Novak repeated false assertion that Bill Clinton “referred to Obama's candidacy as 'a fairy tale' ”

Nationally syndicated columnist Robert Novak falsely asserted that former President Bill Clinton had “referred to [Sen. Barack] Obama's candidacy as 'a fairy tale.' ” Clinton in fact described as the “biggest fairy tale” Obama's statements about his position on the Iraq war.

In his January 17 syndicated column on Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton's (D-NY) “vetting” of Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL), Robert Novak asserted that former President Bill Clinton had “referred to Obama's candidacy as 'a fairy tale.' ” In fact, in comments he made on January 7, Clinton did not refer to Obama or his campaign as a “fairy tale”; rather, as reporter Mark Leibovich wrote in a January 13 piece for The New York Times' Week In Review section, Clinton “was referring specifically to the perception that Mr. Obama was totally pure in his opposition to the Iraq war.”

Numerous other news outlets -- including Newsweek and The Washington Post -- have similarly mischaracterized Clinton's statement as referring generally to Obama's candidacy.

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.

From Novak's January 17 column:

A fourth Clinton supporter, Rep. Charles Rangel, next raised the drug issue by saying on black radio that Obama mentioned it in his book because “I guess he thought it might sell books.”

Rangel has always seemed to be less of a black politician than a politician who happens to be black. But other African Americans were incensed by the Clinton vetting of Obama. Donna Brazile, who was national campaign manager for Al Gore in 2000 and is neutral in this campaign as a CNN commentator, made the first criticism of Bill Clinton anyone had heard from her after he referred to Obama's candidacy as “a fairy tale.” She said of the former president, “I find his tone and his words to be very depressing.” House Majority Whip James Clyburn, South Carolina's leading black politician, was so upset that he threatened to break his promised neutrality until Sen. Clinton calmed him down.

Before Tuesday night's Democratic debate in Las Vegas, both campaigns declared an end to the “race debate” over whether Martin Luther King Jr. or Lyndon B. Johnson was more responsible for civil rights legislation. But the fight really was about the Clintons resenting an obstacle on their return to the White House. A prominent Democrat who saw the former president this week described him as “furious, outraged, angry and utterly dismissive of Obama.”