Newsweek mischaracterized Bill Clinton to claim he “call[ed] Obama's appeal a 'fairy tale' ”

In its “Conventional Wisdom” feature, Newsweek mischaracterized a quote by President Clinton to claim that he “call[ed] [Sen. Barack] Obama's appeal a 'fairy tale' ” in comments Clinton made on January 7. In his comments -- which have also been mischaracterized by Newsweek editor Jon Meacham to claim that “Bill Clinton appeared to dismiss Obama's campaign as 'the biggest fairy tale I've ever seen' ” -- Clinton was referring, not to Obama or his campaign, but to the senator's statements about his position on the Iraq war.

An entry in Newsweek's weekly “Conventional Wisdom” feature in the January 21 issue of the magazine mischaracterized a quote by former President Bill Clinton to claim that he “call[ed] [Sen. Barack] Obama's [D-IL] appeal a 'fairy tale.' ” As Media Matters for America has previously noted, in comments he made on January 7, Clinton was referring to Obama's statements about his position on the Iraq war; Clinton did not refer to Obama or his campaign as a “fairy tale.” Indeed, in a January 13 piece for The New York Times' Week In Review section, reporter Mark Leibovich noted that, in using the words “fairy tale,” Clinton “was referring specifically to the perception that Mr. Obama was totally pure in his opposition to the Iraq war.”

The “Conventional Wisdom” entry included a “down” arrow next to Bill Clinton's name accompanied by the text: “Helps Hillary in N.H. but calling Obama's appeal a 'fairy tale' is a boomeranging dis”:

As Media Matters documented, in his cover story for the January 21 issue of Newsweek, editor Jon Meacham mischaracterized the same Bill Clinton quote. Meacham reported as fact that “Bill Clinton appeared to dismiss Obama's campaign as 'the biggest fairy tale I've ever seen,' a remark that infuriated many African-Americans.” Meacham added that Clinton discussed his remarks in a January 11 interview on The Al Sharpton Show, writing: “Clinton called Al Sharpton's radio show to clarify, arguing that the 'fairy tale' remark was limited to Obama's claim that he would have opposed the Iraq War if he had been in the Senate in 2002-03 despite expressing some doubts to The New York Times in 2004.” But the article did not note that Clinton's remarks to Sharpton were consistent with his original comments at the January 7 campaign appearance.

From the January 7 campaign event with Bill Clinton, as transcribed by Congressional Quarterly:

QUESTION: Thanks. One of the things that Senator Obama talks about a lot is judgment and I'm curious to hear your thoughts on the recent criticism of Mark Penn, who is Hillary's chief strategist, who's been criticized for being somewhat out of touch with reality.

For instance, he circulated a memo about Iowa, saying “Where's the balance,” [sic: bounce] and then the next day, there was a 12-point jump for Obama.

CLINTON: He was wrong. He was wrong about that, because the balance [sic] always occurs on the second day, not the first day. It always occurs on the second day, not the first day.

But since you raised the judgment issue, let's go over this again. That is the central argument for his campaign. “It doesn't matter that I started running for president less than a year after I got to the Senate from the Illinois state senate. I am a great speaker and a charismatic figure and I am the only one that had the judgment to oppose this floor [sic: war] from the beginning, always, always, always.”

First, it is factually not true that everybody that supported that resolution supported Bush attacking Iraq before the U.N. inspectors withdrew. Chuck Hagel [NE] was one of the co-authors of that resolution, the only Republican Senator that always opposed the war, every day, from the get-go.

He authored the resolution to say that Bush could go to war only if they didn't cooperate with the inspectors and he was assured personally by [then-national security adviser] Condi Rice, as many of the other Senators were. So, first, the case is wrong that way.

Second, it is wrong that Senator Obama got to go through 15 debates trumpeting his superior judgment and how he had been against the war in every year, enumerating the years and never got asked one time, not once, “Well, how could you say that when you said in 2004 you didn't know how you would have voted on the resolution? You said in 2004 there was no difference between you and George Bush on the war and you took that speech you're now running on off your Web site in 2004 and there's no difference in your voting record and Hillary's ever since.”

Give me a break.


This whole thing is the biggest fairy tale I've ever seen. So you can talk about Mark Penn all you want. What did you think about the Obama thing, calling Hillary the “Senator from Punjab?” Did you like that? Or what about the Obama handout that was covered up, the press never reported on, implying that I was a crook, scouring me, scathing criticism over my financial reports.

[Former independent counsel] Ken Starr spent $70 million and indicted innocent people to find out that I wouldn't take a nickel to see the cow jump over the moon. So you can take a shot at Mark Penn if you want, it wasn't his best day. He was hurt, he felt badly we didn't do better in Iowa.

But, you know, the idea that one of these campaigns is positive and other is negative, when I know the reverse is true and I have seen it and I have been blistered by it for months, is a little tough to take. Just because of the sanitizing coverage that's in the media doesn't mean the facts aren't out there.


Otherwise, I do not have any strong feelings about that subject.


Go ahead. I've got to take a question back here and then I -- go ahead.