NY Times' Kornblut legitimized book of poorly sourced, unverifiable Sen. Clinton quotations

A New York Times article by Anne Kornblut inaccurately equated “conservative activist” Thomas D. Kuiper's recently released book of quotations by Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-NY) -- which Kornblut admitted is “culled from disputed sources or unverifiable private conversations” -- with other collections of quotes from the likes of President Bush and Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld, which are taken from the official transcripts of their public appearances.

In an April 16 article, New York Times reporter Anne Kornblut equated “conservative activist” Thomas D. Kuiper's recently released book of quotations from Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-NY) with other collections of quotes from the likes of President Bush and Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld. But while Kornblut acknowledged, near the end of the article, that many of the quotes in Kuiper's book “have been culled from disputed sources or unverifiable private conversations,” the article rests on the premise -- as indicated by its headline, “For Politicians, Yadda, Yadda May Become Gotcha” -- that the three collections are part of the same trend: public figures' having their quotations captured and highlighted for the public's amusement. By highlighting the Kuiper book, Kornblut is putting it in a class with the Bush and Rumsfeld quotation collections without noting a key distinction: No one has questioned the accuracy of the quotes attributed to Bush and Rumsfeld, which appear in official transcripts of their public appearances.

In her article, Kornblut highlighted Kuiper's book, “I've Always Been a Yankees Fan”: Hillary Clinton in Her Own Words (World Ahead Publishing, April 2006), as the newest arrival in a burgeoning genre. Kornblut wrote that “the junior senator from New York is in excellent company, as a much-watched politician whose every word is under scrutiny.” She went on to compare the collection of Clinton's quotes to Slate.com editor Jacob Weisberg's "Bushisms" series and Hart Seely's Pieces of Intelligence: The Existential Poetry of Donald H. Rumsfeld (Free Press, 2003).

But an article that discusses the Kuiper book in the same context as the Weisberg and Seely books suggests a similarity that isn't there. Even the headline of Kornblut's article -- “For Politicians, Yadda, Yadda May Become Gotcha” -- suggests that Kuiper accurately captured what Clinton has said. In fact, Kuiper compiled purported quotations from Sen. Clinton that are, in many cases, based on hearsay and sourced to critical and discredited books written by conservative authors. Among Kuiper's references: Barbara Olson's Hell to Pay: The Unfolding Story of Hillary Rodham Clinton (Regnery, 1999), Gary Aldrich's Unlimited Access : An FBI Agent Inside the Clinton White House (Regnery, 1996), George Carpozi Jr.'s Clinton Confidential: The Climb to Power (Emery Dalton Books, 1995), Ann Coulter's High Crimes and Misdemeanors: The Case Against Bill Clinton (Regnery, 1998), Laura Ingraham's The Hillary Trap: Looking for Power in all the Wrong Places (Hyperion, 2000), Edward Klein's The Truth About Hillary : What She Knew, When She Knew It, and How Far She'll Go to Become President (Sentinel, 2005), Peggy Noonan's The Case Against Hillary Clinton (Regan Books, 2000), and Dick Morris's Rewriting History (Regan Books, 2004). Media Matters for America has documented numerous false, exaggerated, and unsubstantiated claims in the books by Klein and Morris.

By contrast, Weisberg's Bush quotes, for example, are all gathered from publicly available transcripts and videos. Seely, in the introduction to his book on Rumsfeld, makes clear that he compiled the included excerpts from transcripts available on the Department of Defense website.

In addition to including many unverifiable quotes, Kuiper's book took many other Clinton quotes out of context. For example, Kuiper claimed that after reading an article by a University of California-Berkeley student “critical” of her daughter, Chelsea Clinton, Sen. Clinton asked a Secret Service agent, “What the f*** is going on?” Kornblut reported this quote in the April 16 article, simply describing it as an “alleged use of vulgarity toward a Secret Service agent.” But what Kuiper failed to note -- and Kornblut failed to explain -- is the content of the column that provoked the then-first lady's purported response. The column's author, Berkeley senior Guy Branum, had “revealed the Stanford University dormitory where Chelsea Clinton lives and urged Cal students to 'show your school spirit on Chelsea's bloodied carcass,' ” according to the November 26, 1997, San Francisco Chronicle article cited by Kuiper. The Chronicle article went on to explain that Sen. Clinton's alleged exclamation was recounted secondhand by a Secret Service agent as he was searching Branum's residence. But when asked about that secondhand account by the Chronicle, a Secret Service spokesman called it “an outrageous lie.”

At one point near the end of her article, Kornblut conceded that many of the quotations highlighted by Kuiper are derived from questionable sources. In the same sentence, however, she managed to advance a common right-wing attack intended to paint Clinton as dishonest and pandering:

Many of the quotations in " 'I've Always Been a Yankees Fan' " (which shows Mrs. Clinton on the cover in a Chicago Cubs hat) have been culled from disputed sources or unverifiable private conversations.

Indeed, in uncritically describing the cover of the book, Kornblut endorsed Kuiper's suggestion that Clinton lied about her allegiance to the New York Yankees in order to gain support for her 2000 Senate bid. But the quote comes from a June 10, 1999, interview on NBC's Today, in which Clinton went on to explain, “I am a Cubs fan, but I needed an American League team ... so as a young girl, I became very enamored with the Yankees.” Her claim that she is a longtime Yankees fan is corroborated by a September 12, 1994, Washington Post article that reported, “Mrs. Clinton ... as a kid was a 'big-time' fan of the Chicago Cubs and New York Yankees and 'understudied' Ernie Banks and Mickey Mantle.” Moreover, a photograph (#40) that appears in Clinton's autobiography, Living History (Simon & Schuster, 2003), shows her wearing a Yankees hat in 1992, as Media Matters for America has noted.

The Times recently assigned Kornblut to regularly cover Clinton's 2006 Senate campaign, according to The New York Observer.