by digby

Andrea Mitchell said today that Clinton has a "growing credibility gap" because she repeated a story on the stump about a woman who was denied health care and died. (I believe this is based on a bizarre and very badly written article which appeared over the week-end in the New York Times.)

Mitchell interviews Ann Kornbluth, a WaPo reporter who recently wrote a story about the anecdotes Clinton tells on the campaign trail which apparently got the attention of a hospital in Ohio. The hospital then decided to go on the record denying the veracity of this woman's story.

Kornbluth tells Mitchell that Clinton merely repeated what she'd heard from a local sheriff, nearly verbatim (there's Youtube of the moment to prove that) and admits there are questions as to whether this hospital is the hospital in question. (No mention of the weird fact that this hospital issued a press release to announce they weren't guilty of something nobody had ever accused them of.)

Despite these holes and mysteries, Mitchell and Kornbluth both agree, however, that it doesn't matter whether the story is true or false (or that there are millions of similar examples of people dying for lack of insurance and proper health care.) None of that is relevant:

Mitchell: The Clinton campaign finds itself in another credibility gap, this time over a heart tugging health care story. Senator Clinton has been telling this story for weeks now out on the campaign:

Clinton: The doctors and the nurses tried hard, but they weren't able to save her baby. For fifteen days doctors and nurses worked heroically. But she died.

It is so wrong in such a good great and rich country that a young woman and her baby would die because she didn't have health insurance or a hundred dollars to get examined.

Mitchell: Well, it turns out it's not true. After reading about the story in the Washington Post, hospital officials demanded that the Clinton campaign stop using that anecdote. They say there is no indication that this woman was denied medical care, that in fact, she did have insurance.

The Washington Post's Ann Kornbluth has been writing about this story. Ann, thanks very much for joining us today. First of all, you write that the Clinton campaign first learned about this story from a sheriff in Ohio. Tell us about this. Why didn't anyone check it out?

Kornbluth: Well, this deputy sheriff, Brian Holman, met with her during a regular campaign stop. She had Chelsea with her and Ted Strickland the governor. He told this story, it was almost exactly as she repeated it, in the clip that you played. Uhm and she went on and started using it on the stump. And you know we all sort of hear these stories, and she doesn't use any names, so it's difficult to check it out but, but a couple of weeks ago I wrote a story about stuff she says in her speeches and started to write about this woman.

After my story ran, the hospital, one of the hospitals the woman who died went to, came forward and said, "this isn't us." What is unclear now is whether there is another hospital involved. The young woman's family has been quiet, they have been sort of overwhelmed by all this attention, upset that it's now on the campaign trail, this tragedy that they endured.

What we're trying to figure out now, and I think it's a very live question, is whether there was another hospital that she was turned away from and so we're trying to get to the bottom of it.

But you're right, the central question is, should the campaign be vetting things before Senator Clinton says them on the campaign trail, especially given her recent problems with the story from Bosnia.

Mitchell: And that is the problem isn't it? That this contributes to a perception, fair or not fair, that she's got a problem telling stories that are accurate. Not to put too fine a point on it, it does damage her credibility.

Kornbluth: And we've seen this movie before. When Al Gore, the first time he was quote unquote caught saying something that wasn't entirely accurate, again, fair or unfair, it became a storyline. After that, going forward, he was under extreme scrutiny for that.The same thing happened with John kerry, when he was seen as being for something before he was against it, constantly looked for flip-flopping in his stories.

So I think Senator Clinton has discovered that there is something out there that she has to be really careful about and it's the facts of the stories that she tells, whether that's fair or not.

Notice the passive voice: "whether that's fair or not." The press apparently have nothing to do with determining whether it is fair, setting the record straight or getting the facts. It's all about "perception" --- perception that is directly caused by lies they publish, spin they present as truth and "storylines" they create.

On the next segment with a different host and panel, they bring it up again, starting with the same video of Clinton telling the story. This time they don't even give you the fact that Hillary was told this story by an Ohio man or that there are questions as to the responsible hospital.

