After Week of Silence, Networks Pounce on Hillary's Bosnia Fib --3/26/2008
2. Timeline: How Nets Catch Up, Stumble Into Clinton's Bosnia Bumble
3. CNN: Video 'Seemingly Contradicts' Account of Bosnia Trip
4. Russert Marvels at How Clinton Visits 'Godfather' of VRWC's Paper
5. Just Two Weeks Until MRC's 'DisHonors Awards,' Get Tickets Now
6. Letterman's 'Top Ten U.S. Airways Excuses'
One week after Hillary Clinton claimed that she faced sniper fire on a trip to Bosnia -- and six days after the MRC's NewsBusters blog posted contemporaneous news footage from CBS showing that she did not -- the broadcast network morning and evening shows finally jumped on the story of Hillary's big fib. Monday night, CBS and NBC ran full stories, Tuesday morning all three broadcast networks carried stories and ABC's World News caught up Tuesday night with story as CBS and NBC, prompted by comments from Clinton acknowledging her incorrect claims, also focused on the subject. (See item #2 below for more on Attkisson's Monday night story.)
On Monday, the CBS Evening News featured a Clinton-busting report by Sharyl Attkisson, one of the journalists who accompanied Clinton on her trip 12 years ago and who narrated the video posted on NewsBusters last week. NBC's Andrea Mitchell, who was also on the 1996 trip, filed her own report for Monday's Nightly News on the obvious discrepancies between Clinton's assertions and the videotape, and on Tuesday, all three broadcast morning shows led with how the Clinton campaign now admits that her claim -- "I remember landing under sniper fire...There was no greeting ceremony and we basically were told to run to her cars. Now, that is what happened" -- should now be regarded as an accidental misstatement.
For the March 18 NewsBusters posting by the MRC's Rich Noyes, "Hillary Shot At in '96? No Media Mention of Bosnia 'Sniper Fire,'" go to: newsbusters.org
After a week of saying practically nothing, all three networks now utterly reject Clinton's "sniper fire" story, with the 1996 news footage acting as Exhibit A. On Tuesday's Early Show, CBS's Attkisson sarcastically narrated: "These are the pictures we recorded of the greeting ceremony when the plane landed, the one that Senator Clinton said didn't happen because of the sniper fire." On Good Morning America, ABC's David Wright ridiculed: "Clinton described her trip to Tuzla like a scene from '€˜Saving Private Ryan.'"
A few moments after Wright's report aired, Good Morning America co-host Diane Sawyer pressed Clinton-backer James Carville: "How does somebody misspeak about sniper fire and ducking for cover?" Carville weakly replied, "Well, first of all, it happens in campaigns," then shifted to a year-old misstatement by Senator John McCain without in any way justifying or explaining Clinton's error.
Over on NBC's Today, political director Chuck Todd pointed out that this was not an off-the-cuff mistake: "It was in prepared remarks last week. And not only did she say it with certitude, but it was in her prepared text. So this was a real sort of bone-headed mistake on the campaign's part at a time when everybody is looking at everything so carefully."
CBS's Jeff Greenfield made a similar point: "It's the contrast between the vividness of her memory and the damning nature of the videotape....She's so clear and vivid about what she remembers compared to the reality that it frankly reminds me of the old Groucho Marx line, 'who are you going to believe, me or your lyin' eyes?'"
So, while it took a few days for the networks to find their own videotape and catch up on this story, the Bosnia-sniper flap is plainly now a high-profile embarrassment for the Clinton campaign.
[This item is adapted from a posting, by the MRC's Rich Noyes, on the MRC's NewsBusters.org blog: newsbusters.org ]
Now, transcripts of this morning's stories as prepared by the MRC's Scott Whitlock, Kyle Drennen and Geoffrey Dickens, starting with ABC's Good Morning America:
ROBIN ROBERTS: But first, the race for '08 and fresh fears among Democrats that the constant back and forth between Senators Clinton and Obama will hurt the party's chances come November. This morning, Senator Clinton drawing fire after she admitted misstating her story of a 1996 trip to Bosnia when she was first lady. ABC's David Wright is in Washington with the details on that. Good morning, David.
HARRY SMITH: But first, more on Hillary Clinton's memory of a trip she made to Bosnia as First Lady in 1996 where she said she faced sniper fire. CBS News Correspondent Sharyl Attkisson, who was on that trip, is live with us in Washington. Good morning Sharyl.
