The Hill uncritically reported Gerth's false claim that “there hasn't been one fact in” Her Way “that's been challenged”

The Hill uncritically reported Jeff Gerth's claim that Sen. Hillary Clinton's “campaign has not disputed any facts reported in the final version of his book,” Her Way, adding: “There hasn't been one fact in the book that's been challenged.” However, Clinton's presidential campaign has taken issue with the book's claim that, as far back as 1993, the Clintons “planned two terms in the White House for Bill and, later, two for Hillary.”

In a October 16 Hill article headlined "GOP targeting Clinton on phone-call snooping," senior staff writer Alexander Bolton uncritically reported the claim by author and former New York Times reporter Jeff Gerth that Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton's (D-NY) “campaign has not disputed any facts reported in the final version of his book,” Her Way: The Hopes and Ambitions of Hillary Rodham Clinton (Little, Brown & Co., June 2007), which he co-wrote with current New York Times reporter Don Van Natta Jr. According to the Hill article, Gerth added: “It hasn't been challenged. ... There hasn't been one fact in the book that's been challenged.” In fact, Clinton's presidential campaign has taken issue with at least one claim in the book: that, as far back as 1993, the Clintons “planned two terms in the White House for Bill and, later, two for Hillary.” Moreover, Gerth himself knows that this claim has been challenged: In promoting their book, he and Van Natta were repeatedly confronted with challenges to the claim that the Clintons hatched the so-called “secret pact of ambition.”

From the October 16 Hill article:

Gerth told The Hill that he learned of the incident in 2006 when he interviewed a former campaign aide present at the tape playing. He has not revealed the aide's identity. Clinton's campaign has not disputed any facts reported in the final version of his book, which became public this spring, he said.

“It hasn't been challenged,” said Gerth. “There hasn't been one fact in the book that's been challenged.”

As Media Matters for America has repeatedly noted, in Her Way, Gerth and Van Natta claim that, early in their respective careers, the Clintons made a “secret pact” to “revolutionize the Democratic Party and, at the same time, capture the presidency for Bill” -- their so-called “twenty-year project.” The authors cite former Clinton chief of staff Leon Panetta and an anonymous “former Clinton administration official” as their sources for the Clintons' original “twenty-year project.”

Gerth and Van Natta also claim that, shortly after Bill Clinton assumed the presidency, the Clintons updated the alleged “plan” to include two presidential terms for each of them. The authors' source for this claim is an account by former New York Times reporter Ann Crittenden and her husband, John Henry, of a conversation they purportedly had with historian Taylor Branch. During the conversation, as reportedly described by Crittenden and Henry, Branch allegedly recounted a conversation he had with President Clinton in 1993, in which he said that both Clintons had a plan to become president. Following is the passage from Her Way (Pages 128-129) in which Gerth and Van Natta source this allegation to a secondhand account of a purported conversation between Bill Clinton and Branch:

By the summer of 1993, the ways of Washington, sometimes called Potomac fever, had not dissuaded Bill or Hillary. According to one of their closest friends, Taylor Branch, they still planned two terms in the White House for Bill and, later, two for Hillary.

Branch described the plan to two Washington friends, John Henry and Ann Crittenden, over a barbeque dinner at a rodeo in Aspen, Colorado, that summer. 71 The president would frequently talk with Branch, a well-respected historian and author, about his place in history, and shortly after he was elected president, Branch said, Bill asked him to begin recording “diary sessions”72 as part of an oral-history project.

Branch had just come from one of those sessions, a marathon late-night chat with Bill at the White House, where the two men had talked as they stood on the back balcony, looking toward the Washington Monument. Now in the cool mountains of Colorado, Branch told his friends about the Clintons' presidential plans. The bold goal of sixteen years in the White House took Henry's breath away. “I was shocked,” he said.

The endnote this passage referred to reads:

71. Author interviews with John Henry and Ann Crittenden in 2007. Branch, in an interview with one of the authors in 2007, said, “I don't remember” the conversation but “I'm not denying it.” He acknowledged that he knows Henry and Crittenden and that he has been to Aspen many times. But Branch declined to discuss Hillary or Bill, saying it was “stupid” to do so in light of the fact that he was writing his own book on Bill's presidency.

