Wash. Post gotcha on Chelsea Clinton's schooling exposes poor reporting instead

››› ››› SARAH PAVLUS

In the July 25 edition of The Washington Post, staff writer Peter Baker wrote that during the July 23 Democratic presidential debate, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-NY) said "she sent her daughter, Chelsea, to Sidwell Friends School instead of a D.C. public school because of reporters. 'I was advised -- and it was, unfortunately, good advice -- that if she were to go to a public school, the press would never leave her alone,' she said." But, Baker added, "that's not what the Clintons said in January 1993 when they announced the decision." In fact, contrary to Baker's accusation that Clinton has fabricated a new reason for sending Chelsea to Sidwell Friends, Clinton's explanation is entirely consistent with what the Clintons said in 1993 -- which Baker could have determined with a quick Nexis search. President Bill Clinton told the Associated Press in May 1993 that Chelsea attended Sidwell Friends because she "does not like getting a lot of publicity, and frankly she has more privacy and more control over her destiny" than she would in a public school.

Baker noted that the reason Clinton cited at the debate "repeated the explanation in her 2003 memoir" Living History (Simon & Schuster), but then quoted Clinton spokesman George Stephanopoulos saying in January 1993 that the Clintons "chose Sidwell Friends because it's a good school. ... It's an academically challenging school." Baker added: "And, [Stephanopoulos] noted, 'one of the things that was particularly attractive to the family was that Sidwell has a service component that goes along with their academic requirements.' Nothing about reporters." [Emphasis added.]

In fact, as the Associated Press reported in a May 27, 1993, article headlined, "Clinton Says Private School Allows Chelsea to 'Be a Normal Kid,' " Bill Clinton explained that Chelsea "has more privacy and more control over her destiny" than she would in a public school. From the AP article:

Sending his daughter to a pricey private school gave her a chance to "be a normal kid," President Clinton said today. He insisted that the decision was not a rejection of public schools.

"My daughter is not a public figure. She does not want to be a public figure. She does not like getting a lot of publicity, and frankly she has more privacy and more control over her destiny where she is than she would if she were at public school," Clinton said in a two-hour "Town Meeting" broadcast on CBS.

Moreover, in January 1993, journalists were noting privacy concerns associated with the selection of Chelsea's school. In the January 18, 1993, edition of Newsweek, Barbara Kantrowitz and Adam Wolfberg wrote that "Chelsea's privacy could be one factor" in the Clintons' decision. From Newsweek:

So why pick Sidwell? Chelsea's privacy could be one factor. As First Daughter, she would stand out in any school. But at Sidwell, she's certainly not the only student with famous parents. President Bush's education secretary, Lamar Alexander, sends his 13-year-old son there; other Sidwell parents include Sen. Bill Bradley, Donald Graham and Bob Woodward of The Washington Post, PBS reporter Judy Woodruff and The Wall Street Journal's Al Hunt (wife and husband).

Additionally, in a July 23 blog post, Politico senior political writer Ben Smith wrote that during the Democratic debate, "Hillary gave an explanation I've never heard before for sending Chelsea to private school in Washington. 'I was advised ... that the press would never leave her alone bcause [sic] it was a public school,' she said." Smith then linked to a January 6, 1993, New York Times report on the Clintons' decision to send Chelsea to Sidwell Friends and suggested Clinton had been inconsistent in her explanation of the decision. Smith later updated his post to show that Hillary Clinton provided the same explanation in her 2003 memoir that she did in the debate, but he did not indicate that Bill Clinton also cited Chelsea's privacy in 1993 as a reason for choosing to send her to a private school.

From the July 25 edition of The Washington Post:

CHELSEA'S SCHOOLING Blame the Media? Once It Wasn't So.

Ah, it was the media's fault. Clinton said Monday night that she sent her daughter, Chelsea, to Sidwell Friends School instead of a D.C. public school because of reporters. "I was advised -- and it was, unfortunately, good advice -- that if she were to go to a public school, the press would never leave her alone," she said. That repeated the explanation in her 2003 memoir that the decision "rested on one fact: Private schools were private property, hence off-limits to the news media. Public schools were not."

Funny thing -- that's not what the Clintons said in January 1993 when they announced the decision. "They chose Sidwell Friends because it's a good school," spokesman George Stephanopoulos said at the time. "It's an academically challenging school." And, he noted, "one of the things that was particularly attractive to the family was that Sidwell has a service component that goes along with their academic requirements."

Nothing about reporters -- who, by the way, aren't exactly allowed to waltz into public schools any more than they are private schools. And who over eight years pretty much left Chelsea alone, regardless of school.

Ben Smith's July 23 blog post titled "Chelsea's school":

Hillary gave an explanation I've never heard before for sending Chelsea to private school in Washington.

"I was advised...that the press would never leave her alone bcause it was a public school," she said.

It's a perfectly reasonable answer, and it may not be the first time she's given it. But here's what the Times reported back when the decision was made:

In effect, Mr. Stephanopoulos said the Clintons had made a parental decision, not a Presidential one. They chose a school purely on the basis of what they as parents thought best for their daughter, setting aside whatever symbolic effect the decision would have. The last recent President with a school-age child, Jimmy Carter, sent his daughter, Amy, to Washington public schools.

"They didn't reject public schools," Mr. Stephanopoulos said. "The schools in the District of Columbia and across the country are good schools, and Governor Clinton supports the public school system, as he has throughout his term as Governor and will continue as President. What they did was choose as a family Sidwell Friends. It's a good choice."

He said the question of where the Secret Service would find it easiest to protect Chelsea was not an issue in the Clintons' decision.

The Clintons said in a statement that "after many family discussions and careful consideration" they had chosen Sidwell, because "as parents, we believe this decision is best for our daughter at this time in her life based on our changing circumstances."

Friends of the Clintons said today that the decision was based on their conviction that they simply would not sacrifice their daughter's education to make a political point.

UPDATE: Indeed, she's given the explanation before. In her book, in fact, as I've apparently forgotten.

UPDATE: And here's the quote from Living History:

"Jackie [Kennedy] gave invaluable advice about how to deal with my loss of personal privacy, and she told me what she had done to protect her children, Caroline and John. Providing Chelsea with a normal life would be one of the biggest challenges Bill and I faced, she told me. We had to allow Chelsea to grow up and even make mistakes, while shielding her from the constant scrutiny she would endure as the daughter of a President. ... Already, Bill and I had taken a measure of the public's interest in Chelsea and the national fascination with a child growing up in the White House. Our decision about where to send Chelsea to school had inspired passionate debate inside and outside the Beltway, largely because of its symbolic significance. I understood the disappointment felt by advocates of public education when we chose Sidwell Friends, a private Quaker school, particularly after Chelsea had attended public schools in Arkansas. But the decision for Bill and me rested on one fact: Private schools were private property, hence off-limits to the news media. Public schools were not. The last thing we wanted was television cameras and news reporters following our daughter throughout the school day, as they had when President Carter's daughter, Amy, attended public school." [Living History, pgs. 135-136]

Posted In
Education
Network/Outlet
The Washington Post
Person
Ben Smith, Peter Baker
Stories/Interests
Hillary Clinton, 2008 Elections
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