The way it looks now is that she just made it up out of whole cloth:

Nameless Braindead Valley Girl MSNBC Hostess: Problem is, that's not true. Hospital officials say the woman wasn't denied medical care and she had insurance.The hospital wants her stop telling this story. AB, how does the Clinton campaign explain this one?

AB Stoddard: She can blame bad staffing. It's not the first time a politician has run away with some compelling anecdote,that turns out to be not entirely true. The problem for Clinton is, as I mentioned before, she needs to change the subject from tax returns and her stumbling around with these untruths like what happened on the tarmac in Tuszla and these stories on the trail about some poor woman. Hillary Clinton has to have a couple of good days where she's not stumbling through untruths and in damage control with her campaign.

Nameless braindead valley girl MSNBC hostess: Yeah, If you're seeing this once again as an exaggeration and this follows on the heels of the whole Bosnia story does it harm her credibility, ok maybe this time not even with voters, but what about the superdelegates?

Ok, look. You can hate Clinton or love her, but this is the lowest form of campaign journalism and it should be condemned. At this point they have said, over and over again, that Clinton told "untruths" or "exaggerated" when the fact is that she repeated a story she heard from a citizen -- a story which, without knowing the name of the person, which she didn't, could not be verified by her campaign. And why should it? The sheriff told her this story on camera, it's completely believable because every single day something like this happens multiple times across the country, she used no names, accused nobody specifically and didn't claim to have personal knowledge of the story. She repeated something that was told to her. It's not a lie or an untruth or fundamentally misleading in any way.

More importantly, there is no proof that this story isn't true except that some hospital (hardly a dispassionate observer) says so, yet both Mitchell and the NBVGMH declare absolutely that it isn't. Kornbluth at least says there is a "live question" as to whether there was a second hospital, which is something.

Evidently, the family isn't talking to the press,so there's no easy way to verify the facts through them. Kornbluth claims this is because they are "upset that the story has been used on the campaign trail" but she doesn't say how she knows this. And anyway, Clinton never used the woman's name --- the press did, when they wrote about the story. The family had no reason to be upset at Clinton over this --- if that's even true, which I doubt. If Kornbluth knows that, then she would have to have been talking to someone who knows the facts of the case and it's clear that she doesn't.

The press assumes that if a hospital steps forward and disputes the accuracy of a story where no names were mentioned the hospital must be telling the truth. Why reporters wouldn't wonder what would motivate a hospital to put this out there, when they hadn't been accused publicly of anything, is evidently not the least bit interesting.

The lack of facts backing up the accusation of Clinton lying are bad enough, but the justifications for flogging it are stunning. Kornbluth and Mitchell admit up front, and without even the slightest bit of self-awareness as journalists, that this is about "perception" not reality. She blithely admits that both Al Gore and John Kerry were brought low by similar "perceptions" in exactly the same way. There is not even the slightest acknowledgment that these "perceptions" are often created by the political opponents of the candidates and then faithfully disseminated by their little minions in the press as what Kornbluth admits are "storylines."

Now in this case, I don't know where the story came from, but considering it's a hospital coming forward for truly inexplicable reasons to say it wasn't guilty of something no one had accused them of, I suspect Republicans. Or it could simply be that the press itself just pulled the storyline off the shelf in response to the Bosnia flap and ran with it all on their own. Whatever the case, it's bad journalism, thick with innuendo and short on facts and used as an example of a character defect of a Democrat, creating a self-perpetuating "perception" that justifies the "storyline." Same old shit.

After all, when is the last time you saw something like this pulled on a Republican, especially one named John McCain, who has flip-flopped so badly on the biggest issues of the day that he has to take seasick pills and who lies as easily as he breathes? Never. You see, the "storyline" about Republicans is that they are all "stand-up guys" and "straight-talkers" not hysterical liars and mincing flip-floppers. (Surely you can see the symbolism in all those "stand up" and "flip-flop" allusions.)

You may hate Clinton with everything in your being, and that's fine. But this kind of journalism is what's killing our political system and what gets people like John McCain and George W. Bush elected. Clinton was repeating a story about bad health care which she heard on the campaign trail from an American citizen. She wasn't tooting her own horn or putting down her opponent in the telling of it. She was illustrating the plight of the uninsured in this country, which even if it turns out to not be specifically correct in the details, is certainly not something that doesn't happen every day to somebody in this country.