# NBC's Today:
ANN CURRY: Now to the race for the White House and Senator Hillary Clinton taking some heat today. Did she stretch the truth about a trip to a war zone? NBC's Andrea Mitchell joins us now with the latest. Andrea, good morning.
[On screen headline: "Fog of Memory, Clinton '€˜Misspoke' on Bosnia Dangers"]
ANDREA MITCHELL: Hi there, Ann. Well Hillary Clinton has been arguing that she is more electable than Barack Obama because of her years of experience, especially her travels as First Lady. But now she's being accused of embellishing her foreign policy credentials. Bosnia, 1996, technically still a war zone. Hillary Clinton reminisced last week about what sounded like a harrowing trip she made there as First Lady.
It took nearly a week for ABC, CBS and NBC to mention anything about the bogus claim by Senator Hillary Clinton at a March 17 speech that she came "under sniper fire" during her visit to Bosnia in 1996. But it was only one day later, March 18, that the MRC's NewsBusters blog posted contemporaneous CBS News video from our archive casting doubt on Clinton's claim, a report picked up on March 19 by the Fox News Channel's Special Report with Brit Hume.
On ABC and NBC, the first references to Clinton's erroneous "sniper fire" claim came during panel discussions on their Sunday morning talk shows on March 23, six days after Clinton's speech. For CBS, the first on-air mention came on Monday's CBS Evening News, March 24 -- even though it was the appearance of 12-year-old CBS News footage on NewsBusters, followed by YouTube and various blog sites, that prompted the Clinton campaign to retract the Senator's claims Monday afternoon.
While Hillary Clinton on the campaign trail had frequently referred to her trip to Bosnia as evidence of prior foreign policy experience, a speech she delivered March 17 at George Washington University went beyond her earlier claims and vastly inflated the level of danger she faced. The claim of "sniper fire" came at the beginning of her prepared text:
Good morning. I want to thank [former] Secretary [Togo] West for his years of service, not only as Secretary of the Army, but also to the Veteran's Administration, to our men and women in uniform, to our country. I certainly do remember that trip to Bosnia, and as Togo said, there was a saying around the White House that if a place was too small, too poor, or too dangerous, the president couldn't go, so send the First Lady. That's where we went.
I remember landing under sniper fire. There was supposed to be some kind of a greeting ceremony at the airport, but instead we just ran with our heads down to get into the vehicles to get to our base. But it was a moment of great pride for me to visit our troops, not only in our main base as Tuzla, but also at two outposts where they were serving in so many capacities to deactivate and remove landmines, to hunt and seek out those who had not complied with the Dayton Accords and put down their arms, and to build relationships with the people that might lead to a peace for them and their children.
END of Excerpt
After the speech, reporters questioned Clinton about the accuracy of her assertion. According to the Associated Press, Clinton stuck with her story: "Questioned about it later at a news conference, Clinton said she was moved into the cockpit of the C-17 cargo plane as they were flying into Tuzla Air Base, Bosnia-Herzegovina. 'Everyone else was told to sit on their bulletproof vests,' she said. 'And we came in, in an evasive maneuver....There was no greeting ceremony, and we basically were told to run to our cars. Now, that is what happened.'"
The March 17 Associated Press article questioned Clinton's new assertions:
As first lady, Hillary Rodham Clinton traveled to Bosnia in March 1996 with her daughter and several celebrities to boost troop morale and thank soldiers stationed there.
Clinton cites the goodwill trip as a part of her foreign policy experience, describing a dangerous landing where she was ordered to the armored front of the plane because of possible ground fire. She also now reports landing under sniper fire and contradicts her previous written account of a shortened welcoming ceremony at the airport.
But according to accounts at the time, she was placed under no extraordinary risks on that trip. And one of her companions on it said he has no recollection either of the threat or reality of gunfire....
An AP story at the time reported: '€˜Security was tight '€" fighter jets accompanied her C-17 cargo plane to Tuzla '€" but officials said the first lady took no extraordinary risks on the trip.' There was no mention of sniper fire.
END of Excerpt
For the AP dispatch in full: ap.google.com
As for the supposed lack of a welcoming ceremony at the air base, Attkisson's report said Clinton was greeted by the acting President of Bosnia and "an eight-year-old Bosnian girl who says she can't remember a time before the war and by a class of seventh-graders who have been pen pals with the children of US troops."
The little girl was shown telling Clinton: "Thank you, because you've given us a lot of help, and I want all the best in Bosnia." Nobody was covering their heads or hiding.
