On Meet the Press, Gerth and Van Natta cling to falsehood about Clinton's criticism of Bush on war

››› ››› SIMON MALOY

On the June 10 broadcast of NBC's Meet the Press, Jeff Gerth, co-author of Her Way: The Hopes and Ambitions of Hillary Rodham Clinton (Little, Brown & Co., June 2007), again claimed that prior to June 2006, Clinton "didn't accuse" President Bush "of misusing the authority" granted him by the 2002 Authorization For Use Of Military Force Against Iraq. In fact, as Media Matters for America has noted, she did precisely that in an interview more than two years before.

In Her Way, Gerth and co-author Don Van Natta Jr. referred to Clinton's June 21, 2006, statement on the Senate floor as "the first time in her public speeches" in which "she offered a new interpretation of her own actions in 2002," writing: "The authority Congress had given the president and his administration four years earlier, Clinton explained, had been 'misused' because they acted 'without allowing the inspectors to finish the job in order to rush to war.' " This claim was included in an excerpt of Her Way published in the June 3 New York Times Magazine.

From the excerpt of Her Way in the Times Magazine:

In her impromptu remarks on the Senate floor, Clinton presented the usual litany of criticism against Republicans. Then, for the first time in her public speeches, she offered a new interpretation of her own actions in 2002. The revised account contained an ironic twist with respect to [Sen. Carl] Levin [D-MI], who had just graciously granted her the floor.

The authority Congress given the president and his administration four years earlier, Clinton explained, had been ''misused'' because they acted ''without allowing the inspectors to finish the job in order to rush to war.'' In other words, Bush had given short shrift to diplomacy. Clinton did not mention her own vote against Levin's 2002 amendment, the one that would have required the president to pursue a more diplomatic approach before any invasion of Iraq. Her singling out of President Bush for misusing the authority from Congress played so well it soon became a staple of her campaign speeches.

The events of the next few days seemed to validate Clinton's position. Two days later, on June 23, she was applauded at a gathering of moderate-leaning Democrats, when she articulated a more-pronounced antiwar message. The reception was in marked contrast to the boos that greeted her 10 days earlier at a meeting of liberal activists. Some antiwar activists and previous critics now praised her for embracing redeployment and moving closer to their views. Roger Hickey, who invited Clinton to the conference where she was booed, said her action in the Senate ''was a significant new movement for her and the Democratic Party.'' With the 2006 midterm elections approaching, the party was sharpening its antiwar message.

But the suggestion that her June 2006 floor statement marked the first time Clinton "singl[ed] out ... President Bush for misusing the authority from Congress," which Gerth and Van Natta write "played so well it soon became a staple of her campaign speeches," is false. As Media Matters noted when the passage appeared in the Times excerpt, Clinton told the Poughkeepsie Journal in a February 9, 2004, interview: "And, finally, I think when you are asked by a president to give him authority to proceed in one manner with the ultimate decision to use force, granted, assuming the following steps would be taken, that doesn't seem to me to be unreasonable. What happened here is that we gave authority to a president who in my view misused the authority." Media Matters requested that the Times run a correction of the excerpt, but the paper refused. While the Poughkeepsie Journal interview was not a "speech," narrowly construed, given that Gerth and Van Natta's point in making the above claim is that June 2006 marked a sharp change in Clinton's rhetoric to appeal more to the base of the Democratic Party, for the authors' purposes, that claim, and therefore their point in making it, are vitiated by Clinton's statement in the Poughkeepsie Journal interview more than two years earlier.

On Meet the Press, host Tim Russert asked the authors about an October 17, 2003, statement by Clinton on the floor of the Senate, noted by Media Matters, in which Clinton said, "We disagree with the way he used that authority." Gerth responded by reiterating the "public speech" claim made in the book and by asserting that "accusing the president of misusing his authority -- which is really starting down the road to impeachment -- is different than saying, 'I regret how he used that authority.' " However, when Russert pressed further, noting that Clinton "did say 'I disagree with the way he used his authority' back in 2003," Gerth stated flatly that Clinton "didn't accuse him of misusing the authority, which is an escalation of her statement." Even accepting Gerth's premise that accusing Bush of misusing his authority constituted an "escalation" of Clinton's statements that she regretted the way he used his authority -- and Media Matters has previously shown that Clinton herself appeared not to make this distinction -- the fact remains that she invoked that "escalat[ed]" rhetoric more than two years before the authors say she did.

From the June 10 edition of NBC's Meet the Press:

RUSSERT: You say that she didn't talk about diplomacy as a reason for interpreting her vote until June of 2006. Supporters of the senator will say, "Wrong. October 17, 2003, on the floor of the U.S. Senate, she talked about it."

GERTH: No. That's not correct, Tim. What we said in the book and in the New York Times Magazine article was that her first public speech about the president misusing his authority -- making the charge "misusing the authority" -- took place in June of 2006 on the Senate floor. What you're referring to is remarks that she made in October of 2003 where she said she regretted how the president used his authority. And supporters of Sen. Clinton tried to get The New York Times to correct this one sentence, and The New York Times decided there's nothing to correct because accusing the president of misusing his authority -- which is really starting down the road to impeachment -- is different than saying, "I regret how he used that authority."

RUSSERT: She did say "I disagree with the way he used his authority" back in 2003.

GERTH: Yes, she did, but she didn't accuse him of misusing the authority, which is an escalation of her statement.

VAN NATTA: And they demanded that -- the Clinton campaign demanded a correction from The New York Times on this point. It was one sentence that was in our New York Times Magazine cover excerpt last week, and the Times editors looked at it carefully and decided it should not be corrected.

Posted In
National Security & Foreign Policy, War in Iraq
Network/Outlet
NBC
Person
Jeff Gerth, Don Van Natta Jr.
Show/Publication
Meet the Press
Stories/Interests
Gerth and Van Natta's "Her Way"
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