Matthews mischaracterized Bill Clinton "fairy tale" quote

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Chris Matthews asserted that former President Bill Clinton "made a series of remarks about Barack Obama that turned off many Democrats and may have helped galvanize black voters for Obama." Matthews then aired an abbreviated clip of Clinton's January 7 comments, "This whole thing is the biggest fairy tale I've ever seen," leaving out his preceding comments in which Clinton made clear that he was talking about Obama's statements regarding the Iraq war and not Obama's campaign.

On the March 2 edition of the NBC-syndicated The Chris Matthews Show, host Chris Matthews asserted that former President Bill Clinton "made a series of remarks about Barack Obama that turned off many Democrats and may have helped galvanize black voters for Obama." Matthews then aired an abbreviated clip of Clinton's January 7 comments, "This whole thing is the biggest fairy tale I've ever seen," leaving out his preceding comments in which Clinton made clear that he was talking about Obama's statements regarding the Iraq war and not Obama's campaign. In a January 13 piece for The New York Times' Week in Review section, reporter Mark Leibovich noted that in using the words "fairy tale," Clinton "was referring specifically to the perception that Mr. Obama was totally pure in his opposition to the Iraq war." Additionally, on the January 11 edition of MSNBC's Hardball, Salon.com editor-in-chief Joan Walsh told Matthews, "I don't think it was a wise remark, but specifically the context of what he was saying was that ... the notion that Obama had always been steadfastly opposed to the war was the 'fairy tale.' Not that his candidacy was a fairy tale."

Media Matters for America has noted other instances in which the media have misreported Clinton's "fairy tale" statement.

In addition, Matthews aired a clip of Clinton saying, "Jesse Jackson won South Carolina twice in '84 and '88, and he ran a good campaign, and Senator Obama has run a good campaign here," but did not note that Times reporter Katharine Q. Seelye wrote in a January 28 post on the Times' political blog The Caucus that Jackson himself said that he did not "read anything negative into Clinton's observation." The post also quoted Jackson saying: "Bill has done so much for race relations and inclusion, I would tend not to read a negative scenario into his comments."

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: war] 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 March 2 edition of NBC-syndicated The Chris Matthews Show:

SEN. CLINTON [video clip]: If anyone was offended by anything that was said, whether it was meant or not, whether it was misinterpreted or not, then obviously I regret that.

MATTHEWS: Welcome back. That was Hillary Clinton apologizing this week for comments by her biggest surrogate, Bill Clinton. He's made a series of remarks about Barack Obama that turned off many Democrats and may have helped galvanize black voters for Obama. Listen.

PRESIDENT CLINTON [video clip]: This whole thing is the biggest fairy tale I've ever seen.

PRESIDENT CLINTON [video clip]: Jesse Jackson won South Carolina twice in '84 and '88, and he ran a good campaign, and Senator Obama has run a good campaign here.

MATTHEWS: Well, those words have played a big part in Hillary's current struggles. In fact, this past week, The New York Times reported, and I quote, "Engaging in hindsight, several advisers have now concluded that they were not smart to use former President Bill Clinton as much as they did." But Hillary's camp is not the first to realize that Bill may not be a plus in a campaign. [Former Vice President] Al Gore was asked about it back in 2000.

[begin video clip]

REGIS PHILBIN (then-host of ABC's Live with Regis): Has the president given you any advice during this campaign?

GORE: Not too much, no, because it's something that you really have to do on your own.

[end video clip]

MATTHEWS: That was for real, I guess. We asked "The Matthews Meter" -- 12 of our regular panelists -- would Hillary be better off right now if Bill hadn't played a big public role in this campaign? 9-to-3, the meter says yes, Hillary would have been better off.

Network/Outlet
NBC
Person
Chris Matthews, Cynthia Tucker
Show/Publication
The Chris Matthews Show
Stories/Interests
Attacks on Bill Clinton, Past Politicians
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