Conservative Media Weaponize Brian Williams Suspension To Attack Hillary Clinton

Fox & FriendsRight-wing media are using the suspension of NBC's Brian Williams to attack Hillary Clinton, fixating on a story she apologized for telling years ago about landing amid sniper fire in Bosnia when she was first lady.

The media has rightfully focused over the past week on Williams' apparent pattern of falsely claiming that he rode on a military helicopter that was forced to land after being hit by a rocket-propelled grenade during a reporting trip to Iraq in 2003. Williams apologized during the February 4 broadcast of Nightly News and has since been suspended for six months without pay.

But the right-wing media have sought to use Williams' tall tales for political advantage, pointing to Clinton's Bosnia story to ask, “If Brian Williams can no longer be the face of NBC then can Hillary no longer be the face of the Democratic Party?” In a segment representative of such discussions on Fox News,Fox & Friends' Steve Doocy asked this morning, “Brian Williams has been held to this standard because he told these lies about Iraq. But what about Hillary Clinton?” Invoking Clinton's Bosnia story which “turned out not to be true,” the hosts aired a clip of a Fox News contributor declaring Clinton's story to be worse than Williams', while on-screen text asked “Why Isn't Hillary Held Accountable For Lies?” and “Did Mainstream Media Give Clinton A Pass?”

But Clinton acknowledged nearly seven years ago that she had misspoken in describing the events that occurred in Bosnia. And contrary to conservative claims, Clinton was heavily criticized by media outlets at the time, including by NBC News. As Bloomberg News reported in March 2008:

Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton and her staff said she misspoke when saying she landed under sniper fire during a March 1996 trip to Bosnia as first lady.

“I did make a mistake in talking about it the last time, and recently,” Clinton told reporters in Greensburg, Pennsylvania. “I made a mistake. I have a different memory. That happens. I'm human. For some people that's a revelation.”

During a speech last week in Washington, she said, “I remember landing under sniper fire. There was supposed to be some kind of a greeting ceremony at the airport, but instead we just ran with our heads down to get into the vehicles to get to our base.”

Moreover, in seeking to use Williams' story for partisan benefit, conservatives are ignoring numerous Republican politicians who have embellished their stories of military service to burnish their political careers, dating back to Sen. Joe McCarthy's self-aggrandized war record. As Joe Conason noted in a 2010 piece on how “mythmaking is indeed characteristic of the politicians most revered by the GOP,” both Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush greatly exaggerated their service:

Take George W. Bush, whose controversial service as a Texas Air National Guard pilot was shrouded in mystery, evidently because he wanted to conceal the basic facts of his privileged admission to the TANG and his strange departure from its ranks. In his 2000 campaign autobiography, ghosted by Karen Hughes, Bush claimed that after completing his training in the F-102 fighter plane, “I continued flying with my unit for the next several years.” That simple sentence was entirely untrue, according to records eventually released by the Bush campaign, which showed that he had never flown in uniform again after his suspension from active duty in August 1972 for failing to show up for a mandatory physical examination. 

In the same book Bush also suggests that he tried to volunteer for service in Vietnam “to relieve active duty pilots” fighting the war. But, of course, the entire purpose of his privileged (and questionable) enlistment in the TANG was to avoid the Vietnam draft, as he hinted in a 1998 newspaper interview when he said: “I don't want to play like I was somebody out there marching [to war] when I wasn't. It was either Canada or the service and I was headed into the service.” Two years later, under the tutelage of Hughes, that momentary candor evaporated.

Yet Bush's self-serving revisions cannot compare with the fantastic recollections of the late Ronald Reagan, whose veneration by Republicans was never diminished by his bizarre utterances. In November 1983, he told Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir during a White House visit that while serving in the U. S. Army film corps, his unit had shot footage of the Nazi concentration camps as they were liberated. He repeated the same tale to Nazi hunter Simon Wiesenthal and other witnesses. Reagan had indeed served in the Army and worked on morale-boosting movies for the War Department. But he had done so without ever leaving Hollywood for the entire duration of the war.