For the March 18 NewsBusters post by the MRC's Rich Noyes: newsbusters.org
While some blogs discovered the CBS News footage on NewsBusters, only one news network noticed the story at that time. On FNC's March 19 Special Report, anchor Brit Hume picked up on the NewsBusters item and credited the Media Research Center. His item included the footage from the March 25, 1996 CBS News story:
And the controversy continues over whether Hillary Clinton, as she said again this week, had to duck sniper fire while arriving in Bosnia back in 1996. The comedian Sinbad, who was with her, has ridiculed the idea, but the Clinton camp has said he was just being funny. Now, though, the Media Research Center has scanned the coverage at the time by reporters who were on the trip, and found no mention of any shooting.
The CBS report even showed her arriving in Bosnia smiling and walking alongside daughter Chelsea. Senator Clinton had claimed there was no greeting ceremony and, quote, 'we just ran with our heads down.' But the network pictures showed her being greeted by the acting President of Bosnia and a group of Bosnian children.
More in the March 20 NewsBusters post by Rich Noyes: newsbusters.org
It was on Saturday, March 22, that the Washington Post "Fact Checker" feature awarded Hillary Clinton "Four Pinocchios" for "real whoppers" with regard to her Bosnia fable. Post reporter Michael Dobbs concluded: "Clinton's tale of landing at the Tuzla airport 'under sniper fire' simply is not credible. Photographs and video of the arrival ceremony, complete with contemporaneous news reports, tell a very different story."
As a reporter who visited Bosnia soon after the December 1995 Dayton peace agreement, I can attest that the physical risks were minimal during this period, particularly at a heavily fortified U.S. air base, such as Tuzla. Contrary to the claims of Hillary Clinton and former Army secretary Togo West, Bosnia was not "too dangerous" a place for President Clinton to visit in early 1996. In fact, the first Clinton to visit the Tuzla Air Base was not Hillary, but Bill, on Jan. 13, 1996.
Had Hillary Clinton's plane come "under sniper fire" in March 1996, we would certainly have heard about it long before now. Numerous reporters, including The Washington Post's John Pomfret, covered her trip. A review of nearly 100 news accounts of her visit shows that not a single newspaper or television station reported any security threat to the first lady. "As a former AP wire-service hack, I can safely say that it would have been in my lead had anything like that happened," Pomfret said.
According to Pomfret, the Tuzla airport was "one of the safest places in Bosnia" in March 1996 and "firmly under the control" of the 1st Armored Division.
Far from running to an airport building with their heads down, Clinton and her party were greeted on the tarmac by smiling U.S. and Bosnian officials. An 8-year-old Muslim girl, Emina Bicakcic, read a poem in English. An Associated Press photograph of the greeting ceremony, below, shows a smiling Clinton bending down to receive a kiss.
END of Excerpt
For more on the Post story, see the NewsBusters item by the MRC's Tim Graham: newsbusters.org
Finally, the broadcast networks jumped on the story with the CBS Evening News and NBC Nightly News running full stories Monday night. CBS's Attkisson, whose report from 1996 ended up being so damaging to Clinton's 2008 version of the story, reported the story for the CBS Evening News. "Referring to the CBS News video, Clinton aides today acknowledged her arrival in Bosnia was not quite as dramatic as Clinton put it," Attkisson noted, calling the episode "a reminder that, in politics, memories should always match the videotape."
Here's the full report from the March 24 Evening News, with Harry Smith filling in for anchor Katie Couric:
HARRY SMITH: Now to the presidential campaign. Hillary Clinton has long been touting her experience, but questions are being raised now about whether she's done some embellishing of her record. Here's investigative correspondent Sharyl Attkisson.
CNN's Dan Lothian, during a report on Tuesday's The Situation Room, downplayed Hillary Clinton's "sniper fire" statement on her trip to Tuzla, Bosnia during her time as First Lady, referring to it as a "misstep." Lothian, in his introduction to the report, referenced the "dangerous 1996 visit to Bosnia" and played Clinton's now-famous false account of her arrival in the war-torn country. As file footage of Clinton's arrival played, Lothian pointed out how the "video shot that day seemingly contradicts her version of events. No one seems to be running or ducking, and there does appear to be a ceremony." The video flatly proves Clinton's statement to be false, not just "seemingly contradict" it.
