CLINTON (5/23/08): Between my opponent and his camp and some in the media, there has been this urgency to end it. And you know, historically, that makes no sense, so I find it a bit of a mystery.
SIOUX FALLS ARGUS LEADER: You don't buy the party unity argument?
CLINTON: I don't, because, again, I've been around long enough—you know, my husband did not wrap up the nomination in 1992 until he won the California primary somewhere in the middle of June, right? We all remember Bobby Kennedy was assassinated in June, in California. You know, I don't understand it.
Why did she mention Bobby Kennedy? As a memorable example of a primary continuing into June. The 1968 Democratic primary was still in full swing in June.
Why not mention other examples of primaries that went on into June? As I have mentioned before, there are plenty. The following candidates all took the fight to the convention, despite being far behind the frontrunner: Ronald Reagan in 1976, Ted Kennedy in 1980, Gary Hart in 1984 and Jesse Jackson in 1988. Why not mention these? Because, while they are good examples of occasions when the media and party did not howl for a candidate to drop out as they are doing to Hillary Clinton, they are poor examples in that the candidate who prevailed lost the general election. It could be argued that the decision to prolong the primary contributed to their defeat. (Which totally misses the point that even with the negative impact on party unity, there were no cries of foul when those men decided to keep their campaign alive.) In addition, had she used those examples it would have seemed that she is planning to continue on to the convention.
The misinterpretation of Hillary Clinton's quote was precipitated by an email sent to journalists by Obama spokesman Bill Burton. The backlash has been unbelievable, with allegations from dozens of sources that she is staying in the race because she wants Obama to be assassinated, that she is exposing her evil desires, that she is deliberately trying to get him assassinated, that she has made this claim "multiple times".
In fact, she said something similar once before, in March. What's telling about the March quote is that, while it was widely reported, nobody saw anything malicious in it. Everyone at the time understood that she was talking about primaries going into June, not assassination of candidates. Conventional wisdom decided that last week's quote was sinister only because the Obama camp told journalists that it was.
Joan Walsh (not a Clinton supporter), wrote, "to argue that she was suggesting she's staying in the race because Obama might be assassinated - even after both Clinton, and the journalists who interviewed her, said her reference was to RFK's June campaign, not to his heartbreaking murder - requires either a special kind of paranoia or venal political opportunism."
Walsh concludes that this is "an important and disturbing issue for Democrats." She supports being critical of the candidates for real reasons, but not twisting the truth out of all recognition.
The Daily Howler (one of my favorite sites), says, "Our culture is built on the basic idea that you can’t just make sh*t up. But that standard has been eroding for years in the cartel we still call a press corps. Al Gore said he invented the Internet! No: Al Gore said he discovered Love Canal! (Soon, the words “invented” and “discovered” - words Gore never said - began showing up, by themselves, inside quotes!)" The Howler adds, "[Hillary] didn’t say that she’s staying in the race in case Barack Obama gets killed. You can imagine she said that if you want to, of course; but that is what you are doing. You’re imagining."
I almost didn't bother to write this post because the waves of "conventional wisdom" are so powerful that no airing of the facts will stop them. Even before the 2000 election there was convincing evidence that the lies against Al Gore were just that, but enough people believed it that he didn't secure the presidency; even today, many people believe that Gore is a delusional liar. (Way to go, Rove!) Prior to the Iraq invasion all of Bush's justification for invading Iraq were debunked in the international press, but the lies were believed long enough for Americans to support the war. In 2004 there was abundant evidence that the swift-boating of John Kerry was totally unfair, but it cost him the election. Again and again "conventional wisdom" fueled by crafty negative campaigning arises that is totally in opposition to reality.
For more info, see The Daily Howler for May 28, 29 and 30 and Why You Don't Have to Support Hillary to Deplore the Sexism that Brought Her Down.
For more info on the general issue of making shit up, see Eric Boehlert in Media Matters.