Halperin and Heilemann admit they don't know what Bill Clinton actually said

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From the January 12 edition of Fox Business' Imus in the Morning

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Mark Halperin says of remarks attributed to Bill Clinton: "our sources tried to remember what was said, they didn't agree on the exact language. They agreed on the gist precisely."

From the January 12 edition of Fox Business' Imus in the Morning:

DON IMUS: Let me start with the Bill Clinton quote. You explain -- well, tell me how you go about placing quotes in quotation marks and not in quotation marks. You can start with Mark or John -- either one.

JOHN HEILEMANN: Well, we've been very, very careful. You know, there's a lot of sloppiness in these books you'll find if you read them. People put things in quotation markets all the time --

IMUS: Yes.

HEILEMANN: -- that they've heard second or third hand. Anything in our book that has quotation marks around it, we explain in the author's note is either something that came directly from the person who said the quote or someone who heard it directly. There's no hearsay accounts of quotations that we put in quotation marks.

So, there's a lot of paraphrase dialogue that's not in quotation marks that doesn't quite meet that standard but which we've multiply sourced, but, generally, it's because, you know, people have heard it, either -- in some cases, we got it from the direct speaker, but they couldn't quite remember the right words, or we've got it from multiple other sources. But in those cases we leave it outside quotations because we don't want to put anything within quotation marks that we're not absolutely sure came from the speaker, someone who'd heard it directly and who is absolutely sure that those are the words that were used.

We were trying to be supercautious in terms of how we deployed quotation marks. And in this case, it's a good example.

IMUS: Was that a shot at Bob Woodward there at the top of that?

HEILEMANN: Taking a shot at no one.

IMUS: [unintelligible] You, Charles? Anyway, about the quotes --

MARK HALPERIN: I'm not --

IMUS: -- and stuff? Well, here's the quote we're talking about: Ted Kennedy apparently -- apparently, Bill Clinton said to him a few years ago -- he called Ted Kennedy, trying to get Ted to endorse his wife, Hillary -- and it's in quotation marks in the information from your publisher.

HALPERIN: I think 'cause they're quoting from the book. The Kennedy part is not --

IMUS: I see.

HALPERIN: -- and the Clinton part is not a quote. It's -- that is a quote from the book of the paraphrase from the book.

IMUS: That's the way --

HALPERIN: Does that make sense?

IMUS: No, it's weak. Anyway, a few years ago, this guy Obama would have been getting us coffee. What did he say? If you're paraphrasing --

HALPERIN: Well, he said something just like that.

IMUS: Well, like -- but -- what?

HALPERIN: Well, we're just -- again, because we knew that that was an important quote, would get a lot of attention, as our sources tried to remember what was said, they didn't agree on the exact language. They agreed on the gist precisely. But we didn't want to be in the position of quoting something that sensitive in quotation marks without, again as John said, the very high level we were using.

So, there's no doubt that that is more than the essence of what he said. It's very close. And the differences in the versions we've heard were not very far, one or two words in two cases but we didn't want to put it in quotes.

HEILEMANN: And just to be further clear, I mean, in this case in the book, we're very specific, we say, this is what Kennedy reported to some of his friends --

IMUS: Right.

HEILEMANN: -- claimed that Bill Clinton said. So, we even took it a little further out. And in a lot of other cases, we'll just say, you know, Bill Clinton said the following to Ted Kennedy -- for sure that happened. All we can say in this case is that Kennedy told people that's what Bill Clinton said or something very close to that and it enraged Kennedy 'cause he took it as a pretty serious slam on Obama with some kind of negative racial connotations

IMUS: You guys have been very careful to say that all of these sources -- 300 or whoever you talked to -- most of them you knew. So you had -- so you were able to determine the veracity of their statements with in fact, 'cause you had experience. But it's been my experience, not being a reporter but just common sense, that when somebody tells you what somebody else said, that a lot -- that sometimes a lot gets lost. And that -- as an example, well, I say things about people on the radio, which often are icky things, you know, and then it gets reported to these various people. It's always far worse than what I actually said.

HALPERIN: Well, look, that is the nature of the different -- the challenge of reporting. Here's what we did to try to mitigate that as much as possible.

IMUS: Right.

HALPERIN: We did over 300 interviews and these were not short interviews. Some of them lasted six hours or longer.

IMUS: God. Such as --

HALPERIN: We went --

IMUS: You guys --

HALPERIN: We went back -- well, there were --

IMUS: That's brutal.

HALPERIN: There were breaks involved.

IMUS: Oh, OK.

HEILEMANN: That's the kind of technique we use in Guantanamo Bay sometimes.

HALPERIN: We went back to people multiple times. Some people we interviewed more than half a dozen times. In most journalism today, because of the nature of our business, you're lucky if you interview somebody twice for a story.

In addition, we were very careful with people to say, do you remember or not? And you can learn. Some people in the interview, it's clear that they had bad memories. They can't remember what happened earlier in the interview. Other people have very good memories. And I think, most important, and this is why we think -- why -- part of why we wanted to write the book, is in campaigns people don't write stuff down, there aren't a lot of memos or documents.

So you have to rely on the oral history. We interviewed people about the nomination fights right after they ended, before the general election kicked off. We interviewed people right after the general election. We think a lot of the stuff in that book would have otherwise been lost to history, because if you went and interviewed people about this now, too much has happened since then. They won't remember, but it was fresh in their minds and that really benefited us.

Previously/Related:

Memo to media: Statement attributed to Clinton in Game Change is not a direct quote

Sargent: Umm...Clinton May Not Have Said Racially-Charged "Getting Us Coffee" Quote

The Village doesn't care about sources

Veteran journalist blasts "convoluted" Halperin/Heilemann explanation of their ground rules

Network/Outlet
Fox Business
Person
Mark Halperin, Don Imus, John Heilemann
Show/Publication
Imus in the Morning
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