[This item, by Matthew Balan, was posted Tuesday evening on the MRC's blog, NewsBusters.org: newsbusters.org ]
After playing two more clips of Clinton, in which she admitted her "mistake" and how she "misspoke," Lothian rightly pointed out that this admission "is raising more questions, because she told the same story, not just last week, but in February and last December in Iowa. The question now -- will this hurt Clinton's credibility?"
Lothian then detailed how Barack Obama also "misspoke" at one point in the campaign: "Senator Barack Obama has had problems with history, too. Last year in Alabama, he talked about how his parents got together during the Selma voting rights march....The problem is Obama was born in 1961. The march happened four years later."
At this conclusion of his report, Lothian twice used the term "misstep" in reference to these false statements by the Democratic candidates. "But how can these highly-vetted, heavily-advised campaigns make these missteps?... And political analysts say that every moment the candidates spend on these missteps, it takes them off message."
The report, which began about five minutes into the 4pm EDT hour of The Situation Room, also featured two sound bites -- one from Democratic strategist Jenny Backus, and the other from Charles Mathesian of Politico.com -- which tried to downplay the significance of these "missteps."
The full transcript of Dan Lothian's report from the March 25 The Situation Room:
WOLF BLITZER: Senator Clinton also told reporters just a short while ago that she's human and makes mistakes. Clinton now acknowledging she misspoke about the danger she faced during that 1996 trip to Bosnia. The Obama camp has suggested Clinton was intentionally exaggerating. Let's go to CNN's Dan Lothian. He's covering this part of the story for us in Pennsylvania. He's with the CNN 'Election Express.' Dan, the flap is going to the heart of Clinton's claims about her global national security experience. What's the latest today?
DAN LOTHIAN: That's right, Wolf, and that's why all day she's been saying that she really made a mistake. And at one point, when reporters kept questioning her about this issue, she told them, listen, get over it. But at least of now, this story isn't going anywhere. Senator Hillary Clinton is running on her resume, touting foreign policy experience and talking about trips taken abroad as First Lady, like she did last week about a dangerous 1996 visit to Bosnia.
Asked by anchor Brian Williams why Hillary Clinton chose Tuesday to assert that Reverend Jeremiah Wright "would not have been my pastor," Tim Russert declared "the setting in which she did this is particularly striking." The Washington Bureau Chief for NBC News proceeded to marvel at how she made her comments in an interview with reporters and editors at the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, owned by Richard Mellon Scaife whom Clinton's allies consider "the 'Godfather' of the Vast Right-Wing Conspiracy." Russert then recounted Scaife's presumed sins of questioning "the suicide of Vince Foster" and funding "investigations of Troopergate and Whitewater."
Russert pointed out: "The setting in which she did this is particularly striking. It's a newspaper in Pittsburgh owned by Richard Mellon Scaife, who is described by her allies as the 'Godfather' of the Vast Right-Wing Conspiracy. The man who raised questions about the suicide of Vince Foster, the death of former party chairman Ron Brown, who funded investigations of Troopergate and Whitewater. It was that setting she decided to offer comments about Reverend Wright."
Of course, in the matter of Hillary Clinton's "Vast Right-Wing Conspiracy" effort to impugn critics of the Clinton administration for making recklessly false charges about her husband and Monica Lewisky, the supposed conspirators were proven correct.
Pittsburgh Tribune-Review story on their session with Clinton: www.pittsburghlive.com
[This item, by the MRC's Brent Baker, was posted Tuesday night on the MRC's blog, NewsBusters.org: newsbusters.org ]
Russert's preceding observation on the Tuesday, March 25 NBC Nightly News:
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From the March 25 Late Show with David Letterman, inspired by news a pilot accidentally shot his gun in the cockpit, the "Top Ten U.S. Airways Excuses" Late Show home page: www.cbs.com
10. Thought it would be fun to shoot empty liquor bottles
9. Air traffic controller's "Clear to land" misheard as "Squeeze off a round"
8. Media never reports when plane takes off and pilot's gun doesn't go off
7. Pilot thought he saw one of them "Cloverfield" Godzillas -- Buy "Cloverfield" on DVD April 22nd
6. Oh, like you've never fired a weapon onboard a passenger plane before
5. Don't worry -- His parole officer was in the cockpit
4. Chillax, bro
3. This is what happens when you let Dick Cheney fly a plane -- Did you see it coming folks?
2. If you didn't want gunplay, maybe you should have flown United
1. Pilot distraught after picking Duke to win it all
-- Brent Baker