In a May 25 article on the book, as Media Matters has previously noted, The Washington Post reported that “Branch said that 'the story is preposterous' and that 'I never heard either Clinton talk about a 'plan' for them both to become president.' ” In his May 31 statement on the “story attributed to me” in Her Way, Branch called it “disingenuous” for the authors to imply in the above endnote that he was " 'not denying' the substance of the story," and he stated that Gerth “never told me what I am supposed to have said in the summer of 1993.” Following is Branch's full statement:

On May 24, 2007, I received by email copies of pages 128, 129, and 372 from the book Her Way, by Jeff Gerth, along with press inquiries about a story attributed to me therein from the summer of 1993.

The story is preposterous in several respects. First, I never heard either Clinton talk about a “plan” for them both to become president. Late in his second term, she and I did have a few glancing conversations about whether she might run for the Senate.

Second, my “diary sessions” with President Clinton did not begin until October of 1993. Before that, I did not see him for the twenty years between 1972 and the end of 1992. We began to get reacquainted in a handful of encounters during 1993, mostly in large groups. He was not disclosing long-term family ambitions to me then, and he never subsequently mentioned anything remotely like those described here.

Third, Mr. Gerth never told me what I am supposed to have said in the summer of 1993. I learned that only last week from the proofs of his book. It is disingenuous for him to imply that I am “not denying” the substance of his story. What I didn't deny is that I saw Ann Crittenden and John Henry in Aspen years ago. When Mr. Gerth called, I declined his request for an interview and asked him not to start discussing Clinton stories with me on the telephone. He was kind enough to comply.

This is a very small episode in fact, but fiction can readily impugn motives. Reporters who wish to clarify details on my role may contact me here in Baltimore.

In a May 25 post on blogHillary, Clinton's presidential campaign blog, titled “Central Premise of New Hillary Biography Totally Discredited,” research director Judd Legum pointed to the May 25 Post article in which Branch denied knowledge of the “secret pact”:

“Her Way” -- a new biography on Hillary Clinton by Jeff Gerth and Don Van Natta - won't be released for two weeks but the book's central premise has already been debunked. In the intro, the authors breathlessly report:

More than three decades ago, in the earliest days of their romance, Bill and Hillary struck a plan, on that would become both the foundation and the engine of their relationship. They agreed to work together to revolutionize the Democratic Party and ultimately make the White House their home. Once their “twenty-year project” was realized, with Bill's victory in 1992, their plan became even more ambitious: eight years as president for him, then eight years for her. Their audacious pact has remained a secret until now.

What's the source for this claim? We don't learn the details until Chapter 9. According to the authors, it's renowned historian Taylor Branch


Only one slight problem. The Washington Post contacted Taylor Branch yesterday, who said the story is completely false.

Later the same day, the Politico reported that Clinton campaign spokesman Howard Wolfson also appeared to refer to Branch's denial by stating of Her Way: “Given that the central premise has already been discredited two weeks before its publication date, I can understand why Mr. Van Natta is unhappy.”

While promoting Her Way, Gerth and Van Natta were repeatedly questioned about Branch's denial, as Media Matters has noted. For instance, on the June 12 edition of MSNBC's Hardball, after host Chris Matthews noted that Branch “denied” the story, Van Natta suggested that what Branch “couldn't remember” was the allegation itself -- even though, according to Branch, Gerth never informed him what he was “supposed to have said” to Crittenden and Henry. On the show, which also included Gerth, Van Natta said: “That other issue about the eight years for him followed by eight years for her, Bill Clinton said that to Taylor Branch. Taylor Branch said it to two people, who told us on the record about it. ... Taylor Branch ... wouldn't comment about it for us. And now he says he definitely did not say it, but he couldn't remember it when we asked him about it.”

Furthermore, in his defenses of the allegation during appearances on MSNBC's Morning Joe, NBC's Meet the Press, and CNN's Paula Zahn Now, Gerth suggested that Branch contradicted himself on the issue, while omitting Branch's allegation that he was never informed by the authors of the “substance” of the disputed conversation in Aspen.