Gerth and Van Natta falsely claim Clinton did not speak about terror before 9-11


In their upcoming book, Her Way: The Hopes and Ambitions of Hillary Rodham Clinton (Little, Brown & Co., June 2007), authors Jeff Gerth and Don Van Natta Jr. claim that Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton's (D-NY) September 13, 2001, response to a question from then-CBS anchor Dan Rather, in which she referred to terrorism as "our number one homeland threat," was "an odd answer, considering her previous lack of public engagement on the topic." Gerth and Van Natta claim that Clinton's answer "mark[ed] the first time that she had spoken publicly as a senator about the terrorist threat to the United States," citing a Nexis search the authors had conducted for the precise phrase: "homeland threat." However, had Gerth and Van Natta expanded their search criteria to include more commonplace terms such as "terrorism" or "terrorist," they would have found that Sen. Clinton did, in fact, address the terrorist threat to the United States months before September 2001.

From an advance copy of Her Way obtained by Media Matters for America:

That night, Hillary was scheduled to do three interviews on two television networks. On the CBS Evening News, Hillary told Dan Rather about the president's support that afternoon for the $20 billion in emergency aid for New York. Rather then quickly took a detour and asked her about her husband's attempts to deal with Osama bin Laden, the Saudi terror financier whose group, Al Qaeda, was already identified by intelligence officials as the organizer of the attacks.

It was a moment Hillary must have anticipated, but it's likely that it arrived a bit sooner than she had anticipated. She paused for a moment before plunging in. "Well, Dan, I've always been very concerned about the threat of terrorism," she said. "I consider that our number one homeland threat."28It was an odd answer considering her previous lack of public engagement on the topic. In fact, Hillary's response to Rather's questions would mark the first time that she had spoken publicly as a senator about the terrorist threat to the United States.29 Hillary then recalled the Clinton administration's actions on counterterrorism. She talked about her husband's frustration with the "difficulty of getting good intelligence, of knowing where a suspected terrorist is, of having to count on people who -- whose allegiances are not to the United States." (Pages 232-233)

The endnote for Gerth and Van Natta's claim reads as follows:

This is according to the authors' search of the Lexis-Nexis database for all statements made by Hillary Rodham Clinton from early January 2001 to September 2001; the precise phrase searched was "homeland threat."

However, a Media Matters search of the Nexis database using broader search terms -- "(hillary w/2 clinton) and clinton w/25 terror!" -- turned up at least one prior instance in which Clinton addressed the terrorist threat to the United States. From a March 17, 2001, New York Daily News article:

Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton said she approved yesterday of the Bush administration's decision to keep Manhattan U.S. Attorney Mary Jo White on the job because of her probe into someone of national significance -- terrorist Osama Bin Laden.

But Clinton declined to discuss White's investigations into several of former President Bill Clinton's last-minute presidential pardons.

One of the questions that White's investigators are trying to determine is whether four members of a Hasidic sect from New Square, Rockland County, had their terms shortened by the former President in exchange for voting en masse for Hillary Clinton in the Senate race.

Last week, Attorney General John Ashcroft extended the terms of several federal prosecutors across the country, including White, past June.

In backing the decision to keep White, Clinton cited the Manhattan prosecutor's role in pursing Bin Laden, a fugitive Saudi millionaire implicated in a global terrorist network.

She called the case "a No. 1 national security priority in our fight against terrorism."

The assertion by Gerth and Van Natta about Clinton's post-9-11 remarks echoed another false claim in Her Way, that Clinton's accusation in a June 2006 floor statement that President Bush misused the authority granted him in the Authorization For Use Of Military Force Against Iraq by launching war in Iraq "without allowing the inspectors to finish the job in order to rush to war" constituted the first time she had made the accusation. In fact, as documented by Media Matters, she had made the accusation as early as October 2003.

We've changed our commenting system to Disqus.
Instructions for signing up and claiming your comment history are located here.
Updated rules for commenting are here.