In fact, I suspect this particular "gotcha" is being done to degrade the argument against universal health care as much as to embarrass Senator Clinton. The Clinton Rules state that if any part of a story is proven true, the entire story is true. The corollary is that if any part of a story about a Republican is proved to be false then the entire story is false. The same concept is at work with health care here. If any detail about bad health care in the US can be shown as false, then notions that our health care system is screwed up are also false. Get ready for more of this. I don't know if it will work, but if they can get the media to play it like this, then the subliminal subtext going out there is that Democrats are lying about health care. They don't have to convince everybody, just a few.

Meanwhile, as I wrote this past week-end, all John McCain has to do is sniffle twice and the entire media crawl over each other's backs to "correct the record." (And by the way, it isn't just the usual suspects like Kornbluth. It's "liberals" like Frank Rich too, as Somerby points out today.)

Trust em? You shouldn't. Today they may be using these methods to rip the candidate you despise apart, giving you much joy and satisfaction. You may even tell yourself, that they have learned their lesson and are finally seeing things clearly. They aren't. Kornbluth and Mitchell openly admitted today that Democratic nominees Gore and Kerry were skewered by these perception "storylines" and basically agreed that it doesn't matter if they're true or not. If you think it's coincidence that this only seems to happen to Democrats then I have a bunch of condos in Miami Beach to sell you at 2006 prices.

*This story is so painfully reminiscent of the kind of journalistic atrocity that was perpetrated against Al Gore in 2000 --- like this one, about his mother-in law's arthritis medicine. Bush used that one in an ad --- and it was total crap. Lot's of nice liberals blamed Gore for losing that race, even though he came out ahead in the popular vote and had a third party candidate running on his left.(I won't even bring up Florida) They said, "he should have run a better campaign." Well, it ain't easy when you have a sophomoric press corps that has decided they don't want you to be president because you aren't as much fun as the other guy.

Perhaps this time they will decide they like Barack Obama better than John McCain. I sure hope so. But you'll have to forgive me if I feel that might not stand us in good stead in the long run. These people have their own agenda and it isn't what's best for the American people. They shouldn't be picking our presidents even if once in a while they might inadvertently pick one you like. Nobody elected them to anything.

Update: Joe Scarborough just declared the "health care story" to be Clinton's death knell, even worse than Bosnia. Ann Kornbluth was sitting on the panel and said nothing.

Update II: A fact check, finally. It's worded oddly, as is typical of this story, but better than nothing.

Clinton erred in telling audiences that the Ohio woman lacked insurance when seeking help for her troubled pregnancy. But according to Casto's account, Bachtel's medical tragedy began with circumstances very close to the essence of Clinton's now-abandoned account: the lack of insurance created a $100 barrier to needed medical attention close to home.

Don't worry. Clinton won't be telling the story on the trail anymore. Maybe if we're lucky we can get all Democratic candidates to stop talking about health care at all in any human terms for fear of being "inaccurate" and becoming the subject of one of these ridiculous feeding frenzies. No wonder both of the Democrats keep the press at a far a distance as possible.

Meanwhile, John McCain will be swilling brewskis on the back of the bus with the Hannah Monata fanboys, spinning yarns about strippers he used to screw, calling his wife a cunt, revealing himself to be dumber than Bush on policy and regaling them with tales about how he's gonna "get the Shia and Sunni in a room and tell them to stop the bullshit" --- and they won't breath a word of it. See, he might not be such a straight shootin' stand up guy if they tell the public what he really says.

Update III: Kornbluth gets more of the story from a family member and puts it on her blog. It's called, "Clinton told true tale of woe, says kin." I'll be looking forward to the corrections and clarifications in the papers and on MSNBC tomorrow.

Kornbluth teased this story when she appeared on David Gregory earlier today and let Scarborough go on about how it had ruined Clinton's credibility more than the Bosnia thing.

Of course, that's probably true, but only because the press gleefully flogged it as a story about Clinton lying without having all the facts. It's "out there."