One week after Hillary Clinton claimed that she faced sniper fire on a trip to Bosnia — and six days after NewsBusters posted contemporaneous news footage from CBS showing that she did not — the big broadcast networks have finally jumped on the story of Hillary’s big fib. Last night, as NewsBuster’s Noel Sheppard has already noted, 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 we posted last week.
Also last night, NBC’s Andrea Mitchell, who was also on the 1996 trip, filed her own report on the obvious discrepancies, and this morning all three morning shows led with how the Clinton campaign now admits 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,” was an accidental misstatement.
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. 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.” ABC’s David Wright ridiculed: “Clinton described her trip to Tuzla like a scene from ‘Saving Private Ryan.’”
After Wright’s report on Tuesday's 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.”
On the Early Show, 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.
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.
DAVID WRIGHT: Good morning, Robin. This is embarrassing for Senator Clinton because she’s campaigned hard on her notion of strength and experience. And she herself has pointed to the trip to Bosnia as an example of how she’s ready to answer that 3:00am crisis call at the White House. Well, the news video from that trip tells a different story. On a day when Barack Obama was off vacationing with his family in the Virgin Islands, Hillary Clinton had hoped the focus would be on her major policy speech on the economy.
SENATOR HILLARY CLINTON: Well, if the Fed can extend $30 billion to help Bear Stearns address their financial crisis, the federal government should provide at least that much emergency assistance to help families and communities address theirs.
WRIGHT: Instead, her campaign was on the defensive. Fending off questions about the details of a trip she took to Bosnia 12 years ago today.
HILLARY CLINTON, MARCH 17 SPEECH: 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.
WRIGHT: Just last week, Clinton described her trip to Tuzla like a scene from “Saving Private Ryan.”
HILLARY CLINTON, MARCH 17 SPEECH: 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.
WRIGHT: Actually, there was a brief greeting ceremony. A little Bosnian girl read a poem. The first lady paused for pictures. She and her daughter even climbed up on a guard tower. No signs of snipers. Among the reporters there to capture the moment was John Pomfret of the Washington Post.
WASHINGTON POST REPORTER JOHN POMFRET: The whole Tuzla sector was under the control of the Americans and it was a pretty safety sector. We were driving around in soft-skin cars. No reporters that I know of were wearing flack jackets at the time. So, it was pretty much a very peaceful area.
WRIGHT: Peaceful enough for a performance by Sheryl Crow and the comedian Sinbad.
HILLARY CLINTON: But, it was a moment of great pride for me.
WRIGHT: Chelsea Clinton was asked about Tuzla in Indiana.
CHELSEA CLINTON: I support what she said. I mean, yes, I was there as well and I’m so honored that I was there with her and that I had the opportunity to travel with her.
WRIGHT: Her mother was asked about it, too by the two Philadelphia newspapers.
HILLARY CLINTON (AUDIO): You know, I say a lot of things — millions of words a day — so if I misspoke, that was just a misstatement.
WRIGHT: Now, notice in the news pictures from the trip, neither Clinton nor her daughter Chelsea appear to be wearing flack jackets or helmets. Clinton says that she did write about the Tuzla trip in her book, but she did not add the extra details then. However, Diane, on two recent occasions at least, she has embellished the story.
CBS’s The Early Show:
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.
ATTKISSON: Good morning, Harry. It was exactly 12 years ago today we landed in Tusla, Bosnia, the first major stop on a trip by Mrs. Clinton and daughter Chelsea that also included Turkey, Greece and Italy. There were visits with soldiers, a trip to the former front lines of the war, but no close-up sniper fire. Hillary Clinton seemed solid last week when she recounted the supposed dangers of her trip to war-torn Bosnia as First Lady.
HILLARY CLINTON, MARCH 17: 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.
ATTKISSON: But critics began to question her harrowing account, and we decided to go back and comb through the actual videotape of the trip. After all, CBS News was there.
CLINTON: Part of the reason we were in the C-17 is because part of it is armored. I was moved up into the cockpit. Everyone else was told to sit on their bulletproof vests.
ATTKISSON: That's Senator Clinton talking to me on that C-17 military flight into Tusla, Bosnia.
CLINTON: I want you to meet my little girl.
ATTKISSON: And 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.
CLINTON, MARCH 17: There was no greeting ceremony. And we basically were told to run to our cars. Now, that is what happened. Thank you.
ATTKISSON: There was no sniper fire either when Senator Clinton visited two army outposts, where she posed for photos, and no sniper fire back at the base. Where she sang at a USO show starring Sinbad and Sheryl Crow.
MIKE ALLEN: But It's a great gift to Senator Obama, who's been trying to say she's been exaggerating all kind of experience. It gives a thread on the sweater that everybody now is trying to pull on.
ATTKISSON: Referring to the CBS News video, Clinton aides Monday admitted that she mis-spoke and that her arrival in Bosnia was not quite as dramatic as Clinton put it.
LISSA MUSCATINE: She meant that there was fire in the hillside around the area when we landed, which was the case.
ATTKISSON: Whatever the confusion stems from, it appears to be a recent development. Senator Clinton made no mention of being under fire when she recounted her trip in her 2003 autobiography. Harry.
SMITH: Sharyl Attkisson in Washington this morning, thank you.
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.
HILLARY CLINTON, MARCH 17: 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.
MITCHELL: Her C-17 did make a corkscrew landing, standard for war zones, but reporters traveling with her, including me, remember it differently.
CLINTON, CLIP FROM 1996: We’re gonna eat a delicious meal of MREs.
MITCHELL: There was no sniper attack and Clinton was welcomed on the tarmac by a school girl with a poem. Also on the trip, Chelsea Clinton.
CLINTON HUGGING GIRL: Thank you.
MITCHELL: Her campaign now acknowledges a mistake.
HOWARD WOLFSON: Now, it is possible in the, in the most recent instance in which she discussed this that she misspoke with regard to, you know, the exit from the plane.
BOB SHRUM: What stuns me about this is the explicitness of her recollection combined with the certitude in that video clip that this all really happened. Now we’re told she misspoke. Why is she doing this? She doesn’t need to. It just hurts her.