Hillary Clinton, Bill Clinton had merely designated such communications as part of a "subset" of presidential records "that should be reviewed prior to release."

Also in his January 27 column, Rich referred to articles by The Washington Post and The New York Times that reported on foreign contributors to the Clinton presidential library and foundation. Rich wrote: "The Post uncovered a plethora of foreign contributors, led by Saudi Arabia. The Times found an overlap between library benefactors and Hillary Clinton campaign donors, some of whom might have an agenda with a new Clinton administration." However, neither Rich nor the articles themselves mentioned that Sen. Clinton has repeatedly criticized the Saudi government.

From Rich's January 27 column:

Asked by Tim Russert at a September debate whether the Clinton presidential library and foundation would disclose the identities of its donors during the campaign, Mrs. Clinton said it wasn't up to her. "What's your recommendation?" Mr. Russert countered. Mrs. Clinton replied: "Well, I don't talk about my private conversations with my husband, but I'm sure he'd be happy to consider that."

Not so happy, as it turns out. The names still have not been made public.

Just before the holidays, investigative reporters at both The Washington Post and The New York Times tried to find out why, with no help from the Clintons. The Post uncovered a plethora of foreign contributors, led by Saudi Arabia. The Times found an overlap between library benefactors and Hillary Clinton campaign donors, some of whom might have an agenda with a new Clinton administration. (Much as one early library supporter, Marc Rich's ex-wife, Denise, had an agenda with the last one.) "The vast scale of these secret fund-raising operations presents enormous opportunities for abuse," said Representative Henry Waxman, the California Democrat whose legislation to force disclosure passed overwhelmingly in the House but remains stalled in the Senate.

The Post and Times reporters couldn't unlock all the secrets. The unanswered questions could keep them and their competitors busy until Nov. 4. Mr. Clinton's increased centrality to the campaign will also give The Wall Street Journal a greater news peg to continue its reportorial forays into the unraveling financial partnership between Mr. Clinton and the swashbuckling billionaire Ron Burkle.

At "Little Rock's Fort Knox," as the Clinton library has been nicknamed by frustrated researchers, it's not merely the heavy-hitting contributors who are under wraps. Even by the glacial processing standards of the National Archives, the Clintons' White House papers have emerged slowly, in part because Bill Clinton exercised his right to insist that all communications between him and his wife be "considered for withholding" until 2012.

When Mrs. Clinton was asked by Mr. Russert at an October debate if she would lift that restriction, she again escaped by passing the buck to her husband: "Well, that's not my decision to make." Well, if her candidacy is to be as completely vetted as she guarantees, the time for the other half of Billary to make that decision is here.

Posted In
Government, The Presidency & White House
Network/Outlet
The New York Times
Person
Frank Rich
Stories/Interests
Hillary Clinton, 2008 Elections
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