How The Wash. Post Kicked Off The “Qualified” Argument Between Clinton And Sanders

The Washington Post Fact Checker clarified an article written by other Post reporters whose headline falsely suggested that Hillary Clinton called Bernie Sanders unqualified to be president. Before the Fact Checker had weighed in, the misrepresentation spread to other outlets, and Sanders reportedly cited it as justification for questioning Clinton's credentials in response.

Wash. Post Says Clinton Questioned Whether Sanders “Is Qualified To Be President”

Wash. Post: Clinton “Questioned” Sanders' Qualifications Following His NY Daily News Interview. An April 6 Washington Post article reported in its headline and lead that Hillary Clinton had questioned whether her rival Bernie Sanders “is qualified to be president” during an April 6 appearance on MSNBC's Morning Joe. During the segment, Clinton said Sanders may not have “done his homework” for his interview with the New York Daily News editorial board, which she said “raise[s] a lot of questions” about whether he understands certain issues. Under the headline “Clinton questions whether Sanders is qualified to be president,” the Post wrote:

Former secretary of state Hillary Clinton on Wednesday questioned whether her rival in the Democratic presidential primary, Sen. Bernie Sanders (Vt.), is qualified to be president.

“I think he hadn't done his homework and he'd been talking for more than a year about doing things that he obviously hadn't really studied or understood,” Clinton said in an interview on MSNBC's “Morning Joe,” just one day after losing the Wisconsin primary to Sanders, “and that does raise a lot of questions.”

Clinton's comments follow a New York Daily News interview with Sanders that critics say revealed his inability to explain specifically how he would accomplish goals such as breaking up the biggest banks. [The Washington Post, 4/6/16]

Morning Joe Panel: Clinton “Clearly Did Not Say Bernie Sanders Was Not Qualified To Be President.” On the April 7 edition of MSNBC's Morning Joe, co-host Joe Scarborough disputed the Post's characterization of Clinton's comments. He said that during the April 6 interview, “I tried to get Hillary Clinton four times -- three or four times -- to say that Bernie Sanders was unqualified to be president of the United States,” and “I gave up because she was not going to say the words 'He is unqualified to be president of the United States.'” MSNBC contributor Mike Barnicle agreed, noting, “She clearly did not say that Bernie Sanders was not qualified to be president.” [MSNBC, Morning Joe, 4/7/16]

Sanders Campaign Cited Post Article For False Claim That Clinton “Said [Sanders] Wasn't Qualified”

Sanders Points To Post Article To Justify Calling Clinton's Qualifications Into Question. At a campaign rally on April 6, Sanders said "[Clinton] has been saying lately that she thinks I am quote-unquote not qualified to be president. Let me just say in response to Secretary Clinton, I don't believe that she is qualified..." The Sanders campaign reportedly said “Sanders was referring to this WP story when he said HRC said he wasn't qualified,” according to ABC journalist Liz Kreutz, who linked to the Washington Post article claiming Clinton questioned Sanders' qualifications. [The Washington Post4/6/16]

[, 4/6/16]

CNN's Chris Cuomo: “Sanders Was Responding To Being Told That ... The Clinton Campaign Said He Was Unqualified. On the April 7 edition of CNN's New Day, co-host Chris Cuomo pointed out that Sanders' attack on Clinton was a response “to being told that the campaign, the Clinton campaign said he was unqualified. That's why he is holding qualified in quotes” :

CHRIS CUOMO (CO-HOST): Senator Sanders was responding to being told that the campaign, the Clinton campaign said he was unqualified. That's why he is holding qualified in quotes. He is taking what they said about him and then returning it on the merits of what he said. I just don't think he deserves that much of a black eye for raising this. Fair point? 

REP. ADAM SCHIFF: Well I'm not sure that the Clinton campaign ever said that. 

CUOMO: But that's what he says. “They're saying that I'm not qualified. Well I don't think Secretary Clinton is qualified,” and that's where that came from. It's not like he just initiated this. Fair point? [CNN, New Day4/7/16]

Media Repeat False Characterization, Claim Clinton Said Sanders “Isn't Qualified”

Fox's Brian Kilmeade: “Hillary Clinton Says Bernie Sanders Isn't Qualified For The White House.” On the April 7 edition of Fox News' Fox & Friends, co-host Brian Kilmeade said, “Hillary Clinton says Bernie Sanders isn't qualified for the White House. But Bernie says, right back at ya.” [Fox News, Fox & Friends, 4/7/16]

CNN's Don Lemon: "She's Saying Basically He's Not Qualified." On the April 6 edition of CNN Tonight, CNN's Don Lemon said, “At first they were very cordial, but I mean, they're going back and forth with each other now. She had an interview with our Chris Cuomo this morning, basically again saying that, you know, Bernie Sanders is.... She's saying basically he's not qualified.” [CNN, CNN Tonight with Don Lemon4/6/16]

Wash. Post Fact  Checker Addresses Original Article Headline

Wash. Post Fact Checker Clarifies That "The Post Headline Or Article Did Not Quote Clinton As Saying Sanders Was Unqualified." On April 7, The Washington Post's Fact Checker blog called headline writing “an imperfect art,” saying that the  “editor often has to summarize the meaning of a complex and nuanced article in just a few words.” The fact check clarified that  “In this case, however, The Post headline or article did not quote Clinton as saying Sanders was unqualified,” and ultimately said, “The Washington Post article appropriately noted she raised questions about his qualifications, but certainly never said or suggested she said Sanders was unqualified” :

The Washington Post article had this headline: “Clinton questions whether Sanders is qualified to be president.”

The CNN report included this sentence: “The campaign's deputy communications director, Christina Reynolds, argued that Sanders is unqualified.” The sentence appeared before a description of a campaign missive that Reynolds had written, drawing attention to a problematic interview that Sanders had with the editorial board of the Daily News.


The art of headline writing is an imperfect art. The editor often has to summarize the meaning of a complex and nuanced article in just a few words. Many Washington-based reporters have experienced the frustration of having an accurate article denied by an agency spokesman because of a headline that went a little far off the mark.

In this case, however, The Post headline or article did not quote Clinton as saying Sanders was unqualified. Instead, it drew attention to an interview on MSNBC's “Morning Joe” in which Clinton sidestepped questions about whether Sanders was qualified.


Those kinds of answers certainly give license to reporters to offer an interpretation that Clinton is raising questions about her rival's qualifications. Clinton, after all, is a former secretary of state and is adept at signaling messages without actually saying the words out loud. But it's not the same as “quote unquote” saying Sanders is unqualified. [The Washington Post, Fact Checker, 4/7/16]