The Note: Err Apparent


As the saying goes, if you want political reporters to eat their vegetables, it helps if they have nothing else on their plate. The Clintons, meanwhile, are serving whoppers.

Former president Bill Clinton is the latest to hand out a juicy fib -- circling back to Bosnia to cram four falsehoods into 23 words: His wife, he said, "one time late at night when she was exhausted, misstated and immediately apologized for it, what happened to her in Bosnia in 1995."

Where to start? If his telling is accurate, it depends on what the definition of "one time," "late at night," and "immediately apologized" is. (And it was 1996, not 1995.)

"Hillary Clinton actually made the comments numerous times, including at an event in Iowa on Dec. 29, and an event on Feb. 29 and one time -- bright and early in the morning -- on March 17," ABC's Sarah Amos and Eloise Harper report.

"Sen. Clinton wasn't as quick with her apology as President Clinton may remember either. In fact, it took a week for her to eventually correct herself, first talking to the Philadelphia Inquirer editorial board on March 24 and again apologizing the next day in Greensboro, N.C." gave Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton's handling of the matter the dreaded "pants on fire" designation.

ABC's Jake Tapper counts up a total of eight different misstatements/exaggerations in his telling of the tale on Thursday.

Maybe this whole Bosnia flap has gotten too much attention. Maybe Bill Clinton is right that his wife was wrongly treated like "she'd robbed a bank the way they carried on about this." Maybe he's also right that "when they're 60 they'll forget something when they're tired at 11:00 at night, too." (Who are "they," and why are they so mean to his wife, anyway?)

But for whatever reason, another "they" -- Pennsylvania voters -- have followed this storyline. (The word around Camp Clinton is that this story is the biggest factor in her Pennsylvania dip -- which is one reason Bill Clinton is trying to explain it away to voters in Indiana.)

It remains Sen. Clinton who's defending her credibility, honesty, and trustworthiness, keeping the spotlight away from her rival in the closing weeks before April 22.

The problem for Sen. Clinton is that one side of the double-edged sword that is her husband remains sharper than the other. The Clintons can explain away their differences (trade, torture, an Olympic boycott) but this is messy stuff for a campaign that can't afford too many more distractions.

The Boston Globe's Foon Rhee calls it "one of the central challenges of Hillary Clinton's campaign: How to take credit for the accomplishments of her husband's presidency and profit from his popularity while distancing herself from his past and present positions on which they disagree."

Former presidential adviser David Gergen sees the campaign "going sideways rather than forward." "She very badly needs to get back to the campaign message, what she would do in the next four years," Gergen tells Rhee.

Remember the quaint old days when we feared Sen. Clinton being overshadowed by her husband's wattage? Overwhelmed is more like it.

What of this portion of the legacy? Welfare reform -- still the target of liberal ire 12 years later -- is reemerging as an issue, Peter S. Goodman writes in The New York Times. Clinton "rarely mentions the issue as she battles for the nomination, despite the emphasis she has placed on her experience in her husband's White House," Goodman writes.

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